From time to time I find it is necessary to defend the middleman, because such people who dwell in the middle tend to receive a lot of abuse and criticism for what is in fact a very necessary but also highly unpopular role. Throughout history and remarkably frequently in widely dispersed cultural contexts, the middleman has served as the scapegoat for the problems that exist within a given society, and the demise of the middleman has presaged the demise of the well-being of the society that has depended on them and realizes it too late, when it has killed or driven off or dispossessed such people and cannot find anyone willing or able to take their place. Interestingly enough, one of the few friends that middlemen have tended to have is economists like Thomas Sowell, who remarkably has spent time in numerous books of his to defend this class of people who have been despised and whose ill-repute carries real and poisonous social consequences.
Why do middlemen exist in the first place? When we curse people who succeed in the world, we would do better to understand the reasons for their existence and understand that groups of people who are so ubiquitous cannot exist without a good reason. The class of middleman I am most familiar with is the insurance agent, and there are in general two sorts of insurance agents, the captive agents who only sell insurance products from the company that they work for and independent agents who sell a variety of products that variously serve the needs of the customer as well as the well-being of the agent. One finds similar dynamics when it comes to those middlemen who buy in bulk from larger merchants and break up those bulk purchases into the smaller quantities that can be afforded by ordinary and poorer consumers. Wherever there is a gap in information and logistics between the profitability of larger companies to make money through mass economization and the needs and financial wherewithal of individuals of modest means, those who fill that gap will serve as middlemen in that particular industry. As one can see from an examination of the world around us, the space for such middlemen is very broad, and that broadness has allowed for a great deal of well-being for family businesses and entrepreneurs and others who can roughly be termed the middle class or petit bourgeoisie.
Why are such classes so easy to hate both from above and below? It is well worth considering that in most cases around the world–with the exception of petit bourgeoisie societies like Switzerland–most middlemen are made up of hardworking and often marginalized minority groups whose existence often triggers populist fears on the part of native lower classes and a convenient target for class resentment that preserves the power of corrupt political and economic elites who simultaneously resent the upward mobility that is provided by the existence of independent entrepreneurial classes who provide options to customers as well as ways that people can move up apart from those means controlled by elites. In such circumstances, it is little surprise that in most post-colonial nations the middle classes were frequently targeted with ruinous taxation and the loss of their land and businesses with the result that countries were typically far poorer after independence then before when colonial powers often celebrated the existence of middlemen to make their own rule less difficult to maintain as well as the wealth that was provided through their high work ethic.
To be sure, the existence of the middle class is often seen as a rebuke to both upper and lower classes. Upper classes are reminded of the inefficiencies and gaps in their rentier economies that provide opportunities for people to make a decent living apart from their control. Elites tend not to like to be reminded of the way that their anti-competitive attitudes provide space for others to prosper. Similarly, the existence of middle classes demonstrates the reality that there is success and advancement for work that serves to rebuke those without the character and work ethic that leads to the modest but real well-being provided in the middle space between wealthy and poor. Under such circumstances, it is easy to unite against a common enemy, but an enemy that serves as the goose that lays the golden egg that allows for a society to prosper. And as is often the case, such people in the middle are not often missed until they are long gone and until society has suffered from their loss, when it is too late to do anything but mourn their demise.