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Food for BookWorms: Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

Posted Date: Tuesday 12 July 2011    

Small is Beautiful
A Study of Economics as if People Mattered
Author: E.F. Schumacher
Publish year: 1973

People living in the late 21st Century, when the oil is long gone, will see the world very differently to most of us today. We can hope they’ll lead rich and full lives, with sufficient resources or capital, following a great transition to regenerative resource use. But even in this optimistic scenario they will know that their most important form of wealth is natural capital. They’re likely to be mystified that during the 20th Century, caught up in the oil glut and the excesses it allowed, we forgot this. They may well be curious as to who reminded us, and conclude it was a free-thinking economist called Fritz Schumacher.

E.F. Schumacher was born 100 years ago. Fleeing Nazi Germany and initially interned in Britain, his economic insight got him noticed by John Maynard Keynes, and he soon became installed at Oxford University. Schumacher was no idle theorist – he went on to be chief economic adviser to the vast UK National Coal Board, where he helped mastermind the country’s post-war economic recovery. But he grew increasingly concerned about the blind pursuit of economic growth.

He believed the economy should not deplete its natural capital – whether fossil fuels or other natural resources – and that it should empower, not stifle, human creativity and wisdom. He drew inspiration from Buddhism and other spiritual traditions. He wrote for The Economist and Resurgence, and distilled his thinking in his classic Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered.

The book Small is Beautiful, published almost 40 years ago, was written with passion and clarity, by someone who saw the implications of a slavish obsession with profit. It raised questions about permanence, about values and qualitative goals, about proportion and education and property. It was a compelling read even before human-made climate change was fully accepted, or oil depletion so advanced.

The book challenges the orthodoxy of “modernisation,” that material “standard of living” is the benchmark of progress – even if it costs the earth. Is that our vision? The point is captured in Schumacher’s humorous Findhorn lecture, quoting an East German. “Western civilization is like an express train which, at ever-increasing speed, is running toward an abyss. But… we shall overtake it.”

• Book review written by Dr. John Fellowes, Consultant of KFBG

* Chinese version of Small is Beautiful is available at KFBG Farm Shop
* If you are interested to listen to Schumacher's lecture at Findhorn, please visit the following website:
 

http://www.archive.org/details/TheWorldCrisisAndTheWholenessOfLife