Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Books - Small is Beautiful

E.F. Schumacher was a German expatriate living and working in England. He was a trained Economist and worked as a bureaucrat for the British coal board. His “Small is Beautiful” is a collection of 19 essays; some published in the 1960’s, and many written for this work.

Originally published in 1973, many of its thoughts are dated, but align strongly with what I’ve learned lately (for example from the Copenhagen climate summit and treaty of December 2009). The book was printed 5 years after the Club of Rome and a year after its “Limit of Growth”. I first read Schumacher 25 or so years ago, but rereading it today has been very worthwhile. I noticed many things quickly passed before. For example, buried in his summary to one article, Schumacher adds “possibly by changing the political system.”

I’ve also learned to apply totally new standards to many of his ideas such as ‘sustainable’ development, ‘green’ work and natural or ‘organic’ gardening. His views of the “human scale” of enterprise and the ‘Global Villages’ are also very enlightening. The book, as a whole, raises very mixed response. Schumacher is against ‘big industry, and very supportive of craft like work; he prefers the day when a cobbler or tailor served a small village and opposes large shoe or apparel plants. He is not unaware of the increased productivity or lower cost today, but berates it as ‘dehumanizing’. However many of his observations, such as need created by advertising, have a ring of truth.

I very strongly disagree with Schumacher’s conclusions, and find them reminiscent of the economic limits seen by Malthus. So my recommendation to read the book should not be treated as endorsing its contents. But, it is clearly written and presented emotionally and movingly. If you support Schumacher’s positions you will love it. If you don’t support them it is still important for the view and insight it provides to your opposition.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Outside the Box – Time to Change?

This set of observations doesn’t seem to match anybody else’s thinking. While change happens every day, we seem to undergo a major shift at very broad intervals. The interval, in terms of our Federal government seems to be every 72 years. This is just long enough that almost all direct memory of the previous shift has gone to the grave. What I propose here is to briefly outline these shifts as noted by presidential elections, then describe the resulting governments.

Seventy-two years is also 14 presidential elections. For us this means 1788 (Washington), 1860 (Lincoln), 1932 (Franklin Roosevelt), then 2008 (Obama). The last one seems four years late, which I attribute to the unsettling effect of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Nature of the Shifts

Before looking at each shift, I want to point out that each shift also resulted in a change in terminology. We went from a Federation to a Republic, to a Democracy, then to the Progressives. Strangely enough each referred to itself as an example of the earlier stage and governed under principals of the next,

1788 -1860 was the Federal Era. People spoke of a federation, and referred to ‘these states are’. But during much of the period we were evolving from a federation to a national republic.

1860-1932 might be spoken of as the Republican Era. But once again we sent most of the era evolving from a national republic into a democracy. By the time of FDR the transition was completed.

1932-2008 is usually spoken of as the Democratic Era, but we spent much of it evolving from a Democracy into the ‘Nanny State’ of the progressives.

2008-? So far is called the progressive era, at least by many congress critters. We don’t know yet how it will turn out, but most features so far seem to be communistic. What this really means is subject matter for many more discussions….