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.

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