Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (1973) by E F Schumacher
“It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation, but the attachment to wealth, not the enjoyment of pleasurable things, but the craving for them…”
What is wrong with our world? Can one short book contribute a meaningful answer to this question? By looking at the major historical themes in economics, i.e. land, scarcity, man and education, goods, production and energy, housing and development, and looking at the thinking behind our present view, the answer is yes. The book advocates a shift in lifestyle, one that accords material goods a secondary place after a oneness with our planet, putting people ahead of profits, and ensuring a future for both..
Although first published in 1973, helping the Alternate Technology movement, the book should be regarded as required reading for many other reasons than the familiar Green agenda. In January 2010, Small is Beautiful was voted by The Guardian newspaper second in a list of 50 books to change the world
Much of what we achieve is labelled `economic’ or `uneconomic’, or simply said, what is profitable in monetary terms. The book highlights how, even in the short term, a full picture of man and his purpose on earth will change our assumptions of what is economic.
Chapter six focuses on education, the greatest of man’s resources. The emphasis here is on understanding the driving philosophy of our world and compare with an alternative. At present, man appears lost when contemplating whether his existence has lasting significance. Why? Six leading ideas bear responsibility according to Schumacher, namely, 1. Evolution, 2. Natural selection, 3. Competition, likewise a `survival of the fittest’, 4. Freud‘s interpretation of the subconscious, (which reduces the higher manifestations of man’s unconscious intelligence to the unfulfilled urgings of childhood, and the idea that these higher manifestations, religion, philosophy and art, for example, are inferior or superfluous compared with material goods and their consumption), 5. Relativism, the idea that knowledge is not absolute, but depends on the relations in which things stand to each other, and limited by the changing conditions of our perceptive faculties, 6. Positivism, the acceptance of only that which can be scientifically proven, or that which can be experienced, all else being regarded as speculative and hence inferior.
These are the ideas that dominate the way the world is interpreted for us. They are also destroying us.
The book argues for a holistic, long-term approach, working in harmony with the environment, a balance between the urban and rural dweller, and the western and third world, avoiding a `small, mean calculating attitude to life, one that refuses to see or value anything that fails to promise an immediate advantage‘.