instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

Revisiting Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful—Economics As If People Mattered

Part I. It's Even More True 38 years Later

In 1975 this book made a huge impact in the U.S. on how we thought about our control and overuse of the natural world, inspired the Intermediate Technology Group in the UK, and initiated global concern about resource depletion.

In 1989 it was published again with extensive Prefaces by John McClaughry and Kirkpatrick Sale, who outlined its still relevant themes besides resource depletion: over consumption, human domination, the need to say "enough," the importance of human scale, the need for fulfillment in work, the needs to be close to nature and to live a good life, and the failure of traditional economics to take these factors into account when advising policymakers.

The Previews pointed out his weak points—his focus on greed, an unsupported attack on nuclear energy and a narrow Bertrand Russell view of science, and a naive view of government ownership and socialism.

However, his other teachings are even more significant in 2013, 38 years later, and are reflected in current statistics outlined in a concise text by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, in a detailed review of our current horrific situation by Brian Czech Supply Shock , and a confirmation of our danger in Richard Heinberg's The End of Growth.

Meanwhile, the work of the Schumacher Institute continued and refined its approach as have the views of Herman Daly and steadystate.org. The book Gaian Democracies by Roy Madron and Joy Jopling worked well as a text for a sustainable solutions course the University of New Mexico in Los Alamos, for it aptly applied complexity theory to the problem of redefining current economics for a full Earth. Other approaches incorporating the impact of economics as complex systems include the small book The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer and the award-winning fictional approach in The Webs of Varok and its series described at Archives of Varok.

A few quotes from Small Is Beautiful make the salient points in verbiage we deny at our peril, for Schumacher's concerns have only grown more urgent:

Page 21 "...the modern industrial system...consumes the very basis on which it has been erected."
Page 31 "...the idea of unlimited economic growth...needs to be seriously questioned on at least two counts: the availability of basic resources...[and] the capacity of the environment to cope with the degree of interference implied."
Page 34 "...Gandhi said, that 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not for every man's greed."...what were luxuries for our fathers have become necessities for us."
Paage 45 "...the fragmentary nature of the judgements of economics...give vastly more weight to the short than to the long term...[and] are based on a definition of cost which excludes..the entire God-given environment.
Page 48 "...cost/benefit analysis...is a procedure by which the higher is reduced to the level of the lower and the priceless is given a price...what is worse...is the pretence that everything has a price...that money is the highest of all values.
Page 51 "[Economists assume that]...growth of GNP must be a good thing, irrespective of what has grown and who, if anyone has benefited. The idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth, is to him a perverse idea..."
Page 66 "...it is not a question of choosing between 'modern growth' and 'traditional stagnation.' It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility..."
Page 108 "Among material resources, the greatest...is the land...the land carries the topsoil, and the topsoil carries an immense variety of living beings including man."

Be the first to comment