Small Is Beautiful
Economics As If People Mattered
by E.F. Schumacher
"One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that 'the problem of production' has been solved." So begins this classic of commonsense economics, a book that The New Republic called "Enormously broad in scope, pithily weaving together threads from Galbraith and Gandhi, capitalism and Buddhism, science and psychology."
E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) was a Rhodes Scholar and respected economist who throughout his long career worked with the likes of J.M. Keynes and J.K. Galbraith. From 1950 to 1970 he served as Chief Economic Advisor to the British Coal Board — with over 800,000 employees, one of the largest organizations in the world.
An early proponent of the idea of "sustainable development," he opposed neo-classical economics by declaring that single-minded concentration on output and technology was dehumanizing. Furthermore, he asserted that one's workplace should be dignified and meaningful first, efficient second.
In 1955, while traveling in Burma, he first developed the principles of what he called "Buddhist economics," based on the notion that good work was essential for proper human development and that "production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life."
First published in 1973, Small Is Beautiful is a collection of essays that brought Schumacher's ideas to a wider audience at a time when an energy crisis was shaking the world and people had begun to realize that petroleum and other natural resources are finite (that is, such resources should be treated as nonrenewable capital rather than as expendable income, to be exploited and used up without thought for the future). Widely translated into many languages, Small Is Beautiful was named among the 100 most influential books published since World War II by The Times Literary Supplement.
His work also dealt with various other emerging trends, such as the environmental movement and economic globalization. In his view, for a large organization to function properly, it must behave like a group of related smaller organizations. Schumacher's attitude toward nature reflects his theories on business and the workplace:
Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.
To learn more about this forward-looking and prophetic thinker, visit:
- The E.F. Schumacher Society »
- Schumacher UK »
E.F. Schumacher: A Retrospect and Reflection After September 11, 2001
(essay by Bruce Piasecki, PDF format) »