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Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered Paperback – September 27, 1989

4.3 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Embracing what Schumacher stood for--above all the idea of sensible scale--is the task for our time. Small is Beautiful could not be more relevant. It was first published in 1973, but it was written for our time.” (Bill McKibben, from the Foreword)

“An eco-bible” (Time magazine)

Small Is Beautiful changed the way many people think about bigness and its human costs.” (New York Times)

“Nothing less than a full-scale assault on conventional economic wisdom. . . . Schumacher believes economists need a new set of values, to obtain maximum well-being with minimum consumption.” (Newsweek)

From the Back Cover

The classic of common-sense economics. "Enormously broad in scope, pithily weaving together threads from Galbraith and Gandhi, capitalism and Buddhism, science and psychology."-- The New Republic

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 27, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060916303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060916305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book back-to-back with another book by Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed. Though Small is Beautiful is the title for which he is most well known, my strong preference was for the latter title.

Small is Beautiful is the earlier book and is rightly recognised as a key instigator of what we might call `grown-up' environmental awareness. The subtitle of the book `Economics as if People Mattered' reflects the aim of the book in extending economic thinking beyond purely traditional financial factors. Central to this is the acknowledgement of the value of natural capital as an input to economic production. For example the air, water and other natural resources that traditional economics assumes to be free and abundant.

The `small is beautiful` of the title refers to Schumacher's argument that we should steer away from a belief that technology can be relied upon to solve whatever problems we throw in its direction and that decentralization as a way to bring the human touch back into the equation of business.

Schumacher makes a strong case for the value of intermediate technology, or perhaps appropriate technology, which not only delivers desired outcomes, but does so in ways that are in harmony with the broader needs of the communities where the technology is applied. For example, however valuable the finished constructed project, a JCB used in its construction may do the work of 100 men, but is of questionable value if in a developing country those 100 men have nothing to do but watch the JCB, and it is driven by a worker imported from overseas.

The book, though perhaps a little dated, is a good read, and essential reading for anyone wanting to question the dominance of single minded profit based economics.
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Format: Paperback
"The whole point is to determine what constitutes progress." Fritz Schumacher published Small is Beautiful in 1973, but the vast majority of his text is still relevant today, if not more so. This book can be read as a response to the Washington Consensus and Chicago school economist perspectives of metric-based laissez faire economics driven by efficiency, often at the expense of class polarization and increasing inequality, that pervade the shallow "common-sense" understandings of amateur economists and the general United States population: "...growth of GNP must be a good thing, irrespective of what has grown and who, if anyone, has benefited." Schumacher recognizes that "...economists, for all their purported objectivity, are the most narrowly ethnocentric of people. ...since their world view is a cultural by-product of industrialism, they automatically endorse the ecological stupidity of industrial man and his love affair with the terrible simplicities of quantification."
Schumacher responds with a broad, big-picture discussion of our economic culture, noting that sustainability is an impossibility when ever growing demands for increased production, "assuming all the time that a man who consumers more is 'better off' than a man who consumes less", expend an environment with finite resources. He notes that lasting peace is threatened by extraordinarily unequal distributions of power and access to resources, "what else could be the result but an intense struggle for oil supplies, even a violent struggle," and echoes Gandhi's disapproval of "dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
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Format: Paperback
This is one book that adds the perspective of the wider World (not just the technologically elite), when making decisions on engineering/business solutions (as well as other resource allocation decisions). When striving towards best solutions, some engineers & consultants may favour technology complexity and quality, when simplicity and fit-for-purpose are optimal. This book provides some inspiration and building blocks, to be coupled with the usual simulation toolkit including systems analysis, enabling development and implementation of appropriate solutions. Similarly, the book appeals to a much wider audience that can embrace such values in day to day life.
The inspirational well-written contents cover:
*Part I- The modern world- problem of production, peace and permanence, role of economics, Buddhist economics, and a question of size.
*Part II- resources- education, proper use of land, resources for industry, nuclear energy, and technology with a human face.
*Part III_ the third world- development, social and economic problems requiring intermediate technology, two million villages, and the problem of unemployment in India.
*Part IV- organisation and ownership- a machine to foretell the future, towards a theory of large-scale organisation, socialism, ownership and new patterns of ownership.
Improvements could include up-to-date case studies (perhaps including material from VSO) showing the benefits of the approach; and an update on where intermediate technology is today. Note- the book `Flexible Specialisation' by Pedersen et al (ISBN 1853392170 publ.1994) provides some such case studies for Africa, Asia and Mexico.
Personally, this reviewer was inspired by the book to lead an undergraduate team project with Intermediate Technology (the company) and Sri Lankan men designing and implementing a self-build fretsaw for educational toys in 1991. Overall a stimulating, worthwhile addition to any library.
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