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

4.1 out of 5 stars 42 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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeremy Michalek on January 25, 2004
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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Format: Paperback
This pioneering outlook is for green economics what Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" is for the modern green movement.
OK, Shumacher gets some of his facts wrong, can be over idealistic and some chapters are less interesting than others but he often speaks in a highly quotable philosophical vein touching areas beyond the scope of intermediate technology.
For example, a great deal of his commentary is about the moral and spiritual decline and consequent rot in aspects of Western civilisation - judging by the standards of current media output and social values he is prophetic in his assessment that people may be marching into a fool's paradise poised to collapse. His statements, especially in the first few chapters are gold dust for social reformers and social scientists, trying to tap into words to express their frustrations with what we can sometimes see as errors and an odious hollowness to many things conventionally regarded as Progress or Laudible. Who indeed can name the 7 deadly sins or the 4 cardinal virtues?
Then there are those more practical ideas about the ethics of hard work, the fallacies in development planning and how many limitations set by money and raw materials are not limitations but excuses against small scale progressive schemes. This is often the antidote to Adam Smith.
The ethics in planting trees if applied to India and many other places could undoubtedly solve the world's problems en masse it seems as reccommended for India, especially in reducing Green house gasses.
The question remains if communities and societies can grasp the nettle and act out some of Schumacher's more workable schemes, especially if the USA for example collapses into an economic oblivion. Can we learn to live without mass capitalism and be happy?
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