- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 19, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061997765
- ISBN-13: 978-0061997761
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered Reprint Edition
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“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
Small Is Beautiful is Oxford-trained economist E. F. Schumacher’s classic call for the end of excessive consumption. Schumacher inspired such movements as “Buy Locally” and “Fair Trade,” while voicing strong opposition to “casino capitalism” and wasteful corporate behemoths. Named one of the Times Literary Supplement’s 100 Most Influential Books Since World War II, Small Is Beautiful presents eminently logical arguments for building our economies around the needs of communities, not corporations.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Personally, having read A Guide for the Perplexed at the same time, I found Small is Beautiful a less rounded book, full of passion and some anger, and packed with ideas and the will to confront the world. In contrast I found A Guide for the Perplexed had the feeling of a book that had perhaps benefited from some time to reflect. In place of the data, evidence and specific arguments of the earlier book, it has a calm and considered perspective with the fragmented and detailed ideas of Small is Beautiful distilled into a single human theme.
My recommendation would be to read both books, beginning with this title. As well as benefiting from the richness of both of the books, you may also gain some insights into the process of developing quite profound ideas.
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." Schumacher criticizes trump card economic judgments, arguing that "society, or a group or an individual within society, may decide to hang on to an activity or asset for non-economic reasons - social, aesthetic, moral, or political," and further noting that the judgment of modern economics is a fragmentary judgment, caring only "whether a thing yields a money profit to those who undertake it or not.... It is a great error to assume, for instance, that the methodology of economics is normally applied to determine whether an activity carried on by a group within society yields profit to society as a whole." The market, he argues, "is the institutionalization of individualism and non-responsibility.... To be relieved of all responsibility except to oneself means of course an enormous simplification of business. We can recognize that it is practical and need not be surprised that it is highly popular among businessmen." Commenting on this culture of self-interest, he quotes Tolstoy: "I sit on a man's back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back."
While economics teaches us that "the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment," Schumacher believes this perspective fails to understand that a persons acts both as a producer and consumer: "If man-as-producer travels first-class or uses a luxurious car, this is called a waste of money; but if the same man in his other incarnation of man-as-consumer does the same, this is called a sign of a high standard of life." Furthermore, "to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure."
Schumacher also comments on science and a set of nineteenth century scientific ideas which have become the lenses through which we have learned to interpret the world. He argues for care in selecting the direction of scientific research, since, "as Einstein himself said, 'almost all scientists are economically completely dependent' and 'the number of scientists who possess a sense of social responsibility is so small' that they cannot determine the direction of research."
In Part III, Schumacher explores third-world economic development. He notes the power dynamic inherent in the non-democratic system of free trade as it exists today: "It is a strange phenomenon indeed that the conventional wisdom of present-day economics can do nothing to help the poor. Invariably it proves that only such policies are viable as have in fact the result of making those already rich and powerful, richer and more powerful." He explores models for third world development, focusing on appropriate technology that can avoid creating a dual-economy, which affects the power structure and causes systemic migration: "It is always possible to create small ultra-modern islands in a pre-industrial society. But such islands will then have to be defended, like fortresses, and provisioned, as it were, by helicopter from far away." He argues instead for distribution of development resources to non-capital-intensive human-scale projects that can be maintained by local people, maximizing the level of useful employment rather than productivity per person. He emphasizes that appropriateness can be assessed only through learning local culture and working with and through local people: "As long as we think we know, when in fact we do not, we shall continue to go to the poor and demonstrate to them all the marvelous things they could do if they were already rich." He also warns against crippling dependence on foreign powers for supply or demand: "the role of the poor is to be gap-fillers fin the requirements of the rich," and focuses instead on small-scale development of local focus.
Overall, while I cannot agree with all of Schumacher's assessments, I doubt that "small is beautiful" can be a true universal claim, I question his assumptions of gender roles and his naïveté about realpolitik, and I also feel that his periodic appeal to religious rhetoric and "beauty" somewhat obstructs his message, I do feel that he makes a great many strong points and encourages the reader to question conventional economic wisdom and look for a deeper understanding of the world.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As a young boy of ten, perhaps eleven years old, while visiting primary school I saw a film about India.Read more
With the reputation that preceded the book, I thought that Schumacher was some kind of hippy. And after reading it, I still think that he is.Read more