Small is beautiful. A study of economics as if people mattered

by E. F. Schumacher | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 0349131392 Global Overview for this book
Registered by martinburo of Norwich, Norfolk United Kingdom on 5/5/2007
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by martinburo from Norwich, Norfolk United Kingdom on Saturday, May 05, 2007
What a lucid book. The opening quote of the book says right away what this book is going to attempt (and succeed at):
'Few can contemplate without a sense of exhilaration the splendid achievements of practical energy and technical skill, which from the latter part of the seventeenth century, were transforming the face of material civilisation, and of which England was the daring, if not too scrupulous, pioneer. If, however, economic ambitions are good servants, they are bad masters.
'The most obvious facts are the most easily forgotten. Both the existing economic order and too many of the projects advanced for reconstructing it break down through their neglect of the truism that, since even quite common men have souls, no increase in material wealth will compensate them for arrangements shich insult their self-respect and impair their freedom. A reasonable estimate of economic organisation must allow for the fact that, unless industry is to be paralysed by recurrent revolts on the part of outraged human nature, it must satisfy criteria which are not purely economic.'
R. H. Tawney
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

The book comes in four parts.
In part one EFS analyses The modern world:
'One reason for overlooking this vital fact is that we are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves. [...] Now, we have indeed laboured to make some of the capital which today helps us to produce [...] but all this is but a small part of the total capital we are using. Far larger is the capital provided by nature and not by man - and we do not even recognize it as such. This larger part is now being used up at an alarming rate, and that is why it is an absurd and suicidal error to believe, and act on the belief, that the problem of production has been solved.'

mockingly paraphrasing the economist Keynes:
'The road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.'

Sometimes I found his writing from a Christian morality was rather hard to stomach. Fortunately, he doesn't pretend it's the only right faith:
"'Right Livelihood' is one of the requirements of te Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as a Buddhist economics." and goes on to suggest what that might look like.

"More education can help us only if it produces more wisdom."

"Or it suddenly turns into the ardent adoption of a fanatical teaching, which, by a monstrous simplification of reality, pretends to answer all questions."

"I think it was the Chinese, before World War II, who calculated that it took the work of thirty peasants to keep one man or woman at university. If that person at the university took a five-year course, by the time he had finished he would have consumed 150 peasant-work-years. How can this be justified? [...] is education to be a 'passport to privilege' or is it something which people take upon themselves almost like a monastic vow, a sacred obligation to serve the people?"

Genesis according to EFS:
"It might be thought that the I Ching and the oracles are metaphysical while the computer model is 'real'; but the fact remains that a machine to foretell the future is based on metaphysical assumptions that 'the future is already here', that it exists already in a determinate form, so that it requires merely good instruments and good techniques to get it into focus and make it visible. The reader will agree that this is a very far-reaching metaphysical assumption, in fact, a most extraordinary assumption which seems to go against all direct personal experience. It implies that human freedom does not exist or, in any case, that it cannot alter the predetermined course of events. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact, on which I have been insisting throughout this book, that such an assumption, like all metaphysical theses, whether explicit or implicit, has decisive practical consequences. The question is simply: is it true or is it untrue?
When the Lord created the world and people to live in it - an enterprise which, according to modern science, took a very long time - I could well imagine that He reasoned with Himself as follows: 'If I make everything predictable, these human beings, whom I have endowed with pretty good brains, will undoubtedly learn to predict everything, and they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all, because they will recognise that the future is totally determined and cannot be influenced by any human action. On the other hand, if I make everything unpredictable, they will gradually discover that there is no rational basis for any decision whatsoever and, as in the first case, they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all. Neither scheme would make sense. I must therefore create a mixture of the two. Let some things be predictable and let others be unpredictable. The will then, amongst other things, have the very important task of finding out which is which.'"

"Great damage to human dignity has resulted from the misguided attempt of the social sciences to adopt and imitate the methods of the natural sciences. Economics, and even more so applied economics, is not an exact science; it is in fact, or ought to be, something much greater: a branch of wisdom."

"I thus come to the cheerful conclusion that life, including economic life, is still worth living because it is sufficiently unpredictable to be interesting. Neither the economist nor the statistician will get it 'taped'. Within the limits of the physical laws of nature, we are still masters of our individual and collective destiny, for good or ill."

"And we always have to face the simultaneous requirement for order and freedom."

"Both theoretical considerations and practical experience have led me to the conclusion that socialism is of interest solely for its non-economic values and the possibility it creates for the overcoming of the religion of economics."

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