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Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (1973)

by E. F. Schumacher

Other authors: Paul Hawken (Introduction), James Robertson (Foreword)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,434364,767 (4.05)34
How does our economic system impact the way we live? Does it really affect what we truly care about? Oxford economist E. F. Schumacher provides an enlightening study of our economic system and its purpose, challenging the current state of excessive consumption in our society. Offering a crucial message for the modern world struggling to balance economic growth with the human costs of globalisation, Small Is Beautiful puts forward the revolutionary yet viable case for building our economies around the needs of communities, not corporations. 'One of the 100 most influential books published since World War II' The Times Literary Supplement… (more)
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» See also 34 mentions

English (33)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Despite being originally published nearly 50 years ago in 1973 (wow), this non-fiction book re-imagining what people-first economics could look like is only a bit dated. It's quite interesting to notice what has and hasn't drifted into public discourse. The key here is a different set of starting assumptions from traditional economics that lead us different conclusions -- most especially the idea that there are different planes of existence, humans are indeed near the top, and we hold a responsibility to each other and to the rest of the world to not screw it up. This stands far apart from underlying tenants of modernism -- especially the positivist idea that the only real truths are scientific truths, and the economic idea that greed is a virtue as long as you re-invest the proceeds. It's all rather traditionally religious.

The parts that especially stood out to me were about work and education:
  • Schumacher argues that work itself is humanizing. Not all work -- just the work that involves the right amount of brain challenge and outcomes where improvement is tangible. That's a core Buddhist tenet, but it's also one that we find in Catholicism and even in political science (we know social instability is severely aggravated when most of a society's young men lack both work and families). Now I'm thinking this is pretty universal.
  • In contrast to the idea of work being valuable in itself, today's economics treat work as entirely problematic. From the employer's perspective, labor is a cost that should be minimized. From the employee's perspective, it would be ideal to be paid without having to work. This insightful framing explains to me the rise of interest in UBI from rich folks (most recent and vocally Andrew Yang) -- it's a way to "make things more even" for workers while still working within the system that made them rich. A fundamental need of humans to work on tasks that challenge them and show them rewards is also an intriguing and new-to-me argument against UBI.
  • A focus on STEM and on education as a vehicle for making more money means insufficient focus on the higher calling of education: knowing oneself, one's moral duties, and what you will bring to the world.
  • The type of work that modern tech is most successful at reducing is skillful, productive work done by human hands -- the kind of work that human beings enjoy and need the most. Some people are still able to engage in tasks like woodworking, gardening, sewing, small engine repair and cooking, but they tend to be richer people who have the space and tools and teachers to create humanizing value through their "spare time" work.

There's a bunch more in the book too (like the illogic of treating $1 of a renewable good like corn as equivalent to $1 of a non-renewable good like oil as equivalent to $1 of a manufactured good like cloth as equivalent to $1 of a service like a haircut, environmentalist thoughts on how we're living in a rather large but still limited planet which left me thinking about Easter Island and Biosphere 2, and exposition on the value of intermediate technologies that are labor-intensive and capital-limited as being better positioned for humanizing and effective international development work than shipping abroad major machinery that requires only a handful of low skill workers). Some parts vary pretty far from my ideology (like a strong recommendation for England to burn coal now and forever), but even reasoning through those was fruitful for me. I do suspect this book will continue to stand up to reads for years to come.

Dense, but a very worthy read for anyone wondering what alternatives to our current economics might look like. ( )
  pammab | Oct 26, 2020 |
I read this book by E F Schumacher many years ago. I was a young kid — even though I was in my twenties- at the time.

Some lessons did permeate my skull and found their way into my consciousness. These lessons would have lived somewhere deep in my subconscious mind.

In the last months, I have been reading a little about climate change, pollution, how we manage our lives and other such matters. So, I found myself turning to Professor Schumacher again.

The words he wrote many years ago still ring true. What is sad is that we do not seem to have learned the lessons that he has written in his book.

These lessons are not inimical to economic growth. However, if we apply these lessons, maybe we will grow, economically, and learn to live in peace with the environment.

EF Schumacher’s book is a classic. Everyone in business or the government should visit and implement his lessons. ( )
1 vote RajivC | Aug 26, 2020 |
Worth having, just for the intro by Theodore Roszak.
  2wonderY | May 15, 2020 |
Parte bien pero creo que le sobran paginas, en algunos puntos ya comienza a repetirse. ( )
  maxtrek | Jan 30, 2019 |
A classic treatise on Gandhian economics, or as the title says, "people centered economics". Schumacher provides a good criticism of the modern methods of production that resulted from the desacrilisation of nature and man. Production relations that resulted in the alienation of man from his work and creative spirit, and the culture of mass production and mass consumption that led to the ruthless and violent exploitation of nature.
He rightly challenges the unsustainable path of accumulation and consumption and the Keynesian economic models that are built on the principles of market individualism and social non-responsibility. He challenges the modern politics where economic growth has become the highest of all values and the human, cultural and ecological concerns have become subordinated to it.

This isn't just romantic idealism. Schumacher gives many practical ideas regarding using intermediate technology to enable production by masses and some interesting case studies and ideas regarding common ownership of the means of production. ( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
It is in the very human experiences of compassion, dignity and creative spirit that Schumacher locates a sustainable human path. For instance, he challenges the blind pursuit of techno­logical “advancement” and computerized systems when human-scale technology would better serve communities and provide opportunities to perform meaningful work.
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Schumacher, E. F.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hawken, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robertson, JamesForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bolchini, PieroPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doglio, CarloIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doglio, DanieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redaelli, RobertoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roszak, TheodoreIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Introduction
Theodore Roszak
For nearly two centuries -- since Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations in 1776 -- economists have been advertising themselves as the most rigorous and successful of all social scientists. The aspiration has transcended ideological boundaries.
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I. The Problem of Production
One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that 'the problem of production' has been solved.
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How does our economic system impact the way we live? Does it really affect what we truly care about? Oxford economist E. F. Schumacher provides an enlightening study of our economic system and its purpose, challenging the current state of excessive consumption in our society. Offering a crucial message for the modern world struggling to balance economic growth with the human costs of globalisation, Small Is Beautiful puts forward the revolutionary yet viable case for building our economies around the needs of communities, not corporations. 'One of the 100 most influential books published since World War II' The Times Literary Supplement

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