Small is beautiful : a study of economics as if people mattered

by E. F Schumacher

Paperback, 1974




London : Abacus, 1974.

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jorgearanda
A very important book, and I'm surprised how relevant it still is, 35 years after its publication. There are many brilliant threads throughout the book, from the madness of burning our non-renewable sources of energy to a call for the restoration of the cardinal virtues for our personal guidance, rather than the principles of economics.

There are a few off-key themes. For instance, Schumacher rejects much of science, particularly evolution and the relevance of the laws of thermodynamics, on seemingly religious grounds. But there is so much good stuff in the book, and it is so compellingly presented, that I can't help but overlook these negatives and add it to my list of favorites.
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LibraryThing member Steve55
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.

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.
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LibraryThing member abraxalito
A book packed full of common sense in economic terms. Makes at least as good an argument as Monbiot's 'Heat' for why we shouldn't be consuming fossil fuels - that its consuming our capital. What's most interesting is that this book reads as though it was written very recently even though it dates back to 1973 - Schumaker was such a forward thinker. One minor area of disagreement I have with the author is on the private vs nationalised debate - he doesn't note that one problem of the nationalised institution is that its effectively immortal. Nevertheless, strongly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member derekstaff
The classic critique of the trends towards centralization, corporatism, and globalization, trends just becoming to become powerful at the time the book was written. Schumacher, a trained and highly experienced economist, addressed the unsustainable nature of the current economic models not only from an economic and environmental standpoint, but also from a spiritual perspective. Buddhism was a strong influence on the philosophy of the book. It promotes small-scale economic markets and systems, cooperatives and other business organizations, and greater decentralization. A Ground-breaking and highly influential work.… (more)
LibraryThing member grindywillow
This must have been visionary when it was written. It's over 30 years old but still very perceptive and relevant. (The parts that are dated provide quaint humour).

Schumacher has stepped back and seen clearly.

Your values / metaphysics determine your actions.
Economics is usurping the role of supreme value, to judge something 'uneconomic' is accepted as a reason not deny it existence. This is fundamentally in conflict with finite world resources. Economics has a place, but the superior place it assume now is nonesensical.
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LibraryThing member Smiley
The neocons make a lot of fun of this "little" book, but maybe it's because they have never read it. Or maybe they can't?
LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
The stats are dated (1970s) but the politics and economics of the book continue to resonate. This book is the "Inconvenient Truth" from 35 years ago.
LibraryThing member prima1
amazing futuristic view of our current society whether you accept this credo or not.
LibraryThing member ServusLibri
E.F. Schumacher was a German expatriate living and working in England. He was a trained Economist and worked as a bureaucrat for the British coal board. His “Small is Beautiful” is a collection of 19 essays; some published in the 1960’s, and many written for this work.

Originally published in 1973, many of its thoughts are dated, but aligns strongly with what I’ve learned lately (for example from the Copenhagen climate summit and treaty of December 2009). The book was printed 5 years after the Club of Rome and a year after its “Limit of Growth”. I first read Schumacher 25 or so years ago, but rereading it today has been very worthwhile. I noticed many things quickly passed before. For example, buried in his summary to one article, Schumacher adds “possibly by changing the political system.”

I’ve also learned to apply totally new standards to many of his ideas such as ‘sustainable’ development, ‘green’ work and natural or ‘organic’ gardening. His views of the “human scale” of enterprise and the ‘Global Villages’ are also very enlightening. The book, as a whole, raises very mixed response. Schumacher is against ‘big industry, and very supportive of craft like work; he prefers the day when a cobbler or tailor served a small village and opposes large shoe or apparel plants. He is not unaware of the increased productivity or lower cost today, but berates it as ‘dehumanizing’. However many of his observations, such as need created by advertising, have a ring of truth.

I very strongly disagree with Schumacher’s conclusions, and find them reminiscent of the economic limits seen by Malthus. So my recommendation to read the book should not be treated as endorsing its contents. But, it is clearly written and presented emotionally and movingly. If you support Schumacher’s positions you will love it. If you don’t support them it is still important for the view and insight it provides to your opposition.
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LibraryThing member FlyingBarney
A brilliant review of the state of the world and the importance of smaller-scale business arena, as an antidote to globalization. A profound collection of essays and thoughts.
LibraryThing member John5918
Still a significant and important book all these years later.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Read for class.

Several extremely interesting economic ideas, including pointing out some of the flaws with some economic statistical models, as well as offering some very interesting solutions. I admit some of these are too idealistic to be practical, but many of them are very interesting. The book also has a clearly religious disposition, which may turn off some freethinkers, but the ideas are still substantial enough to be considered and applied, as seen in the Bhutan.

A very interesting book.
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LibraryThing member raschneid
Oof, tried to read this but found it dated and preachy. Some of Schumacher's fundamental ideas are wonderful and important, but I can't read books that make blanket statements about the iniquity and moral vacuity of modern society & how things were better before the 19th/20th/21st century.

Also, if you're writing for an audience of non-conformists in the seventies and you're NOT a feminist, shame on you. (Schumacher says that "most" women shouldn't have to work, yet claims that meaningful work is a human right. Um.)… (more)
LibraryThing member thcson
It's easy to see why this book has been an environmentalist classic for a long time, but it has certainly become a bit outdated since it was written in the early 1970s. The chapters are quite disjointed and the author's thoughts branch off this way and that without any sustained standpoint or general argument. Despite the subtitle this book really says very little either for or against the postulates of economic theory, which I found particularly disappointing. The chapters I liked most were about economic development in poor countries where the author's prescriptions seemed very sensible. All in all an easy read without any weighty arguments.… (more)
LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Worth having, just for the intro by Theodore Roszak.
LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
It must be so frustrating to be ahead of your time: to know that you have an important message only to find that the world is not ready to listen. Schumacher's book is so foresighted that, even now, many people have not awoken to the problems which he foresaw.

When I introduce some of the concepts discussed by Schumacher, you will be forgiven for thinking that this would be a difficult read. You would, however, be wrong in that supposition. He has a remarkable ability to express his vies in plain language, open to all and the text draws you along.

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, I have read many people questioning the need for a Green Party. They should read this book. Even on monetary issues, Schumacher defines the error of both right and traditional left: the right give money to the 'haves' and hope for trickle down to sustain the poor, the left value labour but both consider the material worked upon by the labour to be free. If there is one thing that is blindingly obvious today, it is the potentially fatal error in this belief. Schumacher says that the standard of living is covered by capitalism but we need to look at the quality of life, culture, etc.

Schumacher proves, admittedly with 1970's figures, that Capitalism as we currently pursue it, is unsustainable (USA with 5.6% of the world population consumes 40% of world resources). You will not find these figures improving.

The book, written before Climate Change was an issue, argues for localisation where ever possible. The only uncomfortable view that he expresses is that every race needs its own homeland. This sounds a little racist to 21st century ears, but when you consider that Malcolm X argued a similar view in the '70's, I think that one has to accept that this was not meant in the 'foreigners go home' insularism of present day right wing groups. It was more concerned with people having a base, a homeland.

EF. Schumacher is the Green Philosopher.
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LibraryThing member flydodofly
Important, brilliant book everyone should read. Seriously.
LibraryThing member drmom62
There's a quote of Schumacher's in the book as commentary which really gets to the core of the book's message.
"Economics without Buddhism, i.e. without spiritual, human, and ecological values, is like sex without love."
Economics, especially the advance of capitalism, should be considered in the context of priorities & values. The health of a society cannot be measured solely by it's market health & GDP.
A very worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member sirfurboy
This book should be required reading in schools - it is that good. Insightful, clear and to the point, the author's analysis of the issues is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

His basic premise is that fossil fuels are capital , and yet we consume it like it is a revenue stream, and this is ultimately destructive. Instead we should spend our capital resources in order to create the infrastructure for sustainability.

This book inspired the organic movement, and is the intellectual basis of so much of environmentalism. We ignore its lessons at our peril.
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Original publication date



0349131406 / 9780349131405

Local notes

Inscription: To Melbourne Friends from Marion Porter (Wimbledon Meeting London) With best wishes. Aug. 1982
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