Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

I’ve never been all that interested in macroeconomics, but intrigued by the title, I gave Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher a try. It was a long read, but a good one, and I culled interesting insights from every chapter. Schumacher’s visionary simplicity with the largest elements of society were radical 30 years ago, but incredibly relevant, then and today.

A fair portion of the book is spent emphasizing the way our economy is unsustainable and how quickly we use up our natural resources. Schumacher also explains how little consideration was put towards pollution until it was too late. In the folksy way of a 60s radical, he speaks about the importance of the land in a way that is neither hollow nor flippant, but full of wisdom and grace.

“The whole point is to determine what constitutes progress.” What is progress? What should aid to the third world look like? These questions are where Schumacher particularly shines, explaining a need for intermediate technologies to improve the quality of life for everyone and not just investments which only improve the quality of life for the highest classes and leave the lower ones even more destitute.

No system or machinery or economic doctrine or theory stands on its own feet: it is invariably built on a metaphysical foundation, that is to say, upon man’s basic outlook on life, its meaning and its purpose. I have talked about the religion of economics, the idol worship of material possessions, of consumption and the so-called standard of living, and the fateful propensity that rejoices in the fact that ‘what were luxuries to our fathers have become necessities for us.’

When I read quotes like that one, I couldn’t help but think about what the economic implications of Christian thought are, and how few Americans I know, least of all me, embody them. (10/10, from the library.)

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