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The Standard Book Club – Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, February 19th, 2017 - 16 comments
Categories: Economy, sustainability - Tags: ,

Welcome to The Standard’s inaugural book club. Regular commenter Greyrawshark has kindly instigated the first event.

The idea is let’s all read the same book over a month and have a discussion of our thoughts about it and see if we can find some viable good ideas in this election year! You are all invited to come on the journey and report back on the high points of your travel. Debrief in 4 weeks.

Why do this? The shared information we get on The Standard is interesting and gets discussion going. We want to join in the exploration of well-known writers producing work that is likely to be beneficial to us all, and then see what happens when we put that through the mill of The Standard commentariat and readership.

The first book is a classic that underpins much of the sustainability movement around the world,

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered by E. F. Schumacher.

Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher (19 August 1911 – 4 September 1977) was an internationally influential economic thinker, statistician and economist in Britain, serving as Chief Economic Advisor to the UK National Coal Board for two decades. His ideas became popularised in much of the English-speaking world during the 1970s. He is best known for his critique of Western economies and his proposals for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies.

According to The Times Literary Supplement in 1995, his 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered was among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

The book is divided into four parts: “The Modern World”, “Resources”, “The Third World”, and “Organization and Ownership”.

In the first chapter, “The Problem of Production”, Schumacher argues that the modern economy is unsustainable. Natural resources (like fossil fuels), are treated as expendable income, when in fact they should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable, and thus subject to eventual depletion. He further argues that nature’s resistance to pollution is limited as well. He concludes that government effort must be concentrated on sustainable development, because relatively minor improvements, for example, technology transfer to Third World countries, will not solve the underlying problem of an unsustainable economy.

Schumacher’s philosophy is one of “enoughness”, appreciating both human needs and limitations, and appropriate use of technology. It grew out of his study of village-based economics, which he later termed Buddhist economics, which is the subject of the book’s fourth chapter.

The Small is Beautiful press conference in 1976.

Background on Schumacher and the book from modern economic journalists,

In some ways Schumacher was culturally conservative. His understanding of the role of women in the economy was a poor reflection of his times. Marilyn Waring’s classic work on feminist economics, If Women Counted, published a decade after Schumacher’s death, is a necessary addition to Small is Beautiful. But, otherwise, the sheer breadth of his challenge to economics, and its bristling relevance to now is extraordinary.

Small is Beautiful is available new or secondhand, in print, ebook and audiobook.

New Zealand Libraries and interloan.

International book sellers.

UPDATE: Online versions here (text, Part 1 only) and here (PDF, Part 1 only). This looks like it might be the full version (online and download)

Please join us in 4 weeks time (Sunday 19 March) to discuss Small is Beautiful and what it has inspired in us.

“I certainly never feel discouraged. I can’t myself raise the winds that might blow us or this ship into a better world. But I can at least put up the sail so that when the wind comes, I can catch it.”  E.F. Schumacher

16 comments on “The Standard Book Club – Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered ”

  1. Tiger Mountain 1

    tick, people–start your readers and iPads…

  2. greywarshark 2

    weka
    It was my birthday recently and your skilled hands on the words and wrapping up my raw material is the best present I have received. Ta very much from greywarshark (a variant from greywarbler).

    My idea to get most out of the readings is to have something from the wide world and then something from NZ, either about us specifically or from a NZ born or adopted author about our situation, then repeat the sequence.

    Also we could have one month’s varied reading for us all. and choose a subject for instance Syria and Turkey as the centre of complicated politics in Middle East, or Russia and its strategies against NATO, or what climate change work is being done around the world. We would get a list to read supplied by readers of their favourite blogger or author and read just an essay or book chapter which shed light on the chosen subject. So we get exposed to current authors, and perhaps past. So that is a bit different and be a real smorgasbord of sources on the one subject.

    I think this whole reading idea will swing with those who desire to explore others’ thoughts, ideas and scenarios, reliable memories and experience, and who gobble up facts.

    • weka 2.1

      Thanks grey! I am glad it was ok. Looks like we are going to have a good crowd on the day.

      I was thinking about the broader concept too. There’s talk of republishing some of the UBI posts, so we could maybe do a ‘reading week’ around that. Would love to organise a blog party too, but that’s a big undertaking.

  3. Antoine 3

    > Online versions here (text) and here (PDF).

    Let me warn that the PDF above is only a small excerpt rather than the complete book.

    The text version seems more complete but has some typos (probably due to OCR).

    I have had a quick look around but not found a more accurate free online version yet.

    Cheers
    A.

    PS I think you may find that some of Schumacher’s ideas may be less impactful now than when they were first published because they have been taken up and introduced into the general worldview…

  4. r0b 4

    I’ve had a copy on my shelf for ages, time to finally read it!

  5. greywarshark 5

    r0b
    Wishing you good thoughts from it and from life in general.

    Antoine
    Thanks for the tips re PDF.

    If some of Schumacher’s ideas have been picked up, then is that because he was right? And if others remain unadopted, why? Were they no good, not applicable, too ahead of their time, limiting the interests of groups profiting happily? There will be interesting pointers to appropriate solutions for today’s problems I am sure.

  6. Jum 6

    The Standard Book Club – excellent idea. It’s a hard road sorting the nonsense from the people-focused theories.

  7. One Anonymous Bloke 7

    I read this years ago. Nice to revisit it. I’ve read a few critical responses from the trivial (‘crediting’ Schumacher for providing the inspiration for inflatable sex toys) to the practical (single wavelength radio receivers are a propagandist’s dream), and his underlying theme still resonates.

    This much shorter essay is worth reading, so is the original book.

  8. Olwyn 8

    Hi greywarshark. I started reading the book about a week ago. One thing that has struck me so far is the quiet conviviality of the writing style. It makes me wonder whether we have become incrementally harsher in our use of language.

  9. Siobhan 9

    Just a note to anyone from The Napier, Hastings, Havelock North and Flaxmere Council and Libraries …… NO copies at our libraries any more.
    Well Done on selling off all the books.

    • Mrs Brillo 9.1

      And for Kapiti readers, Paraparaumu Library (only) has a single copy, which is out on loan till 1 March.

      • mikesh 9.1.1

        Wellington Central Library has one copy, but it looks as if that was withdrawn this morning. I got there about midday. Who was the rotten sod who beat me to it?

        I read the book 40 odd years ago, and it made a good impression on me. However my memory of its detail is now rather hazy.

        • weka 9.1.1.1

          That’s a bugger. All those Standardistas in Welly.

        • greywarshark 9.1.1.2

          mikesh
          Remember we have given you other options to the book, for getting your hands on dear Schumacher I really like his style, so do the on-line thing, run off pdfs if you like hard copy as I do.

          weka
          UBI must fit in somewhere soonish for sure. A blog party, what’s that. Is that where you send your avatar on the screen to have a chat and a wine, or in real life? My mind bloggles. Oops a Freudian slip.

          Olwyn refers to his writing style. I think we have changed ours these days to match the faster moving, harder times. You have to make an impact, and I haven’t time to put up with too much flannel, what’s the nub. Some nice chat, set the scene, and then onto the point and let’s have a scenario for the outcome.
          And I swear which is what I wouldn’t have done once, but that hard word or phrase acts like drops of bleach in the toilet, clears the surroundings quickly!

          When you’re getting older, and hoping alzheimers isn’t waiting round the corner as it has for other intelligent and wonderful people I know, you have to make time to linger, relax and enjoy, but then get back into the mix and mill of life and try to do something meaningful, practical and worthwhile.

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