E F Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”

The other day in class I had briefly mentioned “Buddhist economics” in response to a question. I had come across the idea many years ago before I started studying economics. It was in E F Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful published in 1973. A generation of people have been influenced by it. It is hard not to be.

Below the fold are a few quotes from the book. (Note that this is NOT required reading. But it is interesting.)

* Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.

* A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption…. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity.

* It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character. Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man’s work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.

* The most striking about modern industry is that it requires so much and accomplishes so little. Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one’s ordinary powers of imagination. Its inefficiency therefore remains unnoticed.

* Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.

* The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds. If they are mainly small, weak, superficial, and incoherent, life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty, and chaotic.

Schumacher’s thesis appears alien to the concepts that neo-classical economists study. But I think at a deeper level (or should I say a “higher plane”) there is convergence.

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