I’ve been reading an interesting book lately: E.F. “Fritz” Schumacher’s 1973 Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. Schumacher was a British economist for England’s coal industry. His book argues that economics, and institutions in general, should be built upon a “human scale.” Schumacher observed that our modern human institutions tend to grow to such a scale that they are like frankenstein monsters which grow so large that they come back upon their masters and devour them (my image, not his). Another way you could put it is that our economies/institutions/etc cease being our servants and instead become our masters. Sudddenly the humans don’t matter in the decision-making, it’s the self-perpetuation of the larger structures we’ve created. Our creations come to lord it over us and be too big for us to control or direct in a way to promote human thriving.
It’s a very interesting book, and one that drew quite a bit of interest in the world of economists and international development policy makers back when it was written.
Schumacher argues for things like:
De-centralized, local decision making that takes the long-term good of the community as its goal, not short-term profits for a select few in some faraway metropolis.
A critique of systems that grow too gigantic or destructive of human and ecological well-being.
The need for some limiting principle, to enable a society at some point to legitimately say “enough!”
The recognition that economic profit is not the grounding, priniciple manner to gauge human well-being and the failure of modern economic thought to calculate non-economic factors into policy-makers’ decisions
The concept of intermediate technology – simple, nonviolent and controllable – (or, simple, cheap, small, safe): useful in the local situation and not forcing us to develop giant schemes
A changed view of labor and production where work is elevated to a vocation and labor and ownership aren’t mutually contradictory antagonists
The contention that Third World poverty is a question of “two million villages,” as Gandhi argued, and thus that concentrated endeavors in urban settings merely concentrated the benefits into the hands of a very select few, and the villages stayed in abject poverty
The contention that humanity should adapt within Earth’s ecosystems instead of trying to dominate (and typically destroy) them
The need to return to the Four Cardinal virtues: prudential, justitia, fortitudo, and temperantia
As I said, it’s a very interesting read, and I’ll include some excerpts in the next few blogs.