Fritz Schumacher’s 1973 ‘Small is Beautiful’

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.

In the jungles of Costa Rica

cabecar jungle

 

So I’ve been AWOL for a month here, in a flurry of activity that has kept me largely away from my computer and for sure away from doing things like blogging. One of the best of these activities, in a month packed with fun, (Thanksgiving, deer hunting, etc), was a week long trip to Costa Rica, where I found myself climbing mountains in the jungle on a remote Indian Reservation doing a feasibility study for development work for an inter-agency cooperation.

From 2012-2014 I did an MA in International Development at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA at Eastern’s  (Tony) Campolo School of Leadership and Development. As a pastor, I’ve always believed in putting your money where your mouth is, and a degree in development would, I hoped, help me comprehend better how to do good work in the under-developed world, instead of blundering through with good intentions.  It was great fun and very stimulating and put me with an incredible group of people I am blessed to call friends. One of the organizations looking at development work among the Native Americans in Costa Rica knew me and asked me to come along on an assessment trip as their ‘development specialist.’ An all-expenses-paid chance to hike around in the jungle and maybe even do some good? Easy choice.  My folks paid for our 17 year old son to come along as a student observer and that made it even better.

So it was pretty sweet, interviewing folks all over, taking a look at their water and sanitation issues, and education, health services and infrastructure needs. We spent three days in the jungle and the next three days hammering out reports and sitting in long, long meetings. All in all, it was dream work. The dream job. I’m grateful to belong to a denomination with a vision for transformation of not only peoples’ spiritual lives, but all of their existence, in culturally appropriate, missiologically and anthropologically sound ways.