small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered
© 1973 E.F. Schumacher
Get big or get out, said the Secretary of Agriculture to American farmers in the 1970s. But as the consequences of widespread industrialism and general upheaval began to show their faces, ,the environmental movement was born and another voice, E.F. Schumacher’s, rang out against the agribiz giants: not so fast.In small is beautiful, he argues against industrial and agricultural giantism that is not only unsustainable energy-wise, but malignant to the health of developing economies. Taking partial inspiration from “Buddhist economics”, a perspective which considers the impact modes of production have on the persons involved, Schumacher argues for small-scale production and the implementation of ‘appropriate technology’; that is, forms of technology that can be implemented into existing societies and increase production gradually, allowing developing nations to adjust without causing the kind of disruption that results in gigantic slums and spasmodic bounts of famine and war. This also applies at the individual level, for appropriate technology can allow laborers to still be personally involved in their work, not alienated from it as happens with assembly-belt mass production. Although penned in the 1970s, this is a work which has only increased in relevance: environmental solutions constantly defer to the need for localism, from community-supported agriculture to roof-mounted neighborhood solar panels feeding into the local grid. Our lifestyle hasn’t become any more sustainable; our rate of progress down the dead-end road of total consumption has only increased in the last decades. Small is beautiful is definitely a work to consider if you have any interest at all in environmentalism, ecology, sustainability, or the economy’s impact on society.