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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 October 2011
Published back in 1973 this book will seem to some readers the very embodiment of a hippy -style , green tinged , mixed market style of economic thinking. In some quarters `Small is Beautiful' will be either seen as laughably idealistic or decidedly 'old hat'. His views on nationalization and state intervention in business will have many on the right, aghast at the idea of state extending its control or influence over 'big' businesses- a policy process that they would say helped the UK towards its industrial melt down in the 1960's and 70's. Others might see this book as part of the economics counter-culture, up holding the idea that while markets and output are important, society and the environment are more so. Some of Schumacher's notions have been taken more seriously especially by the 'green' movement: boycotting the products of errant firms, working and buying local and reducing personal waste for example.

But this slim volume has value and is well worth reading whether you agree with the overall tone and philosophical direction of travel or not. For in this era of globalised 'free' markets where governments and society are at the beck and call of financial markets and institutions ,individuals feeling that they are mere cogs in an industrial machine that sees them either as consumers or 'inputs'. Schumacher reminds us that it doesn't have to be this way...... his is a message of hope and encouragement: yours to accept or not!

'Small is Beautiful' was written in an era when the mantra was very much economic growth is 'good'. If economic growth creates a wider quantity and choice of goods and services that people can consume , adding to their general well being and happiness, then growth is to be encouraged. Growth could be engineered by allowing businesses to get on and do business. The more growth the better: end of argument.

So what's the problem?

Schumacher wants us to see the economy and economic activity as being the servant of mankind and not the other way around. For him, the market with its obsession with short profit seeking has no particular logic other then to cater to particular individual needs regardless of the wider social costs and benefits of doing so. We as consumers, employees, employers, voters or general citizens should think about the issues and act upon our consciences. Its our world and if we make a mess of it, it can only be our fault. 'Small is Beautiful' argues that economics focused to much on quantitative issues - growth, incomes and employment and not enough on the quality of life. For Schumacher 'quality' is about the social and natural environment rather then consumption as an end itself. Quality is about 'freedom' - meaningful work, local decision making, applying appropriate technical solutions to particular local problems or conditions. Quality is about 'bottom up' community action rather then 'top down' imposed decisions. Economics and its obsession with markets is just too 'narrow' in its perspective, as he says his book is 'a study of economics as if people mattered'.

SIB is an enjoyable read. A period piece in some respects but in others, such as the chapters on economic development his ideas on community based enterprise and appropriate use of (intermediate) technology and aid are very useful. His views on the nuclear debate and the role of education also are thought provoking and as relevant today as when he first put pen to paper. My only problem with Shumacher is that he neglects to mention all the body of economic theory on development, environment and welfare that looks at issues way beyond markets and their behaviour, suggesting by this limiting of the argument that economics lacks the tools or ideas to assist individuals and decision makers in shaping society for the better in future.

Topics covered: business organization and the role of the individual, the role of the state in business and the markets, appropriate development policies and environment issues. The style is discursive and can tend towards the woolly. He is happy to high the problems of current economic and business thinking but is a little too keen to brush over some of the knock -on effects that some of his policies might engender if put into practice.

Why read: Students of economics, business and politics would gain from reading parts or all of this book. As the chapter headings clearly signal the topic under discussion, it is easy to select the content the reader might wish to focus on. At just over 240 pages long it's a fairly quick read but an interesting and challenging one all the same. It's possible to enjoy and benefit from reading 'Small is Beautiful' even if it is in the final analysis it is hopelessly optimistic and under developed in places. Schmacher for all his faults dares us to 'think'...now how about that for an idea?.....
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 September 2011
I read this book back-to-back with another book by Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed. Though Small is Beautiful is the title for which he is most well known, my strong preference was for the latter title.

Small is Beautiful is the earlier book and is rightly recognised as a key instigator of what we might call `grown-up' environmental awareness. The subtitle of the book `Economics as if People Mattered' reflects the aim of the book in extending economic thinking beyond purely traditional financial factors. Central to this is the acknowledgement of the value of natural capital as an input to economic production. For example the air, water and other natural resources that traditional economics assumes to be free and abundant.

The `small is beautiful ` of the title refers to Schumacher's argument that we should steer away from a belief that technology can be relied upon to solve whatever problems we throw in its direction and that decentralization as a way to bring the human touch back into the equation of business.

Schumacher makes a strong case for the value of intermediate technology, or perhaps appropriate technology, which not only delivers desired outcomes, but does so in ways that are in harmony with the broader needs of the communities where the technology is applied. For example, however valuable the finished constructed project, a JCB used in its construction may do the work of 100 men, but is of questionable value if in a developing country those 100 men have nothing to do but watch the JCB, and it is driven by a worker imported from overseas.

The book, though perhaps a little dated, is a good read, and essential reading for anyone wanting to question the dominance of single minded profit based economics.

Personally, having read A Guide for the Perplexed at the same time, I found Small is Beautiful a less rounded book, full of passion and some anger, and packed with ideas and the will to confront the world. In contrast I found A Guide for the Perplexed had the feeling of a book that had perhaps benefited from some time to reflect. In place of the data, evidence and specific arguments of the earlier book, it has a calm and considered perspective with the fragmented and detailed ideas of Small is Beautiful distilled into a single human theme.

My recommendation would be to read both books, beginning with this title. As well as benefiting from the richness of both of the books, you may also gain some insights into the process of developing quite profound ideas.
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on 10 July 2009
This book should be required reading in schools - it is that good. Insightful, clear and to the point, the author's analysis of the issues is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

His basic premise is that fossil fuels are capital , and yet we consume it like it is a revenue stream, and this is ultimately destructive. Instead we should spend our capital resources in order to create the infrastructure for sustainability.

This book inspired the organic movement, and is the intellectual basis of so much of environmentalism. We ignore its lessons at our peril.
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on 18 April 2008
I found EF Schumacher's `Small is Beautiful - a study of economics as if people mattered' in a secondhand bookshop and bought it because the title really resonated with me. I knew nothing about it at the time, but it turns out it's been a highly influential book in the environmental and social justice movements.

First published in 1973 in the wake of the oil crisis, Schumacher's collection of essays was very formative in the understanding of sustainability. Some of the figures may be out of date, but it remains a passionate and radical view of economics even today, especially in the light of current oil prices, and something of a fulfilment of the resource depletion scenarios he foresaw.

I leave you with a quote:

"An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth - in short, materialism - does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited."
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VINE VOICEon 28 June 2004
The point of this book is to assault what is meant by progress and try and understand what has gone wrong when we live in almost obscene wealth while large parts of the planet barely get by. This book is a call to arms, to understand things we all seem to have forgotten: what is value? what actually matters in life? should the means always justify the ends? what is work for? and who put all these economists in charge? I doubt most readers will agree with everything, but the writing is plain, unfussy and easy to read and still very persuasive. Schumacher appeals to uncommon sense: our feeling of how the world should be. And, unlike the other armchair-revolutionaries, he has actually tried to make it happen. To cap it all, Buddhist economics is the most beautful idea i've come across in ages. Highly recommended.
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on 13 December 2011
I had a hard time deciding what rating to give this book. At times it was both engaging and plausible, at others it was so infuriating I had to put it down and come back with lowered expectations. The book was made by sewing several essays together, and as such reads more like an anthology than a single treatise. Schumacher passes through a variety of subjects trying to make his point, and he reveals that he is very willing to make very strong assumptions in some areas to further his argument. He invokes God at least three times and has a list which appears to cite both evolution and relativism as corrupting influences on society. An entire chapter on "Education" is in actuality dedicated to stressing the importance of our (the West's) social and moral "classical-Christian inheritance". He ends up sounding generally anti-science, and especially dismissive of Physics and Mathematics. I got pretty angry at his flat assertion that nobody misses out on anything by not knowing the laws of thermodynamics. I wanted a book about economics, criticising economic thought from within and without, and I feel he went outside the scope of his understanding here.

My review may seem harsh, and overly focused on minor details, but the problem is that I have a background in philosophy and mathematics and not in economics. As such, I am not guaranteed to detect specious reasoning in writing about economics, so (from my perspective) the inclusion of his fumbling and quite dogmatic attempt at metaphysics has cast doubt over the whole enterprise. I enjoyed his thoughts on Development, Intermediate Technology and Scott Bader; taxation though equity ownership is an interesting idea; and of course his views on the environment were very prescient.

It probably deserves five stars "for its time", but for reading as a modern person, three seems fair. Some great food for thought with some dubious company.
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on 29 June 2005
I realized recently that this book has shaped my thinking for all the years ( more than 30) since I have read it, and I measure nearly all attempts at development in its light. (Sadly, not much measures up.) Somehow, it has not become obvious to all that exporting the high-cost- in so many ways- technology and lifestyle of the West is not going to work, but when it does become obvious, it will be the wisdom of this book that will be the guide. Its beauty lies in that it doesn't suggest particular solutions, but the principles to guide the strategies. Now that I have gotten older, and am accumulating some means to help, it will be projects of the recommended intermediate technology, that will the head the list of ideas I support. Read the book and be inspired.
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on 1 November 2010
Still as relevant as ever in the light of recent financial debacles affecting the global economy and the reckless behaviour of the financial services sector. The supplier acted promptly and supplied the book in excellent condition.
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on 17 September 2011
A friend recommended this book to me way back in the 70s sadly I never read it then but had I done so I would most certainly kept on the path that I was following at that time. This book is a must for those that know something is wrong in the world today and want to be awakened to positive alternatives. It's also for those that think everything's fine and dandy, it's this group that really needs a resounding wake-up call. It should be required reading at the very least, preferably an intrinsic element of the education curriculum. Where there's life there's hope and where there'e ideas there's the potential for change.

Give this book as a birthday or a Christmas present to your family and friends.
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Once upon a time, this was a classic social critique that was "de rigueur" reading among those still influenced by the social movements of the 1960's, those who were working for a more just, and dare I say, rational, society. I placed this book in the same league as Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (New York Review Books Classics)which is a still very relevant critique of our educational system. Schumacher's subtitle expresses his key theme well: "Economics as if People Mattered." In a nutshell it asks the rather obvious question that seems never to be addressed by so much of the media: If a country's GNP increases by 3%, as opposed to 1%, which is normally viewed as a "good outcome," does that mean that the lives of its citizens are 2% better under the first scenario as opposed to the second?

I read this book in the early 1970's, shortly after publication. The major impetus to review this book, finally, came from the publication of a recent article about a major corporation that relentlessly pushes its employs to "excel," in part, by "giving their soul to the company," via grueling and all-consuming work weeks. And the question remains: For what?

The author commences: "One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that `the problem of productions' has been resolved." He goes on to say in the same paragraph: "For the rich countries, they say, the most important task now is `education for leisure'..." What leisure those hard-pressed corporate climbers might ask? `Tis a gift to be simple...' is an old Shaker hymn and that theme is also reflected in Schumacher's work: "The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom...Every increase of needs tends to increase one's dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear." One of my favorite quips in that regard is that the increase in "needs" seems to be reflected in the number of garages that are so full of boxes of "stuff" that one cannot park the car in it.

A couple other favorite quotes from this book are: "The most striking thing 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." And... "The amount of real leisure a society enjoys tends to be in inverse proportion the amount of labour-saving machinery it employs"

Income inequality? We generally know that it has only dramatically increased over the last four decades, with only the most modest lip-service being paid to reversing this trend. Schumacher addresses this point by saying: "remuneration for work within the organization shall not vary, between the lowest paid and the highest paid, irrespective of age, sex, function or experience, beyond a range of 1:7. We are now close to having a ratio that is two magnitudes larger.

Prospects for the future? Consider this anecdotal factoid: the total reviews at Amazon, for both editions of this book, is under 50. For a new coffee French coffee press that I reviewed about a year ago, there are approximately 3,000 reviews. Admittedly, it IS a nice coffee press, but it is also an "acquired need." This book remains an important work for those still seeking a more rational, and less hurried society, in which there is some time to "smell the roses." 5-stars, plus.
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