Small Is Beautiful

by Ernst F. Schumacher

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 01, 2024
Small Is Beautiful
Small Is Beautiful

Discover the transformative ideas of E.F. Schumacher's "Small Is Beautiful" - from holistic education to Buddhist economics and sustainable community-building. Explore practical insights to apply these principles and unlock personal and societal wellbeing.

What are the big ideas?

Holistic Education for Complex Truths

E.F. Schumacher emphasized the need for an education system that goes beyond imparting knowledge to fostering wisdom and values. He critiqued mainstream education for lacking focus on metaphysics and the 'higher truths' necessary for navigating complex situations, advocating for an educational approach that nurtures the 'whole person.'

Buddhist Economics

Schumacher introduced 'Buddhist Economics,' a philosophy that centers on the purification of human character through dignified work and the rejection of materialism. Unlike traditional economic models that prioritize profit and consumption, Buddhist Economics focuses on meeting basic human needs and spiritual growth.

Intermediate Technology

Schumacher proposed the concept of 'Intermediate Technology' to support sustainable development in poorer regions. This approach involves using simple, affordable technological advances to improve traditional tools and techniques, thus addressing the specific local needs of communities without the complexities of high-tech solutions.

Organic and Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Schumacher was a strong advocate for organic farming and sustainable agricultural methods. He opposed the industrialization of agriculture, promoting instead practices that reconnect people with nature, enrich ecosystems, and produce healthier food, demonstrating a deep respect for the environment's lifecycle.

Community-Based Sustainability

Influenced by Schumacher, various organizations globally adopt his principles for building self-reliant, sustainable communities. His ideas encourage local initiative in energy production, organic farming, and economic models, fostering a network of small, connected, sustainable communities.

Economic Reformation via New Economics

Schumacher critiqued conventional Western economics for overlooking vital social and environmental dimensions. He inspired the foundation of the New Economics Foundation to explore and propagate an economic paradigm that values sustainability, well-being, and community resilience ahead of mere economic growth.

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Holistic Education for Complex Truths

Schumacher believed that mainstream education fails to develop the whole person. Rather than just imparting facts and knowledge, he argued that education must cultivate wisdom and values. This holistic approach is essential for navigating the complex challenges we face.

Schumacher critiqued the current education system for neglecting the metaphysical and ethical dimensions of life. He believed that true learning must engage the head, hands, and heart - not just the intellect. Only by nurturing the spiritual and moral faculties of students can we equip them with the higher wisdom needed to reconcile life's divergent problems.

Schumacher's vision for education emphasized practical skills, community engagement, and the integration of theory and practice. He drew inspiration from thinkers like Gandhi, who advocated teaching children both academic subjects and vital life skills. This balanced, holistic approach produces well-rounded individuals capable of contributing meaningfully to society.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about Schumacher's emphasis on holistic education for complex truths:

  • Schumacher believed that education must produce "whole" people who are "truly in touch with this centre" of metaphysics and ethics, and have acquired not just knowledge but also wisdom and a proper sense of values. This would help them transcend the divergent problems of life with the "higher power of love."

  • Schumacher was critical of his own school and university education, saying the "maps of life and knowledge" he was given hardly contained any trace of the things he "most cared about and that seemed to him to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of his life." This reflects his view that mainstream education lacks focus on the deeper, spiritual dimensions.

  • The Small School experiment in Hartland, backed by the Schumacher Society, aimed to provide a "holistic education" for secondary students, integrating the "head, hands and heart" by teaching practical skills and spiritual values alongside academic subjects.

  • Schumacher College was established to provide a space for "personal transformation" and "mutual learning and discussion" on emerging systemic disciplines like Chaos theory and Gaia theory - areas that Schumacher saw as crucial for developing a deeper, more interconnected understanding.

  • The College's courses cover a wide range of topics - from economics to architecture to the arts - all from a "holistic and interconnected perspective", emphasizing direct experience of nature and community living alongside academic study.

  • The affiliated Bija Vidyapeeth or "Earth University" in India, founded by Vandana Shiva, also models Schumacher's ideas, with a focus on organic agriculture, water harvesting and community self-reliance alongside more conventional educational activities.

Buddhist Economics

Schumacher's concept of Buddhist Economics rejects the materialistic and consumerist focus of traditional economics. Instead, it centers on meeting people's basic needs and cultivating their spiritual growth through dignified work.

Rather than prioritizing profit and endless consumption, Buddhist Economics emphasizes the purification of human character. It views work not merely as a means to an end, but as a path to self-improvement and inner peace. By engaging in meaningful, fulfilling labor, individuals can enhance their moral and spiritual development.

This philosophy stands in stark contrast to the dominant economic models that single-mindedly pursue growth and efficiency. Schumacher believed such approaches were ultimately unsustainable and detrimental to human wellbeing. In his vision, a healthy economy should nurture the whole person - body, mind and spirit - not just material wealth.

Examples to support the Key Insight:

  • In 1955, Schumacher accepted a 3-month assignment as Economic Development Adviser to the government of Burma (now Myanmar). He immediately attached himself to a Buddhist monastery and concluded that the Burmese people did not need economic development along Western lines. Instead, they needed an "economics suited to their own culture and lifestyle - a 'middle way' between the Western model which sought to increase material wants and consumption, to be satisfied through mechanized production, and the Buddhist model which was to satisfy basic human needs through dignified work, which also purified one's character and was a spiritual offering."

  • Schumacher later coined the term "Buddhist Economics" which, like Marxism, "implies a complete rejection of the greed and materialism on which so much of modern economics is based, and also a respect for the value and dignity of meaningful work." This "middle way" became the basis of Schumacher's approach to technology and development planning.

  • Schumacher's Buddhist experience "opened the door to his later studies of Eastern mysticism and Western religions, and eventually through St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and the early Church Fathers, to Christianity." This spiritual journey informed his views on the need to move beyond the narrow, materialistic focus of conventional economics.

Intermediate Technology

Intermediate Technology: Schumacher's innovative approach to sustainable development in poorer regions. The core idea is to use simple, affordable technological advances to improve traditional tools and techniques, rather than imposing complex high-tech solutions. This 'middle way' addresses the specific local needs of communities without the costs and complexities of advanced technologies.

The goal of Intermediate Technology is to gradually increase productivity and create more rural jobs, while maintaining and valuing traditional cultures. It involves researching local problems, locating or inventing appropriate skills and tools, and setting up training and delivery systems. This allows poor communities to access technologies they can own, understand, and manage for their own benefit.

Schumacher believed that small-scale, human-centered technologies are crucial for efficient, flexible, and innovative enterprises - even within larger companies. By focusing on the "humanization of work", ownership, and the development of sustainable small organizations, Intermediate Technology aims to reduce unemployment and create more meaningful jobs.

Here are the key points and examples from the context that support the insight on Intermediate Technology:

  • Schumacher observed that Western mass production technologies did not create jobs for the poor, but instead undercut the modest goods produced by local artisans. What the poor communities needed were improvements to their traditional tools and methods, not sophisticated Western technology.

  • Schumacher concluded that what was needed was an 'intermediate technology' - technologies midway between the poor's uneconomical traditional methods and the costly high-tech devices that only benefited a few. This would gradually increase productivity in the villages and stem the drift of unskilled people into the cities.

  • To apply the concept of 'intermediate technology', the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) was formed in 1965 to research and develop simple, more efficient tools and training for poor people in developing countries.

  • The ITDG published its first "Tools for Progress" buyer's guide for small-scale equipment to support this approach. They worked to develop appropriate, local solutions to local problems that could be easily adapted and replicated in poor communities.

  • Schumacher believed that any new and beneficial improvements in technology should be made widely available to all who needed them, rather than just benefiting a small, wealthy segment.

Organic and Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Schumacher championed organic farming and sustainable agricultural practices. He strongly opposed the industrialization of agriculture, which relies on chemicals and artificial inputs to boost yields. Instead, Schumacher advocated for farming methods that reconnect people with nature, enrich ecosystems, and produce healthier food.

Schumacher recognized that agriculture deals with living organisms, unlike most industries which work with inanimate materials. He believed farming should fulfill three key goals: put people in touch with living nature, enrich the wider habitat, and produce the food and materials needed for a fulfilling life. Productivity should be a byproduct of these primary aims, not the sole focus.

Schumacher saw the long-term dangers of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which destroy soil microorganisms and disrupt natural balances. This leads to degraded soil quality, diminished crop yields, and farmer dependence on external industries. In contrast, traditional land management systems can naturally maintain soil health and fertility.

Schumacher's vision for sustainable agriculture influenced the founding and work of organizations like the Soil Association. He urged these groups to stay forward-looking, engage the public, and present their research and message more widely. Schumacher's holistic approach to food, farming, and community resilience remains highly relevant today.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about Schumacher's advocacy for organic and sustainable agriculture:

  • Schumacher firmly believed that each country or region should be as self-sufficient as possible in energy and food production, with a focus on local cultivation of organic, indigenous crops to increase food security and reduce the carbon footprint.

  • Schumacher vehemently opposed the Mansholt Plan which treated agriculture as just another branch of industry, arguing that agriculture should instead fulfill goals like connecting people with nature, enriching habitats, and producing healthy food - with productivity as a byproduct.

  • Schumacher became very interested in the research of the UK Soil Association, which was founded in 1946 to connect good farming practices with environmental and human health. As the Soil Association's President, he concluded that chemicals in the food chain negatively impact human health.

  • Schumacher stressed the need for the Soil Association to spread its message about organic, sustainable agriculture more widely and engage new generations, saying "Right ideas, in order to become effective, must be brought down and incarnated in this world."

  • Schumacher personally became involved in sustainable agriculture, spending time on his own organic garden and advocating for tree-planting and forest farming schemes, which he saw as the antithesis of unsustainable deforestation.

Community-Based Sustainability

Schumacher's vision inspires a global movement of community-based sustainability. Across the world, organizations are putting his principles into practice, empowering local communities to become self-reliant and sustainable.

At the heart of this movement is the belief that communities should take control of their own energy, food, and economic systems. Local renewable energy production, such as solar and wind power, reduces dependence on fossil fuels and creates jobs. Organic, community-based agriculture provides fresh, nutritious food while preserving biodiversity. And decentralized economic models, like cooperatives, build resilience and keep wealth within the community.

By nurturing these interconnected, small-scale initiatives, communities become more resilient in the face of global challenges like climate change and resource scarcity. This grassroots approach empowers people to shape their own sustainable futures, rather than relying on top-down solutions. The result is a vibrant network of self-reliant, environmentally-conscious communities that embody Schumacher's vision for a more just and sustainable world.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of community-based sustainability influenced by Schumacher:

  • The Transition Towns Movement, started in 2004/5 by Rob Hopkins in Kinsale, Ireland, aims to provide local solutions to respond to peak oil and climate change. It has spread to over 380 designated 'transition initiatives' worldwide, building community resilience through local food production, reduced transport and waste, and community sharing schemes.

  • Practical Action, an organization founded on Schumacher's principles, focuses on introducing technologies and enabling services that can help protect existing livelihoods for poor people and foster the development of small and medium-sized enterprises to create new employment opportunities at the community level.

  • The Jeevika Trust, also founded by Schumacher, operates in India with a similar ethos of community-based development, addressing poverty through sustainable, local initiatives rather than top-down approaches.

  • Organic farming, which Schumacher was an early advocate of, is being promoted by organizations like the Soil Association to make it more accessible to the public through practical information, literature, and guidance for new enthusiasts, empowering local communities to adopt sustainable agricultural practices.

  • Schumacher's enthusiasm for silviculture and 'forest farming' is exemplified by the work of Tree Aid, a Bristol-based charity demonstrating the benefits of tree-planting projects in impoverished regions of Africa to establish soil protection and rural livelihoods at the community level.

Economic Reformation via New Economics

Schumacher challenged the narrow, materialistic focus of mainstream economics. He argued that economic decision-making must consider social and environmental impacts, not just financial growth. Schumacher inspired the founding of the New Economics Foundation (nef) to explore and promote an economic paradigm centered on sustainability, well-being, and community resilience, rather than endless growth.

nef's goal is to create a new economic order that values and protects social and natural systems, rather than the "hollow, unsustainable and destructive premises of easy credit, consumerism and unsustainable economic growth." This involves developing practical tools and policies to shift economic priorities at both the grassroots and institutional levels.

nef's work has helped shift public attitudes and influence government policies in ways that have tangibly improved people's lives. By building a coherent body of new economic theory, research, and practice, nef is gradually transforming how we understand and structure our economic systems. The vision is an economy that serves the flourishing of people and planet, not just the accumulation of wealth.


  • Schumacher saw the need to expand the vision of contemporary economists to put human wellbeing and environmental sustainability at the center of economic decision-making, rather than just narrow measures of productivity and growth.

  • The New Economics Foundation (nef) was founded in 1986 to explore practical alternatives to the materialistic and centralized norms of Western economic thinking, with the aim of creating an economy that values social and environmental impacts, not just GDP growth.

  • Nef sees itself as a 'think and do tank', working to change ideas, policies and institutions at the highest level through research and communications, as well as creating change from the grassroots up within communities.

  • Nef's founding members were unanimous in the realization that an economic system focused solely on growth was ill-equipped to solve pressing challenges like environmental damage, inequality and social injustice. They sought to shift to a radically different economy focused on increasing well-being through sustainable resource use and social justice.

  • Nef has developed a coherent body of new economic theory, research and practice that has begun to inform regional and government policies, as well as grassroots community initiatives, both in the UK and internationally.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Small Is Beautiful" that resonated with readers.

Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.

True wisdom requires a shift in our approach to science and technology, prioritizing harmony with nature and the well-being of all living things. This means embracing innovative solutions that are gentle on the environment, elegant in their simplicity, and beautiful in their design. By doing so, we can create a more sustainable and balanced world that benefits both people and the planet.

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.

A way of living that prioritizes accumulating wealth above all else is unsustainable. This approach has no built-in boundaries, but it exists within a world with finite resources. As a result, it will eventually collide with the limits of its environment. Ultimately, this mentality is incompatible with the natural world.

An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.

In essence, it's not just about having grand ideas or theoretical knowledge, but rather taking tangible actions that can lead to real change. What truly matters is rolling up one's sleeves and putting plans into motion, as this is where true progress is made.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "Small Is Beautiful"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the focus of holistic education, as opposed to mainstream education that primarily imparts factual knowledge?
2. Why is it important to integrate metaphysical and ethical dimensions into the education system?
3. How should true learning engage students according to a holistic view of education?
4. What are the benefits of teaching both practical skills and academic subjects together?
5. What does Buddhist Economics prioritize over profit and consumption?
6. How does Buddhist Economics view the role of work in an individual's life?
7. In what ways does Buddhist Economics contrast with dominant economic models?
8. What problem does Buddhist Economics seek to address in conventional economic approaches?
9. What is the main objective of using simpler technological advancements in poorer regions?
10. What approach does this technology advocate in the development of poor communities?
11. Why is a technology that is complex and high-tech not always suitable for poorer regions?
12. What is the significance of small-scale, human-centered technologies in development?
13. What was established to research and develop simpler tools and training for developing countries?
14. What are the primary goals of agriculture according to sustainable farming advocates?
15. Why do sustainable farming advocates oppose the industrialization of agriculture?
16. What are the long-term effects of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides in farming?
17. How is agriculture characterized differently in sustainable practices as opposed to most industries?
18. What role do organizations focused on promoting sustainable agriculture play in society?
19. What is the core belief that drives the global movement of community-based sustainability?
20. How does local renewable energy production contribute to community-based sustainability?
21. What role does organic, community-based agriculture play in promoting sustainability?
22. How do decentralized economic models, like cooperatives, benefit communities?
23. What are the central values that a new economic system should prioritize according to the New Economics Foundation's philosophy?
24. Why is it important to consider social and environmental impacts in economic decision-making?
25. How does the concept of 'think and do tank' apply to the work of the New Economics Foundation?
26. What are the practical outcomes of shifting economic priorities to focus more on human wellbeing and environmental sustainability?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Small Is Beautiful". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you integrate more holistic practices in your learning or teaching methods to ensure a balance between intellectual, practical, and ethical education?
2. What steps can individuals take to cultivate a 'whole-person' approach in their educational or professional environments, fostering not just knowledge but also wisdom and community engagement?
3. How can you integrate the principles of dignity and spiritual growth into your workplace or business practices?
4. How can you integrate more human-centered, simple technologies in your current projects or community initiatives to foster sustainable development?
5. How can you incorporate organic and sustainable practices into your gardening or farming activities to enhance soil health and ecosystem balance?
6. What energy solutions can you implement within your community to promote local renewable energy production?
7. How can you contribute to the promotion of a more sustainable and community-focused economic system in your local area?

Chapter Notes

1. Who was E. F. Schumacher?

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • E.F. Schumacher's Background: Schumacher was a German-born economist and philosopher who became a prominent figure in the Green Movement. He had a distinguished academic background, but was an "outsider" who challenged many of the basic assumptions of Western economic and academic theory. He experienced poverty, social injustice, and alienation first-hand, which informed his views.

  • Spiritual Journey: Schumacher's economic and metaphysical views evolved over time, as he moved from atheism to embracing Christianity and Eastern philosophies like Buddhism. His spiritual development was a key influence on his economic ideas.

  • "Buddhist Economics": During a stint advising the Burmese government, Schumacher developed the concept of "Buddhist Economics" - an approach that rejects the materialism and greed of modern economics, and instead emphasizes meeting basic human needs through dignified work that purifies one's character.

  • Sustainable Development: Schumacher advocated for sustainable development strategies, promoting self-sufficiency in basic necessities like fuel and food, and harnessing renewable energy. He was an early proponent of sustainable agriculture and forest conservation.

  • Intermediate Technology: Schumacher proposed the concept of "intermediate" or "appropriate" technology - simple, affordable improvements to traditional tools and techniques, rather than large-scale Western-style development projects, as a way to address poverty in the developing world.

  • Influence and Legacy: Schumacher's unconventional ideas made him a "cult figure" in the 1960s and 70s, especially among the hippie movement. His work continues to influence the Green Movement and alternative economic approaches today.

2. The Schumacher Society

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Schumacher's view on education: Schumacher believed that education should develop the "whole person" by imparting not just knowledge, but also wisdom and a sense of values. He felt that mainstream education lacked a focus on metaphysics and the higher truths needed to guide people through complex situations.

  • Formation of the Schumacher Society: After Schumacher's death in 1977, Satish Kumar, Christian Schumacher, and others formed the Schumacher Society to promote and develop Schumacher's ideas, and to encourage networking with the emerging environmental movement.

  • Resurgence magazine: Resurgence magazine, originally conceived by John Papworth, became an influential part of the environmental and eco-spiritual movement. Satish Kumar took over as editor in 1973 and has continued in that role, bringing Gandhian values of soil, soul, and society to the magazine.

  • The Schumacher Lectures: The Schumacher Society established an annual series of lectures in Bristol, featuring key thinkers and activists with a holistic and inspiring vision. These lectures have become a prominent forum for investigating alternative ideas and a gathering of the UK environmental movement.

  • Green Books: In 1985, Satish Kumar and others set up the publishing company Green Books to fill a gap in the dissemination of environmental literature. The company has since grown to publish over 260 titles on a range of environmental and spiritual issues.

  • The Small School: Inspired by Schumacher's ideas and Gandhi's educational philosophy, the Small School was established in Hartland, Devon, to provide a holistic secondary education focused on developing the "head, hands, and heart" of students.

  • Schumacher College: Established in 1991 on the Dartington Estate, Schumacher College provides short courses exploring a wide range of topics from a holistic, interconnected perspective, attracting students and scholars from around the world.

  • Affiliated projects: Inspired by Schumacher College, affiliated projects have been developed in other countries, such as Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University) in India, founded by Vandana Shiva and Satish Kumar.

  • The Schumacher Institute and The Converging World: The Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems was established in 2006 to focus on research and practical initiatives related to sustainable systems. It is closely linked with The Converging World, a social enterprise that uses the idea of "Contraction and Convergence" to reduce global inequalities and environmental impact.

  • The Schumacher Circle: In 1986, the Schumacher Society formed the Schumacher Circle, a network of UK organizations associated with Schumacher's ideas, to share information and promote each other's events, publications, and initiatives.

3. Third World development models

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Schumacher's Observations on Poverty in Developing Countries: Schumacher was deeply troubled by the "grinding and devastating poverty" he observed in both rural and urban areas of India, where people had lost all self-belief and were unable to utilize their own local resources, even with the provision of aid or modern technology.

  • Schumacher's Proposed Solution: Intermediate Technology: Schumacher concluded that what was needed was an "intermediate technology" - technologies that were midway between the uneconomical traditional methods and the costly high-tech devices that only benefited a few. This would involve researching and developing skills and tools appropriate to specific local needs.

  • Practical Action (Formerly ITDG): Practical Action, founded by Schumacher, has worked for over 40 years to transform the lives of millions of poor people worldwide by developing and promoting simple, sustainable technologies and solutions tailored to local needs, such as solar-powered water pumps, Zeer refrigeration pots, and floating gardens.

  • Jeevika Trust and the Schumacher Centre for Development: These organizations, also founded by Schumacher, continue his work in India, focusing on initiatives like water harvesting, sanitation, nutrition, micro-credit, and income generation, particularly for marginalized communities and women's self-help groups.

  • Schumacher's Tripartite Approach to Development: Schumacher emphasized the need for a collaborative approach involving local communities, NGOs, government, and businesses to address rural development issues like access to raw materials, infrastructure, finance, and markets.

  • Schumacher's Influence on UK Initiatives: Schumacher's ideas inspired the creation of Local Enterprise Trusts and Local Energy Groups in the UK, which aimed to address unemployment and energy/resource waste through community-based initiatives. The Technology Exchange Ltd. also sought to facilitate the sharing of beneficial technologies globally.

  • Continued Relevance of Schumacher's Ideas: Despite some practical achievements, Schumacher's ideas have had a greater impact in the developing world than in industrialized countries, where the prevailing growth-oriented development model continues to struggle to address poverty and environmental concerns. However, the current crises are rekindling interest in Schumacher's more integrated, sustainable, and community-focused approach.

4. Food, agriculture and land use

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Land as a Vital Resource: The chapter emphasizes that land is the greatest natural resource, as it underpins our entire life-support system and has the ability to continuously produce, nourish, sustain, and regenerate. Schumacher believed that each country or region should strive to be as self-sufficient as possible, especially in the fields of energy and food production.

  • Organic Agriculture and Sustainable Practices: Schumacher was a strong proponent of organic farming and sustainable agricultural practices. He opposed the industrialization of agriculture, which treats it as just another branch of industry, and instead advocated for methods that prioritize reconnecting people with nature, enriching the wider habitat, and producing healthy food.

  • The Soil Association: The chapter discusses Schumacher's involvement with the Soil Association, a UK-based organization that promotes organic farming and research. Schumacher served as the president of the Soil Association and helped infuse it with a new spirit and vision, emphasizing the need to reach out to a wider audience and present its research more effectively.

  • The Transition Towns Movement: The chapter highlights the Transition Towns movement, which is inspired by Schumacher's principles of community-based, sustainable solutions to address issues like peak oil and climate change. The movement encourages local organic food production, reduced carbon emissions, and community resilience.

  • Silviculture and Agroforestry: Schumacher was also a proponent of silviculture, or the cultivation and management of forests, and agroforestry, the integration of trees and shrubs into agricultural systems. He recognized the multifaceted benefits of trees and encouraged tree-planting schemes to help counter the devastating effects of deforestation.

  • Challenges Faced by Traditional Farmers: The chapter discusses the challenges faced by traditional and organic farmers, particularly in the developing world, who are pressured to abandon their sustainable practices and adopt industrial agriculture methods, often leading to debt, dependency, and environmental degradation.

  • Validation of Schumacher's Principles: The chapter concludes by highlighting the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, which validated Schumacher's views by concluding that organic agriculture can contribute to global food security, tackle climate change, and protect biodiversity, in contrast to the narrow focus of industrial agriculture.

5. Small-scale technologies for local sustainability

  • Renewable Energy Technologies: The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) has focused on developing and demonstrating a variety of renewable energy technologies, including solar, wind, water, ground heat, and biomass. These technologies are designed to be "benign and hard to abuse" with "intrinsic limits" that keep things in proportion, unlike fossil fuels or nuclear power.

  • Energy Efficiency and Self-Reliance: CAT has experimented with low-energy building techniques, using primarily local and natural materials like wood, earth, straw, and lime, with only a small percentage of industrial materials. This approach aims to reduce energy demand and increase self-reliance.

  • Water and Waste Management: CAT has achieved a sustainable model for water supply and waste management, using techniques like slow-sand filtration, UV treatment, and on-site wastewater treatment without energy or chemical inputs. They have also developed advanced designs for waterless toilets.

  • Organic Food Production: CAT has adopted an "ultra-organic" approach to food production, using no agrochemicals and demonstrating the potential for soils to sequester carbon through the incorporation of organic material. This has resulted in higher biological diversity compared to the surrounding farmland.

  • Organizational Structure and Governance: CAT has evolved a balanced organizational structure that aims to strike a balance between efficiency and democracy, with permanent members owning and managing the organization, overseen by a committee of local trustees. This model is intended to be adaptable and self-governing.

  • Education and Training: CAT has a strong focus on education and training, offering a wide range of courses for the general public and hosting a rapidly growing postgraduate program in sustainable architecture, which has become the largest of its kind in the UK. The center is also evolving into a "do-it-yourself micro-university."

  • Visitor Demonstration and Information Facilities: CAT maintains extensive visitor facilities, including a shop, restaurant, and information service, which serve to educate the public and generate revenue to support the center's activities.

  • Catalyzing Local Regeneration: CAT has "spun off" several daughter companies and has been instrumental in the creation of other local initiatives, contributing to the regeneration of the Dyfi Valley region and the creation of numerous small enterprises and meaningful jobs.

  • Schumacher's Influence: CAT was directly inspired by the ideas of E.F. Schumacher, particularly his concepts of "Intermediate Technology" and sustainable, self-reliant communities. The center's work is seen as a tangible demonstration of Schumacher's vision.

  • Broader Relevance: The lessons and experiments at CAT are becoming increasingly relevant as the world faces the combined challenges of global warming, population growth, and resource shortages, with local self-reliance becoming more necessary. The center's approach serves as a model for other communities, both in industrialized and developing regions.

6. The call for a new economics

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Schumacher's critique of conventional economics: Schumacher challenged the narrow, materialistic interpretation of economics in the West, arguing that it fails to consider the central importance of social and environmental goods upon which the global economy relies, which he termed the 'meta-economy'.

  • The New Economics Foundation (nef): nef was founded in 1986 to explore practical alternatives to the materialistic and centralized norms of Western economic thinking, and to take forward the thinking of Schumacher and others in the field of economic policy.

  • Measuring well-being, not just GDP: nef has developed alternative indicators to GDP, such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Well-being (ISEW) and the Happy Planet Index, to incorporate social, environmental, and other relevant factors into economic decision-making.

  • The 'Green New Deal': In 2007, nef published the 'Green New Deal' report, which explored strategies to tackle the combined crises of a credit-fueled financial crisis, accelerating climate change, and soaring oil prices.

  • Social Return on Investment (SROI): nef has developed the SROI methodology to demonstrate how organizations and policymakers can incorporate social, environmental, and well-being returns into economic decision-making.

  • Local economies and community resilience: nef has worked to make local economies and communities more resilient, including initiatives like 'Plugging the Leaks' and the 'Local Multiplier', which help communities explore and enhance the economic impact of their activities.

  • Co-production and time banking: nef has promoted the concept of co-production, which recognizes the value of reciprocity and the broad range of social activities that contribute to community life, as well as time banking, which enables the exchange of services without money.

  • Banking and access to finance: nef has been involved in the growth of the community development finance sector and has advocated for the reform of the banking sector to better serve communities.

  • The E.F. Schumacher Society (USA): This organization, founded in 1980, has been working to implement Schumacher's vision of a new economy through initiatives like the Community Land Trust, SHARE (Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy), and the BerkShares local currency.

  • The 'economics of permanence': Schumacher's vision for a new economic system based on ecological guidelines, different business models, affordable access to land, renewable energy, and cultural restoration and spiritual renewal, as an antidote to the various interlinked crises facing the current global economy.

7. Transforming industrial work in the First World

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Schumacher's Influence on the National Coal Board: During his time at the National Coal Board, Schumacher became increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of large industries due to their centralized structures and dependency on uncertain fossil fuel supplies. He challenged the notion of "uneconomical" coal extraction and advocated for a long-term energy strategy that included energy efficiency, renewable technologies, and matching energy generation to end-use.

  • Schumacher's Approach to Forecasting: Schumacher warned against the perils of detailed forecasting, which he believed often amounted to asserting that "everything will remain as before, only more so." He preferred to use "exploratory calculations" that were more flexible and could be adjusted based on current conditions.

  • Schumacher's Critique of Nuclear Power: Schumacher raised public concerns about the safety of nuclear reactors and the feasibility of long-term waste containment and storage. He advocated for the exploration and cultivation of "relatively non-violent, harmonious, organic methods of co-operating with the enormous, wondrous, incomprehensible system of God-given nature."

  • Schumacher's "Lifeboat Principle": Schumacher encouraged companies to invest a portion of their turnover in R&D and "lifeboats" - complementary alternative approaches to their main products - to diversify their services in case their current markets were challenged or collapsed.

  • Challenges in Communicating Schumacher's Ideas to Mainstream Industrialists: Schumacher faced difficulties in communicating his message of "human-scale" and "appropriate technology" to mainstream industrialists, whose primary focus was on increasing productivity and profits through ever-more sophisticated technology.

  • The Scott Bader Commonwealth: This company, which Schumacher joined in 1965, was an innovative example of a company that transferred ownership to its workforce and implemented a constitution with "self-denying ordinances" to limit the company's growth and ensure a fair distribution of profits and decision-making power.

  • Schumacher's Emphasis on Small-Scale Organizations: Schumacher consistently emphasized the potential creativity and flexibility of small organizations and units, even within larger industrial structures. He believed that small firms or departments were crucial to the efficient functioning of modern companies.

  • Attempts to Implement Schumacher's Ideas in Large Industry: The experiences of Lucas Aerospace and AT-ITDG (Appropriate Technology - Intermediate Technology Development Group) demonstrated early attempts to apply Schumacher's ideas of "appropriate technology" and "lifeboats" within large industrial settings, but these initiatives were often ahead of their time and ultimately not sustained.

8. The relevance of E. F. Schumacher today

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Schumacher's Holistic Thinking and Widespread Influence: The chapter highlights how Schumacher's ideas have influenced a wide range of organizations and initiatives, from the Green Belt Movement in Africa to the Transition movement globally. This demonstrates how even small committed groups can drive widespread change.

  • Need for Closer Collaboration and Connecting with the Public: While each organization influenced by Schumacher can make a significant impact, the chapter suggests they need to work more closely together and connect with a wider public and decision-makers to ensure sustainable and lasting change.

  • Abandoning Idols of Acquisitiveness and Embracing Sufficiency: The chapter argues that we must abandon the "long-cherished idols of acquisitiveness, unrestrained growth, power, economic globalisation" and instead embrace the ideals of "humility, frugality and responsibility for the wellbeing of future generations and of the environment."

  • Shifting from Negative to Positive Industries: The chapter suggests that in a stable, socially trusting society, "negative" industries like armaments and crime prevention can be replaced by more positive, rewarding and productive ventures such as social and health care, local food production, and community-based activities.

  • Changing Consciousness and Priorities: The chapter emphasizes that the current crises have arisen through "wrong thinking, leading to wrong decisions," as economics takes precedence over environmental concerns in government policies. Reversing this requires a "changed consciousness and changed priorities."

  • Importance of Early Education in Non-Violence and Moderation: Schumacher stressed the importance of educating the young in "the Christian cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, prudence and fortitude," as well as "the disciplines of moderation, frugality and voluntary simplicity."

  • Shifting Educational Focus from Data Accumulation to Wisdom Development: The chapter highlights Schumacher's view that education should shift from "absorbing and quantifying data" to "assessing its quality and intrinsic value, as well evaluating how it can best be applied" to develop balanced, well-adjusted citizens.

  • Renewable Energy Innovations and Potential: The chapter discusses various renewable energy innovations, such as solar panel aqua farms, "smart cities," and large-scale wind farms, which demonstrate the potential for sustainable energy solutions.

  • Addressing Food, Fuel, and Finance Interrelationships: The chapter emphasizes the importance of developing "a coherent integrated national strategy" to address the interrelated issues of food, fuel, and finance, which Schumacher recognized as crucial.

  • Preparing for Potential Social and Economic Collapse: Given the current crises, the chapter suggests that we should "re-examine some of Schumacher's community-based solutions and survival strategies" to prepare for possible social and economic collapse.


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