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Small Is Beautiful

E.F. Schumacher

E.F. Schumacher’s economic treatise. This is another one of those books I read after finishing my economics degree, but had I read it before, I would’ve been able to better grapple with my inchoate discomfort with the ideologies being taught.

One telling story from the text is back at Oxford in the 1820’s, when they were debating instituting a professorship of political economy, people were really apprehensive. A provost did not want to admit into the University’s curriculum a science “so prone to usurp the rest.”

150 years later, this is one of today’s capitalism’s defining features: its ability to grow, subsume, and govern ever-farther frontiers of our lives.

But Schumacher has hope in our ability to reform the usurping tendencies of economics:

 
 

“As we have seen, economics is a ‘derived’ science, which accepts instructions from what I call meta-economics. As the instructions are changed, so changes the content of economics.”

It’s probably from this context that Schumacher writes:

“The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction.”

He ends the book in an unorthodox pivot to the spectrum of contemplative practices, prefiguring his later book, A Guide for the Perplexed, itself a masterful work on the human condition. To close Small is Beautiful, he writes:

“Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of [human] mankind.”