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review 2017-08-20 13:10
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered - E.F. Schumacher

I don't know quite where to put my finger on this book, and the author perhaps shared the same sentiment. There's some eco-idealism, then it borders Luddism, then some insightful perspectives on scaling-down and decentralization.

For me at least, it failed to deliver. It's a poof of interesting dust with some golden speckles here and there.

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review 2016-03-24 21:55
As If It's Real- Jeff Maehre


This read of four interlocking short stories draws one into what are to most people fairly unfamiliar lives, yet reflects on life truths that affect us all. I have never played cards for big money, or betted more than a few coins in what we accurately used to call 'one-arm-bandits', but the story made me feel as though I had. Equally, I've never given up my freedom to drugs, but felt the sickening 'necessity' of the next fix for a few minutes. My favourite story was about the gambler's mother, trying to understand by learning poker for herself. We get a feel for how each character rubs against the others through different first person points of view.

The stories pass all too fast. This is interesting fiction observing human behaviours from inside fictional characters. I would gamble that the character Elliot has a real thread of Jeff Maehre in him, but then, as I say, I don't put money on it.


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review 2015-03-05 00:00
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered - E.F. Schumacher “A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” is the tagline for Small is Beautiful but don’t think this is a boring book on supply and demand. Schumacher doesn’t focus on economics as we traditionally think of the subject, but rather, on how we think about economics, business, and what is right. He challenges the assumption that bigger is always better on a multitude of levels and has made such logical and persuasive arguments as to propel this work to the status of a classic.

So what exactly does Schumacher have to say about our economic, social, and political systems? First of all, he believes that size is everything because, the larger the size of any private enterprise, the greater impersonality, insensitivity to human needs, and reach for even greater power. As an alternative, small systems allow for freedom, creativity, sustainability, and even morality. The modern world measures progress by a simplistic and unrealistic one-dimensional meter. Profit is the only factor used to gauge success, without any attention paid to human and environmental costs, morality, truth, social factors, and more. His main belief is that “[man] is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful. To go for giantism is to go for self-destruction.” This pattern of self-destruction on the road to what appears bigger and better repeats itself over and over in Schumacher’s discussion of everything from business to the environment to international aid.

Schumacher directs plenty of attention to our consumption of non-renewable resources. We fail to wisely categorize capital into two sets of camps: natural vs. man-made and renewable vs. non-renewable. In failing to do so, we mistakenly assign profit value to natural resources instead of capital value. We treat these resources, particularly fossil fuels, as though they were a limitless creation at the hands of man. Schumacher argues that, were we to conceptualize these as the natural capital items they are, we would do everything in our power to conserve them, irreplaceable as they are. Instead, we rely on them more and more with each coming year and have set ourselves on a collision course for disaster, as there will inevitably come the day when we have sucked all of our non-renewables completely dry and we’re unable to maintain our methods of feeding ourselves, housing ourselves, and simply living our lives. Schumacher argues that we need to recognize the dangers of this future now but, more importantly, we have to stop talking and start acting now. We can’t afford to start employing sustainable lifestyles once our fossil fuels are eliminated – we need to change our lifestyles today.

Small is Beautiful also looks at our conceptions of peace, its origins and its attainability. Greed and envy drive men today in such a way as to make peace virtually impossible. Vice blinds us to the most essential of human problems, while driving up those one-dimensional measures of success, like Gross National Product (GNP). We think that simply increasing government involvement, doing more research, and employing more complicated technologies will all, eventually, cure social ills. Schumacher argues that greed, envy, an the expansion of needs are all destructive to the very foundations of peace, namely happiness, intelligence, and serenity. Universal prosperity will not yield peace as so many of us like to believe. Peace will only be discovered when man decides to search for wisdom, to seek goodness and virtue. And this is where Schumacher’s argument against one-dimensional economics really shines. Without an eye to wisdom, spirituality, and truth, economics, science, and technology will fail to create fruitful, appropriate, and lasting solutions to the reality of our world’s very human problems. “Systems are never more or less than incarnations of man’s most basic attitudes.” Without changing our attitudes, ending our idolization of material goods, avoiding greed and envy, and valuing peace, charity, and kindness, we cannot hope to create a peaceful and fair system, economic or otherwise.

I could draft dozens of posts on Schumacher’s work and still not cover all the wise, innovative, and inspiring arguments that he brings to the table in favor of downsizing. Instead, I’ll offer a brief listing of all the topics touched upon in this dense 3128-page volume.

The benefits of small-scale enterprise
Buddhist economics
The irreconcilability of infinite material progress within a finite world
The limitations of science as a producer of ideas by which to live
The essential differences between agriculture and industry that make the two incompatible
The need to move away from mass production in lieu of production by the (currently unemployed) masses
The need to direct aid toward education, knowledge, experience, and other sustainable, intellectual goods
How to combat the disintegration of rural life and mass migration to poverty-stricken metropolitan districts

Even though Schumacher recognizes that final solutions do not exist to curing the ills of our economic system. We need to find balance in our day to day life between our need for material goods and the immobility of life completely absent consumption. A compromise involving our desire for progress and our narrow profit-driven definitions of it must be reached. The problems which face our society, in terms of our economic structure, are vast and varied. But they are also rooted in a few sole principles and values that need be challenged. Schumacher lays out the framework that allows us to envision a new economy, one that values truth and wisdom, that takes account of the human factor, that believes small is beautiful.
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text 2014-07-25 22:54
Sia, wouldn't wanna be ya
Sia - Josh Grayson

I'm just going to start off by saying that this book is terrible. In pretty much every way. But it's the kind of terrible where, after a hard week of challenging reading (and, you know, actual work), you can just sort of shut down your brain and skim through it.


Like everyone else, I was sucked in by the premise of spoiled rich girl turned good after losing her memory. But it was all so trite and pat and perfectly pointless. The characters where one dimensional, and though they changed, they never gained depth. They just went from one dimensionally awful to one dimensionally good. Except for the requisite Magical Negroes, Carol the homeless guru, and Beatriz, the technically Mexican housekeeper. Between the two of them it takes about 2 weeks to transform Sia from queen of the bitches to queen of the fundraisers, but not one word of it was believable.


I got it on special from Amazon for less than a dollar, but I still returned it. My day, however, I will never get back. 

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review 2014-01-25 13:47
Dated, Still Relevant
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered - E.F. Schumacher

The last great finical debacle, the one in 2007, is still affecting people the world over, but the affect is still heavy in American. I was personally affected, my wife and I both lost jobs. We have yet to recover from that. There was a snow storm a few weeks back. It occurred when the Polar Vortex slipped it’s usual spot over the North Pole and paid North America a visit. The company I work for is dependent upon trucks from Chicago based warehouses to fulfill the retail stores needs. So, when the snow kept trucks from arriving here in Kansas City, we as a store were limited as to what we could offer our customers. This, like the economic crash, got me thinking about how well connected everything is. Wall Street was too big to fail so money was thrown at it, given to those who caused the problems in the first place. What if they had failed? Could America have survived? What if this snow storm had been worse? Would food have stopped coming in to Kansas City altogether? Just how fragile is our system of life, and should it really stay that way?


These thoughts are similar to ones I have often that are concerned with the amount of resources we use to make useless things we don’t need. The amount of waste we produce. Also, the consumer culture that drives us to make and purchase these cheap trinkets. What does living and working like this doing to us? From my view of history, we have never lived like this. The few times people of the past have gotten anywhere near we are now it was chaos, it was disaster. I can only think that disaster and chaos are all that is meant for our future, we have yet to see any of the dangers of living out of balance with the earth. 


Thinking such thoughts will lead a person to want to find some comfort. One of the ways to do that is find people who have been working on the problems at hand and see if they have some potential solutions drawn up. These types of people publish books to share their findings and thoughts. There are many books out there talking about our ills and sometimes a few seem to keep surfacing. This makes them tempting to read even if they are dated. One of these books is Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher. It was originally published at the beginning of the energy crisis in the early ’70’s. It was one of the early books that served as a warning against our insatiable appetite for earths resources and our over blown sense of self-importance. 


Schumacher makes an argument we current day folks are somewhat familiar with. The resources we take can’t be replaced fast enough to be sustainable. Nature can only take some much pollution before it becomes toxic for all life on earth. Handing out technology and first world ways of doing things to developing third world economies will solve nothing. It is these first world economies that have it wrong in the first place. He speaks on how the fast paced economics of the modern world dehumanizes us. He talks about compassion, being caretakers, rather than profit makers, and he waxes on about quaint ways of life. 


I won’t spend time here deconstructing his work to prove my intelligence or to sound preachy, complete with moral high ground from which to preach from. I will simple say, you should read this book. Now, mind that you don’t have to. This book has become such a staple for the environmental front and eco-warriors, and so many others. Schumacher’s thoughts have become foundational stones for such movements, therefore reading his 1973 book won’t provide you with some profound enlightenment that current literature has ignored. 


However, there are reasons to read this book. I was shocked to compare the data that Schumacher used with the current data we have now. Levels of pollution and economic inequality, for example. When he was writing this warning things weren’t as bad as they are now. All of this made his warnings all the more dire. There was also his idea of decentralizing our economies, our means of production. This was real interesting to me, for what he was talking about was small self-sustaining economies. So, in the case of the snow storm, well that wouldn’t have effected Kansas City if Kansas City was more responsible in creating it’s own food. If Kansas City had a self-sustaining economy than the 2007 crash wouldn’t have been a threat either. Think of populations of people acting somewhat like terrorist cells. If some type of natural disaster befell one part of the world, it wouldn’t effect another. A city without a crisis wouldn’t find itself in one because of a another city in crisis. This would create more sustainability the world over. 


Working in such a way would create village economies and these economies would have to operate on the idea of ‘enoughness’, or only using what you need. We don’t need to take and take until we have so much waste. We can have wealth and be content, thus making sure more people have wealth and future people have wealth. Schumacher called this thinking Buddhist Economics, in his words, "the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." By not living this way we over work ourselves just so we can consume, and all that makes us human is shoved away so we can sit in a cubicle or waste away at a type of manual labor that destroys our bodies. Instead, if we lived by Buddhist Economics, we would have more time and energy to be with people and spend more time producing that which makes us happy. Schumacher takes about the happiness that people get from creating things from their own hands, even if it is just a chair. Slow labor with an acquired skill is a path to happiness.


This notion of Buddhist Economics struck a cord with me, as before I ever read Schumacher’s work I had read Me and Mine: Selected Essays of Bhikkhu Buddhadasa. Bhikkhu Buddhadasa is one of Thailand’s most famous monks. At the time when the Thai government was hunting down the communist ‘threat’ in Thailand for American interests, because America paid them millions of dollars to do so, Buddhadasa was using Buddhist teachings to argue in favor of socialist economic models. He even talked directly about Buddhist Economics as well. He felt that any moral Buddhist person would favor an economic model that brought as much health and sustainability to as many as possible.


So, while I enjoyed reading this book, it is dated. If you are looking for current day thoughts on the current data we have concerning the state of the world, this is not a book to pick up and read. However, if you are interested in reading some of the early works on environmentalism and ethical economics, this would be a good place to start. Whether you choose to read it or not, works such as Schumacher’s are becoming more and more common. There are many educated people working on world crushing problems right now and they are taking their findings straight to the people. They do this because those with power, governments, corporations, aren’t listening. As a matter of fact, they are actively trying to silence research that could save us and our future on this planet. So, read Schumacher or not, but start somewhere.

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