The byline of the book Small is Beautiful by E F Schumacher reads ‘a study of economics as if people mattered’. And I can add to that economics as if common sense prevailed. This is a classic book written sometime in the early 70s. Almost 40 years ago. And its every word still hold true. Actually, it means much more now than it did then. Everything that the author says is simple and commonsensical. And you wonder why this even needs to be said. But the fact of the matter is these simple ideas, concepts, and models though obvious is conspicuously missing in this world, where everyone is trying to be bigger and bigger and that too faster than everyone else.
Small is Beautiful book looks at growth as a holistic idea that takes care of ecology, people, resources, and spirituality. Growth that is driven by the needs of people and not by maximizing their consumption. The essay on Buddhist economy talks about an economy based on base minimum requirements. And a compassion for everything and not just human beings. This chapter points the basic difference between sustenance based eastern outlook and consumption based western outlook. Based on this author questions the assumption of the possibility of infinite growth. He questions the non-accounting of natural resources in the costing of the products that assume that these resources are free. The cost may not be immediate. And sometimes may not even be borne by the immediate user. But in the end, this is going to cost the humanity. This is something that businesses and policymakers still continue to ignore.
He proposes intermediate technology, which is what developing economies like India have been depending upon till sometime back. He questions why does everyone need a cutting-edge technology solution for smaller and basic needs. And when you need to service millions and not just a few thousands. This is the question I have for all those who are running after CCTVs and solar fences today. He also proposes a matrix ownership model for public-private partnerships, which seem Utopian. But then a move in that direction would leave lesser space for corruption. He warns against the use of nuclear energy that leaves so much radioactive material on earth that we all would be impacted by it sooner or later.
Unfortunately, the ill effects of these half-researched technologies become evident after half a century or more. And by that time these technologies have permeated so much in our lives that we cannot do without it. We start searching for the solutions to combat them with newer technologies whose effect we do not know yet. And probably will be discovered by next generations who will then combat it with another set of technology. Curse of these times is that we are all looking at technology for all our problems – real or perceived. We are taking away our eyes from simple solutions because someone wants to sell technology to us.
Though it does not seem that the book has made any practical impact on the society in last 40 odd years. But still, I hope people read it. And bring some sense to this current day design of producing and consuming more than what we need. 20 Simple essays that focus on the economy as it would help the humans and their environment better.
A must-read for everyone. The perfect gift to give people around you…
Buy this book Small is Beautiful A Study of Economics as if People Mattered by E F Schumacher at Amazon India.