Monday, August 17, 2020

A Belated Introduction to E.F. Schumacher (one of the few economists I respect)

Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher (16 August 1911 – 4 September 1977) was an internationally influential economic thinker, statistician and economist in Britain, serving as Chief Economic Advisor to the UK National Coal Board for two decades.

His ideas became popularized in much of the English-speaking world during the 1970s. He is best known for his critique of Western economies and his proposals for human-scale, decentralized and appropriate technologies. According to The Times Literary Supplement, his 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered is among the 100 most influential books published since World War II and was soon translated into many languages, bringing him international fame.

Schumacher's basic development theories have been summed up in the catch-phrases Intermediate Size and Intermediate Technology. In 1977 he published A Guide For The Perplexed as a critique of materialist scientism and as an exploration of the nature and organization of knowledge. Together with long-time friends and associates like Professor Mansur Hoda, Schumacher founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now Practical Action) in 1966.

[Source: Wikipedia]

When we begin to suspect that we are not on the right road, then of course we get a lot of radicals, fanatics. And a fanatic is a person who, when he senses that he is doing the wrong thing, redoubles his efforts. We have plenty of those. I call them ‘the people of the forward stampede’. They have a slogan, emblazoned on their banner, ‘A break-through a day keeps the crisis away’. They are stampeding us into greater and greater violence. More and more mad-hat schemes.

But now there is another great groundswell of people whom I call ‘ the homecomers’, who say, ‘The purpose of our existence on this earth cannot be to destroy it. The purpose of our existence can’t be to work ourselves silly and to end up in a lunatic asylum. Let’s reconsider.’

I was on the other side of the iron curtain, where they explained to me at great length that their system was so much better than our system. Finally they said, ‘In any case the Western economies are like an express train hurtling at ever-increasing speed towards an abyss.’ Then there was a short pause, and they said, ‘But we shall overtake you.’ That is the automatism of progress.

[Extracted from "CARING, FOR REAL" ~ E.F. Schumacher's last speech]

[First posted 29 August 2011]