Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

Rate this book
"Nothing less than a full-scale assault on conventional economic wisdom."

One the 100 most influential books published since World War II
The Times Literary Supplement

Hailed as an "eco-bible" by Time magazine, E.F. Schumacher's riveting, richly researched statement on sustainability has become more relevant and vital with each year since its initial groundbreaking publication during the 1973 energy crisis. A landmark statement against "bigger is better" industrialism, Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful paved the way for twenty-first century books on environmentalism and economics, like Jeffrey Sachs's The End of Poverty, Paul Hawken's Natural Capitalism, Mohammad Yunis's Banker to the Poor, and Bill McKibben's Deep Economy. This timely reissue offers a crucial message for the modern world struggling to balance economic growth with the human costs of globalization.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1973

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ernst F. Schumacher

28 books206 followers
Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher 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.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,573 (40%)
4 stars
2,360 (36%)
3 stars
1,078 (16%)
2 stars
283 (4%)
1 star
97 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 649 reviews
Profile Image for Elenabot.
39 reviews458 followers
August 11, 2016
The conception of economics as a free-standing, autonomous discipline and sphere of activity, and even as an end unto itself, is one of the costliest fallacies of our age. It is precisely this fallacy that this book dismantles. That economic growth should be subordinated to broader human, cultural, political and ecological concerns, and that it should serve human growth by being intelligently harnessed to fuel community-development projects (rather than having politics hijacked by economics by claiming economic growth is the end-all of politics and society), is an idea we badly need to grasp at a time in which corporations are gaining unprecedented legal rights and political power.

The underlying issue here is, as he rightly points out, our culturally patterned inability (read, unwillingness) to understand issues in their true context. Anyone who has ever tried to think logically and objectively about the matter will realize that economics is a subset of ecology. Who-da-thunk it? Human economic activities occur within a context of limited natural resources, and therefore economic growth cannot mushroom unto eternity. Ignoring said context means undercutting the basis on which we stand. Action can only be appropriately deliberated within a comprehensive and profound enough understanding of its appropriate relational context. You don't need references to quaint ethical precepts that'd embarrass any self-respecting, "hard-nosed" economist in order to appreciate this as a cold, self-evident fact revealed by the unbiased use of reason.

He rightly points out that we fail to introduce the true variables (limited resources) into our computations due to a perspective schewed by flawed and overly narrow preconceptions regarding which kinds of considerations are relevant. This is another illustration of one of the costliest pitfalls of human reason: the results of any act of reasoning you perform are determined by the perspectival limitations that ensue from your posited starting points. You posit the variables that you consider relevant, and reason calculates for you the best way to focalize the picture you wish to see. Unfortunately, what you don't wish to see is at least as important as what you do. Omitting an object from one's field of vision does not decrease its reality.

The lapse of reasoning on this issue is borderline pathological, and far from being our chief adaptive organ, human reason is proving disastruously ill-matched to reality (a point well elaborated also in Ornstein and Ehrlich's New World, New Mind). The issue could easily be rectified by paradigmatically enforcing modes of thought and analysis that place problems in their proper, large-scale context, instead of myopically focusing on issues in terms of the teeniest short-term spotlight we can consider them in. You don't need some "transformation of consciousness" for that. You just need to actually use reason as it is meant to be used: on the basis of the most comprehensive perspective available. That this is still largely considered "fringe" material shows that not many steps have been taken to increasing the adaptiveness of our overriding paradigm.
Profile Image for Clif Brittain.
132 reviews9 followers
December 28, 2009
It has been thirty years since I read this book for the first time. I had my original copy, so it was interesting to see what I'd highlighted and noted at that time. In most cases, I agree with the note, but it was especially interesting to see what the differences were.

I've studied a lot of economics since that time, and it surprises me that so little of Schumacher's prejudices against the "religion" of economics have taken hold. Economics is so one dimensional (profit on a micro scale and GNP on a macro scale), and if you argue to introduce other variables (finite resources), you lose all credibility with the public and are thrown into the "spacey" category.

So many of the questions he raised about sustainability are so relevant today, and still don't get discussed.

We were in deep doodoo when he wrote this and we are in deep doodoo now. He was right then and he is right now. So why can't we learn?
25 reviews2 followers
April 16, 2007
I baised, my economic philosophy is very much in agreement with Schumacher.

Schumacher takes economics and makes it human, ethical, and easy to understand. Shumacher's perspective is economics as a set of tools to assess and answer questions rather than economics as the answer itself. He highlights the shortcomings of statistical models (i.e., "externalities" such as quality of life, environmental degradation, social impacts, etc are not assessed).

The response to Small is Beautiful was the creation of a humanistic economics movement. This movement suggests that deeming something "economic" does not mean it is the automatic correct course of action, rather the first discussion of "economics" should be followed by consideration of whether the action is ethical, ecological, etc.

Regarding globalization Schumaker asked "how much further 'growth' will be possible, since infinate growth in a finite environment is an obvious impossibility".

The basic tenent of Small is Beautiful is that people should come before economics, that one's workplace/life should be dignified and meaningful first, efficient second, and that nature is priceless.
Profile Image for Chrisl.
607 reviews87 followers
January 19, 2020
"Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.” Quote of 1970s wisdom
1/17/20 - Reading David Brooks editorial today bringing back memories of my enthusiasm for small scale economics. The NYT opinion writer making a case for 'Big is Beautiful'
NYT article that describes changes in our small town by big companies:
"Thus, the core problem is not capitalists exploiting their workers; it’s the rise of productivity inequality. It’s the companies and individuals who don’t have the skills to take advantage of new technologies"
Brooks brings back days when I was inclined to Schumacher's vision, by showing bigger is better. When walking with dogs unleashed exploring the juniper and sage landscape with no buildings in sight, where Apple has its security fenced monstrous presence.
Knew in 1963, when home on leave to Mother's new home in Central Oregon, that I wanted to root myself in the region. A small place in the sunshine with nature all around. ... Where there are now nine gigantic 'clouds' consuming extraordinary amounts of electricity ... Apple and Facebook buildings, including five Facebook structures that have changed my winter sky sunset profile.
Profile Image for Nick Klagge.
731 reviews56 followers
March 24, 2011
This is a tough one for me to rate. There were parts of it that I found quite insightful, parts that seemed very dated, parts that felt like a big letdown.

Some thoughts:

-EFS writes clearly about the problem of the "hedonic treadmill" (though he doesn't use that term) for materialist capitalism: "There are poor societies which have too little, but where is the rich society that says: 'Halt! We have enough'? There is none."

-He advocates a "third way" between laissez-faire capitalism and state socialism, which is not just a compromise between the two. Rather, it is a form of organization that I might call a true "ownership society", with ownership being defined not by abstract property rights but by operational reality--that is, people should be able to own things when they can truly exercise personal ownership--so owning a neighborhood business makes sense, but owning a multinational company (or even worse, a share of one) does not. He doesn't use this terminology, but I think his advocacy of small scale is closely tied to the ethics of caring: it is natural to want to care for things one owns, but this is only possible at the human scale on which care can operate.

-I appreciated his discussion of "convergent" and "divergent" problems. Briefly, a convergent problem is one where there is a solution that can be communicated to others, who can then carry it out--an example being a math or engineering problem--while a divergent problem is one where this is not the case, such as a social or political problem. Much of modernity, EFS argues, is dedicated to the attempt to reduce divergent problems to convergent problems (for instance, in political organization or education). Not only is this impossible, says EFS, but it actually represents a moral horror--imagine what a world would be like in which convergent solutions had been found to problems of human relationships: a living death, as many sci-fi novels will tell you. The way to deal with divergent problems is not to "solve" them but to live them out. I find this distinction to be pretty useful.

-Despite approaching it critically due to the New-Agey title, I actually liked the essay "Buddhist Economics", and I wish he had called it something different as there is little in it that is specific to Buddhism--I think it was just a hot topic in 1973. It's really just about the role of virtue in grounding economic organization. The main focus is on the logic of consumption. EFS notes that standard economic thought understands an increase in consumption as always and everywhere good. On the other hand, nearly all traditional virtue systems agree that "pleonexia" is bad (and this is a case where even classical Greek and Christian understandings of virtue agree). EFS argues that the main measure of interest is happiness per unit of consumption, and that the right way to maximize this is in ways that minimize the denominator while holding the numerator constant. In this essay he doesn't much go into specific ways of doing that, so one could read it as insufferably preachy: "Just be content with less!" But I think that is an unfair reading. I think the argument finds a very powerful application, for example, in the trend away from public goods toward private goods in America--moving from using the municipal pool to everyone having a pool in their backyard. One could argue that this slightly increased individual utility (though I'd be skeptical), but certainly it represents a vast decrease in the happiness/consumption ratio.

I could go on but I should probably wrap it up. So, here's my main problem with this book. Despite his avowed love for small-scale organization, EFS ultimately seems not to have the full courage of his convictions. He ends up advocating that more appropriate scale be brought about through a somewhat baroque large-scale technocratic method, involving forced equity participation by the state, "Social Councils", special courts, etc. Throughout the book, whenever EFS was arguing that the status quo was unjust or destructive, I found myself agreeing with him but wondering what to do about it. So when he finally came to describe his prescription in this way, I felt pretty let down. I think that anyone making this type of critique of modern society needs to have the courage advocate actions that can be taken at the scale of individuals or communities, without recourse to the state's monopoly on violence. This, of course, is the hard part, but having just read Dorothy Day I know that people have managed it--perhaps not in ways that are glamorous, but I think that is part of the point.
Profile Image for Rebecca Schneider.
672 reviews28 followers
February 14, 2013
Oof, tried to read this but found it dated and preachy. Some of Schumacher's fundamental ideas are wonderful and important, but I can't read books that make blanket statements about the iniquity and moral vacuity of modern society & how things were better before the 19th/20th/21st century.

Also, if you're writing for an audience of non-conformists in the seventies and you're NOT a feminist, shame on you. (Schumacher says that "most" women shouldn't have to work, yet claims that meaningful work is a human right. Um.)
Profile Image for Kristen.
468 reviews85 followers
October 29, 2009

I’ve never been all that interested in macroeconomics, but intrigued by the title, I gave Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher a try. It was a long read, but a good one, and I culled interesting insights from every chapter. Schumacher’s visionary simplicity with the largest elements of society were radical 30 years ago, but incredibly relevant, then and today.

A fair portion of the book is spent emphasizing the way our economy is unsustainable and how quickly we use up our natural resources. Schumacher also explains how little consideration was put towards pollution until it was too late. In the folksy way of a 60s radical, he speaks about the importance of the land in a way that is neither hollow nor flippant, but full of wisdom and grace.

“The whole point is to determine what constitutes progress.” What is progress? What should aid to the third world look like? These questions are where Schumacher particularly shines, explaining a need for intermediate technologies to improve the quality of life for everyone and not just investments which only improve the quality of life for the highest classes and leave the lower ones even more destitute.

"No system or machinery or economic doctrine or theory stands on its own feet: it is invariably built on a metaphysical foundation, that is to say, upon man’s basic outlook on life, its meaning and its purpose. I have talked about the religion of economics, the idol worship of material possessions, of consumption and the so-called standard of living, and the fateful propensity that rejoices in the fact that ‘what were luxuries to our fathers have become necessities for us."

When I read quotes like that one, I couldn’t help but think about what the economic implications of Christian thought are, and how few Americans I know, least of all me, embody them.
Profile Image for Michelle.
63 reviews2 followers
May 19, 2009
This book was written by EF Schumacher, a German economist. As an Economics graduate at a conservative liberal arts university in the US South, I enjoyed the philosophy and ideas put forward in "Small is Beautiful". Trust me, this was not on my reading list...I am fascinated with the idea that capitalism has become the new religion for the US/West and that envy/greed the primary morals. The book discusses how capitalistic systems push for growth to solve problems, including poverty, unemployment and standard of living. It also shows how capitalistic systems fall short of solving these problems, because it 1) assumes that infinite growth is possible within a finite world (sustainable econ. point) and 2) that the complete focus on increased profits, coupled with new technologies, has led to a decline in the self-fulfillment of mankind in relation to his/her work. The book argues that the community loses when individuals cannot connect to the work they do with their hands/mind, when people cannot connect what they buy from where it came and how it was produced. Schumacher reminds us that there are spiritual, moral and ecological losses in a capitalistic system. All is not lost, but there needs to be awareness of these losses and adjustments made. He argues for small businesses and the utilization of intermediate technologies so that instead of "mass production" we can have production by the masses.

This book has inspired me to read more along this subject.
December 22, 2010
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.

Small is Beautiful is a collection of essays outlining economist EF Schumacher's philosophy on modern economic, ecological and spiritual thinking. Its strength lies in Schumacher's ability to elegantly and intelligently question many assumptions of modern economics, highlighting some of the fallacies. What makes his work all the more remarkable is that his starting point was indeed economics, rather than environmentalism or social activism.

Part of his thinking about technology comes from Schumacher's vision of what he calls 'Buddhist economics'. Here, he is calling for a new philosophy, which values people above production and values labour above outputs. Work, he claims, should be a dignified and creative process to be encouraged, not a factor of production to be minimised or replaced through mechanisation. he also emphasises the Buddhist values of non-attachment to material goods and respect for all living things.
Profile Image for Manuel Alfonseca.
Author 73 books161 followers
December 29, 2020
ENGLISH: Although I don't agree with everything he says, this small book by Schumacher contains extremely interesting ideas. I liked especially his chapters about education (which he calls The Greatest Resource) and about the prediction of future.

I have used these ideas in several posts in my blog such as http://populscience.blogspot.com/ in English and http://divulciencia.blogspot.com/ in Spanish. For instance, here: http://populscience.blogspot.com/2016...

ESPAÑOL: Aunque no estoy de acuerdo con todo lo que dice, este librito de Schumacher contiene ideas sumamente interesantes. Me gustaron especialmente los capítulos sobre educación (lo que llama El recurso más importante) y sus predicciones de futuro.

He utilizado estas ideas en varias publicaciones de mi blog, como http://divulciencia.blogspot.com/. Por ejemplo, aquí: http://divulciencia.blogspot.com/2016...
Profile Image for Hesham Khaled.
125 reviews125 followers
January 24, 2016
E.F. Schumacher was an economist, And he wrote Small is Beautiful to talk about the economic
problems we have in the world.

this book was published back in the late ‘70s, and it has been updated more recently.

the basic idea of Small is Beautiful is that our economies in the world are big, big businesses, have become too big. And they are not sustainable anymore.
we’re destroying the planet Earth because we are consuming too much. Our economies are too big; our population, too big; our companies, too big.

Everything has grown too large and his solution, as you might guess, is that we need
smaller economies, more local economies, more green economies. So he was writing
about this long before Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth and a lot of other things which
are quite common right now. But he was writing about these things way back in the

What is the most basic problem?

“Economically our wrong living consists primarily in systematically
cultivating greed and envy and thus building up a vast array of
totally unnecessary wants. It is the sin of greed that has delivered
us over into the power of the machine. If greed were not the
master of modern man how could it be that the frenzy of
consumerism does not abate at higher standards of living and that it is precisely the richest societies which pursue their economic
advantage with the greatest ruthlessness? How could we explain
the almost universal refusal on the part of the rulers of the rich
societies to work towards the humanization of work, soul-destroying
, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work
that is an insult to human nature. These are the facts which are
neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable
silence. Because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and
to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of
modern society as a crime against humanity.“

by A.J
Profile Image for Ian.
17 reviews
December 14, 2007
Corporations and capitalism are evil. Blah blah blah. More simplistic garbage drenched in Eastern mythology. I appreciate the attempt of the author to save the world from consuming itself into its grave, but such an effort deserves far more academic rigor than that exemplified by this book.

This was assigned to me in class long ago. Admirable, but forgettable.
Profile Image for Ian Russell.
237 reviews4 followers
June 7, 2009
In an ideal world - as we are talking about ideal worlds, I suppose - I would give Small Is Beautiful five stars: it contains ideas that everyone should be aware of. So, for the ideas, five stars!

Unfortunately however, there are different ways to review a book and as a work of literature I found it slightly disappointing. Obviously Schumacher was a great economist-thinker of his day and, I imagine, a charismatic speaker, but this doesn't convince me writing was another of his strong suits. Some essays I was glad to get to the end, not because I disagreed but because I wanted him to get to the point! Or, at least, give me something to think about until he did. One or two were out-of-date, like the case for relatively harmless coal fired power stations.

Hence three stars (sure, I liked it - but that's all).

The other difficulty I had was the overall style but which was probably down to its age. About the time he was writing it, I was moving up to ''big school'' and being handed those awful, dry-prose things known in our time as ''text books''. This reminded me a lot of those old text books, in contrast to the more conversational, less overly didactic style of today's specialist, non-fiction writers. But that's hardly Schumacher's fault for accidentally being of his own time.

tip: One to borrow, not buy. Also, treat the chapters as separate essays - which, I gather, they are - skip the ones that are too unreadable, but don't give up on the book - yet!

Profile Image for Titus L.
145 reviews26 followers
August 25, 2011
Although a bit dated which is apparent when he refers to specific details, Schumacher's 1973 book Small Is Beautiful; Economics As If People Mattered is a wonderful starters introduction to Economics and how the preoccupation with profit and materialism has begun to undermine the deeper and higher values upon which human society might be built.
Schumacher provides a series of simple to understand perspectives on how the world businesses might practice a more inclusive and compassionate set of values, which would paradoxically serve themselves; their employees and societies and the earth-eco and biosphere's in the longer run would flourish for all.

For any who find these views to be a bit whimsical or lacking in fiber, I gladly refer them to read Naomi Klein's groundbreaking book "The Shock Doctrine; Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (NOT for the faint hearted) which portrays the unbelievably malicious destructive and distopian forces of economic exploitation for short term gain by the few in the name of 'freedom' that has been visited upon the earth and her peoples since the former was written.

To read this book in these turbulent times is a call to reconsider Schumacher's suggestions.

31 reviews1 follower
July 22, 2015
I would classify E.F. Schumacher as an economic philosopher. His thoughts are valid not just in Growth & Development economics but also extend to aspect of microeconomics, corporate culture, human resources and environmental economics. Schumacher is a Gandhian at heart. Nowhere is his writing pure theorising. There are practical application to problems in fields as diverse as you can imagine. The economics we learn in school seems very biased and this book presents a different way to look at it all. A must-read! It is amazing how a book written in the 1970s is just as relevant now as it was then. In a way it suggests we haven't really made any progress in the past 30 years. Nations are made up of people and not the sum of their incomes. Greed and envy cannot consume the human race.
Schumacher writes passionately and drives his point home. I wish I could ask him his thoughts on modern day breakthroughs like microfinance and corporate social responsibility. Would he approve? Would he see them as steps in the right direction? Alas we'll never know. I can only draw my conclusions from the writing in this fantastic book.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,461 reviews305 followers
April 13, 2017
This book has been a part of my mental image of how the world ought to be for as long as I can remember. While the book was published in 1973 I think I had the notions in my mind even before that. Economic success should not be based on the largest size or the largest profits but the largest benefit to people. But I had never actually read the book as amazing as that seems. Now I have finally read it as it approaches its 50th anniversary.

The book has a few too many biblical references for my liking. But it also has a bit of Buddhism to balance things off apparently in the spiritual realm. I have edited out quite a few paragraphs for you to pursue on your own. Here's one of my favorites:

The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace, Every increase of needs tends to increase one's dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war.

Profile Image for Elizabeth.
280 reviews66 followers
April 10, 2016
Now we didn't have to read every chapter (thankfully), and there were some we had to read multiple times. Let me just say I really disagree with Schumacher's views. I really disliked his chapter where he put down the sciences, I'm a chemistry major and that whole chapter I yelled at him in my mind. Apparently to him only the humanities matter because they teach you 'the meaning of life.' *eye roll* So glad to be done with him. Just need that last part I read long enough to write next week's paper then goodbye Schumacher!

-Read for Senior Symposium, Spring 2016
Profile Image for Dio Mavroyannis.
165 reviews15 followers
February 22, 2021
Honestly I've been looking for a book that criticizes economies of scale and defends decentralization. But instead we get the rantings of somebody who doesn't even understand the economic arguments and especially the price system. Its just sophism all the way through, a book made to confuse the gullible.

He makes such silly statements as "there is universal agreement that the fundamental source of human wealth is labor", this is just so silly... he doesn't even define wealth... but the short answer is NO. Producitivy growth is the source of wealth, not the amount of work you do. This is so basic I can only assume he basically chit chatted with his friends and then decided to write a book based on his chat.

He doesn't seem to understand that the problem is the problem of how people USE measures, NOT the measures themselves. He doesn't even understand how that economics talks about subjective value!

He doesn't even understand that education is the main cause of people moving to the cities! Homogeneity of cultures leads to homogeneity of preferences, making city life a more popular preferences. It's just so confused from beginning to end. He even implies that if people aren't educated they aren't "whole men".

He then cites the peak oil book "limits to growth", a book which should be considered debunked today, and says it is right but just wrong on the details, it should have looked at energy. I mean ffs no discussion at all about energy policy keeping electricity prices low and disabling adjustment or even just how renewables could be encouraged by simply waiting for the prices of other goods to increase.

The same for his latter chapters on private vs public ownership, there is simply no nuance to his views doesn't even discuss incentives or public goods problems. I can only conclude he doesn't because he doesn't grasp the arguments.

Garbage all around, skip it.
Profile Image for Koustubh.
42 reviews52 followers
May 29, 2019
"Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered."

The Economics of E.F. Schumacher is what matters to people even if it's not endorsed by Governments, Companies and other Economists alike. This book is the most unusual treatise, enormously broad in scope, pithily weaving together threads from Galbraith and Gandhi, capitalism and Buddhism, science and psychology. Schumacher's Economics is more humane, ethical, moral, realistic and very close to nature. His economics is explained so succintly is that a reader just loves reading and knowing The Economics as if People really mattered.

He questions the very economic principles of the Western Countries and Westernisation of Eastern Countries and cautions the East and tries to plead how much East is rooted in nature than the West and what happens if Western Concept of Economics is accepted all over the world. He explains how "The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so much with technology."

The best part of the book is the Concept of Mixed Economy which the writer explains in the end. He gives an excellent theory of how to tackle "Laissez Faire" economic system which is where one feels why can't the Governments over the world adopt Schumacher's economics and shun the tried and tested economics which is ruining the already ruined world.
Profile Image for Gaurav Hegde.
8 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2021
After reading the book, I now have a lot of clarity on society and systems - management, planning and policies - from a more encompassing perspective that stresses on immaterial values and includes understanding society as an integral part of nature.

It is true that a lot of the population I'm in contact with (including myself) spends a large percentage of it's thinking on satisfying materialistic personal agendas while aesthetics of existence is completely pushed aside, if not rarely noticed. This is not solely because of some incapacity of individuals, rather it's because their attention is directed elsewhere mostly by needs and aspirations determined mechanically by current systems. Schumacher has convinced me that our current education (from most of society as well as institutions) and mechanisms of our social systems really do have a part played here.

The present situation is definitely a lot different from Schumacher's own from before 1970s but I feel that the essential mental framework that people operate from remains the same: thus most of the book is STILL relevant.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
January 18, 2014
Schumacher discourses on economics, through the prism of an ethics of care and respect for human dignity. Although some ideas are dated and the Christian grounding gives his metaphysical comments a flavour that can't help but put me off, this book contains several insights and ideas which merit interest & attention today. These include the absurdity of treating non-renewable resources as income instead of capital, the central importance of fulfilling work to human well-being and the need for an 'intermediate technology' to facilitate securing full employment. The language is clear, free from jargon and meant to be understood by the lay person, so I'd recommend this to students and general readers

"There are no 'final solutions' to this type of problem [corporate ownership and organisation, which should depend on size and circumstances]. There is only a livings solution achieved day by day on a basis of a clear recognition that both opposites are valid."
Profile Image for Christopher Gow.
89 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2020
Still so relevant tho it was written almost 40 years ago, with a few exceptions. This book does a really good job of critiquing capitalist assumptions and actually presenting an alternative vision for corporations.

I love his approach to developmental economics: employing "intermediate technologies" to build markets without exports. Slow, sustainable growth with the same investment of capital to combat the creation of a "dual economy".

Ultimately, he argues for a blend between competitive free markets and shared property/ownership of capital. I wish I could ask him some clarifying questions :/ but this is an eye-opener and a conversation-starter for sure
Profile Image for Audrey.
203 reviews6 followers
January 9, 2015
Patriarchal and colonial, in spite of its "critique" of neocolonialism. Also very Orientalist, especially in relation to Buddhism and a deification of Gandhi. And add to that a conflation of poverty with lack of entrepreneurship and intelligence. Not into it.
Profile Image for Jani-Petri.
148 reviews19 followers
July 8, 2015
Terrible. Lots of large claims, many of them wrong, without any attempt to justify them. Deeply conservative and elitists framework in many places. Makes me wonder how did this book become such an icon in some "progressive" circles.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
5 reviews
January 30, 2021
I finally put it down when he implied the unemployment rate is an inaccurate measure for the health of our economy (true) because women should be staying at home to take care of children (untrue, sexist).
Profile Image for Emma Strawbridge.
62 reviews5 followers
August 10, 2023
kind of difficult white british man style economic writing but nuanced and interesting ideas from the 70s about how to have an economy that is still capitalist but not killing everyone and also the entire earth catching on fire. my guy fritz doesn’t believe women should have jobs but if you just gloss over that one sentence he’s got some good ideas.
333 reviews10 followers
April 4, 2016
One of the founding texts of the environmental movement, and one that asks profound questions about the relationships between humanity and our environment. There are some great ideas about the nature and place of economics in deciding priorities for human investment and lifestyle. But taken as whole this isn't a book that's aged well.

Why not? I think there are three essential reasons. Firstly, there's a rather declamatory style to the presentation that presents as certainties things that are actually rather questionable. For example, Schumacher dismisses statistics: "and of course, nothing can be proven with statistics". I beg to disagree: in any physical or life science, one can only prove things with statistics, since there will always be noise and error in any set of observations that can only be properly analysed and quantified statistically.

Secondly, to continue from above, Schumacher is surprisingly dismissive of science as a useful cultural basis. He identifies six "large ideas" that – he claims – stem from the humanities and offer a broader and firmer foundation for living than any scientific ideas. And what do these "large ideas" consist of? Well at least two of them (evolution and natural selection) belong firmly within science after all; two more (class struggle and positivism) have been largely discredited, while another (Freudian sub-consciousness) has been changed beyond recognition; and the last (relativism), to the extent that it allows multiple opinions as to the Truth (with a capital T), is maybe the only one left standing – and can hardly be argued not to rest at least in part on scientific ideas of uncertainty and progressive refinement.

But the third problem is the most interesting. It seems to me that many of Schumacher's arguments are logical and well-supported by evidence – but have been proven wrong by events. A good example is his (again rather declamatory) assertion that economic growth must always be underpinned by increased energy consumption, which must necessarily come up against resource limitations. A plausible argument: but recent history shows growth decoupling from energy, with energy per unit GDP plummeting, driven in large measure by the rise of the service and digital economies. Schumacher could have dealt with the former, even if we accept he could have known nothing of the latter. But this lack of knowledge about future developments is not something that will ever disappear, and it renders his style of sweeping large-scale pronouncements permanently suspect.

It is always dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future (as Yogi Berra once observed). That doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to try to do so, but nor is it an excuse to dress up opinion as fact, or to claim that certain conclusions are inescapable and irrefutable. We won't get to the truth by literary means, and we need to accept that we continually over-estimate how quickly things will change when extrapolating from the present – and continually under-estimate how different from our predictions the long-term future will be. That's a level uncertainty that frustrates those looking for a single-issue "hook" on which to hang concrete action, but is nevertheless the world we actually live in.
Profile Image for Kaśyap.
271 reviews124 followers
September 17, 2016
A classic treatise on Gandhian economics, or as the title says, "people centered economics". Schumacher provides a good criticism of the modern methods of production that resulted from the desacrilisation of nature and man. Production relations that resulted in the alienation of man from his work and creative spirit, and the culture of mass production and mass consumption that led to the ruthless and violent exploitation of nature.
He rightly challenges the unsustainable path of accumulation and consumption and the Keynesian economic models that are built on the principles of market individualism and social non-responsibility. He challenges the modern politics where economic growth has become the highest of all values and the human, cultural and ecological concerns have become subordinated to it.

This isn't just romantic idealism. Schumacher gives many practical ideas regarding using intermediate technology to enable production by masses and some interesting case studies and ideas regarding common ownership of the means of production.
Profile Image for Cameron M.
59 reviews9 followers
March 18, 2016
This was the first book I had read by Schumacher, and I'm very glad I finally read it. I dabble in distributism and Catholic Social Teaching, and this book is referenced in both, and for good reason. Unfortunately, while our world is corrupted with sin of lust and envy, and greed, it'll be difficult to get it back to where it needs to be, as Schumacher suggests.
At times this book seemed to drift off a bit, which made it difficult for me to focus, but overall a fantastic read, and recommended to all.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 649 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.