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Monday, 3 October 2005

E F Schumacher - Small is beautiful

I am a few pages from the end of "Small is beautiful" by EF Schumacher. This is the first time I have read a book about Economics since I was at school. Although it is actually about a lot more than just Economics.

It was written over 30 years ago, and yet its preoccupations with ecology, the distinction between consumables and resources that we can't replace (fossil fuels!), issues of scale in the workplace, and the impact of technology on people's work - are as relevant today as they were when he was writing.

Schumacher talks about Third World aid, stressing that simply giving money doesn't help. We need to work with bankrupt economies to ensure that they build in capacity - ensure that through the use 'Intermediate Technologies' we are bridging the widening gap between our economies and theirs.

The main thing that has changed since Schumacher was writing, is that the gap has widened, probably to a greater extent than he could have imagined. The use of Aid is still a cynical and exploitative process by Western governments. Live 8 has come and gone, and the media has moved on to the next issue. The euphoria around that event has been replaced with the realisation that this is a long haul, not an issue that can be resolved in a few weeks of media frenzy.

Schumacher's book is an interesting read, because it helps with understanding the origins of the ecological movement. It gives a key historical perspective to the changes that we are seeing in the world. It is unnerving to realise that the issue of global warming and the limit to the world's resources was being raised as an issue 30 years ago, and being largely ignored then.

I also found it really interesting to read Schumacher's views on nationalised industry and issues of ownership - views that are very much out of fashion at the moment. It is refreshing to read them and realise that the arguments are robust and could be argued into the political debate to give some freshness to a world where there always seems to be only one right way to look at things.

All-in-all it is a book well worth ploughing through to open your mind to some of the big issues that stretch beyond the latest fad of our media-driven society.

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