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E.F. Schumacher’s essays in Small Is Beautiful comment on the state of economics and the functioning of the economy; he is critical of both. In his opinion, economists are too tied to the notion that profits should be a determining factor in economic affairs; thus, they are blinded to many of the economy’s negative features. The features on which Schumacher focuses his attention are related to the form of modern technology, which employs the techniques of mass production. As a result, modern business firms have grown increasingly large and human beings have become dwarfed by their own creations. Nevertheless, Schumacher offers more than a critique. His book is a plea for a return to organizations and technologies more reflective of human needs and values. As he states,I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.

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In form, the book brings together nineteen essays, most of which were derived from articles and lectures presented by Schumacher between 1967 and 1972. From 1951 to 1971 Schumacher had worked as an economist for the British Coal Board, and his concerns with the environment, large-scale technology, energy, resources, and large organizations reflect that experience. Nevertheless, the essays are not highly technical, although some knowledge of economics is needed if the reader is to appreciate Schumacher’s criticisms of that discipline. Schumacher, who at one time converted to Buddhism, writes in a gently reproving manner. His work follows in the steps of that of other critics of industrialism, such as Leo Tolstoy, William Morris, and the counterculture of the 1960’s and 1970’s. His search for intermediate technologies and organizational structures suitable for meeting human needs is influenced by principles set forth by Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The book is divided into four parts, each containing four or five essays. The nineteen essays are all of approximately equal length (ten to twenty pages), with footnotes included at the end of the book. Part 1, “The Modern World,” is concerned with modern efforts to use science to enhance economic production and the problems this causes. Part 2, “Resources,” details the ways by which modern economies misuse their resources, especially those that are not renewable. In part 3, “The Third World,” Schumacher argues against taking the latest industrial techniques of richer countries as methods of fostering economic development in the poorer countries; instead, Third World nations should find intermediate-scale technologies to help them. In part 4, “Organization and Ownership,” Schumacher considers the patterns of ownership, including nationalization, and structures of organization that would be more compatible with human needs.

Because many of the essays were written earlier, there is some repetition of material. To help tie them together, Schumacher refers to previous points. In addition, he finishes the book with an epilogue in which he restates his basic themes.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 59

Barnes, Peter. Review in The New Republic. CLXX (June 15, 1974) p. 29.

Brynes, Asher. Review in The Nation. CCXVIII (June 8, 1974), p. 725.

Economist. Review. CCXLVII (June 23, 1973), p. 113.

Henderson, Hazel. “The Legacy of E.F. Schumacher,” in Environment. XX (May, 1978), pp. 30-37.

Love, Sam. “We Must Make Things Smaller and Simpler: An Interview With E.F. Schumacher,” in Futurist. VIII (December, 1974), pp. 281-284.

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