Thursday, July 7, 2011


photo: Reuters/Scott Audette

E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) was a British economic theorist and statistician.

I learned of him through the letters of Dorothy Day, and his book, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, has been ranked by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books since WWII.  

From the introduction to Small is Beautiful, by environmentalist and journalist Paul Hawken:

One of the important ideas, synonymous with the title, is that there is an optimal scale, size, or relationship inherent in economic activity, a geometry of life that is independent of economic theory…Schumacher was not suggesting a return to another age as he was sometimes accused. Rather in both his monastic retreats and in the rhythm of Burmese village life, he made an observation that was both heretical and edifying: There are inherent thresholds in the scale of human activity that, when surpassed, produce second- and third-order effects that subtract if not destroy the quality of all life.

From the text, by Schumacher:

"I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man. It could well be that rich people treasure peace more highly than poor people, but only if they feel utterly secure—and this is a contradiction in terms. Their wealth depends on making inordinately large demands on limited world resources and thus puts them on an unavoidable collision course—not primarily with the poor (who are weak and defenceless) but with other rich people." 

"Ever-bigger machines, entailing ever-bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever-greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and the beautiful. Peace, as has often been said, is indivisible—how then could peace be built on a foundation of a reckless science and violent technology? We must look for a revolution in technology to give us inventions and machines which reverse the destructive trends now threatening us all."

"[The insights of wisdom] enable us to see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends, to the neglect of the spiritual. Such a life necessarily sets man against man and nation against nation, because man’s needs are infinite and infinitude can be achieved only in the spiritual realm, never in the material. Man assuredly needs to rise above this humdrum “world”; wisdom shows him the way to do it; without wisdom, he is driven to build up a monster economy, which destroys the world, and to seek fantastic satisfactions, like landing a man on the moon. Instead of overcoming the world by moving towards saintliness, he tries to overcome it by gaining pre-eminence in wealth, power, science, or indeed any imaginable 'sport.' "

"The instruments and institutions of a city culture depend, no doubt, on a certain accumulation of wealth. But how much wealth has to be accumulated depends on the type of culture pursued. Philosophy, the arts, and religion cost very, very little money."


Dingy prayer cards found, free for the taking, in the vestibule of Holy Trinity before Mass one night last week.


  1. I love the juxtaposition of the cheap, dingy prayer cards. Our small, unworthy offerings to the Lord of heaven and earth.

  2. Your post has inspired a poem ...

  3. Really nice, David! Especially "Avoid cancer and suffering in general"...

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