Jul. 11, 2017

E. F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

Schumacher begins by contrasting income to capital. For example, a business loses its viability if it rapidly consumes its capital. He claims we have made a mistake in deeming natural resources income rather than capital. The liquidation of these assets is proceeding so rapidly, companies have to make huge investments for gigantic efforts to search for and exploit the remaining assets of the earth. This is one of the reasons oil companies are having to go further and further offshore to drill for and recover petroleum. If we treated natural resources, especially non-renewable resources, as capital, we would conserve them- they represent irreplaceable assets. And our natural resources are real unlike money which is an imaginary abstraction injected into the economic process. What is enough? Economists and politicians tout economic growth as the highest of all values and therefore have no concept of enough. If we ethically only measure our value quantitatively through money, we are missing the point. Regardless of the GDP or the Dow Jones average, it is ultimately the capacity of the photosynthetic world and its nutrient flows that determine the quantity and quality of life on earth.

Under the subheading of economics as if people mattered, Schumacher describes an evolving lifestyle designed for permanence with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption. For example in agriculture there are small scale methods, which are biologically sound, build up soil fertility and conserve water unlike the huge agribusinesses of today that are only concerned with this year’s productivity. Exhausting the soil requires fertilizers and imbalances in biota requires pesticides and herbicides. This mass scale farming technology is not sustainable and injects tons of chemicals into the environment.  Beyond the issue of agriculture, there is a corporate system of food distribution and companies that conveniently produce packaged foods with long shelf lives, but short on nutrition.

Because of the toxic environment and nutritionally questionable foods, people have all manner of maladies that enrich pharmacology companies. Big Pharma is another big business that seems to disregard economics as if people mattered. They treat the symptoms brought on by the large production lifestyles entrenched by our warped economic system, but they get rich from our sickness- illness brought on by the system they are part of.  

 We are sacrificing our assets and the quality of our air, water and soil, the quality of our health and well-being for money, most of which we will never see. This notion of continual economic growth is destroying our living capital and our consumer lifestyles are unsustainable.

 Core Message: 

Excessive materialism and meaningless growth are detrimental to human development. Smaller sized, appropriate technologies and societies will be beneficial to both humans and the environment. Gross national product is not an appropriate measure of well-being. We need to balance materialism with ideals such as justice, harmony, beauty and health.  

Video Link: Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEZkQv25uEs