Schumacher Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With his book Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher challenged widely accepted values relating to advanced technology and modern industrial economies.

Summary of Event

The publication of Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered (1975) quickly made its author, E. F. Schumacher, a guru for millions of environmentalists throughout the world. He was especially popular in the United States, where his postpublication lecture tours drew thousands of people and an invitation to consult with President Jimmy Carter. Carter, Jimmy Environmental awareness Environmental awareness Schumacher, E. F. Ward, Barbara Brown, Jerry

Schumacher was sixty-two years old when Small Is Beautiful was published. The contents of the book reflect his long career as an economist, his deep spiritual turmoil, and his grave concern with how technology affects the way people live. Among the writers who significantly influenced his thoughts were historian R. H. Tawney, Tawney, R. H. economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Galbraith, John Kenneth and Wisconsin naturalist Aldo Leopold. Leopold, Aldo

Small Is Beautiful contains wide-ranging ideas about how humans should relate to technology and to the environment. One of the book’s primary objectives is to question accepted economic values. Schumacher contends that people, particularly in the industrial world, must break free from the notion that accumulation of goods leads to the good life. His study of Buddhist ideas in the early 1960’s had a direct bearing on his thinking. He spoke of “Buddhist economics,” Buddhist economics by which he meant that spiritual health and material well-being are not incompatible. Modern industrial economists, he believed, had removed economic laws from any consideration of values.

In modern industrial states, Schumacher writes, the primary goals are to produce more goods as cheaply as possible and to reduce the workload on each individual. This is achieved through division of labor and utilization of the latest technological advances. The result is that fewer people are needed to do the work, and those who are employed have no sense of satisfaction. The environment suffers through the rapid depletion of resources needed to sustain maximum, cost-efficient production. The primary concern of modern industrial states is with the production of goods. Schumacher argues, again from the perspective of Buddhism, that character is formed through work, and work must be carried out in a circumstance of dignity and freedom. Buddhist economics would provide sufficient material production to maintain a society, but it would not make production more important than human creativity.

In Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher strongly advocates employing what he terms “intermediate technology.” In 1965, Schumacher and several other environmentalists founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in London. From 1965 to 1972, ITDG studied the effect of modern technology on nature, resources, and people.

By the time he wrote Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher had embraced intermediate technology as the most sensible approach to future economic development. It became the centerpiece of his book. Schumacher is particularly concerned that intermediate technology be applied in developing countries. People in the Third World are poor, he contends, because they have nothing to do. The rural unemployed drift into the cities, where there is not only no work but also a shortage of housing and other social services. The usual reason given for this lack of opportunity is that Third World countries have insufficient capital to foster economic development. Schumacher rejects this explanation because it focuses on the capital provided by the rich when the focus should be on the capital people derive from working.

Schumacher describes the intermediate technology task as follows: Small industries should be built in places where people live before they migrate to urban centers, these industries should not require large amounts of capital investment, the nature of the work should be kept as simple as possible to diminish the need for expert skills and complicated organization, and the products made should come principally from local resources and should be tailored for the people in the community. Schumacher calls this the “regional” or “district” approach to job making. Through this kind of development, villagers will find fulfillment, and the country as a whole will gradually create a pool of talented workers. Schumacher recommends that governments giving aid to developing countries keep these goals in mind.

The intent, Schumacher makes clear in Small Is Beautiful, is not to recommend the implementation of outdated methods. He does assert, however, that precise knowledge can be applied in a variety of ways and not just to the building of ever larger, more technologically advanced industries. Schumacher advocates using knowledge to develop appropriate technology for regions with a surplus of labor.

Throughout Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher concentrates primarily on the needs of people, as opposed to an exclusive concern about the environment. This is what places his work in the realm of socioecology rather than deep ecology. Deep ecology People must have the opportunity to be productive where they live; this will enable them to be more responsible for available resources. It will also help to discourage the urban drift (and subsequent abuse of land) that leads to greater human misery as well as pollution of air and water.

In the epilogue of his book, Schumacher returns to the theme with which he began, that people must replace materialistic values with nonmaterialistic values. He places an enormous faith in education—which he calls the greatest resource—to change the values on which modern industrial economies are based. Those involved in education, he argues, should emphasize values and an understanding of the human condition rather than simply preparing people to accumulate material wealth. Schumacher hoped especially to change callous attitudes toward land and animals. Human beings must take an objective look at the world, without individual materialistic interests obstructing reality. Only then will they be able to sustain an equilibrium with nature and among themselves.


When Small Is Beautiful was first published in London in 1973, there was little indication of the eventual impact it would make on its author’s life or on the environmental cause. Initial reviews were mixed, especially in England, where the influential journal The Economist took Schumacher to task for ascribing materialistic views to captains of industry who no longer held such views. The Times Literary Supplement, while generally praising Schumacher for pointing out the limits of modern economic thinking, thought the book was poorly organized and covered ground already discussed by earlier authors.

Schumacher’s daughter, Barbara Wood, later noted that her father never worried about the reviews because he believed the book would find a substantial audience. He was right. The book gained momentum with each passing month and became a best seller in 1974. It made a particularly strong impression in the United States, where Schumacher’s popularity soared. A highly favorable review of the book in the powerful liberal journal The New Republic brought Small Is Beautiful to the attention of American politicians and academics. By the end of 1974, Schumacher had booked lectures and appearances, most of them scheduled in the United States, through 1976.

Although Schumacher had expected a warm reception for his book, he had not anticipated becoming a sensation. He was astounded when more than five thousand people attended his lecture at the University of Michigan. There was, at that time, a strong antibusiness attitude among university students, and Schumacher struck a chord with his appeal to jettison materialistic values. As the world was also in the midst of an apparent oil crisis in 1974, many politicians were attentive to Schumacher’s suggestions. Most prominent among them was Jerry Brown, who was elected governor of California in November, 1974. Brown embraced Schumacher’s ideas and used them in his speeches. For many years, Brown continued to draw attention to Small Is Beautiful wherever he traveled, and he tried very hard to elicit support from other Democratic politicians for Schumacher’s positions. In 1977, only months before his death, Schumacher was invited to the White House by Jimmy Carter to discuss environmental and development policies for the future.

In Europe, meanwhile, Small Is Beautiful continued to spark interest. Despite the lukewarm reviews in the British newspapers and journals, booksellers found people buying the book in ever-growing numbers. It was translated into fifteen languages and was in demand throughout the world. Even in Japan, where Schumacher’s ideas had little support among economists and politicians, Small Is Beautiful found a substantial following.

There were many who thought that the title itself promoted sales and interest. Schumacher’s publishers, Blond and Briggs, had decided on the title after Schumacher had suggested what ultimately became the book’s subtitle, Economics As If People Mattered. There were dozens of books published thereafter, some on completely different subjects, that used “Small Is” in their titles.

The popularity of Small Is Beautiful motivated Schumacher’s associates, particularly environmentalist Barbara Ward, to push the concept of intermediate technology. Ward, highly respected and much in demand as a speaker, envisioned a global implementation of Schumacher’s new thinking on development. Indeed, on a worldwide basis, Schumacher’s appropriate technology theme had a strong impact. Within eighteen months of the book’s publication, organizations formed throughout the world that were intent on advancing the cause of intermediate technology. The United Nations and various governments of developing countries promoted Schumacher’s notion of work appropriate to the environment.

The most direct and immediate impact of Small Is Beautiful was evident in the South Pacific country of Papua New Guinea (PNG). When Schumacher’s book was published, PNG was preparing for independence after nearly a century of colonial rule. Various committees planning the country’s future encouraged the view that economic and human development be interrelated. PNG leaders, while not discouraging large-scale, foreign-dominated projects, promised to place an emphasis on developing small, regional industries in order to avoid the social dislocation lamented by Schumacher. Sir Michael Somare, Somare, Michael PNG’s first prime minister, urged people to be creative and productive within their own communities.

Numerous agencies were established in PNG to facilitate the planning of small industry, with the Office of Village Development and the South Pacific Appropriate Technology Foundation being the most important of these agencies. Between 1973 and 1981, there were many attempts to fulfill the goals established. For various reasons, these efforts generally failed. After 1981, the PNG government began to rely almost exclusively on huge foreign capital interests that were primarily concerned with shipping PNG’s vast natural resources of gold, copper, timber, and oil to distant corners of the Earth. Only in the regional production of coffee, and to a lesser extent tea, was there any significant development of the type of industry Schumacher had advocated.

The experience in Papua New Guinea had been generally true throughout the developing world. Pacific sociologist Maev O’Collins O’Collins, Maev contended in the 1980’s that small was still possible, but not very likely in Third World countries. Schumacher’s ideas met with more success in the industrialized world, where national and regional leaders encouraged the building of small-scale or light industries to maintain and expand local employment possibilities. At the same time, any chance for a significant reassessment of the industrial world’s attitudes toward high technology and materialistic culture, deemed so essential by Schumacher, seemed to dissipate by the end of the 1970’s. Environmental awareness

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ashby, Eric. Reconciling Man with the Environment. London: Oxford University Press, 1978. The Leon Sloss Memorial Lectures delivered at Stanford University. Ashby, a Cambridge biologist, explores the chain reaction of human events that must be dealt with in order to confront environmental problems and contends that humans must learn to adapt to environmental constraints. Notes, index, no bibliography. Provocative.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Blueprint for Survival.” The Ecologist 2 (January, 1972). An entire issue is devoted to the collapsing environment. Loosely based on a meticulous report sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Blueprint” was intended to shock, and it did. Worth reading, as it helps to explain why Schumacher’s book (published a year later) had a receptive audience.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There. 1949. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. This modest account of what was happening to nature in Sand County, Wisconsin, inspired thousands of environmentalists. Although it is generally credited with heralding the great interest in deep ecology, Leopold’s classic chronicle clearly had a profound influence on Schumacher.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McRobie, George. Small Is Possible. London: Abacus Books, 1982. Written by Schumacher’s longtime associate, the essay reiterates themes in Small Is Beautiful and responds to those critics who doubt that intermediate technology can be effectively implemented. It is written with young adult readers in mind.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pepper, David. The Roots of Modern Environmentalism. London: Croom Helm, 1984. A highly useful overview of the environmental literature published between 1967 and 1984. Also contains an interesting historical essay (substantially the work of John Perkins) titled “The Roots of Technological Environmentalism.” Excellent bibliography, index, glossary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schumacher, E. F. Good Work. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. A series of speeches published after Schumacher’s death. The speeches complement and expand ideas in Small Is Beautiful. Contains a valuable preface by Schumacher’s friend George McRobie and a lengthy analysis of Schumacher’s thought by an American associate, Peter Gillingham.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Jonathan Cape, 1977. A highly popular, if difficult, book that provides the philosophical foundation for most of what Schumacher wrote in Small Is Beautiful. Notes and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. 1973. Reprint. Point Roberts, Wash.: Hartley & Marks, 1999. A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the landmark book that includes commentaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wood, Barbara. Alias Papa: A Life of Fritz Schumacher. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. A biography written by Schumacher’s daughter. Very strong on the many personal uncertainties in Schumacher’s life, particularly with reference to religion. Brief footnotes, index. Recommended.

Ward and Dubos Publish Only One Earth

United Nations Holds an Environmental Conference in Stockholm

Heilbroner Predicts Growth Limits

Worldwatch Institute Is Founded

Berry Publishes The Unsettling of America

“Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted

Categories: History