Small is Beautiful The End
By far the largest part of Schumachers book is in regard to the third world and this section really hasn’t aged well at all. The world is different place 50 years on, but it exposes in one way just how little economic progress some countries have developed and just how much progress countries have made.
Schumachers approach is very much a what we can do for them or really to them, not how can we give a leg up to their own efforts. He gives little agency to the people of developing countries or consideration to what they might want for themselves. Schumacher knows best and they should get what they are given.
I may be writing with the gift of hindsight but maybe the difference in outcomes in the examples Schumacher uses have less to do with the aid given but the system of law and levels of corruption and stability of government in those countries that allow enterprise and prosperity to flourish or stagnate depending.
Schumachers big idea is one of intermediate technology for the third world. Rather than bring them up to our level of industrialisation, bring them halfway. To the small company utopia, in fact, what he’d like to take the west to. The idea of intermediate technology is a well warn one in international development and there are better arguments both for and against than Schumacher makes here. Once more Schumacher is light on detail and reason and big on belief.
What stands out is how this is not a tool to help people prosper. It’s a tool to stop them prospering too much. A world of, in his world, 2 million small villages is the place Schumacher want us all to get to. It's a journey back in time for us and slightly forward for people of Africa. It forgets the larger geopolitical reasons as to why our tribal species grew from familial tribes to villages and into nation states. The arguments are interesting to read at a time where the biggest political issue of my time, Brexit, still influences the body politic. An argument at its core about the ideal size and form of the political entity we build our future within. Is it the nation state? A wider political union of united European states? Schumacher likes villages.
His section on unemployment in India is really only worth reading for a laugh. The view from 1970 doesn’t see the India of today as one of the world most important tech hubs, provider of tech talent nations like the UK eagerly snap up and country that recently landed a craft on the moon at a lower cost than America making a movie about going to the moon. Patronising tosh, really.
Part four of the book on Organisation and ownership sees Schumachers draw his ideas to a conclusion. An unsurprising one, tbh. Schumacher has a slight diversion into Chinese philosophy to tell us we can’t predict the future before telling us all about the feasibility studies development organisations attempt. His theory of large scale organisations is one of an equal dislike of the then EEC, large corporate takeovers in Britain and the large scale nationalised industries. To be fair he acknowledges his view is drawn from Franz Kafka’s The Castle (boring book. Michael Haneke’s film about it has the advantage of being shorter and over sooner), but this is business from a perspective of a man that had read about it, not worked in it. Companies come in many sizes. Thay succeed and fail. That indicates a right size for numerous enterprises, big, medium or small. They operate in a system of law. If that law is democratically accountable, maybe even the law is fair. His view that large companies are innately less good from a moral perspective, his main argument, simply doesn’t wash. He doesn’t explain why, he just believes it.
Schumachers chapter on socialism is that he likes its
values, doesn’t like it’s outcomes and thinks it would be better as a system of
small worker co operatives rather than big nationalised industries. Everything
is better if its small not big.
Therefore he concludes on ownership and new patterns of ownership. Private ownership, yes, but not too much. Owner co operatives where we all work for a small factory and all own a part of it and all get a vote at the AGM. A happy world where every bourgeoise middle class man has a stake in a microbrewery and we all shovel grain by hand and do our bit and we all trade our micro brewed beer with each other.
A return to a past that never existed. Happy hardworking serfs. Here lies the problem. This whole bourgeoise attitude requires a middle class to advocate it. Its born of a dissatisfaction of the apparent meaninglessness of the middle class administrative function and an acknowledgement that productive working class work ought to be respected and appreciated. Not altogether wrong.
A middle class in any society is an administrative rather than productive class. The minute they start to action Schumachers idiot idea they hollow out the middle class and it no longer exists and society is back to masters and serfs. It doesn’t surprise me the likes of King Charles is happy with this sort of stupidity. He’s not one of the serfs. He can believe we’d all be happy serfs scratching a living on expensive organic food & artisan beer. But I don’t want to be a serf. I’m happy among the professional middle classes. My asset base is enough to solidify and secure the transition of my family from the respectable working class of my parents to the professional middle class I entered where you earn enough for nice things to the established middle class when you finally have the assets they can’t take off you. Spunk all that on an idea of artisan craft small scale production and selling it to other bourgeoise fools is a road back to where my grandparents came from and a lack of respect to them working to improve my lot in life. It’s a no from me.
We can see parts of this occurring now. A hollowing out of the middle class of western countries. Gleeful middle class organic food eating craft beer drinking vegan fools clapping it all along. I’m not going to claim this is why CAMRA can’t find kids willing to work its beer festivals for nothing but a bourgeoise class that started these ideas and propagated them ought to notice the bourgeoise class has diminished. Assets are inherited now rather than built via surplus labour. Products become lifestyle indicators of a generation that rents property. There is no new comfortable bourgeoise class to really give a monkeys about what the aging bourgeoise class did 50 years ago. The kids will work your beer festival if you pay them.
Over the course of these posts you’ve likely got the idea I didn’t much like this book. I didn’t much agree with it, but I’m glad I read it.
My questions have been answered. Why did Tom Good give up his cushy job to farm his back garden? Why did Reggie’s son in law make and drink disgusting pea pod wine? Why do the Toby’s give up there highly paid jobs to build micro-breweries that slowly send them bust? Why do the Jaspers and Tarquin’s spunk their inheritance not on assets that pay them a return but a craft brewery that’ll either see them win if they cash it in to Heineken or return their kids back to the working class if they don’t? Why do CAMRA members get angry when a Wetherspoons or Sam Smiths or chain pub wins an award? Why do they get angry when a national macro beer wins an award? Why do they talk in terms of morality when discussing whether to buy a micro or macro beer? Why do they view microbreweries and micropubs as morally superior and an idealised model for their favourite beer category? It’s because they believe it. There is no rhyme or reason to this belief, it’s just a belief.
It's all not just a load of crazy rubbish. It’s an underlying philosophy. An idea. An idea of a better world as they see it. A world of craftsmen and artisans and farmers markets and micropubs. No supermarkets or mass-produced foods or beers. Small is beautiful, you see.
It’s bollocks though, that’s the only problem with it. Otherwise crack on.