Small is Beautiful Part 3
In the second and third parts of book, Schumacher tackles resources & the third word.
The resources Schumacher addresses are education, land, the inputs of industry, nuclear energy and something he describes as “technology with a human face”
The first four of these are the type of arguments you could easily make today and often see writers in the Guardian do if you’re bored enough to read that stuff. You can see all the germinating seeds of todays nonsense. Schumacher problem with education is that it is not instilling in people the correct values, his values. His argument on education comes down to “we need to indoctrinate the kids”. I’m guessing you can see the results now in a generation that believes we are all doomed.
Maybe I’m expecting something different from an economics book. On education there is a failure to acknowledge that the economic argument for education is that educated people are more productive than uneducated. The work they do has a higher value, reflected in a higher price (wage) and as that is how we measure productivity, we produce more. Education is an investment in the future and remaining a first world country. Teach the kids the arithmetic! Education as a capital investment not an expenditure.
It would be interesting to read how and why this might be the case. How does knowing stuff make me a five hundred dollar a day hire and knowing sod all make a poor African a dollar a day hire? Instead Schumacher expresses a faith based argument that education is lacking a metaphysical element. Because we don’t see the world as he wants us to. He is seeking an educational approach that with indoctrinate the kids into a set of values that place the values of what he thinks are important rather than the prosperity that society currently thinks is important. He wants to teach the kids to be happier being poorer. You know what, I don’t. I want proper chemistry graduates that have learned all about the science of malting and yeast, and all that what not, to be making my beer. Not a bored early retired accountant that wants to better connect with nature and make beer that smells weird and looks like soup. The beer of ancient times was sour and grim and cloudy and had dead rats in it and only tolerated because it got you pissed enough to accept your equally grim miserable and cold and hungry life. We’ve learnt how to make nicer beer through scientific knowledge. Hurrah for that! Gimme that can of Old Speckled Hen we got on the special in Tesco.
On the proper use of land, you can see exactly where King Charles gets his idiotic ideas about organic farming. It’s done some damage this book. King Chuck. Organic farmers markets. CAMRA. He makes no mention of livestock farming where the use of living creatures with lower but varying levels of sentience has been concerning people, not only now but back when Schumacher wrote this, encouraging many to believe an ethical answer might be vegetarianism.
His argument is all about vegetable & grain growing, not animals. He has little concern for agricultural yields and when that drops and the price of food rises, suck it up and be happy with less. Be happy being hungry. Stay in tune with nature. He likes protectionism rather than global trade. Not for the environment, really, of the carbon cost of transport. Not for an acknowledgement of food as a strategic resource in an uncertain world beset by human conflict. Nope, he likes it because that is the predominant way of humanity for centuries. Because hundreds of years ago we didn’t ship food across the world so we shouldn’t do it now. Turnips for tea again, lads, like yesterday and tomorrow. This would keep us connected to nature and ennoble us, apparently. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be in touch with nature, Nature is dirty and cold and wet and smelly and largely miserable. I’ve been to the country. Everything’s covered in either mud or shit and if you get out of your car to walk about soon you will be too. Sure your girlfriends dog may like running about in it but all that mud and shit will soon be all over your car, all over you and you’ll be there wet and cold and wearing Gore-Tex like a CAMRA member for God’s sake, and thinking to yourself “I could be at home, with the central heating, the telly, cans of lager, FFS”
On resources for industry you know what you’re in for when Schumacher claims industry consumes so much but achieves so little. Excuse me, what? It consumes otherwise useless stuff out of the ground which isn’t doing anything useful. It’s just sitting there benefiting no one. Then it’s taken out of the ground and processed and we get cool stuff like an iPhone and computers and Tellys and fridges of lager. I don’t know about you, I’d rather have the cool stuff than leave the metals in the ground doing nothing. Making stuff is great, consuming stuff is great. Stuff is great. I like stuff. We should have more stuff We should always be making more stuff and making that stuff better. More stuff please. For Christ sake, Schumacher, stuff is better than trees and rocks and crap. By all means recycle old stuff into new stuff if it’s easier to extract metals from old stuff than rocks, but gimme more stuff! More better newer stuff! Jesus wept.
Nuclear energy, where to start? He doesn’t like it. You’ve heard his argument from liberal democrats and green politicians who over the decade have been consistently wrong and condemned us all to reliance on importing gas and oil from foreign despots and paying through the nose for it. A misunderstanding of both safety and the storage of pre and post processed materials. Enjoying your sky high energy bills? Blame Schumacher and all those that listened to him. Enjoying burning the fossils of despotic countries because beardies don’ t want to dig them here? Cheap, clean energy is a good thing. Nuclear is safe. The earth is a giant massive ball of dirt and water and there’s plenty of space to store a few rods of spent uranium out where no one lives. It’s better than hoping the wind blows but not too hard. But here, in this book, is the circular argument that every method of energy is somehow bad that ultimately leads to not producing anything. Here is the ultimate green argument that we should all just sit in the cold and dark with no telly because somehow we’d be better connected to the natural world. It would ennoble us and connect us to the natural world. It’s horrible.
He tops part two off with a lament over technology with a “human face”. Here I’m a little more forgiving. He couldn’t predict the future, so maybe lets gloss over all his bad and incorrect opinions? He’s a fossil that thinks you can plan and predict human ingenuity and innovation? He never saw nor predicted where cool new ideas came from and what environment that needs to thrive? How and why all the tech companies come from the US and so little comes from Europe? But here it is repeated. That technology has deprived us of creative, useful work in favour of fragmented work we don’t enjoy? Really? The past wasn’t a wonderful utopia of middle class artisans trading craft beer, artisan cheese & home-made chutney at farmers markets. It was dull back breaking drudgery. It was feudal serfdom and injustice. Technology has most interestingly freed enough of us to somehow not appreciate the wonder of now and romanticise a past that never existed.
It may seem that the last bit, the third world, has little useful to say. There has been 50 years of international development and political changes since Schumacher. But it is in that last section we can look back and see how economically destructive his ideas are.
How, by favouring small economically less productive manual processes over automated machine production he retards overall economic prosperity. How that hollows out and destroys the very middle class that yearn to quit their £100k boring managerial job in order to struggle to pay themselves the £10k tax free allowance when they set up their craft brewery which fails not because they are fools churning out a high cost commodity in a saturated market but because of the government, duh. Schumacher not only fails the third world, he turns the first world into the third.
He makes us all poorer. His ideas hollow out the very middle class that like this bourgeois nonsense. Don’t worry, only one more.