Last week we celebrated the 101st birthday of E.F. Schumacher, the German gentle man and practical philosopher who became an economic advisor to the British government and National Coal Board, founded the UK Soil Association and the intermediate technology organisation Practical Action. But best known is Schumacher as the author of the groundbreaking book ‘Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered’. In Small is Beautiful, Schumacher argues for the development of an ‘economy of permanence’; beyond ‘gigantism’ to right livelihood through appropriate scale and technology. Since its first publication in 1973, the book has inspired hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide, including myself.
To some who realise the enormity of the ecological and social challenges we face today, ‘small is beautiful’ may sound like a mantra of returning to the way things were, and thereby appear somewhat conservative, retractive, or unambitious. Their argument would be: when we talk sustainable development we need to think big! Get together the world’s most powerful business leaders and politicians in large international conferences, such as the COPs or more recently, Rio+20. Continue reading
Ever since its first stage performance in 1673, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ (the imaginary invalid) has been one of the most popular plays in Paris’ Comédie Française. In Molière’s classic, the hypochondriac Argan lives his life surrounded by doctors and apothecaries, summoning them to examine and treat his imaginary illnesses, while at the same time getting consumed by worries about the mounting bills for medications.
For the last three hundred years, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ has been played and re-played in theaters around the world. The story has retained its popularity across cultures and generations, as it shares an essential ingredient with all other good stories: ‘le Malade’ contains a life lesson, a snippet of wisdom intricately woven into the story, inviting the audience to listen carefully and reflect on its meaning in their own daily life. Good stories mirror us, offer an insight into our own behaviour, and strengthen our inner compass.
So what can Molière and his story on physical and mental health teach us about today’s economic environment?
A first post seems to ask for some sort of introduction, a getting-to-know-each-other, a testing the water rather than diving in at the deep end. But the inquiry called Beautiful Economy has no clear beginning. Or rather, it has many.
So why don’t I start with a memory. A very vivid memory of a moment in which reality shifted. A tiny yet radical turning point between ‘life before’ and ‘life after’ the penny dropped. This particular penny had been in free-fall for a while, and it was Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher with his article Self-realization: An ecological approach to being in the world, who secured its landing.
An economist by trade, I had been searching for models of moral philosophy in line with the realities of the earth and human nature. Alternative economic theories that respect the dynamics of the ecosystems we depend on, that view people as relational beings, and theories that take a qualitative approach to well-being. Continue reading