The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Small is Beautiful

Small is BeautifulSeveral readers recommended that I read Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher, so I figured I'd give it a try.  Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend this book to most of you.  I can handle the academic tone (although sometimes the author seems to be purposefully adding density to his writing), but none of the information in the book is useful to the average homesteader.

The trouble is that, despite the title, this is a book about global-scale problems and solutions.  Schumacher focuses on topics like aid to poor countries, rather than (as I was hoping) on ethical ways to run a home business.  In addition, the anti-science, pro-religious sentiment was hard for me to stomach.

In the end, I have to conclude that Schumacher and I have a major difference of opinion about how the average person does good.  Although I vote, I tend to believe that someone like me can't really impact global, national, or even state policies, and if I want to make change, I have to start in my own life and lead by example.  Schumacher, on the other hand, finds value in philosophizing about large-scale changes that would make the world a better place, so I assume he feels that he can actually take part in bringing those changes about.

But maybe I missed something?  I'll be the first to admit that the social sciences are my least-favorite subject, and my eyes glaze over pretty quickly just from the mannerisms of writers in that field.  So, for those of you who have read and enjoyed Small is Beautiful, I hope you'll leave a comment telling me why I'm wrong, and why this book is important for every homesteader to read.

Our chicken waterer is produced using small-scale techniques that allow us to hire local, unskilled laborers, a feature Schumacher approves of.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna and Mark,


Let's hear about what worked for you, not the theory of what 'should' work.

I am drying kale at 140F in the oven. When I make some soup I will have some experience to share.

So far apples in paper bags inside plastic bags in the refrig. seems to be working very well.

Comment by john Wed Oct 16 09:08:26 2013

There are some Peace and Justice" changes that have happened in my lifetime--such as, inside the US, the voting rights act, also in gay rights, and in changes women have made in their self-empowerment. I wonder if your author mentions these? I think that some of our technological inventions, from the car to the computer, but also simple things like the refrigerator and washing machine, have really reed up people, but then, almost as if hunan beings waste their "freedom" they have "corrupted" us (or we let them) so we end up in a worse morass than before we were so "addicted" to these aids, that seem to be in charge of our lives, instead of the other way around.

As for large, world-wide changes, I wonder if hunger and wars can really be stopped? How does your author say that small changes can affect this? Small changes are personal. But can the personal really influence the larger picture? I can see that it could, within a small town, and that it could be part of a cultural imovement for change. But how would this translate into economic change?

Comment by adrianne Wed Oct 16 10:22:26 2013


My friend Karen's husband, Ernie, may be commenting to you briefly sometime about this. I asked him his take on it since he gave me the book 7 or so years ago. (He's a good friend of mine and his wife is too.)

What I remember him saying about the book, condensed, is that it is about the concept that waiting for something, like a new book or swimwear, is worthwhile especially in that it makes the book or swimwear a million times more valuable to the person if they wait and maybe even wait for better quality.

I loved this condensed version that I remembered. But hmmm.. Not sure if I got it just right.


Comment by Maggie Wed Oct 16 12:47:55 2013

A book like this fits into an academic setting where talking about global problems is common, and the folks involved in the discussions are still building their worldviews.

I read it several years ago and honestly I don't remember much from the book. I was introduced to it from the Schumacher Institute after reading about creating local currencies and appreciated the book's comments from that perspective. I remember some lines within the book that I thought were treasures, mixed in with a lot of repetitive stream-of-consciousness type writing. Didn't really look at it as a holistic approach to solving global problems as some people probably expect it to be.

I didn't like the writing style and not sure if I agree with the message anymore today (but not saying that I disagree either). Surely, it's not for everyone.

Comment by Sara Wed Oct 16 16:02:30 2013

I definitely agree with Anna and Sara about having to wade through the mannerisms of social science writers and repetitive stream-of-consciousness writing, but the main takeaways I got from the book were positive. The first is the idea of maintaining 'natural capital' and minimizing consumption, which are fundamental parts of sustainable living. The second is the idea of disseminating appropriate technology, or small-scale, decentralized production models that put greater emphasis on the well-being of the community than on profit.

These concepts might seem obvious to homesteading-minded folks, but I think it's important to remember that Schumacher was one of the first in the mainstream to point out that the status quo was (is) unsustainable.

Although I don't think Schumacher could have possibly envisioned personal computers as they now exist (let alone the idea of a blog), I can't help but think that he would have approved of how, thanks to the Internet information hubs like the Walden Effect have inspired feats of self-sufficiency around the world. :-)

As Bud and Doyle reminded us in the movie 'Biodome,' "Think globally, act locally!"

Comment by Jake Wed Oct 16 22:36:33 2013
Jake hit the nail on the head! That's precisely what this book is about, and in retrospect, I think the reason it's not so exciting to me is that his big ideas are so obvious now that they're not news. When the book came out in the early 1970s, I'm sure that was a different matter.
Comment by anna Thu Oct 17 12:49:08 2013

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