Professionalism/E.F. Schumacher

Ernst Friedrich Schumacher was a well known economist during the 60's and 70's. A protégé of John Maynard Keynes, Schumacher developed a set of principles known as Buddhist Economics as a response to how society approached production. He lived during a time where consumerism was progressing at an unattainable pace. Goods were produced without regard to the potential negative consequences. Natural resources (e.g. land and fossil fuels) were not being maintained and instead were being destroyed and depleted. Schumacher wrote several books that called these things to attention while emphasizing the importance of global sustainability.

Literary WorksEdit

Small is BeautifulEdit

In Schumacher's must influential book, Small is Beautiful, he discusses two main themes: 1) our world's 'problem of production' and 2) the proper use of land.[1] His first argument is that society has an incorrect view of our natural resources. Instead of treating these resources as capital, we use them like income. The difference is monumental: income resources have a continuous supply while a capital resource has a finite supply. With this approach, Schumacher explains, our natural resources that are so crucial to production will be used up. And as with capital, once they are depleted, they are gone forever. Furthermore, Schumacher disagrees with transferring technology as a final solution for developing countries. That is, supplanting technology to solve another country's problems. Instead, developed countries should educate developing countries with how to be self-sufficient. In order for a country to be economically stable, it will take a solution unique to its needs.

In regards to treatment of land, Schumacher quotes the book Topsoil and Civilisation,

"Man, whether civilised or savage, is a child of nature - he is not the master of nature. He must conform his actions to certain natural laws if he is to maintain his dominance over his environment. When he tries to circumvent the laws of nature, he usually destroys the natural environment that sustains him. And when his environment deteriorates rapidly, his civilisation declines."[2]

Farmers were depleting nutrients by over planting their fields. As a plot of land became barren, farmers would move to another area and continue to overuse the land. This practice contributed to the severity of the dust bowl during the 1930s. Schumacher encouraged crop rotation instead of planting on every square foot of land. Giving a field time to naturally replenish will allow it to grow healthier crops. The health of land would be maintained longterm while its productivity would also increase.

Good WorkEdit

Ford assembly line - 1913

Schumacher also wrote a book, Good Work, arguing that bigger is not always better. Although growth and increased efficiency were normally seen as beneficial, Schumacher identified several negative repercussions. First, the growth of small towns into massive cities was detrimental to an individuals identity. The significance of a person declined as people began to be treated as a statistic. These 'mega-cities' also lessened the sense of community as personal interaction decreased. Schumacher saw this affect the workplace as well. As a company grew too large, it functioned as a collection of smaller and independent companies. Furthermore, was the conditioning of workers required for mass production good for society? Assembly line workers were treated like machines in order for the 'system' to function efficiently. Schumacher saw this as destroying an individual's identity.

Good Work also presents the question: When is complex too much? The more complex a system is the harder it becomes to solve a problem within the system. For example, as computers become increasingly complex, technical problems no longer can be solved by individuals. Instead, technical support has to be outsourced to someone who is specialized in the given area. Schumacher argues that people no longer can solve things themselves and are becoming overly reliant on outside help.[3] His last main argument was against large corporations running local stores out of business. Although Wal-Mart can supply a larger variety of goods at lower costs, is it worth destroying 'mom and pop' stores. Small farms could no longer compete with the larger farm conglomerates that could sell their products at lower costs. He also thought centralization was not good for society. By having only one brick factory for an entire region, anyone who worked in that field had to relocate in order to keep their job.

Schumacher's PhilosophyEdit

Roots of Modern IndustrialismEdit

In critiquing modernity Schumacher knew it was necessary to understand the history behind the ideals of “bigger, faster, and cheaper”. He traced its origins to the ideas of Rene Descartes. Descartes wrote that ‘those who seek the direct road to truth, should not bother with any object of which they cannot have a certainty equal to the demonstrations of arithmetic and geometry”.[4] Therefore, even questions like 'what makes me happy?', Descartes would insist can be reduced to numerical proportions and answered in a mathematical or scientific way. Philosopher and theologian Jacques Maritain summed up the implications of Descartes philosophy, writing “Cartesian evidence goes straight to mechanism. It mechanises nature; it does violence to it; it annihilates everything which causes things to symbolize with the spirit, to partake of the genius of the Creator, to speak to us. The universe becomes dumb.”[5] This mechanization manifested itself in social Darwinism. It is the application of evolution to the "development not only consciousness, self-awareness, language, and social institutions, but also the origin of life itself" that Schumacher finds both absurd and disastrous.[6] Empirical science can tell us nothing of these things. It reduces man's transcendent nature to a scientific description. Using evolution to examine the origin of life is like using a ruler to examine the Sistine chapel.

2 Types of ProblemsEdit

Schumacher considers two categories of problems: convergent and divergent. A convergent problem is one that can be solved. For example, a design problem like how to make a two-wheeled, man-powered means of transportation. Various solutions are offered until they finally converge on a final answer: the bicycle. Divergent problems are such that the more they are clarified and logically developed, the more they diverge, until some solutions appear to contradict. Schumacher uses education as an example. Teaching requires both giving students freedom and creating order. Freedom and order are contradictions at a logical level, but they cease to conflict at a higher level, at a human level, where compassion and altruism become available.

The Problem of EthicsEdit

Ethics is a divergent problem. This is because the most fundamental question of ethics is 'what is "the good"’, what is 'truth'. Or as Schumacher puts it, “If a thing is said to be good, but no one can tell me what it is good for, how can I be expected to take any interest in it?”[7] To answer such questions, Schumacher insists that we must stop treating man as a machine and recognize the discrete differences or ontological jumps between levels of beings. But just because it falls into the divergent question, it does not mean there is not a truth surrounding it. Socrates implored us to seek that truth when he said, “I must first know myself”[8] Those individuals of the past whom we still consider the wisest and greatest, like Socrates, also shared a belief in a being greater than man. They considered it the most important and profound of all truths. As St. Thomas puts it, "The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things".[9]

3 TasksEdit

Schumacher provides three tasks necessary for achieving true human progress:

  1. Learn from society and "tradition" and find one's temporary happiness in receiving directions from outside.
  2. Interiorize the knowledge one has gained, sift it, sort it out, keeping the good and jettisoning the bad. This is the process of individuation, becoming self-directed.
  3. After completing these two tasks, one must 'die to oneself', to one's likes and dislikes, to all one's egocentric preoccupations. This requires the very best help that can possibly be found. Then one ceases to be directed from the outside, and ceases to be self-directed. One has gained freedom, or one might say, one is then God-directed.[10]

Schumacher’s SolutionsEdit

Sierck les Bains Lorraine France 07 east town

Schumacher sees 500,000 people as the ideal size for a city. He argues that this number provides all the benefits of a large city (such as arts, education, and business), without all of the additional problems of an exceedingly large city (such as transportation, healthcare, sanitation, etc). After this optimal size, the increase in population is not adding value to the city, only adding to the problems that must be solved. Schumacher applies this idea that bigger is not always better to other organizations as well, including countries and companies.

Buddhist EconomicsEdit

Schumacher uses the principles of Buddhism as the basis for his economic theory. He intends these ideas not as a set of spiritual or religious values, but rather as a practical, reasonable approach; one that finds a healthy medium between reckless materialism and economic stagnation.

Work (labor) is viewed slightly differently by employers and employees, but both parties have a negative view of work. Employers see labor as a cost to be minimized, while employees see labor as a necessary sacrifice to be minimized. Schumacher says, "The ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment."[11]

Buddhism, however, sees work as having intrinsic value for the healthy development of character. Schumacher points out that organizing work in such a manner as to take the human element out of it, (for example, reducing labor by using mechanization or reducing creative involvement by using detailed division of labor) is missing the point of work entirely. The tendency of employees to constantly strive for leisure as an alternative for work is also missing the point. Rather, Shumacher says that “…work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.”[12] Both are required in order to fully enjoy the benefits of the other.

Modern economics considers consumption to be the sole purpose of all economic activity, and the effort required for production as the means to that end. Buddhist economics alternatively considers human well-being to be the end and purpose, and consumption to be the means to that end. Each view tries to achieve maximum ends while requiring the minimum means. Modern economics tries to achieve maximum ownership and consumption with minimized work, and Buddhist economics tries to achieve maximum well-being with minimized consumption.

He argues that the implementation of this idea would be advantageous to ease tension in relationships between groups of people. He says, “As physical resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending upon a high rate of use. Equally, people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.”[13]

Another contrast Schumacher makes between the modern and Buddhist economic outlook is the importance each puts on natural resources. The modern economist tends to count nothing as expenditure other than human effort, and therefore does not realize the extent of his current expenditure of natural non-renewable resources. Buddhist economics takes into account these expenditures (as consumption to be minimized) and therefore utilizes natural resources more responsibly.


  1. Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row.
  2. Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter. Topsoil and Civilisation. (University of Oklahoma Press, 1975)
  3. Schumacher, E. F. (1985). Good work. New York: Harper & Row.
  4. Rene Descartes. Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Translated by E.S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross, Encyclopedia Britannica. (Chicago, 1971)
  5. Jacques Maritain. The Dream of Descartes.(Chicago, 1971)
  6. E.F. Schumacher. A Guide for the Perplexed. (Harper Perennial, 2004)
  7. E.F. Schumacher. A Guide for the Perplexed. (Harper Perennial, 2004)
  8. Hackforth, R. (tr. and ed.). Plato's Phaedrus. (Cambridge University Press, 1972)
  9. Thomas, ., In Sullivan, D. J., & Dominicans. (1955). The Summa theologica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  10. E.F. Schumacher. A Guide for the Perplexed. (Harper Perennial, 2004)
  11. Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row.
  12. Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row.
  13. Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row.