Size Matters

by Milo Clark

February 17, 2003


If Leopold Kohr is correct, and I believe he is, the problem, put simply, is one of size. He says that everything has its right limits. If those limits are exceeded, it gets bad.

It is bad.

Our work, also put simply, is to restore right limits. To practice Gautama Buddha's Eight Noble Truths is one of many relevant outlines.

Fritz Schumacher may have given us Small is Beautiful [E. F. Schumacher, Economics as if People Mattered, first US publication by Harper &, Row, NY, 1973, ISBN 0-06-080352-5] partly out of inspiration by Kohr, yet, for me, his 1979 major work remains A Guide for the Perplexed.

In this work, we are given guidelines for transitions toward right limits. "Many people today call for a new moral basis for society, a new foundation of ethics. When they say 'new,' they seem to forget that they are dealing with divergent problems, which call not for new inventions but for the development of man's higher faculties and their application... the important thing is whether a person rises to his higher potentialities or falls away from them." [p. 131]

Schumacher's last work, edited and published posthumously, is Good Work [Harper & Row, New York, 1979, ISBN 0-06-090561-1.] Good Work is a collection of lectures from his mid-70s US tours which were attended by over 60,000 people.

To put Schumacher in context, present evolutions of his major later associations, Scott Bader Company, Soil Association, and Intermediate Technology Development Group are essential. Each offers significant websites with copious links.

Scott Bader does resins and similar plastics through a worker-owned organization structure developed in consultation with Schumacher. It survives and prospers as a commonwealth, employee owned and directed, now worldwide. Rarely copied, however.

Scott Bader is the opposite of the IBM model. While expanded now to a worldwide provider of specialty products, it remains quite small at roughly 650 people overall. Soil Association is one of the world's premier advocates of organic agriculture. Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) has proliferated into nearly countless organizations spanning the planet.

As a counter to depersonalization of meaningful work and dumbing down, Schumacher in general and these organizations in particular, provide points of light in a great darkness. Is the darkness thereby dissipated to any meaningful extent? Yes and no.

Does anyone remember President G. H. W. Bush's campaign attempting to recognize A Thousand Points of Light? Where would we now be classified in terms of Dante's Inferno?

"That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree. And since we are today fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way and not necessarily evolving in the direction of perfectibility, we find it easy enough to recognize the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached. Futility; lack of a living faith; the drift into loose morality, greed, consumption, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property including one's own; the exploitation of sex, the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda, the commercializing of religion, the pandering to superstition and the conditioning of people's minds by mass-hysteria and 'spell-binding' of all kinds, venality and string pulling in public affairs, hypocrisy, dishonesty in material things, intellectual dishonesty, the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation) for what one can get out of it, the falsification and destruction of all means of communication; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass-emotions; treachery even to the fundamentals of kinship, country, the chosen friend, and the sworn allegiance: these are the all-too-recognizable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilized relations."

Introductory Papers on Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers, London, 1954, p. 114 [in A Guide for the Perplexed, E. F. Schumacher, Harper & Row, New York, 1977, ISBN 0-06-013859-9, p. 137-8]

". . . modern technology. . . . the greatest destructive force in modern society. What could be more destructive than the destruction of people's understanding. Matters have not improved since Adam Smith's time; on the contrary, the relentless elimination of creative work for the great majority of the population has proceeded apace." p.46

"The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life in spent in performing a few simple operations. . . has no occasion to exert his understanding. . . . He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of exertion and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as possible for a human creature to become. . . . But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall unless government take some pains to prevent it." [Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, in Good Work, E. F. Schumacher, Harper & Row, New York, 1979, ISBN 0-06-090561-1, p. 42]

Adam Smith understood in context, grokked, says that the moral community, civil society, works best when local resources are converted locally by local people primarily for local use in ways which generate surpluses for local reinvestment.

And that simplicity comes as close to sustainable as possible. Neither necessarily capitalist and most certainly not global. Globalism is today's word for the mercantilism which Adam Smith loathed. The problem is indeed size. Smaller is better.

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Published February 17, 2003
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