Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

E. F. Schumacher, fully Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher

British Economic Thinker, Statistician, Economist and Author best known for "Small Is Beautiful" and "A Guide for the Perplexed"

"“Good” is what helps me and others along on this journey of liberation."

"A way of life that bases itself on materialism, i.e., on permanent, limitless expansionism in a finite environment, cannot last long, and that its life expectation is the shorter the more successfully it pursues its expansionist objectives."

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

"Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be “uneconomic” you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper."

"Our intentions tend to be much more real to us than our actions, and this can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding with other people, to whom our actions tend to be much more real than our intentions."

"No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man."

"Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance."

"Small is beautiful."

"The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing."

"The true problems of living – in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc. – are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of man not merely the employment of his reasoning powers but the commitment of his whole personality."

"True art is the intermediary between man’s ordinary nature and his higher potentialities."

"The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge… Nothing becomes truly “one’s own” except on the basis of some genuine effort or sacrifice… The gift of material goods makes people dependent, but the gift of knowledge makes them free."

"What I wish to emphasize is the duality of the human requirement when it comes to the question of size: there is no single answer. For his different purposes man needs different structures, both small ones and large ones, some exclusive and some comprehensive… For constructive work, the principal task is always the restoration of some kind of balance. Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of giantism. It is therefore necessary to insist on the virtues of smallness – where this applies. (If there were a prevailing idolatry of smallness, irrespective of subject or purpose, one would have to try and exercise influence in the opposite direction.)"

"Within the limits of the physical laws of nature, we are still masters of our individual and collective destiny, for good or ill."

"World poverty is primarily a problem of two million villages, and thus a problem of two [billion] villagers. The solution cannot be found in the cities of the poor countries. Unless life in the hinterland can be made tolerable, the problem of world poverty is insoluble and will inevitably get worse."

"Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility."

"Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind comes we can catch it."

"The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology."

"It might be said that it is the ideal of the employer to have production without employees and the ideal of the employee is to have income without work."

"An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth / in short, materialism / does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited."

"Never let an inventor run a company. You can never get him to stop tinkering and bring something to market."

"Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful."

"Although we are in possession of all requisite knowledge, it still requires a systematic, creative effort to bring this technology into active existence and make it generally visible and available. It is my experience that it is rather more difficult to recapture directness and simplicity than to advance in the direction of ever more sophistication and complexity."

"All the indications are that the present structure of large-scale industrial enterprise, in spite of heavy taxation and an endless proliferation of legislation, is not conducive to the public welfare."

"All history – as well as all current experience – points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man."

"An expansion of man's ability to bring forth secondary products is useless unless preceded by an expansion of his ability to win primary products from the earth; for man is not a producer but only a converter, and for every job of conversion he needs primary products."

"A technology with a human face, is in fact possible; that it is viable; and that it re-integrates the human being, with his skillful hands and creative brain, into the productive process. It serves production by the masses instead of mass production."

"An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory."

"And what is my case? Simply that our most important task is to get off our present collision course. And who is there to tackle such a task? I think every one of us, whether old or young, powerful or powerless, rich or poor, influential or un-influential."

"Anything that we can destroy, but are unable to make is, in a sense, sacred, and all our 'explanations' of it do not explain anything."

"As the world's resources of non-renewable fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are exceedingly unevenly distributed over the globe and undoubtedly limited in quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever-increasing rate is an act of violence against nature which must almost inevitably lead to violence between men."

"At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in mortal danger, not because we are short of scientific and technological know-how, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom. More education can help us only if produces more wisdom."

"As far as simple products are concerned—food, clothing, shelter, and culture—the greatest danger is that people should automatically assume that only the 1963 model is relevant and not the 1903 model; because the 1963 way of doing things is inaccessible to the poor, as it presupposes great wealth."

"Both theoretical considerations and practical experience have led me to the conclusion that socialism is of interest solely for its non-economic values and the possibility it creates for the overcoming of the religion of economics."

"Before we can talk about giving aid, we must have something to give. We do not have thousands of poverty-stricken villages in our country; so what do we know about effective methods of self-help in such circumstances?"

"But while all fanaticism shows intellectual weakness, a fanaticism about the means to be employed for reaching quite uncertain objectives is sheer feeble mindedness."

"Development does not start with goods; it starts with people and their education, organization, and discipline. Without these three, all resources remain latent, untapped, potential."

"Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes."

"Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man's work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it equally their products."

"Economic development is something much wider and deeper than economics, let alone econometrics. Its roots lie outside the economic sphere, in education, organization, discipline and, beyond that, in political independence and a national consciousness of self-reliance."

"Can we establish an ideology, or whatever you like to call it, which insists that the educated have taken upon themselves an obligation and have not simply acquired a "passport to privilege"? Â…It is, you might well say, an elementary matter of justice."

"Economic growth, which viewed from the point of view of economics, physics, chemistry, and technology, has no discernible limit must necessary run into decisive bottlenecks when viewed from the point of view of the environmental sciences. An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited."

"Economics, which Lord Keynes had hoped would settle down as a modest occupation similar to dentistry, suddenly becomes the most important subject of all."

"EconomicsÂ… deals with goods in accordance with their market value and not in accordance with what they really are. The same rules and criteria are applied to primary goods, which man has to win from nature, and secondary goods, which presuppose the existence of primary goods, and are manufactured from them. All goods are treated the same, because the point of view is fundamentally that of private profit-making, and this means that it is inherent in the methodology of economics to ignore man's dependence on the natural world."

"Economics, and even more so applied economics, is not an exact science; it is in fact, or ought to be, something much greater: a branch of wisdom."

"Education can help us only if it produces “whole men”. The truly educated man is not a man who knows a bit of everything, not even the man who knows all the details of all subjects (if such a thing were possible): the “whole man” in fact, may have little detailed knowledge of facts and theories, he may treasure the Encyclopædia Britannica because “she knows and he needn’t”, but he will be truly in touch with the centre. He will not be in doubt about his basic convictions, about his view on the meaning and purpose of his life. He may not be able to explain these matters in words, but the conduct of his life will show a certain sureness of touch which stems from this inner clarity."

"Even today, we are generally told that gigantic organizations are inescapably necessary; but when we look closely we can notice that as soon as great size has been created there is often a strenuous attempt to attain smallness within bigness."

"Even an economist might well ask: what is the point of economic progress, a so-called higher standard of living, when the earth, the only earth we have, is being contaminated by substances which may cause malformations in our children or grandchildren?"

"Economists themselves, like most specialists, normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any presuppositions."

"Everywhere people ask: "What can I actually do?" The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind."