Schumacher, E.F.

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Dr Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, more commonly known as Fritz Schumacher, is an economist-philosopher and progressive entrepreneur from the twentieth century. Schumacher was an early prophet of the current ecological crisis and although he was a talented academic he became frustrated by theorising and so became a practical exponent of his theories in business, agriculture and journalism.

Fritz Schumacher was born in Bonn in 1911 and died in Caux, Switzerland after a speaking engagement there, in September 1977. He remained an atheist until the age of 44, when he began to read widely around comparative religions and he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1971.

Schumacher left his native Germany in 1937 to live in London after having established himself as an ascendant academic in economics in Germany, Britain and the USA. During the second world war, Schumacher worked as a farm labourer in Northamptonshire, and then joined the Oxford Institute of Statistics. In 1950, he was invited to become the Economic Advisor and Director of Statistics at National Coal Board, where he remained until 1970.

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Published works

Schumacher travelled to Burma during his post at the Coal Board, where he developed his ideas for intermediate technology and also Buddhist economics, which grew into his seminal work, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As if People Mattered, first published in 1973. It is this book for which he is perhaps most famous, but it was A Guide for The Perplexed, published in the year of his death, of which he was most proud. The books Good Work and This I Believe and other Essays were published posthumously, the latter being an anthology of essays which appeared in Resurgence during the 1970s.

Schumacher's organizations

Schumacher actively supported organizations which he felt were doing good work. And, when he couldn’t find such organizations, he set about founding them himself. In 1970, Schumacher founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now Practical Action) and in 1964, he founded the India Development Group (now the Jeevika Trust) to promote village scale appropriate technology. He was also an active member of the Soil Asscociation, and was appointed as its president in 1970.

Schumacher’s legacy

His commitment to sustainable solutions also had the capacity to inspire others to set up organizations founded on Schumacher’s belief. And so, after Gerard Morgan-Grenville met Schumacher in 1974 he went on to set up the Centre for Alternative Technology, or CAT in Machynlleth, mid Wales. The Schumacher Society, a membership organisation, was set up to commemorate his work, and has been holding annual lectures in Bristol every year since its inception in 1978.

Schumacher’s intellectual legacy, his holistic approach and search for appropriate, human scale solutions to contemporary problems are particularly resonant in the shadow of the global economic downturn. One of many particularly apposite quotes from Small is Beautiful reads, ‘the modern industrial system…consumes on the very basis on which it has been erected. To use the language of the economist, it lives on irreplaceable capital which it cheerfully treats as income.’ (p16, Small Is Beautiful, A Study of Economics as if People Mattered).

Additional resources

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Author: Julia Forster