Sunday, 17 February 2008

The Buddhist Economics of E.F.Schumacher

Schumacher worked as an economic planner with Keynes. His principles of appropriate technology have been applied worldwide. A refugee from the Nazis, and a lifelong Christian who was open to the wisdom of other faiths, he urged a "Buddhist economics" (today's term would be eco-economics) founded on "a fully developed sense of the sacredness of all existence" -- a vision of a sustainable economy that fuses morality and science. Good work, he says, should have three goals: to develop and use each person's creative faculties; to cooperate with others; and to create the goods necessary for existence. Work becomes an act of mindfulness, a middle way between material comfort and spirituality, a system of production that builds community while respecting the environment that makes human life and production possible.

He sharply criticized scientism, a reductionist worldview that maximizes utility and profit. The worker's creativity and spirituality are discouraged. Consumers are asked to put aside their moral considerations in economic decisions.
Toxic substances and nuclear waste are "a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated. ” He extended Gandhi's philosophy to the biosphere: “A way of life that ever more rapidly depletes the power of the Earth to sustain it, and piles up ever more insoluble problems for each succeeding generation, can only be called violent."

In the US, the E. F. Schumacher Society was founded in 1980 by Robert Swann, a pacifist and advocate of decentralism. Swann persuaded Schumacher to publish Small Is Beautiful (1973) and Guide for the Perplexed (1977), landmark books on appropriate technology, community-based ecology, and ethical science. The Society preserves their personal library, and continues to publish books by leading environmental thinkers such as Peter Barnes and Wendell Berry. It also practices what it preaches.

Its SHARE (Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy) is a nonprofit microcredit organisation for a sustainable regional economy, making loans to businesses that provide local products or services. Members have interest-earning deposits in a local bank, which are used to collateralize loans. It also developed BerkShares, a local currency (aka "green dollars"). Jane Jacobs' book Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984) describes local currency as an elegant tool for for regional credit and local development.

Community Land Trusts
and CSA gardens: Inspired by
Vinobha Bhave in India, Swann and Slater King founded the first US land trust for poor US blacks in 1967. A land trust accepts donations of -- or buys -- land, leasing it back to members under conditions that avoid speculative profit-taking, for purposes like affordable housing, nature conservancy, or community agriculture. In conjunction with land-use planners, local government, and residents, the trust determines the most appropriate uses: a wildlife refuge, "green" housing, a managed woodlot, a commercial development, or a farm producing vegetables grown for the local market. These principles have been applied by many groups. Similar principles were applied by Mohammed Yunus' Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Richard Heinberg's 2006 Schumacher lecture predicted that 50,000,000 family farms could be created in the USA in place of today's environmentally destructive agribusiness based on unsustainable chemicals, pesticides and fossil fuels.

The UK Schumacher Society includes a Soil Association which certifies organic farming and products, restaurants and crafts. The Society also offers New Economics educational programmes, training, international aid projects like Jeevika, and publishes Resurgence.

Further reading: Bringing morals back to the table by Michael Gordon 17 Feb 08; Wikipedia on food miles analysis and Village Earth international projects; Eating locally in Kingston and Timing in community development.

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