The Proper Use of Land’: E. F. Schumacher on Economics and the Environment, 1930 – 1977

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E.F. Schumacher (1911–1977) is best remembered as the author of the 1973 best-selling book, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, the book that gave him great symbolic and public importance. With this, he became a leader of the broad cultural movement of the 1970s that took a critical approach to the deleterious effects of economic growth and consumer culture on both human society and the natural environment. Having laboured in relative obscurity for most of his career, Schumacher, at the age of 62, found himself propelled into the limelight and he responded generously to the explosion of public demands on his time. In a few short years, he travelled widely – giving talks to university students across America, to Zen Buddhist retreats in California, to religious and environmental audiences across Europe, participating in broadcasts and contributing to documentaries, including one on the destruction of forests in Australia. Within five years, he was dead, possibly from over-exertion, collapsing with a heart attack on a train in Switzerland on his way to yet another engagement. By then, he had become an iconic figure, important not for the academic economics community, but for that broad church of readers concerned variously with environmental protection, organic agriculture and the quality of life in a society given over to consumption. His book, written as a « cry of agony », gave him a place in the pantheon of authors that includes, to mention just a few, Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac, 1949), Erich Fromm (The Sane Society, 1955), Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1962), Scott and Helen Nearing (Living the Good Life, 1970) and John Seymour (Self-Sufficiency, 1973).

This content has been updated on 9 June 2021 at 10 h 32 min.