The case for a smaller future


Schumacher also denounced the complete absence of any sense of wisdom in economic affairs. His analysis resonated with millions of readers across the world, as his book was published in dozens of foreign language editions.

People everywhere found themselves serving big organisations of all kinds, and many felt that they were losing a sense of community belonging.  

But ‘small is beautiful’ is more than just unrealistic, romantic nostalgia. Schumacher was the first economist who challenged the assumption that we could build a lasting future using non-renewable resources such as coal, oil, and gas as our primary energy sources.

“If we squander our fossil fuels, we threaten civilization, but if squander the capital represented by living nature around us, we threaten life itself. The modern industrial system…consumes the very basis on which it is erected…It lives on irreplaceable capital which it cheerfully treats as income.”

This profound critique of industrial capitalism, echoing the Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth’ study – a report that warned earth’s resources would not be able to support the exponential rates of economic growth – became the basis of the new discipline of ecological economics which is still in the ascendency.  


For Schumacher it is of critical importance to learn from nature’s regenerative ways, which he called an ‘economy of permanence’.

Until quite recently, an illusion of unlimited powers of humanity, even victory over the rest of creation, prevailed, but now we are no longer so sure. More than ever before, we need to concern ourselves with the sheer destructive power we have – not only through armed conflicts between nations, but also through ecocide.

Schumacher talks about our battle against nature and says that ‘if we won that battle, we would find ourself on the losing side.’  

The bold ideas contained in ‘Small is Beautiful’ have influenced politics to a limited degree. In Britain we have seen the devolution of some powers from Westminster to parliaments in Edinburgh and in Cardiff. In Wales this has also given rise to legislation for the ‘wellbeing of future generations’.


Uniquely, the commissioner, Sophie Howe, is tasked with scrutinising decisions by politicians and by companies against the need to safeguard the interests of future generations.

Today, under the auspices of Brexit, we are supposed to be pursuing the idea of global Britain, but we don’t seem to be very good at this.

Much more appealing would be the idea of a local Britain, truly empowering local communities, helping them to become self-reliant in food and other aspects of a new, green economy.

Schumacher anticipated the global climate emergency and was one of the first advocates for the development of wind and solar power.

He could not have foreseen how much of our energy supply is now coming from such renewable sources, even if too much may be under the control of big companies for his liking.


Schumacher inspired many groups across the world to create community supported agriculture projects, small-scale technology and recycling workshops, and renewable energy initiatives.

He was not just an economist and philosopher, but also very much a man of action, as co-founder of the Intermediate Technology Development Group, now called Practical Action.

He was also president of the Soil Association, a Bristol based pioneer of organic, regenerative farming. Schumacher regarded assuring healthy, living soils as one of the preconditions for a sustainable civilisation.

When Schumacher unexpectedly died in 1976, the Schumacher Society was created in his name, and held annual lectures in Bristol and elsewhere in the UK for many years.

Subsequently, it gave rise to Schumacher College in Dartington, which this year is celebrating its 25thanniversary. It also spawned the Schumacher Institute in Bristol which is a partner in this event.

Today Schumacher’s ideas are more relevant than ever. In this event, we look towards a future of practical action, grassroots organisation, and locally driven solutions.

This Author

Professor Herbert Girardet is a co-founder of the World Future Council, and a member of The Club of Rome. His most recent book is Creating Regenerative Cities (Routledge). Professor Girardet is also a trustee at the Resurgence Trust, which owns and publishes The EcologistBuy tickets here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *