The 297 page book has four parts:
- The Modern World has essays on sustainability and scale.
- Resources discusses land, education, energy and technology
- The Third World gets very deep into the similarities and differences between economic systems in "our world" and a poor village.
- Organization and Ownership discusses different ownership structures and how their incentives (dis)serve man and society.
If these ideas had displaced mainstream economics (to the extent that Gordon Gekko said "small is beautiful" instead of "greed is good"), we would be living in a very different world today. Schumacher is certainly aware that he is fighting an uphill battle, but his analysis never veers from good economics. He does not hope that people will just "do the right thing." Instead, he pays attention to incentives and how they can be changed to accomplish his goals.
This book is full of wisdom, and the writing sparkles. Although you should read it to experience it yourself, I will leave you with this passage:
We are always having all sorts of clever ideas about optimizing something before it even exists. I think the stupid man who says "something is better than nothing" is much more intelligent than than the clever chap who will not touch something unless it is optimal.Bottom Line: Economists study how humans use scarce resources. Their decisions are motivated by philosophies of why they want to use those resources. This book discusses those decisions with an important question: Is the goal more consumption or happier people? Since consumption does not appear to make us more happy, we have to ask what does, and Schumacher answers that question by noting that people living in communities and doing meaningful work are happier.
2014 update (after using the book to teach): Schumacher has a lovely vision for how a bottom-up system of production by the masses would work, but he does not describe a strategy for dealing with people(s) who prefer large and ugly, e.g., China, the US, Canada, et al. This weakness puts his advice into the aspirational rather than pragmatic section of my bookshelf.