E.F. Schumacher

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E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) wiki

"Several of the better themes of David Cameron's widely disputed "big society" are indistinguishable in their ambition from parts of Small is Beautiful. The prime minister, indeed, has long been interested in Schumacher's ideas. Almost immediately after becoming leader of the Conservative party, Cameron addressed the Soil Association, engaging with key aspects of the Small Is Beautiful message...

"Ernst Friedrich (Fritz) Schumacher was born on 16 August 1911, the son of a distinguished academic and professional family from Berlin. His sister Edith, who later married the atomic physicist Werner Heisenberg, said of her brother's uncanny perceptiveness, "He is like another Beethoven". On top of his innate gifts there was the legacy of strange and violent times in Germany. Schumacher's childhood was blighted by the first world war and the German economic collapse of 1923...

"Schumacher's belief in an English future was fulfilled, with a paradoxical twist, early in 1940. He was living comfortably with his family in Weybridge, working in the City, devoting himself to Muschi and the children, and developing "the possibility of an Anglo-German friendship". When Weybridge was declared part of an Enemy Protected Area, and he had to flee, his Oxford friend David Astor came to his rescue. Astor had begun to promote a European ideal through the pages of the Observer. He was also linked to Schumacher through the "Shanghai Club", which championed the leftward shift of British society during the war. A shifting constellation of the best and the brightest, its members included Barbara Ward, EH Carr, Sebastian Haffner (Raimund Pretzel), Isaac Deutscher, John Strachey and, most notably, George Orwell.

"Clever editors recruit where they can, and instinctively. Astor found at the Shanghai Club, a Chinese restaurant in Soho, many of the writers and journalists who would soon become associated with the Observer. Coming to the aid of a refugee like Schumacher was part of Astor's extraordinary gift for private, creative sympathy. His family had an estate in Northamptonshire, with cottages to spare. In June 1940, the Schumacher family moved to Eydon (pronounced Eden) to begin a new life on the land. For a man used to bourgeois comforts, a farm labourer's cottage, with no gas or electricity and one cold tap, was a shock. Worse was to follow. The Battle of Britain was raging; a Nazi invasion threatened...

"Schumacher was also mixing with the elite of the postwar Labour reconstruction: Hugh Gaitskell, Michael Foot, Hugh Dalton, Jennie Lee and Stafford Cripps. Barbara says that he made no effort to disguise his origins. As a recent "enemy alien" he might have been expected to lie low, but that was not in his nature. He always spoke out, attracting the attention of Sir William Beveridge, who became another patron...

"Once he joined the National Coal Board as economic adviser in 1950, he began to see the future more clearly. He would devote the rest of his life to environmental questions. For 20 years, the Coal Board gave him a niche from which to test these in the field of energy. "I am completely submerged in COAL," he told his wife. He and Muschi had moved to Caterham. Holcombe was a big, rambling house in four acres of garden in the Surrey green belt. The growing family of four had a vegetable patch, and Schumacher devoted himself to sustainability...

"In 1955, immersed in the search for inner stillness, Schumacher took a three-month sabbatical in Burma, another turning point. Thereafter, he began to develop a Buddhist approach to economics. He had already reduced the problems of "nature's larder" (the earth's resources) to the single issue of energy. Now he began exploring what a "Buddhist economy" might mean. There should, he wrote, be a "distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources. A civilisation built of renewable resources is superior to one built on oil, coal, metal etc. The New Economics would be a veritable Statute of Limitation – and that means a Statute of Liberation." After his trip to Burma, there was in Schumacher's mind the slow fusion of an energy-centred economic system with Gandhian and Buddhist ideas of non-violence. In August 1960, these ideas found expression in an Observer article entitled "Non-violent economics"...

"The climax of these years occurred in August 1965, when the Observer ran a milestone Schumacher article about Intermediate Technology on the front of the Review. His focus on world poverty struck a chord that resonated with readers. The paper was swamped with letters which in turn led to the foundation in 1966 of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now "Practical Action").

"Once he had retired from the Coal Board in 1970, Schumacher found a liberation in a new way of life, undoubtedly inspired by marriage to a woman 30 years his junior. He began to take an interest in the practical application of his theories. Peter Segger, an influential champion of the organic food movement, who has devoted his life to Schumacher's ideas and now lives in deepest Wales, remembers his mentor's visit to his farm. "He was so warm, enthusiastic and generous. To a beginner like me, he was a huge inspiration. His book was seminal."..

"The afterlife of a cult bestseller is always interesting. There was a memorial service in Westminster Cathedral, addressed by Yehudi Menuhin, followed by a lot of talk about "Schumacher centres". Different pressure groups found different messages in Small Is Beautiful. "It was a bit like the early church," says one observer. "Everyone thinking they have got hold of the truth, but each has got a different part."

"The Soil Association, of which Schumacher had been president, received a direct legacy from its mentor in the shape of royalties from Small is Beautiful. Jonathan Dimbleby, another former president, is delighted to see his predecessor back in fashion. "Small Is Beautiful really does mean something now," he told the Observer last week. "Schumacher has become a man for our times. I believe we must go back to Schumacher to find a future that works."

"Dimbleby is not alone. Long before the Arab revolutions threatened oil supplies or the Japanese tsunami wreaked its terrible nuclear aftermath, David Cameron and the coalition had begun to look at Schumacher's ideas. In 2005, Cameron addressed the Soil Association, the key pressure group for alternative agriculture on the importance of sustainable farming. Patrick Holden, director of the Sustainable Food Trust, says: "Cameron gets it. Food and water will be the big electoral issues of the 21st century."

"Rohan Silva, senior policy adviser to the prime minister, places Schumacher in a tradition of 20th-century anti-utopian thought represented by Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin..." [1]



  • Geoffrey Kirk, ed. Schumacher on Energy (Sphere Books, 1983).
  • Barbara Wood, E.F. Schumacher: His Life and Thought (Harper & Row, 1984).
  • Peter Etherden, "The Schumacher Enigma" (Fourth World Review, 1999).
  • Joseph Pearce, Small is Still Beautiful (ISI Books, 2006).
  • Joseph Pearce, "The Education of EF Schumacher", excerpted from "Literary Converts" (Ignatius Press).
  • Diana Schumacher, Small is Beautiful in the 21st Century: The legacy of E.F. Schumacher (Green Books, 2011).

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch


  1. EF Schumacher: Cameron's choice, guardian.co.uk, accessed December 12, 2011.
  2. Scientific and Medical Network Member, organizational web page, accessed February 3, 2012.
  3. United Nations Items-in-Secretary-General's Statements, organizational web page, accessed May 4, 2012.