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Small is beautiful

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OK, so I stole the title from  E.F. Schumacher

He, in turn apparently snavelled the phrase from one of his teachers.

Schumacher, a British economist, was one of the inspirational driving forces behind the 1970's "appropriate technology" movement which enabled many developing countries to effect some degree of sustainable development.

For those of us involved at the time, this was our bible.

Schumacher, debunked the notion that "growth" is always good, and dared to suggest that modern Western economies would be ultimately unsustainable, and that we should look more towards incorporating the principles of Buddhist economics which aim at achieving the goal of maximum human wellbeing with a minimum of consumption.

"greed and envy demand continuous and limitless economic growth of a material kind, without proper regard for conservation, and this type of growth cannot possibly fit into a finite environment."

Above all, he believed that small projects built and maintained by small communities would provide the key to sustainable development.

His "small is beautiful" principle might still have some relevance in my Australia today.

I have some delightful childhood memories of visiting aunts and uncles who lived in typical country-town cottages like the one below.  Houses which they built for themselves, and were no larger than was necessary to provide a warm sheltered living space for their families.

They are now being demolished and replaced by cold, characterless monstrosities like this;


"Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic and the gentle, the non violent, the elegant and the beautiful"       (E.F. Schumacher)

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

13 responses »

  1. I loved this book so much when growing up, I stole it from my fathers library, forcing him to get another copy. 😛
    Oh GOF, if you think that's a monstrosity, you should see the houses in this country. Appallingly huge, and the size of one's house is attached quite a bit to one's status. I couldn't stand to live in one of them just for the amount of cleaning we'd have to do. I'm sure Mrs GOF could report on how she found things when she was here in that respect. All made out of ticky-tacky as well… ugh.

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  2. What a beautiful quote from Schumacher. Thanks for sharing. I'm very interested in this philosophy and ways to convey this message. People need to know that it's not a loss, it's a gain.
    And I second LOM's comment. I agree that's a monstrosity, but wow, you haven't seen places like Massachusetts where a farmland surrounded by forest is within a year, unrecognizable, replaced by miles of concrete, parking lots and strip malls.

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  3. When Globet took me driving around Melbourne last year I was just astounded at the size of "family" homes being built…..huge 2 story almost identical architecture brick with tile roof monstrosities…..all this at a time when family size is decreasing.There has been a TV program shown here recently "Worlds greenest homes" including many from the US, Canada and Oz. Many of the homes had a floor area in excess of 3000 sq feet! ……. often just for 2 people living in them. I wondered how they could ever have looked at all the materials used, then judged them to be "green".

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  4. I can imagine the destruction of environment going on in the US just as it is here.Seems to me families are no happier living in mansions than they were in simple cottages. People in the middle of last century were not burdened by 50-year mortgages hanging around their necks either.

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  5. Did you know Schumacher's museum thingy of all his stuff is fairly close to where we live (a bit closer to you than me)? That could be a really cool excursion.

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  6. Did you notice none of those houses have eaves either? No rainwater catchment, no shade for the walls to keep the heat down (of course not, they all rely on air conditioning, ugh!). I totally agree, people don't seem any more happy living in these places. They are just spaces to spend more and more money on to fill up with shit people don't need.

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  7. I read a book that also conveyed that philosophy. It was called, "A Life Well Spent," and discussed why more is not always better. We live in an area that has a large number of very wealthy people. We happen to live in a little ranch house in a neighborhood that was originally intended to house military families. I often wonder how my children deal with the fact that they spend the night with friends that live in mansions with five bathrooms and who knows how many stories or rooms. Then they come home to our little house.

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  8. Did you notice none of those houses have eaves either?The old "Queenslanders" were designed for the tropical conditions. Wide eaves, verandahs all round and up on stilts as some protection against flooding, but mostly to provide cool family living space underneath…..not just as storage for 2 or 3 cars.I didn't know about Schumachers museum……hope you get to visit it one day.

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  9. Thanks for your contribution to the subject F.S. and I am sure your children by having access to two worlds will be well equipped with your guidance to determine what the necessities of life are, and what are purely expensive indulgences.Our daughter was raised "in the bush" with few luxuries and has gone on to live a life of her own in the city resisting the temptation to fill her house up with unnecessary crap.Having visitors from less privileged countries can certainly provide a sobering reminder of just how well off we are in the US and Australia. There is so much whining which goes on in Australia about how tough life is here. Let the complainers go and spend a week in a third world country to regain proper perspective. There is not a day goes by when I am not thankful for the freedoms, plentiful food, and simple comforts I have in life.

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  10. Around here they call those unnecessarily large houses McMansions. I've never had a desire to live in anything that big – people must feel isolated in their own homes. I can not imagine the heating and cooling bills they have either. I love the louvre windows on that colourful cottage.

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  11. As LOM said … just the thought of maintaining and cleaning the things is enough to turn me off.I'm also amazed by the hypocrisy of the "green" homes I see on television that use more resources just to build than I'll ever use in my lifetime.

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  12. I love the louvre windows on that colourful cottage. The most effective low-tech way to get airflow into and out of tropical houses.

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  13. I'm also amazed by the hypocrisy of the "green" homes I see on televisionThat just about says it all GOM. Those programs make a big deal about some recycled wood being used on the walls or a few solar panels on the roof but completely forget the volume of concrete needed in the basic construction ….often enough to build ten "normal" houses.

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