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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 …


E.F. Schumacher (1911–1977) went from being a conventional economist of Fabian-socialist stripe in the 1940s to becoming the author of Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, the 1973 best-seller that brought him public fame. In the course of his intellectual evolution, Schumacher became increasingly critical of the economics profession, which he accused of being obsessed with measurement and oblivious to quality, and of promoting economic growth at great environmental cost. This article considers Schumacher’s critique of the economics discipline and its methods, with particular emphasis on environmental matters.
JEL Classification: B31, Q57

  • E.F. Schumacher
  • Small Is Beautiful (1973)
  • history of economics
  • environmental economics
  • ecological economics
  • economic development
Robert Leonard [1]
UQAM, Montreal
Email address:
  • [1]
    For comments on this paper, I am grateful to the editors and other participants at the conference on “Economics and the Environment Since the 1950’s – History, Methodology and Philosophy” at Université de Reims in March 2019, as well as two anonymous referees for this journal.
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