Small Is Beautiful Versus Big Is Best

E.F. Schumacher and True Conservatism

The phrase “Small is beautiful” was coined, or at least popularized, by the economist E.F. Schumacher, who chose it for the title of his ground-breaking international best-seller, published in 1973, that exploded like a beneficent bomb, demolishing, or at least throwing into serious question, many of the presumptions of laissez-faire economics.  The subtitle of Schumacher’s book, “A Study of Economics as if People Mattered,” reflects his insistence that the question of scale in economic life should not—and, indeed, morally speaking, cannot—be separated from the overriding dignity of the human person.  The tendency of modern economics to genuflect before Mammon in the name of quasimysterious market forces, and to disregard the dignity of the human person, is ultimately not an economic but a moral question.  As such, we should not be surprised that the whole issue has concerned the Catholic Church for more than a century.

Perhaps Schumacher’s lasting legacy is to illustrate that subsidiarity, the essence of the Church’s social teaching as expounded in social encyclicals by popes such as Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John Paul II, and as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, has worldwide popular appeal and, more significantly, is a practical and viable alternative to laissez-faire concepts of economics.

Schumacher warned of...

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