When small is beautiful was released in 1973, it was an instant hit. It was one of the most widely read books by members of the British parliament. In the United States, the book was received with great acclaim. Schumacher spoke to large audiences across the country and was even received at the White House by Jimmy Carter, then US President.
Schumacher told me: “The economy should serve humanity rather than humanity serving the economy. Moreover, the economy must maintain the integrity of Nature. In other words, the economy as if people and planet matter.
“What are the attributes of such an economy? ” I asked him.
“Such an economy should be small, simple and harmless,” he replied. “To keep things simple and innocuous, organizations need to be on a human scale.”
For Schumacher, simplicity and harmlessness were essential principles for the proper functioning of an economy, as well as for society as a whole.
Schumacher believed that small scale fosters simplicity, togetherness, diversity, the local and the vernacular: all ideals to which he aspired. The grand scale favors complication, separation, uniformity, the global and the monumental: the goals he least admired. In his view, the small scale was much more compatible with ethical values than the large scale.
He also believed that ethics and economics should not be separated and that ethical economics should be based on the principle that we should always be mindful of not harming nature, people and ourselves. . Such a harmless economy should be kept simple. “Any fool can complicate things. It takes a genius to keep it simple,” he added.
As a result of our conversation, I started taking simplicity seriously. However, I also felt that simplicity on its own was not enough. He needed an extra dimension, a dimension of elegance. I called it elegant simplicity, and it resulted in a book of the same title. I believe things should be simple, but they should also be elegant – cluttered minds, cluttered lives and cluttered homes are neither simple nor elegant.
Like Schumacher, my mother believed in a simple life. She believed that to make life simple, we should embrace the BUD principle: beautiful, useful and durable.
Modern materialistic economics ignores the importance of beauty, but a lack of beauty causes spiritual poverty. Without beauty, our souls starve, even when our bodies are nourished. Therefore, we must not do anything that is not beautiful. Moreover, beauty and usefulness should not be separated. Form and function should complement each other.
Arts and crafts should be an integral part of a simple life. Additionally, beauty and utility must embrace durability. Frugality is an essential aspect of simplicity. Innate obsolescence is a sin against Nature!
The BUD principle makes simplicity elegant. We all can and should have a good life, a comfortable life and a joyful life. Simplicity should not be associated with a dull or dry life. Simplicity is the soil in which we can cultivate a magnanimous spirit.
What advantage is there if our stores are full of paraphernalia but our souls are impoverished? Combining Schumacher’s idea of simplicity with my mother’s BUD principle made perfect sense: BUD made simplicity both elegant and spiritually fulfilling.
Simplicity with elegance, I thought, is a prerequisite for sustainability. All of our tools and technologies, our clothes and gadgets, our cars and computers, our trains and planes, all the things we use in our debauched lifestyle come from the finite sources of Nature.
We cannot satisfy all of our insatiable consumptions, our limitless and infinite needs, which are driven by our greed, from a finite Earth. Elegant simplicity is therefore an essential requirement to sustainably meet our real needs.
Elegant simplicity is also a prerequisite for social justice. You have to live simply so that others can live simply. If some of us live extravagant lives, hoarding more “stuff” than we really need, then many of our fellow human beings will not be able to meet even their most basic needs.
As Schumacher proposed an ethical economy, elegant simplicity proposes a fair economy. Elegant simplicity provides the right context for such a combination.
This trinity of ethics, economy and equity can solve many of our pressing problems, such as environmental injustice and social injustice. Ethics, economy, equity is a moral, social and ecological imperative of our time.
EF Schumacher was my good friend and mentor. His book small is beautiful inspired me to write Elegant simplicity. Thus, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of small is beautifulI recognize my deep debt to him.
Satish Kumar will speak at the Small Is the Future conference in Bristol on June 17, 2023 organized by The environmentalist and the Schumacher Institute. His elegant book Simplicity: the art of living well is available from the Resurgence Shop. Satish is a member of the management team of the Resurgence Trust, which owns and publishes The environmentalist. This article first appeared in the latest issue of Resurgence & Ecologist review, which is on sale now.