Small is Beautiful
Recent news has brought us some short clips of information that may not seem related to one another at first glance. The new Kathy Dunderdale government wants to re-organize the fishery and run it ‘like a business’. To profit who?
BY PETER PICKERSGILL
Recent news has brought us some short clips of information that may not seem related to one another at first glance.
The new Kathy Dunderdale government wants to re-organize the fishery and run it ‘like a business’. To profit who?
The new Kathy Dunderdale government is continuing full steam ahead with plans to develop the Lower Churchill at Muskrat Falls. According to them, the outcry against the project is happening only because government hasn’t explained it well enough. Yet. They will try harder.
The new Kathy Dunderdale government is putting the finishing touches on its waste management plan that will see the closing of numerous local dumps. Instead garbage will be trucked vast distances to a few mega-dumps. This is supposed to be more efficient.
This month another story broke about faulty lab testing in one of the province’s Health Districts. This time not Eastern, but Central Health. A large Regional Board created by amalgamating smaller local boards. Here too, efficiency was the goal.
The ‘Occupy’ movement that began in Europe and North Africa, then moved to Wall Street where North Americans first paid it some attention, has begun to annoy powerful people who fear change. With varying levels of force, authorities are shutting down encampments in public places in cities around the world.
What do these short clips of seemingly unrelated information have to do with one another?
Our fishery, Muskrat Falls, mega garbage dumps and faulty health testing are all examples of how not to do things. The thinking behind them is described with stunningly accurate foresight in E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 best seller ‘Small is Beautiful. A Study of Economics As If People Mattered’.
Schumacher predicted the ‘Occupy’ movement. According to him, it, or something like it would be the direct consequence of governments failing to take into account that people do matter.
“The fundamental questioning of conventional values by young people all over the world is a symptom of the widespread unease with which our industrial civilization is increasingly regarded.”
This was in 1973, following closely on the turbulent 60s. According to Schumacher, if there was not a fundamental change in the way governments managed the impact of development on the population, the results would be apocalyptic ‘the downfall of civilization will not be a matter of science fiction. It will be the experience of our children and grand-children’.
Schumacher’s view is growth and development should be realized at a human scale. If your goal is a project of a grand scale, the best way to achieve it is by assembling numerous smaller pieces that are understandable to individuals.
A builder can participate in the construction of a huge building by concentrating on the importance of laying each brick correctly, one at a time.
As Schumacher puts it, “There is wisdom in smallness, if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than understanding.
“The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge such as we are currently witnessing in the application of nuclear energy, of the new chemistry in agriculture, of transportation technology, and countless other things.”
There is only one reason Schumacher didn’t include Muskrat Falls in this list. He died in 1977.
In addition to the scale of physical projects, there is the tyranny of institutions that are so huge that ordinary people can’t understand the reasoning behind the decisions they are making. Some of these institutions include fish processing companies, giant energy corporations, regional health boards, and waste management organizations.
To this could be added political parties, private contractors and the stock market.
Schumacher felt not only should the elements making up a large project or organization be as small as is possible, but also the lines of communication within it should be as short as practical. This would lead to the clearest communication within, and a more ready acceptance by citizens at large.
Schumacher was an optimist. He developed his philosophy of economics to show how things could be improved. He would naturally assume that an organization, let’s take for example a provincial government, truly wants the public to understand what it is doing and why.
But what if that is not the case?
What if, on the contrary, the provincial government, and I repeat, I am just using it as an example, doesn’t really want the people to know what it is up to? Why bother explaining? The people wouldn’t get it anyway.
How would Schumacher react to that? The name Schumacher is German for shoemaker. He might break into verse.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.