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Bigger isn’t better – the renegade ‘Buddhist economics’ of E F Schumacher

‘Like all good revolutionaries, he travels light…’

A protégé of John Maynard Keynes, the German-British economist Ernst Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Schumacher (1911-77) came of age in step with his contemporaries who emphasised growth as they endeavoured to rebuild the modern world following the Second World War. Midway though his career, however, Schumacher began to believe that the increasingly complex global economy and the increasingly intricate machinery it was built on were proving ruinous for humanity. Influenced by Buddhist teachings, he developed a set of principles he called ‘Buddhist economics’, based on the beliefs that meaningful work is an essential part of being human, simple technology is valuable only to the extent that it meets needs, and the interconnected modern economy is disastrous to humankind and the environment. He trimmed his thesis to an eloquent three words for his landmark book Small Is Beautiful (1973), which brims with ideas that are today familiar to most and embraced by many, and is often cited as one of the most influential postwar works of economics. This documentary profile of Schumacher from 1977 captures him at the height of his influence and, incidentally, in the months leading up to his death, exploring his thoughtful philosophies of work, technology and human dignity.

Directors: Donald Brittain, Barrie Howells, Douglas Kiefer

Website: National Film Board of Canada

31 August 2021

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