The Economics of Peace

“In my opinion, only an economic program can reach to the heart of the world peace problem… Our vision should encompass the world as a whole… a cooperative vision concerned with all of mankind, excluding none, and should focus upon the task of bringing justice through non-violent means.”

― Robert Swann, The Economics of Peace (1967)

Alarming events of this past year—climate disruption, a widening wealth gap, supply-chain issues, conflicts—have provided ample cause for reflection on the convictions which root our work, and which have animated the Schumacher Center since its founding in 1980.

E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 classic Small is Beautiful inspired many with its call for a new economics wherein people and the planet truly matter. Years of investigation in questions of scaleintermediate technology, and workplace cooperativism had convinced Fritz Schumacher that in fact, human needs could be provided for without overexploiting the world’s precious resources or compelling people into undignified, alienating work. Rather than presume scarcity and narrow self-interest, he explored the possibilities of shared abundance. “All my life,” he later wrote, had been “a journey of discovery of the generosity of nature.”

It is no coincidence that Schumacher’s vision aligned so closely with that of our Co-Founder, Robert Swann. Dedicated to the cause of peace, Swann served a federal prison sentence as a conscientious objector during World War II. Prison was, as Bob put it, his monastery and university. Alongside civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, he studied community economics and non-violent activism as exemplified by Gandhi in India.

E.F. Schumacher (left) and Robert Swann (right) at New Alchemy Institute

Schumacher, Swann, Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others all drew from non-violence as a time-tested source of courage and clarity. Through highs and lows, this legacy reminds us that the causes of peace, justice, and Earth stewardship are ultimately one and the same.

This holistic vision has kept our organization uncommonly focused over many years. We continue to elaborate a vision for a new economics—one that is values-embedded, more human-scale, and place-based—while modeling and sharing tools for community-led transformation:

  • Community Land Trusts (CLTs) enable lower-cost access to productive farmland, manufacturing and retail sites, as well as housing. By facilitating donations of land, CLTs give community members a way to inform land-use decisions while allowing enterprises to build equity in buildings and improvements. (We’re supporting our own Berkshire Community Land Trust in doing so alongside farmer Molly Comstock and the Harry Conklin Fund for Farmsteads.)
  • Local Currencies foster greater local exchange and provision, helping to curtail regional wealth leakage and keep money circulating locally. By going digital (as we’ve helped our home region’s BerkShares to do), local currencies can serve as platforms for coordinating community wealth building and supply chain resiliency.
  • Community Supported Industry (CSI) brings socially-minded entrepreneurs together with community members and institutions to realize opportunities for local renewal. Together, consumers and producers can catalyze import-replacement enterprises, directing local development sustainably and foregoing reliance on far-flung corporations.

Small is Beautiful  taught local production for local needs as a key principle of economic life. Such paths for community-led relocalization are as urgently needed now as at any point in our more than 40-year history.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication in 2023, we prepare to celebrate Schumacher’s legacy, and to share this vision and these tools. The world is ripe for fundamental change. Your donation to the Schumacher Center will help us carry forward our advocacy and meet this moment with peace, determination, and joy.

Thank you,
Schumacher Center Staff