This remarkable essay by the founder of Intermediate Technology was one of the papers submitted to the seminar on ‘The Relevance of Gandhi to our Times’ held in New Delhi earlier this year. It is also appearing in a forthcoming book entitled Foundations of Peace and Freedom, edited by Ted Dunn, and it has been published in a number of other journals. Dr. Schumacher is still, for the most part, ploughing a lone furrow among modern economists when he insists that moral criteria should be paramount in the consideration of economic objectives.
The dominant modern belief is that the soundest foundation of peace would be universal prosperity. One may look in vain for historical evidence that the rich have regularly been more peaceful than the poor, but then it can be argued that they have never felt secure against the poor; that their aggressiveness stemmed from fear; and that the situation would be quite different if everybody were rich. Why should a rich man go to war? He has nothing to gain. Are not the poor, the exploited, the oppressed most likely to do so, as they have nothing to lose but their chains? The road to peace, it is argued, is to follow the road to riches.
This dominant modern belief has an almost irresistible attraction as it suggests that the faster you get one desirable thing the more securely do you attain another. It is doubly attractive because it completely by-passes the whole question of ethics: there is no need for renunciation or sacrifice; on the contrary! We have science and technology to help us along the road to peace and plenty, and all that is needed is that we should not behave stupidly, irrationally, cutting into our own flesh. The message to the poor and discontented is that they must not impatiently upset or kill the goose that will assuredly, in due course, lay golden eggs also for them. And the message to the rich is that they must be intelligent enough from time to time to help the poor, because this is the way by which they will become richer still. Gandhi used to talk disparagingly of “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” But is it not precisely this dream which we can now implement in reality with our marvellous powers of science and technology? Why ask for virtues, which man may never acquire, when scientific rationality and technical competence are all that is needed?
Instead of listening to Gandhi, are we not more inclined to listen to one of the most influential economists of our century, the great Lord Keynes? In 1930, during the world-wide economic depression, he felt moved to speculate on the “economic possibilities for our grandchildren” and concluded that the day might not be all that far off when everybody would be rich. We shall then, he said, “once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.”
“But beware!”, he continued, “The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not.”
This was written forty years ago and since then, of course, things have speeded up considerably. Maybe we do not even have to wait for another sixty years until universal plenty will be attained. In any case, the Keynesian message is clear enough: Beware! Ethical considerations are not merely irrelevant, they are an actual hindrance, “for foul is useful and fair is not.” The time for fairness is not yet. The road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.
WHAT IS ‘ENOUGH’ ?
I propose now to consider this proposition. It can be divided into three parts:
First, that universal prosperity is possible;
Second, that its attainment is possible on the basis of the materialist philosophy: “enrich yourselves”;
Third, that this is the road to peace.
The question with which to start my investigation is obviously this: is there enough to go round? Immediately we encounter a serious difficulty: What is ‘enough’? Who can tell us? Certainly not the economist who pursues “economic growth” as the highest of all values, and therefore has no concept of ‘enough.’ There are poor societies which have too little; but where is the rich society that says: “Halt! We have enough”? There is none.
Perhaps we can forget about ‘enough’ and content ourselves with exploring the growth of demand upon the world’s resources which arises when everybody simply strives hard to have ‘more.’ As we cannot study all resources, I propose to focus attention on one type of resource which is in a somewhat central position — fuel. More prosperity means a greater use of fuel — there can be no doubt about that. At present, the prosperity gap between the poor of this world and the rich is very wide indeed, and this is clearly shown in their respective fuel consumption. Let us define as ‘rich’ all populations in countries with an average fuel consumption — in 1966 — of more than one metric ton of coal equivalent (abbreviated: c.e.) per head, and as ‘poor’ all those below this level. On these definitions we can draw up the following table (using United Nations figures throughout):
|Table I (1966 A.D.)|
|Fuel Consumption (million tons c.e.)||4,788||(87)||721||(13)||5,509||(100)|
|Fuel Consumption per head (tons c.e.)||4.52||0.32||3.35|
The average fuel consumption per head of the ‘poor’ is only 0.32 tons — roughly one-fourteenth of that of the ‘rich’, and there are very many ‘poor’ people in the world — on these definitions nearly seven-tenths of the world population. If the ‘poor’ suddenly used as much fuel as the ‘rich,’ world fuel consumption would treble right away.
But this cannot happen as everything takes time. And in time both the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ are growing in desires and in numbers. So let us make an exploratory calculation. If the ‘rich’ populations grow at the rate of 1¼% and the ‘poor’ at the rate of 2½% a year, world population will grow to about 6,900 million by 2000 A.D. — a figure not very different from the most authoritative current forecasts. If at the same time the fuel consumption per head of the ‘rich’ population grows by 2¼%, while that of the ‘poor’ grows by 4½% a year, the following figures will emerge for the year 2000 A.D.:
|Table II (2000 A.D.)|
|Fuel Consumption (million tons c.e.)||15,585||(67)||7,555||(33)||23,140||(100)|
|Fuel Consumption per head (tons c.e.)||9.63||1.43||3.35|
These exploratory calculations give rise to a number of comments: even after more than 30 years of rapid growth, the fuel consumption of the ‘poor’ would still be at poverty level.
Of the total increase of 17,630 million tons c.e. in world fuel consumption (an increase from 5,509 million tons in 1966 to 23,140 million tons in 2000), the ‘rich’ would take 10,800 million tons and the ‘poor’ only 6,800 million tons, although the ‘poor’ would be over three times as numerous as the rich.
The most important comment, however, is a question: is it plausible to assume that world fuel consumption could grow to anything like 23,000 million tons c.e. a year by the year 2000? If this growth took place during the 34 years in question about 400,000 million tons of c.e. would be used. In the light of our present knowledge of fossil fuel reserves this is an implausible figure, even if we assume that one quarter or one third of the world total would come from nuclear fission.
It is clear that the ‘rich’ are in the process of stripping the world of its once-for-all endowment of relatively cheap and simple fuels. It is their continuing economic growth which produces ever more exorbitant demands, with the result that the world’s cheap and simple fuels could easily become dear and scarce long before the poor countries had acquired the wealth, education, industrial sophistication, and power of capital accumulation needed for the application of nuclear energy on any significant scale.
Exploratory calculations, of course, do not prove anything. A proof about the future is in any case impossible, and it has been sagely remarked that all predictions are unreliable, particularly those about the future. What is required is judgment, and exploratory calculations can at least help to inform our judgment. In any case, our calculations in a most important respect understate the magnitude of the problem. It is not realistic to treat the world as a unit. Fuel resources are very unevenly distributed, and any shortage of supplies, no matter how slight, would immediately divide the world into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ along entirely novel lines. The specially favoured areas, such as the Middle East and North Africa, would attract envious attention on a scale scarcely imaginable today, while some high consumption areas, such as Western Europe and Japan, would move into the unenviable position of residual legatees. Here is a source of conflict if ever there was one.
PROBLEM OF POLLUTION
As nothing can be proved about the future — not even about the relatively short-term future of the next thirty years — it is always possible to dismiss even the most threatening problems with the suggestion that something will turn up. There could be simply enormous and altogether unheard-of discoveries of new reserves of oil, natural gas, or even coal. And why should nuclear energy be confined to supplying one-quarter or one-third of total requirements? The problem can thus be shifted to another plane, but it refuses to go away. For the consumption of fuel on the indicated scale — assuming no insurmountable difficulties of fuel supply — would produce environmental hazards of an unprecedented kind. Take nuclear energy. Some people say that the world’s resources of relatively concentrated uranium are insufficient to sustain a really large nuclear programme — large enough to have a significant impact on the world fuel situation, where we have to reckon with thousands of millions, not simply with millions, of tons of coal equivalent. But assume that these people are wrong. Enough uranium will be found; it will be gathered together from the remotest corners of the earth, brought into the main centres of population, and made highly radio-active. It is hard to imagine a greater biological threat, not to mention the political danger that someone might use a tiny bit of this terrible substance for purposes not altogether peaceful. On the other hand, if fantastic new discoveries of fossil fuels should make it unnecessary to force the pace of nuclear energy, there would be a problem of atmospheric pollution on quite a different scale from anything encountered hitherto.
Whatever the fuel, increases in fuel consumption by a factor of four and then five and then six . . . . there is no plausible answer to the problem of pollution.
I have taken fuel merely as an example to illustrate a very simple thesis: that economic growth, which viewed from the point of view of economics, physics, chemistry and technology, has no discernible limit, must necessarily run into decisive bottlenecks when viewed from the point of view of the environmental sciences. An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth — in short, materialism — does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited. Already, the environment is trying to tell us that certain stresses are becoming excessive. As one problem is being ‘solved,’ ten new problems arise as a result of the first ‘solution.’ As Professor Barry Commoner emphasises, the new problems are not the consequences of incidental failure but of technological success.
Here again, however, many people will insist on discussing these matters solely in terms of optimism and pessimism, taking pride in their own optimism that “science will find a way out.” They could be right only, I suggest, if there is a conscious and fundamental change in the direction of scientific effort. The developments of science and technology over the last hundred years have been such that the dangers have grown even faster than the opportunities. About this, I shall have more to say later.
Already, there is overwhelming evidence that the great self-balancing system of Nature is becoming increasingly unbalanced in particular respects and at specific points. It would take us too far if I attempted to assemble the evidence here. The condition of Lake Erie, to which Professor Barry Commoner, among others, has drawn attention should serve as a sufficient warning. Another decade or two, and all the inland water systems of the United States may be in a similar condition. In other words, the condition of unbalance may then no longer apply to specific points but have become generalised. The further this process is allowed to go, the more difficult it will be to reverse it, if indeed the point of no return has not been passed already.
We find, therefore, that the idea of unlimited economic growth, more and more until everybody is saturated with wealth, needs to be seriously questioned on at least two counts: the availability of basic resources and, alternatively or additionally, the capacity of the environment to cope with the degree of interference implied. So much about the physical-material aspect of the matter. Let us now turn to certain non-material aspects.
There can be no doubt that the idea of personal enrichment has a very strong appeal to human nature. Keynes, in the essay from which I have quoted already, advised us that the time was not yet for a
“return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue — that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable.”
Economic progress, he counselled, is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of selfishness, which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction. If Keynes says that “foul is useful and fair is not,” he propounds a statement of fact which may be true or false; or it may look true in the short run and turn out to be false in the longer run. Which is it?
I should think that there is now enough evidence to demonstrate that the statement is false in a very direct, practical sense. If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they really are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures. If whole societies become infected by these vices, they may indeed achieve astonishing things but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence. The Gross National Product may rise rapidly: as measured by statisticians but not as experienced by actual people, who find themselves oppressed by increasing frustration, alienation, insecurity, and so forth. After a while, even the Gross National Product refuses to rise any further, not because of scientific or technological failure, but because of a creeping paralysis of non-co-operation, as expressed in various types of escapism, such as soaring crime, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental breakdown, and open rebellion on the part, not only of the oppressed and exploited, but even of highly privileged groups.
One can go on for a long time deploring the irrationality and stupidity of men and women in high positions or low, “if only people would realise where their real interests lie!” But why do they not realise this? Either because their intelligence has been dimmed by greed and envy, or because in their heart of hearts they understand that their real interests lie somewhere quite different. There is a revolutionary saying that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God.”
Here again, nothing can be ‘proved.’ But does it still look probable or plausible that the grave social diseases infecting many rich societies today are merely passing phenomena which an able government — if only we could get a really able government! — could eradicate by simply making a better use of science and technology or a more radical use of the penal system?
I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man. It could well be that rich people treasure peace more highly than poor people, but only if they feel utterly secure — and this is a contradiction in terms. Their wealth depends on making inordinately large demands on limited world resources and thus puts them on an unavoidable collision course — not primarily with the poor (who are weak and defenceless) but with other rich people.
FAR TOO CLEVER
In short, we can say today that man is far too clever to be able to survive without Wisdom. No one is really working for peace unless he is working primarily for the restoration of Wisdom. The assertion that “foul is useful and fair is not” is the antithesis of Wisdom. The hope that the pursuit of goodness and virtue can be postponed until we have attained universal prosperity and that by the singleminded pursuit of wealth, without bothering our heads about spiritual and moral questions, we could establish peace on earth, is an unrealistic, unscientific, and irrational hope. The exclusion of Wisdom from economics, science, and technology was something which we could perhaps get away with for a little while, as long as we were relatively unsuccessful; but now that we have become very successful, the problem of spiritual and moral truth moves into the central position, in other words, we are far too clever to survive without Wisdom.
From an economic point of view, the central concept of Wisdom is Permanence. We must study the Economics of Permanence. Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. There can be ‘growth’ towards a limited objective, but there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth. It is more than likely, as Gandhi said, that “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” Permanence is incompatible with a predatory attitude which rejoices in the fact that “what were luxuries for our fathers have become necessities for us”.
The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of Wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war.
The Economics of Permanence implies a profound re-orientation of science and technology, which have to open their doors to Wisdom and, in fact, have to incorporate Wisdom into their very structure. Scientific or technological ‘solutions’ which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself, are of no benefit, no matter how brilliantly conceived or how great their superficial attraction. Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment do not represent progress: they are a denial of Wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful. Peace, as has often been said, is indivisible — how then could peace be built on a foundation of reckless science and violent technology? We must look for a revolution in technology to give us inventions and machines which reverse the destructive trends now threatening us all.
What is it that we really require from the scientists and technologists? l should answer: we need methods and equipment which are
(a) cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually everyone;
(b) suitable for small-scale application; and
(c) compatible with man’s need for creativity.
Out of these three characteristics is born non-violence and a relationship of man to nature which guarantees permanence. If only one of these three is neglected, things are bound to go wrong. Let us look at them one by one. Methods and machines cheap enough to be accessible to virtually everyone — why should we assume that our scientists and technologists are unable to develop them? This has been a primary concern of Gandhi’s, “I want the dumb millions of our land to be healthy and happy, and I want them to grow spiritually. As yet for this purpose we do not need the machine . . . . . If we feel the need of machines, we certainly will have them. Every machine that helps every individual has a place,” he said, “but there should be no place for machines that concentrate power in a few hands and turn the masses into mere machine minders, if indeed they do not make them unemployed.”
Suppose it becomes the acknowledged purpose of inventors and engineers, observed Aldous Huxley, to provide ordinary people with the means of “doing profitable and intrinsically significant work, of helping men and women to achieve independence from bosses, so that they may become their own employers, or members of a self-governing, co-operative group working for subsistence and a local market . . . . this differently orientated technological progress (would result in) a progressive decentralisation of population, of accessibility of land, of ownership of the means of production, of political and economic power.” Other advantages, said Huxley, would be “a more humanly satisfying life for more people, a greater measure of genuine self-governing democracy and a blessed freedom from the silly or pernicious adult education provided by the mass producers of consumer goods through the medium of advertisements.” (Quoted from Towards New Horizons by Pyarelal, a superbly excellent book. )
If methods and machines are to be cheap enough to be generally accessible, this means that their cost must stand in some definable relationship to the level of incomes in the society in which they are to be used. I have myself come to the conclusion that the upper limit for the average amount of capital investment per workplace is probably given by the annual earnings of an able and ambitious industrial worker. That is to say, if such a man can normally earn, say, $3,000 a year, the average cost of establishing one workplace should on no account be in excess of $3,000. If the cost is significantly higher, the society in question is likely to run into serious troubles, such as an undue concentration of wealth and power among the privileged few; an increasing problem of ‘drop-outs’ who cannot be integrated into society and constitute an ever-growing threat; ‘structural’ unemployment; maldistribution of the population due to excessive urbanisation, and general frustration and alienation, with soaring crime rates, etc. To choose the appropriate level of technology is an absolutely vital matter for the (so-called) developing countries. It is in this connection that, some seven years ago, I began to talk of ‘intermediate technology’, and very energetic work has since been undertaken by the Intermediate Technology Development Group in London, and by others, to identify, develop and apply in developing countries a genuine self-help technology which involves the mass of the people, and not just the privileged few, which promotes the real independence of former colonial territories, and not just political independence nullified by economic subservience, and which thereby attempts to lay at least some of the essential foundations of freedom and peace.
The second requirement is suitability for small-scale application. On the problem of ‘scale,’ Professor Leopold Kohr has written brilliantly and convincingly, and I do not propose to do more than emphasise its relevance to the Economics of Permanence. Small-scale operations, no matter how numerous, are always less likely to be harmful to the natural environment than large-scale ones, simply because their individual force is small in relation to the recuperative forces of nature. There is Wisdom in smallness if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than on 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. Although even small communities are sometimes guilty of causing serious erosion, generally as a result of ignorance, this is trifling in comparison with the devastations caused by large organisations motivated by greed, envy and the lust for power. It is moreover obvious that men organised in small units will take better care of their bit of land or other natural resources than anonymous companies or megalomanic governments which pretend to themselves that the whole universe is their legitimate quarry.
The third requirement is perhaps the most important of all — that methods and equipment should be such as to leave ample room for human creativity. Over the last hundred years no one has spoken more insistently and warningly on this subject than have the Roman pontiffs. What becomes of man if the process of production “takes away from work any hint of humanity, making of it a merely mechanical activity”? The worker himself is turned into a perversion of a free being.
“And so bodily labour (said Pius XI) which even after original sin was decreed by Providence for the good of man’s body and soul, is in many instances changed into an instrument of perversion; for from the factory dead matter goes out improved, whereas men there are corrupted and degraded.”
Again, the subject is so large that I cannot do more than touch upon it. Above anything else there is need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something “decreed by Providence for the good of man’s body and soul.” Next to the family, it is work and the relationships established by work that are the true foundations of society. If the foundations are unsound, how could society be sound? And if society is sick, how could it fail to be a danger to peace?
“War is a judgment that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe . . . . Never think that wars are irrational catastrophies: they happen when wrong ways of thinking and living bring about intolerable situations.”
– Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?
Economically, our wrong living consists primarily in systematically cultivating greed and envy and thus building up a vast array of totally unwarrantable wants. It is the sin of Greed that has delivered us over into the power of the machine. If Greed were not the master of modern man — ably assisted by envy — how could it be that the frenzy of economism does not abate as higher “standards of living” are attained, and that it is precisely the richest societies which pursue their economic advantage with the greatest ruthlessness? How could we explain the almost universal refusal on the part of the rulers of the rich societies — whether organised along private enterprise or collectivist enterprise lines — to work towards the humanisation of work? It is only necessary to assert that something would reduce the “standard of living,” and every debate is instantly closed. That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of “bread and circuses” can compensate for the damage done — these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity.
The neglect, indeed, the rejection of Wisdom has gone so far that most of our intellectuals have not even the faintest idea what the term could mean. As a result, they always tend to try and cure a disease by intensifying its causes. The disease having been caused by allowing cleverness to displace Wisdom, no amount of clever research is likely to produce a cure. But what is Wisdom? Where can it be found? Here we come to the crux of the matter: it can be read about in numerous publications but it can be found only inside oneself. To be able to find it, one has first to liberate oneself interiorly from such masters as greed and envy. The stillness following liberation — even if only momentary — produces the insights of Wisdom which are obtainable in no other way.
They enable us to see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends, to the neglect of the spiritual. Such a life necessarily sets man against man and nation against nation, because man’s needs are infinite and infinitude can be achieved only in the spiritual realm, never in the material. Man assuredly needs to rise above this humdrum ‘world’; Wisdom shows him the way to do it; without Wisdom, he is driven to build up a monster economy, which destroys the world, and to seek fantastic satisfactions, like landing a man on the moon. Instead of overcoming the ‘world’ by moving towards saintliness, he tries to overcome it by gaining pre-eminence in wealth, power, science or indeed any imaginable ‘sport.’
These are the real causes of war, and it is chimerical to try to lay the foundations of peace without removing them first. It is doubly chimerical to build peace on economic foundations which, in turn, rest on the systematic cultivation of greed and envy, the very forces which drive men into conflict. How could we even begin to disarm greed and envy? Perhaps by being much less greedy and envious ourselves; perhaps by resisting the temptation of letting our luxuries become needs; and perhaps by even scrutinising our needs to see if they cannot be simplified and reduced. If we do not have the strength to do any of this, could we perhaps stop applauding the type of economic “progress” which palpably lacks the basis of permanence and give what modest support we can to those who, unafraid of being denounced as cranks, work for non-violence: as conservationists, ecologists, protectors of wild life, promoters of organic agriculture, distributists, cottage producers, and so forth? An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.
A LIVING FAITH
It will need many ounces, however, to lay the economic foundations of peace. Where can one find the strength to go on working against such obviously appalling odds? What is more: where can one find the strength to overcome the violence of greed, envy, hate and lust within oneself?
I think Gandhi has given the answer: “There must be recognition of the existence of the soul apart from the body, and of its permanent nature, and this recognition must amount to a living faith; and, in the last resort, non-violence does not avail those who do not possess a living faith in the God of Love.”
Ernst Friedrich Schumacher was an internationally influential economic thinker, statistician, and economist in Britain. His ideas became popularized in much of the English-speaking world during the 1970s. He is best known for his critique of Western economies and his proposals for human-scale, decentralized, and appropriate technologies. E. F. Schumacher was born in Germany in 1911. … Continued