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Good Work

Good Work

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Published by Claudio Oliver

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Published by: Claudio Oliver on Aug 05, 2010
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10/25/2012

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GOOD WORK 
E. F. Schumacher 
PREFACEWhen E. F. Schumacher died in September 1977, his friend Barbara Warddescribed him as belonging to that intensely creative minority who havechanged the direction of human thought. And his two books
Small is Beautiful 
and
 A Guide for the Perplexed 
would alone ensure that his ideaswill remain very much alive.Fritz Schumacher's ideas were the product of a highly original andcreative mind; they are generally radical, demanding drastic alterations inconventional ways of thinking and doing; and they have a universal qualityabout them, which appeals to countless people of different ages, classes,races, and shades of political and religious belief. But I think that there is aneven more uncommon quality about his ideas, which is that they lendthemselves to, indeed invite, action.The most obvious example is his concept of intermediate technology. Thecritical role of technology in economic development was first brought into perspective by Schumacher in a report prepared in 1962 for the governmentof India. Three years later, a few of us helped him to start the intermediateTechnology Development Group in London to implement the idea, todevelop and make known technologies appropriate to the needs andresources of poor people in poor communities: tools and equipmentdeliberately designed to be relatively small, simple, capital-saving, andenviron- mentally nonviolent. Today, there are more than twenty similar groups operating in as many countries, and the concept has been taken up byUN agencies, governments, and voluntary organizations throughout theworld. It is now recognized as being every bit as relevant to the richcountries as to the poor.Looking back on more than twenty years of work and friendship withFritz Schumacher, I am struck by the consistency with which his work haschanged the course of events. When he was in his thirties, while working as
 
a farm laborer in England, he drew up a plan for a new internationalmonetary payments clearing system, which was immediately adopted byLord Keynes as the official U.K. government proposal on the subject. A fewyears later he was the principal author of the famous Beveridge report on fullemployment. In the 1950s and 60s as economic advisor to the British coalindustry he became a persistent--and in official eyes often highlyunpopular--one-man early warning system on the dangers of overdependence on oil, and the even greater dangers of nuclear power.During this time he became president of the Soil Association, a director of the Scott Bader Commonwealth, the pioneer common-ownership companyin Britain, and chairman of the Intermediate Technology Group.Once the Group was started, Schumacher continued his analysis of theimpact of conventional technology and its supporting structures upon people, upon living nature, and upon nonrenewable resources. In Small isBeautiful he launched a powerful attack on conventional economics andtechnology, and the value system sup- porting both. But he did not stopthere; he also mapped out a sane route toward a sustainable way of life. Thiswas followed up by
Guide for the Perplexed  ,
which offers the individual a philosophical framework, a guide to the moral values that underpin Small IsBeautiful.The present book,
Good Work 
,is compiled mainly from a series of lectures he gave in the United States during the mid-1970s, a tour duringwhich some sixty thousand people heard him speak, and which culminatedin a meeting at the White House with President Carter. Three chapters are based on earlier written essays; they have been included for their relevanceto the subject of good work.In many respects the very starting point of 
Good Work 
is a reflection, or rather an extension, of both earlier books. At the heart of our system of work lies our system of values, and more precisely, our view of the individual andhis relationships with others. By way of illustration, consider one of thecurrent pseudo-intellectual clichés, that work is part of the Protestant ethicand that a more enlightened view of it is (presumably) that the less work youcan get away with, the better. This is a cynical and degraded view of humannature (certainly not sub- scribed to by any religion that I know of) becauseit assumes that money is the sole reason for working. Set this view againstSchumacher's opening remarks in this book, in which he identifies three purposes of human work: to produce necessary and useful goods and
 
services; to enable us to use and perfect our gifts and skills; and to serve, andcollaborate with, other people, so as to "liberate ourselves from our inbornegocentricity."You do not have to prefer this interpretation of work, and of what peopleand life are about, to enjoy this book; but you will enjoy the book all themore if you do, because Good Work is an exploration of the political,managerial, social, and economic consequences of conventional technology(and therefore of conventional values), and of alternatives that are already becoming visible: alternatives that in one way or another support the three purposes of human work identified by Schumacher. Throughout the book hedraws freely on his personal experience of involvement in such alternatives,whether of management, ownership, or technology: his work in the NationalCoal Board, with the Intermediate Technology Development Group, withScott Bader, with the Soil Association, and in India, Zambia, and other developing countries.Taken as a whole
Good Work 
rounds off and makes explicit Schumacher'scase that the choice of technology is one of the most critical choices nowconfronting any country, rich or poor. The poor countries must securetechnologies appropriate to their needs and resources-- Intermediatetechnologies--if the rural masses are to be given a chance to work themselves out of poverty; but the rich countries probably stand even morein need of a new technology, smaller, capital- saving, less rapacious in itsdemands on raw materials, and environmentally nonviolent. The people of  poor and rural countries must be helped to raise themselves to a decentstandard of living. We ourselves must also work for a more modest,nonviolent, sustainable life-style. That is surely the way toward greater equality between and within nations.The sixty thousand people who heard Schumacher give these talks will, Iam sure, be glad that the editing has been kept to a minimum; the temptationto reduce the lectures to formal essays has been resisted. The fortunate resultis that here we have Fritz Schumacher at his best, on his feet, often thinkingaloud, bringing his personality and creative energy, as well as his remark-able mind, to bear on what is certainly one of the most critical tasks that nowconfronts rich and poor societies alike: how to enable us to do creative andsatisfying work, earn a decent living, live in a becoming way; and havingdone so, as George Kennan once put it, to leave the planet earth in a

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