Book cover: Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, by EF Schumacher, Harper & Row, 1975, cover by Randall Richmond

After many years in the wilderness, this paean to humanity by a dedicated socialist economist has been revived by the most unlikely group: David Cameron’s Conservatives.

Whether this is political expediency, PR, profound misunderstanding or genuine interest is debatable, but what is certain is that Schumacher’s message that growth is not everything would certainly seem politically welcome.

Schumacher (1911-77), a German who emigrated to England to escape the rise of the Nazis in 1936, was plucked from internment by JM Keynes and later rose to become chief economist at the National Coal Board.

He developed a kind of “Buddhist economics” based on peace, sustainability, and consideration of the environment. He was also an advocate of nuclear energy. The book struck a chord in a nation that seems remarkably similar to that of today – burdened with debt, in fear of environmental collapse and with happiness rather than growth a government aim.

The dust jacket of the first edition published in 1973 featured plain text – a real economics book. But it became a phenomenal word-of-mouth success and was reissued in more populist paperback covers.

This US version aims for the kind of woven yoghurt aesthetic that its publishers obviously believed would appeal to its constituents. Executed in a palette of orange, purple, green and khaki reminiscent of 1970s living rooms, it illustrates small ideas.

There’s a light bulb, some maize, a tree and a bicycle. At the centre, Gandhi, with his desire to supplant the imperial manufacturing monopoly, suggests that this will be a particular kind of economics book. But there’s also a butterfly. Scientist Edward Lorenz published his paper in 1972 (a year before this book) in which he introduced the concept of the “butterfly effect” – tiny actions in one place causing repercussions elsewhere.

Like the book itself, this cover is a little dull, but well intentioned.

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