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Responsible Economics

E.F. Schumacher and His Legacy for the 21st Century


Edited By Hendrik Opdebeeck

The centenary of E.F. Schumacher’s birth (1911-1977) offered an urgent opportunity to revisit his work and life. Against the background of the crisis at the beginning of this century, reconsidering Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful or frugality paradigm makes clear that advances in responsible economics continue to be a priority. This book contains the proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference of the European SPES Forum on ‘Responsibility in Economics and Business: The Legacy of E.F. Schumacher’, which was organised in September 2011 by the Centre for Ethics of the University of Antwerp in collaboration with the Business Ethics Center of Budapest. The aims of this conference were to celebrate the 100th anniversary of E.F. Schumacher’s birth and to engage with Schumacher’s vision to help address the present need for responsibility in economics and business. The answers to our current economic crisis presented in this book prove that the legacy of an economist and philosopher like Schumacher are not confined to a utopian economic paradigm. Utopian economic paradigms are concerned with a better economic situation in the future. Schumacher reconsidered today, however, makes it clear that society needs responsible economics invested in the sustainability of the globe, right now.


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PART II Responsibility


CHRISTIAN ARNSPERGER UCLouvain 9 Small is Beautiful: But is it Responsible? A Critical Reappraisal of E.F. Schumacher’s Contribution to Ecological Economics and Political Ecology 1 Introduction In this chapter, I investigate the meaning and content of responsibility in economics as it emerges from Ernest F. (‘Fritz’) Schumacher’s writings on small-scale economics and on metaphysics. My endeavour is not intended to be a promotion of Schumacher’s ideas; rather, I of fer an attempt at laying bare some of the more hidden – and radical – presuppositions that under- lie the now all too common and overused slogan ‘Small Is Beautiful’ that has come to virtually identify Schumacher as a ‘new age’ thinker. I hope to show that he was more than that, and that – regardless of whether or not one ends up agreeing with his ideas – he built a coherent, albeit demand- ing, set of philosophical and economic ideas. In section 2, I argue brief ly that although Schumacher’s thought has been identified as the linchpin of decentralized bioregionalism, there is actually a paradox at the heart of his approach: decentralism and centralism may be more complementary than opposed. (This will come back as the main point of the paper as it ends on concrete proposals for institutional reform in section 5.) Section 3 then argues in more detail that Schumacher was a liberal and that, in terms of form and procedure though not in terms of political options, his approach shares common features with the more conservative 128 CHRISTIAN ARNSPERGER liberalism of...

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