people_land.jpg
edited by Hildegard Hannum
with annotations by Nancy Jack Todd
(Yale University Press)

An economist, best known as the author of Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Schumacher promoted the idea that diverse local economies are healthy and beneficial to their residents, as well as to the sustainability of the earth. His work is honored and ideas perpetuated in the United States by the society that bears his name.

The E.F. Schumacher Society hosts an annual lecture series in which noted people who are in that unique category of being both thinkers AND doers hold forth on issues of great personal and planetary significance. People, Land, and Community gathers 20 lectures from the period between 1981 and 1996. The list reads like a Who’s Who of progressive community activists, environmentalists, and economists: Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs, David Brower, Winona LaDuke, and Frances Moore Lappe.

Speakers expound upon the very real connections between economies and environmental issues and also touch on the notion of the use of appropriate technologies, which was important to Schumacher. The book’s introduction gives a compact biography of Schumacher and his philosophies which have led to the establishment of foundations in the United Kingdom and States to further his ideals.

Readers will be particularly interested in reading the section on decentralization and community revitalization. Lappe in particular notes that the lack of local land control is at the root of hunger. She says in landless regions, there is “a scarcity of democracy.”

There is a wealth of ideas presented in this book. Read the essays at your leisure. Skim those that resound with your own ideas or plunge into related issues that are backed with facts and strong anecdotal examples about the importance of community economic well-being. Individual lectures also are available in pamphlet form. With this focus on local as beautiful, there are three lectures in pamphlet form that are well-worth reading. These are “Reclaiming Community” by David Morris, “The Wisdom That Builds Community” by Greg Watson, and “Moving Toward Community: From Global Dependence to Local Interdependence” by Helena Norberg-Hodge.

Morris is a great place to start in your reading about why local matters. He provides a history of self-reliance in America while name-checking countless writers, leaving readers with a wealth of interesting future reading possibilities. He argues that adopting and enforcing policies that permit the localization of enterprises from waste disposal to professional sports teams could radically change communities for the better. Examples of flourishing locally-owned businesses are given that include the Green Bay Packers and a pasta cooperative started by wheat farmers. Morris argues that “smaller is better” has been proven time and again to be true for everything from energy to education. Thus, he says, we’d do well to shift from a global to a local, human-scale economy.

Watson is full of optimism, Buckminster Fuller-inspired optimism, which Watson defines as understanding that we have options. Watson describes his personal journey and experiences with the nascent environmental justice movement and how this led him to be involved in The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The revitalization of Dudley Street, once an urban wasteland with toxic brownfields and dotted with burned-out buildings and illegally dumped waste, has become a thriving neighborhood, rebuilt from community wisdom that included the establishment of a land trust to insure affordable housing in perpetuity. Watson ascribes the success to what he calls civic alchemy. The linchpin of this transformation: local economies that are self-sufficient, self-supporting community businesses and cooperatives.

Norberg-Hodge’s lecture is a must-read. This sage pulls no punches in describing anecdotally and factually how the corporate global economy irreparably shapes communities with lasting social and psychological changes. Her prose has a stolid urgency that must be heeded. In fact, in reading her essay, I made lengthy notes as to which passages to include here. These were too numerous, so I suggest reading it for yourself. It is essential information about the interconnected issues – as well as the myths that hinder localization – that are key to small-scale economic movements.

It is good to read these three pamphlets together. The issues are interconnected, although the perspectives are different, but not radically so.

A bargain at $5 each, these were made specifically for passing along. The society has a lengthy series with topics ranging from agriculture to zoological concerns. Get more than one of the lectures that personally resounds with your views, give them to friends, make them a Book Crossing find, donate them to a local public or private library.

Linda Dailey Paulson is a Ventura-based freelance writer.