Enlivening the ‘Dismal Science’
Carl Olson recommends Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful
Economics as if Families
by Joseph Pearce
ISI Books, 2006
350 pages, $28.00
To order: 800-526-7022
Over the past decade, the British writer Joseph Pearce (who now lives in the southeastern United States) has earned a well-deserved reputation as a literary biographer, especially of authors Chesterton, Belloc, Tolkien and Wilde. Co-editor of Saint Austin Review, a periodical dedicated to cultural criticism, Pearce has also edited a compilation of Christian poetry and written a highly acclaimed work on C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church.
Small Is Still Beautiful may be, then, a surprise to many readers, focused as it is on economics, ecology, technology and politics. But this is arguably Pearce’s most personal and passionate work.
A convert to Catholicism from neo-fascism, Pearce has no interest in worshipping at the altars of either Marxism or capitalism. He believes that an unthinking belief in perpetual material progress is a recipe for familial and global disaster.
This work is an homage to and an extension of E.F. Schumacher’s famous 1973 book Small Is Beautiful, which was subtitled “Economics as if People Mattered.” Schumacher was a noted economist and philosopher; he was also a convert to Catholicism.
Schumacher, like Pearce, was influenced by distributism, which emphasizes limited government, private ownership and care for the environment. Schumacher was also heavily indebted to the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, which “absolutely staggered” him with their brilliance.
Schumacher’s great achievement, writes Pearce, “was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world.” He was also “one of the earliest conservative eco-warriors” who believed that economics was made for man, not man for economics.
Drawing deeply and openly upon Schumacher’s arguments and beliefs, Pearce addresses the state of economics in the opening years of the 21st century.
“The fundamental error of modern economics,” he writes, “is its mechanistic approach.” Western man is increasingly enslaved to a system that is not only impersonal but anti-personal, aimed at nothing more than “progress” — that is, profit and continual growth. Economics is all about the “how” of producing profit at the expense of the “why” of human existence.
But bigger is not only not better — as both communism and capitalism assert — it is the enemy of the little man and the principle of subsidiarity.
Pearce, a rigorous thinker and elegant author, masterfully writes about topics that could easily be dull and abstract. And he challenges readers to revisit and reconsider their assumptions about how and why the world works, or doesn’t work.
You might not agree with all of his conclusions — I think, for example, that his endorsement of the Kyoto protocol is wrongheaded — but you’ll likely come away with fresh and meaningful insights into the “real world,” both globally and locally. And in doing so you’ll better appreciate the beauty of all that is small.
Carl E. Olson writes from
- September 9-15, 2007