n the history of what has come to be called the New Economy movement, only one representative figure has actually been invited to the White House by a U.S. president for a chat: E.F. Schumacher.
The latter’s half-hour meeting in 1977 with Jimmy Carter, alas, did not signal a watershed moment in our political economy. But it suggests the fame and influence of the man who brought into common parlance many key ideas of the revaluation of modern economic thinking: appropriate technology, people-centered (or Buddhist) economics, and “small is beautiful.”
Schumacher’s extraordinary career began with his economic work during World War II as a protege of John Maynard Keynes, a period when Schumacher had Marxist leanings. After the war, his trip to Burma left him struck by the different assumptions about economic life found in that Buddhist culture and led to his quest for a new meta-economic approach to development. He later noted that any of the great religious traditions might have served to illustrate these newfound principles.
The concept of homo viator (man’s life as a journey with a goal, an end) supplied Schumacher with the concept of purposeful living and the need for individuals to accept responsibility for their lives and their higher obligations. Both his Small is Beautiful (1973) and his Guide for the Perplexed (1977) argued from these metaphysical principles, along with those of smallness and decentralization.