The Beauty of Small

The President of BP recently caused a flutter in many circles when he stated, during a speech, “we care about the small people”.  He was referring to the people most affected by the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, those whose livelihoods will be dramatically affected and whose way of life will be torn asunder.

For some, this was perhaps a politically incorrect statement, but I would attest that he was only stating the general opinion of most in his social sphere.  In an era where the only real measure of life is money and fiscal wealth, those that “have” are important and all the rest are considered small and insignificant, a burden to be borne by the few. 

Most Newfoundlanders can relate to this concept, having been “have-not” for the first 60 or so years of our entry into Canada.  We certainly can relate to the devastation of livelihoods and a way of life; having seen much of our resources plundered by those more powerful and our fishery devastated by policy devised to appease others considered more important.  Little has changed for most in this province since it was deemed “have”.

Those in charge, with wealth and who control power consider themselves most important and all the rest are insignificant.   What is lost upon them is the fact that without those who do the grunt work, consume, vote and volunteer, powerbrokers wouldn’t be important at all.

If the BP President had listened to his minions, the real workers, when concern was being expressed about this whole drilling operation, this disaster wouldn’t have happened. He was forced to admit in the political inquiry that he wasn’t even aware of these issues.

The whole concept of Globalization, which many thinkers now consider dead, was a concept of “big”; of centralization, not sharing.  As part of this concept, businesses, banks, institutions, even governments were consolidated creating entities destined to fail, as their only vision was the perpetuation of the entity and the perks of those in charge. A whole belief evolved that most of these artificial constructs were too big to fail, yet they have.

The imbalances that have been created by those who pushed this globalization concept and the resultant polarization of wealth and power, its raison d’être, has become unsustainable.  This is evident in the economic collapse that is impacting so many countries and spreading.

During this last economic crisis, even more of the world’s fiscal wealth has shifted to those that have.  This shift will be further exacerbated as governments begin to slash the very programs that support those most needy.  This is not to suggest that these programs are not in need of renewal and change.  But, as more are marginalized, dysfunction will grow and abuse, illegal and shady activities will expand as people attempt to survive.

In period of the 1960’s and 70’s efforts were being made to redress some of the imbalances evident in the world, idealism appeared more evident and sharing seemed more important.  The result was the creation of supportive economic and social programs by leaders who appeared much more human than most in power in this era.

One such visionary was E. F. Schumacher who wrote a series of essays which were published in a book called “Small is Beautiful”.  It was by today’s standards a tiny book, but it had a powerful message.  His thesis and philosophy was founded on building an economy and a society “as if people mattered”.  This meant all people, not just the few.

We have come a long ways since this kind of idealism was pervasive.  Now we consider small, insignificant, a burden and a nuisance, something that needs to be eliminated.  Ideology and dogma have replaced idealism.

We seem to have forgotten that the main economic driver in most developed countries for the past 30 plus years has been small enterprise.  Yet, the focus of policy and fiscal support is still vested in the big, as we witnessed last year with the massive bailouts of the banks and the automotive industry.

The world is in dire need of a new philosophy, a new set of institutions and structures which are less hierarchical and more inclusive.  It requires a renewal of the belief that all people matter, not just the few.  It needs a redressing of the economic and power imbalances that have been created in this last generation and a renewed sense of balance of fiscal wealth, power and even pain.  The latter will be much more in evidence as people and communities evolve through this next transition in the physical world and in society as a whole.

Perhaps it is the time to revisit the concept of “Small is Beautiful”.  Maybe it is now time to recreate economies, democratic governments and societies that are beneficial to all: rather than one that favours the “big” and disparages all things “small”

Written by Bill Pardy,

July 16th, 2010


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