Monday, March 02, 2009

In Which We Provide A Brief Discussion of Book Titles

A friend and I have both decided (at his suggestion) to tackle and discuss E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Conveniently, I already had two copies on my shelf, gifts from two different family members, who apparently upon learning that I'd decided to study economics began to fear for the state of my soul. Both copies of the book have since then sat on my shelf these past few years, with nothing but their somewhat garish cover art with which to occupy themselves, and my occasional changes in domicile to alter their location. It isn't as though I never meant to read them, mind you (though I always thought I'd read just one of them; there's no sense in going overboard), but there has always been a seemingly endless supply of books that I would rather read first. Whenever it caught my eye (as two identical books next to each other on a shelf can do) I would always say to myself, as my Grandmother is fond of saying, I wish I wanted to do that. I should mention that I don't really know what the book is about, and that I generally like reading about economics (after all, I have a degree in it). I'm not even remotely familiar with its author. No, the book's only sin, aside from the aforementioned artwork on its jacket, for which it had been relegated to its current perdition, was its title. It's subtitle, to be exact (that's the part the comes after the colon).

You see, from where I sit, economics is about people. It's a social science, after all: a study of people. The book doesn't do itself any favors in my estimation by starting with what appears to be a false premise, namely that people don't matter to economics in general. You may as well put a book on my shelf entitled If Only All Irish-Americans Weren't Sociopaths. Sure, it has a certain ring to it, but it doesn't pose itself to be taken seriously, at least as a work of nonfiction.

In any case, after a week of prodding from my friend, I've decided to read it. It's only about three hundred pages; it shouldn't take all that long, anyways. It may end up being good, I don't know. They say that you can't judge a book by it's cover, but I generally think that to be false. In a given lifetime, you just haven't got time to read everything. I read pretty slowly, so for me this is even more true than for many people. Assuming that you value reading at all (not everyone does), you have to choose what to read somehow, and a cover (ideally, at least) tells you something about the book. In this case, if Small Is Beautiful ends up being good, then its cover is guilty of spreading misinformation about it.

By the way, the friend I mentioned is John, the author of Basebology, and one of this blog's only regular commentors. For all I know, he's the only person who'll ever read this post, for that matter. When we've finished the book (assuming that the world doesn't end first, of course), I may try to get a few money quotes from him to put up on this space, which will probably be easier than formulating my own thoughts about it. Who knows? He may even be able to relate the book's contents to our national pastime.


rklllama said...

I had a pretty strong hunch your "friend" would be related to me.

Kate said...

A warning about Shumacher - it's hard to write in a general way about local economies, which is his concern. Much of it, including practically all his examples, are somewhat dated. Joseph Peirce wrote an update, "Small is Still Beautiful" but it is very very British in perspective.

But ... pair it with some of the Church's social encyclicals and any good peices on subsidiarity and you'll be able to get into the swing of things. And google "mondragon co-operative".

Very interested to hear what you think. John too, for that matter.

John Lynch said...

Actually, the reason "Small is Beautiful" came up as a topic of conversation in the first place is that my father is reading/has read "Small is Still Beautiful." I've talked with Mr. Pearce about the ideas he presumably covers, but I thought it more appropriate to start with the original, as it were.

Regardless, I share The Cous' initial skepticism. Most of the economists that I've read, and especially those I've enjoyed, are greatly concerned with people. I'm interested to see why Mr. Shumacher apparently believes otherwise.

Alexis said...

It's a good read that will make you think and see things in a different light but it's certainly not the end all be all. It has good insights but it's not a solution...

L. H. Lynch said...

First off, I ditto Robert.

Secondly, I totally agree about book-cover-judging. There is an amazing amount of information you can learn about a book without even reading the back. For instance, "Sex in the Hood 2" by "Whitechocolate" says enough about itself with the title alone, never mind the author.

Thirdly, I, too, cringed at the subtitle. I've only read a few popular economics books, but from that comment, it seems as if the author thinks about economics the way Joe Morgan thinks about sabermetrics. Anyway, enjoy the read.

John Lynch said...

it seems as if the author thinks about economics the way Joe Morgan thinks about sabermetrics

Wow. I think Laura just won the thread. I'm kind of ashamed that neither Cous nor I, avid Joe Morgan snark aficionados, thought of this first. I mean it has the dual advantages of being:
1. funny
2. true

Apologies to those who don't get it.