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What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by
Rt Hon Vince Cable MP
photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills delivered the Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture in October 2013. The title of his lecture was What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like? You can read the full speech by clicking here.

You can read a review by Robert Fisher and analysis by Antony Copley below.

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?
By Robert Fisher

At the recent Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP spoke of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the three great 20th century political activists who along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King brought to the consciousness of humanity some of the injustices that human kind has heaped upon his fellow man/woman.

At the same time reminding us of three 20th Century tyrants who had brought humanity to the depths of evil and despair, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong who collectively killed millions in their attempts to control the destinies of many with their ill conceived ideological objectives.

And of the legacies of these six individuals, exemplified by the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, the emergence of India and China as two of the great economic powers in the world and of the recent joint American and Russian intervention in Syria in bringing about the destruction of its chemical weapons.

The legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong are not forgotten, there are still many within global society who would kill with impunity anyone questioning their authority or ideological beliefs.

Whilst Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have undoubtedly helped to reduce the incidents of institutional racism and colonialism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. still exist and as was stated by Dr Cable, nonviolent direct action by all, wherever these incidents occur, will eventually bring these prejudices and injustices to an end.

It is noted that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all individuals who fought against their political systems at the time to achieve their moral objectives.

The world of commerce and industry, based on mutual self interest has steadily moved on, perhaps providing some insight as to the way in which finding ways of working together can be more important than seeking to impose one ideological view over another. Politicians around the world will be aware of the impact the Internet has had on the political landscape.

Dr Cable spoke of globalisation, of economics and of ethics and of cultural and subsequent ethical conflicts between those who are the wealth creators in society and some who retain it to create even more money and of the differences between great wealth and deep poverty, inequalities and injustices in society.

Within the bandwidth of ethics that allows for freedom of thought and deed, I believe different and deeper truths and cultural values will emerge as nations converge and collective society moves forward in what I imagine Gandhi’s definition of Sarvodaya to be.

Globalisation, in this digital age, brings with it the hopes and aspirations of many and the potential for all cultures and nation states to collaborate in trying to address the many challenges that face humanity and earth’s subsystems, and the many opportunities in so doing.

Just under 40 years ago the combined intellectual capacity of only a few motivated individuals addressed the challenge of taking humanity to the moon and back.

It is entirely plausible that the combined intellectual capacity of humanity, connected, motivated and focused on addressing the many challenges we undoubtedly will face as we all move forward in eliminating extremes of poverty and injustice in society and the degradation of the natural world will be achieved. Gandhi and those like him have shown the many what only a few can achieve.

True economics, articulated by Vince Cable as social justice, equality and the good of all is not only aspirational it is logical and demonstrable through the concept of mutual self interest.

Whatever our views of capitalism are, laissez-faire or some other form of capitalism, we are part of global economic community and what we do in one part of the world has an impact in another. Dr Cable in his Ministerial capacity in relation to business, innovation and skills will I’m sure be aware of the need of a fine balance between government (regulation, innovation), and economic (stimulation and equilibrium).

Dr Cable spoke of the liberalisation of the Indian economy and of the dismantling of state control of its planning processes and what would have been Gandhi’s opposition in the protection of rural industries. I can see both sides to this argument, in the semi rural community within which I live I am aware of a balance that needs to kept in the development of any economy, local, national or international and of the need to support those whose aspirations are to the husbandry of natural / rural environments (you cannot eat software), and there is much more to true economics than generating GDP through irresponsible planning processes and ill thought through economic stimuli. I believe aesthetics and analysis both to be part of this liberalisation and planning process, soul with pragmatism.

The balance between materialism / consumerism / waste in a world of finite resources and the subsequent impact on global ecology I feel sure concerns the majority of people in society today and as set out in Vince Cable’s view of true economics it will be the innovators, scientists, engineers, businesses, social entrepreneurs who will address these challenges, but perhaps equally as important the spiritual / moral dimension to be included in this equation will determine the society in which we all will eventually live.

Dr Cable then commented on the benefits of the “green revolution” and of the efficiencies gained in multiple cropping, fertilizers etc.

Those cultures who have tilled the land responsibly for centuries will already be aware of nature’s natural and sustainable cycles, the green revolution will be nothing new to them. However irrigation and mobile telephony, in ways as yet to be imagined, will transform their lives forever.

Jevon’s paradox however puts forward the view that efficiencies gained through technological progress in accessing resources, tend to increase the rate of consumption and if this is the case I believe humanity must define and find ways of living within a sustainable global budget.

Vince Cable then went on to elaborate on the meaning of Swadeshi, as self-reliant village communities, independent from their neighbours for vital wants.

All modern communities of which I am aware are reliant on some of their vital resources from others. Within my own village community I can see many benefits in the reduction of waste by providing within its borders a balanced local economy and employment for its residents, whatever their aspirations are. In all transactions going forward there should be benefits, financial, social or environmental, but no transaction should be at the expense of the other, the metrics and algorithm developed to measure impact, an important factor in creating a sustainable and equitable society, wherever it exists.

Community cohesion and social mobility, mentioned by Dr Cable, should mean something different to the emergence of ghettoes in the city of London for highly paid bankers, or traveling miles to get to work because a person in his or her chosen occupation cannot afford to live close to their employment. These are complexities any economic system will have to deal with, but not, I feel, insurmountable.

Personally I can see some merits in Gandhi’s Swadeshi that should be nurtured, valued and protected, however this should be in a local / national /international / mutual self-interest context.

We have seen both positive and negative impacts of outsourcing our industrial and other capabilities since the 1970s to places such as the far-east and the impact of this short term bottom line thinking has had on the manufacturing skills base of the United Kingdom. There are now not enough engineers to rebuild our own critical infrastructures.

There is a comfort in the idea of British critical infrastructure being held in trust on behalf of its population by a British institution, built and managed by British engineers and if the money needed to build it comes from abroad I feel sure, within the concept of mutual self interest, this can be achieved.

Protectionism is not a viable option in modern day society, whichever industry people are in, but perhaps as is the current focus of Dr Cable’s attention in the development of government economic policy it will include joined up thinking in areas such as education, infrastructure, employment and planning.

Dr Cable then went on to state that he saw little merit in British Swadeshi, and in terms of international trade I would agree that the sum of the whole, in an international context, is much greater than its individual parts. However I imagine in line with government policy, localism, the decentralization /devolution of government and the organic development of clusters of various activities at a local level will inevitably provide the international community with significantly more parts to the whole, which perhaps will propel all nations, including the United Kingdom, who adopt the same model, into an age of socioeconomic and environmental equilibrium.

Finally Dr Cable went on to state that he wanted to see businesses in the United Kingdom that were socially responsible to customers, supply chains, workers and to the exchequer, by self regulation, by naming and shaming. I would add, naming and shaming, if it is to be effective in the world of classic capitalism, transparency and accountability must be part of this Process.

It was a good lecture and a shared vision for the future.

Where is the Gandhian Business Model?
by Antony Copley

No Gandhian could disagree with Vince Cable’s interpretation of Gandhi’s approach to economics as far as his lecture went. He stopped short of Gandhi’s late visionary hopes for the Indian economy, one that was to be taken forward by the left Gandhians, J P Narayan and Vinobe Bhave. No doubt, however, it would be naïve to expect a Secretary of State for Business to move beyond the conventional paradigms of the market economy and the overriding importance of economic growth.

Cable led us through a perfectly plausible account of the way Gandhi had to work within the constraints of a colonial economy, rejecting laissez-faire, the imperial policy which of course advantaged British exports, and a nationalist demand for protectionism, the wish of Indian business interests to play a significant role in shaping Congress policy. This would shelter emergent indigenous capitalist growth, a protectionism most strikingly expressed in the doctrine of swadeshi, the clarion cry of the nationalist movement in its outraged rejection of the partition of Bengal in 1905. I’m not sure if Gandhi ever actually endorsed swadeshi, his concern being to protect artisan industry against both foreign and Indian factory production. I think Cable’s may be special pleading in speculating that Gandhi would have gone along with a globalisation that saw Indian handloom products being sold as luxury items abroad. It would be interesting to read his exposition of this in a jointly authored book with Gandhian L C Jain. But one can agree that Gandhi would have rejected the economic nationalism of the Hindutva movement and the BJP, despite their claims that he was one of their own.

And of course he is surely right to argue that Gandhi engaged in this debate not so much as an economist, for he was no expert in this field, but as a moralist. His concerns were ethical. Cable overlooks the profound influence of John Ruskin’s ideas on Gandhi, above all on the sacred nature of work. Here was one reason for Gandhi’s championing of khadi, his high evaluation of the skills of artisan workers through his constructive programme. The relevant concept here is sarvodaya. It was a policy that did indeed look to the self-sufficiency of the village community. This was nothing to do with the highly regressive programme of autarchy pursued by the Axis powers and such latterday totalitarian states as North Korea. Cable, at the end, advocates forms of decentralisation and here he is seemingly on Gandhi’s wavelength. But something much more far reaching than local autonomy is encompassed in Gandhi’s vision.

Maybe this late Gandhian outlook was never coherently expressed, with his life so tragically cut short. The left Gandhians teased out the quasi-socialist implications of Gandhi’s vision of a new social structure which would radiate outwards from the village, inspired by an oceanic, quasi-mystical sense. So Bhave took up a national crusade of land redistribution, the bhoodan movement, though this was to be on a voluntary basis, appealing to landlords to hand over land to the poor. Narayan of course moved into left-wing politics and was a critical figure in challenging Mrs Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic rule that led to the Emergency regime of 1975-77. Sadly, Bhave and Narayan stood on different sides in that crisis. This possibly reflected the ambiguities in Gandhi’s own outlook.

Arguably Gandhi’s late vision represented a new paradigm on how the economy was to based. All along he had opposed the liberal capitalist insistence on growth above all. His was an economic vision of reaching out to abject levels of poverty but seeking no more than the meeting of basic human needs, a view that rejected a merely materialist approach and was inherently ascetic. This was the way of life in his ashrams. Really and truly here lay Gandhi’s new business model and Cable was way off target. Are Gandhi’s panchayats [small elected body governing a village] indeed so irrelevant?

When the banking crisis struck in 2010 many believed this exposed the inherently flawed nature of capitalism and the opportunity to move from its endlessly preached mantra of growth to an entirely new paradigm of a sustainable economy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote eloquently of the need to respect our environment and not to exploit and abuse its resources. Of course all this was to tap into a long lament on such abuse from Rachel Carson to James Lovelock and many others. All this has taken on a horrible urgency with the recognition of the threat from climate change. A recent article in the New Statesman by Naomi Klein, ‘Science says: Revolt!’ (25-31 October 2013) describes how leading scientists reinforce this search for a new paradigm, the way government see the revolutionary implications of this new paradigm and are trying to suppress the scientists, and the need for direct action. In this context the ideas of Gandhi, far from seeming utopian, have an all too urgent relevance.

The way the Gandhian ashram and panchayat have been brought up to date and prove that they are not pie in the sky is demonstrated in an astonishing experiment in Gandhian-style communitarian living in Andalucia. In 1979 one Sanchez Gordillo was the first elected mayor of the pueblo of Marinaleda, today with but 2,700 citizens. In 1980 he led a hunger strike ‘against hunger’. In 1991 the 1,200 hectare El Humoso farm was taken over by the Marinaleda co-operative. It chose to develop an agriculture which maximised the use of labour and provide much needed employment. It was a rejection of a wheat based economy that used little labour and pursued mere economic efficiency. Profits of the co-operative are used to create ever newer employment. It is an anti-capitalist example which is catching on. Neighbouring Somante has set up its own co-operative on government owned land. Admittedly the Andalucian Workers Union were initially evicted in March 2012 but returned the next day and never left. Here, argues Dan Hancox, is just the kind of new economy that the indignados are seeking. (See his essay ‘Since the Financial Crisis, the Spanish Economy has been on its Knees. But one Village Stood and Fought’, The Observer 20/10/13 and his book The Village Against the World, Verso). Gandhi is certainly one source for Sanchez Gordillo’s visionary new economy. (Others are Jesus Christ, Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.) Gandhi’s attitude to labour, the need for both full employment and a shared labour within the community, is brilliantly realised in these two pueblos. It is of course equally a fulfilment of the ideals of Spanish anarchism.

Quite obviously Vince Cable could not have advocated such a radical new paradigm. He has no option but to stick with the mantra of growth. But here is in fact where a truly Gandhian business model lies.

Antony Copley is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.


The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.


The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.


Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

Civilizational Gandhi – a new paper by Rajni Bakshi

civilizational gandhiGateway House’s Rajni Bakshi analyses the Mahatma’s civilizational vision and explains how it can guide us through contemporary economic and identity-related conflicts.

From the central hall of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi to a statue at Union Square Park in New York, and across far flung corners of the world, M.K. Gandhi is loved and celebrated as an apostle of non-violence. Yet it is Gandhi’s little-known work on what it means to be truly civilized that might be far more crucial to the future of our species.

The multiple global crises – social inequity, financial turmoil and ecological imbalance – have made it imperative to revisit and pay close attention to Gandhi’s radical but more sustainable civilizational vision. Within India, both the economy and polity are in a state of distress. More than six decades after independence, India remains at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Twenty years of economic liberalisation have expanded the size of India’s middle class, but not raised the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Indians. Globally, people are slowly acknowledging that the global financial system is fundamentally flawed and not just going through a cyclical low. We are also more sceptical now about the ability of the prevailing market culture to ensure even basic well-being for the seven billion people who inhabit the earth. At the same time, the human economy and nature’s eco-systems appear to be critically out of sync. Despite an increasing urgency for trans-national cooperation, there are persistent fears about a clash of civilizations – primarily between the West and the Islamic world, but also within multi-ethnic societies in large parts of the contemporary world.

This paper explores how the Mahatma’s civilizational vision can serve as a new lens to understand contemporary global crises – identity-based conflicts, the failed promise of universal prosperity and the threat of ecological collapse. What we have here are not ready solutions but a framework which might help us to forge solutions.

Download the full paper free of charge by signing up here:

Originally published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Who Was Fritz Schumacher? by Diana Schumacher

Who Was Fritz Schumacher?

by Diana Schumacher

E F Schumacher, the economist-philosopher, was born 100 years ago this year. The following article is edited from a longer paper written for the Schumacher Society in 2008.

Ernst Friedrich (Fritz) Schumacher was an unlikely pioneer of the Green Movement. He was born in Bonn in 1911, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and returned to England before the Second World War to avoid living under Nazism. He died prematurely on a visit to Caux, Switzerland, in September 1977.

Although from a distinguished intellectual background, and having himself experienced a short but meteoric academic career in Germany, England and America, Schumacher always believed that “an ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory”. Like Gandhi in both his outer and inner life he was a searcher of truth and dedicated to peace. Unlike so many of his contemporary academics, however, he needed to see these ideals translated into practical actions.

Fritz observed that throughout his own school and university careers he had given “maps of life and knowledge” on which “there was hardly a trace of many of the things I most cared about and that seemed to me of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life”. He saw the need to provide his colleagues and audiences with philosophical ‘maps’ and guidelines which related to actual reality. In the process, his life was one of constant questioning, including challenging most of the basic assumptions on which Western economic and academic theory have been based. What are the ‘laws’ that govern the ‘science’ of economics? What is the true value of money? What is the relationship between time and money? What is the real worth of work? And of development? These were the everyday questions which interested him as an economist.

In 1937, owing to Hitler’s frenzied ascendancy and his own feeling of the intellectual and political betrayal of Germany and its heritage by his nationalistic compatriots, he decided to abandon all social, family and business ties and to bring his young wife and son to London.

During the war, the family faced the hostility of being regarded as German aliens. They had to give up their home, and after being briefly interned, Fritz was hidden away with his family in Northamptonshire working as a farm labourer and was referred to by the very English name of James. At the same time (with the support of J M Keynes) he was seconded to do government research at the Oxford Institute of Statistics whilst at the same time working on his own ‘world improvement scheme’. Sometimes his ideas were appropriated by others, such as his contribution to the Beveridge Report in the early 1940s and to the Marshall Plan of 1947. Although he never received official recognition for his input to such prestigious schemes because of his German background, this did not disquiet him.

Although the expanding family was again domiciled in England from 1950 onwards, his quest for patterns of sustainability took him all over the world. He had experienced poverty, social injustice and alienation first hand, and felt that with his uniquely varied and practical background, he had something useful to contribute. As an economist he was derided by his peers for pointing out the fallacy of continuous growth in a finite world dependent on limited fossil fuel resources, but at the same time he became a champion of the poor, the marginalised and those who felt misgivings over the shallowness of contemporary values.

Philosophy and Religion

From his youth Fritz had always read prolifically. At one stage or another during his life, Fritz questioned all the main traditions, whether intellectual, national, economic or religious. As a young man he claimed to be a dedicated atheist, lecturing that religion and morality were mere products of history; they did not stand up to scientific examination and could be modified if regarded as inappropriate. Politically he was a person-loving socialist, the antithesis to Hitler’s fascism and an idealist with a restless mind. His values were very modern, based on the speed, measurement, efficiency and logic of the industrialised Western world which he inhabited. It was only later that he understood that such criteria were too inflexible, and totally incompatible with the more subtle ‘unconscious’ rhythms of the natural world. As a commuter from suburban Caterham (where he finally lived), to the National Coal Board headquarters in London’s Victoria (where he worked from 1950 to 1970), he used the train travelling time to study comparative religions and was greatly influenced by the French philosopher Fritjof Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

This ‘commuting’ period proved a most fruitful turning point in his inner life. He first studied notably those religions from the East, attending meetings and lectures on the spirituality of other faiths and began to practice meditation. Gradually he came to relinquish the atheism of his youth and to admit to the possibility of a ‘higher order of Being’. His changing economic and metaphysical views (which sometimes seemed contradictory) chronologically mirrored his own spiritual struggles and development.

There was, after all, a transcendent ‘vertical perspective’ to life: a hierarchy of orders from inanimate matter, through different levels of consciousness to a supreme consciousness or Being. After years of searching and inner struggles he had realised a way of bringing his lifelong paths of study and social concerns to a point of convergence and had reached his own spiritual homecoming. Finally, to the astonishment of Schumacher’s Marxist and Buddhist friends alike, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1971, six years before he died. It was a formal renouncement of his previously cherished views of the supremacy of the intellect and reason over the Christian virtues of compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, the acknowledgment of a Divine Creator, and the integrity of all creation.

Buddhist Economics

In 1955, whilst working at the National Coal Board, Schumacher accepted a three-month assignment as Economic Development adviser to the Government of the Union of Burma, where he immediately attached himself to a Buddhist monastery. He soon concluded that the last thing the Burmese people needed was economic development along Western lines. They needed an economics suited to their own culture and lifestyle – a ‘middle way’ between the Western model which sought to increase material wants and consumption to be satisfied through mechanised production and the Buddhist model which was to satisfy basic human needs through dignified work which also purified one’s character and was a spiritual offering. The tools of economics therefore had to be adapted to people’s needs and values and not vice versa. Unsurprisingly, his report was not well received in official quarters, but the experience proved yet another turning in Fritz’s spiritual and intellectual development. He was later to coin the term ‘Buddhist Economics’ which, like Marxism, implies a complete rejection of the greed and materialism on which so much of modern economics is based and a respect for the value and dignity of meaningful work.

Sustainable Development

In tandem with his job at the Coal Board, Schumacher also undertook an intensive programme of international travel, initially to give substance to his proposals to save the collapsing British coal industry, and to encourage independence from the Western world’s industrial reliance on cheap oil imports from the Middle East. Alas – and to our cost today – he was successful in neither.

His aim was also to promote sustainable development strategies in the First and Third World alike. Food and fuel he saw as the two basic necessities for survival and sustainability. All communities and regions should strive to be self-sufficient in these as far as possible – otherwise they become economically and politically vulnerable. In this respect he was an early proponent of harnessing renewable energy in all its different forms and upgrading the existing traditional technologies.

Unfortunately Fritz was many years ahead of his time, and few took much notice. Putting his own self-sufficiency theories into practice, his was one of the first UK houses to have solar panels installed on its roof. He also personally became involved in sustainable agriculture; an enthusiasm which he claimed had its seeds in his work as a farm labourer. He spent much time on his organic garden, was President of the UK Soil Association, ardently supporting Richard St Barbe Baker and his Men of the Trees, and was an unflagging advocate of tree planting and forest farming schemes wherever he went.

India and Intermediate Technology

It was during an official visit to India in 1970 to advise the Indian Government on a Five Year Development Plan, that Fritz became deeply moved by the hopeless poverty and deprivation of countless thousands of people. He encountered a despair such as he had not met in other poor countries and realised that all the official government and other Western aid schemes proposed so far were completely inadequate. As a heartfelt response, in 1966 with a small group of committed colleagues including George McRobie from the National Coal Board, he founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), a London-based charity concerned with technology transfer. The aim was to give practical ‘tool aid’, skills and education to poor rural communities in developing countries rather than expensive highly mechanised equipment which was not appropriate to the understanding and needs of the illiterate majority and which put them out of work. What was needed was ‘production by the masses and not mass production’ using ‘technologies with a human face’. With Indian colleagues, he helped to set up in Lucknow the Appropriate Technology Development Association (ATDA), working very much along the same lines and supported financially by the UK India Development Group of which Fritz was Chair.

Schumacher also understood that Western aid to poor communities frequently simply served to increase their cultural and economic dependence, and to increase the gulf between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old, even within their own societies. This still holds true. On the other hand, by respecting communities’ own indigenous and cultural traditions, providing them with skills and upgraded tools and recognising that each individual could play their part the communities would be enabled to achieve long term sustainability and security. This ‘middle way’ has gained increasing acceptance over the past forty years, particularly among the poor countries themselves. The ‘development’ charities which Fritz founded continue to flourish today, although ATDA has become the Schumacher Centre Delhi. The India Development Group became the Jeevika Trust; and the ITDG has been renamed Practical Action.

In 1950 Schumacher accepted the post of Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, partly because of his socialist conviction that true economic sustainability would most readily come about through proper organisation and use of energy resources. He was also an early advocate of the principle of subsidiarity and realised that the workers themselves needed to operate within ‘human scale’ structures even within large organisations. The National Coal Board he hoped would be an excellent springboard for testing his ideas in practice.

Small is Beautiful

Despite growing recognition of Schumacher’s numerous projects, broadcasts, writings, and public lectures, the real breakthrough only came with the publication in 1973 of his first book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. This was written in layman’s terms, since it was mainly based on previous lectures and articles, but somehow caught the spirit of the times. Small is Beautiful was not just about appropriate size. It articulated what millions of ‘little people’ worldwide subconsciously believed: that unlike any previous culture or civilisation, twentieth century Western society, whether agricultural or industrial, was living artificially off the Earth’s capital rather than off its income. Its lifeblood was the ever-increasing use of non-renewable resources primarily by the rich countries at the expense of the poor. The world could not continue sustainably on the increasing curve of production and consumption without material or moral restraint.

A Guide for the Perplexed followed in 1977; other publications such as Good Work and This I Believe were produced posthumously and were based on his earlier writings in different publications. Over thirty years after Schumacher’s death, the wisdom, warnings and predictions contained in these controversial writings, are seen to be more relevant than ever. Many organisations worldwide have since developed one or other aspect of his work. Nevertheless the trend towards gigantism, the vast growth of mega cities, mass unemployment, unsustainable patterns of energy use, rampaging environmental degradation and social violence demonstrate that none of Schumacher’s simple, human-scale solutions have been interpreted correctly by those in a position to change policies. There is now an even more urgent need to revisit some of these fundamental prerequisites for sustainability. These include, above all, the transcendence of moral values; the equality and dignity of all people; the integrity of human work as the resource base of any economy; the value of local communities; and the need for decentralised decision-making and regional self-sufficiency wherever practicable, particularly with respect to food and fuel.

There is always a great danger to freeze a human icon such as Schumacher in the situation of their time, and not to allow for the fact that their own ideas would be constantly changing and moving on with changed circumstances. The revolutions in information technology, virtual reality and genetic engineering would have occupied Schumacher’s attention insofar as they affect our overall human condition. It is now up to a new generation to arm itself with the necessary knowledge and moral courage to find its own solutions to the contemporary interrelated crises and to build peace with all levels of Creation.
As Fritz Schumacher said in Good Work:

“I certainly never feel discouraged. I can’t myself raise the winds which might blow us, or this ship, into a better world. But I can at least put up the sail, so that when the wind comes I can catch it.”

Diana Schumacher is a Patron of The Gandhi Foundation and active in the environmental field. She was a founder of the Schumacher Society and founded its Annual Schumacher Award. She also co-founded the Environmental Law Foundation.

What Would a Gandhian Society Look Like? – by George Paxton

Kasturba with Gandhi

Much of Gandhi’s constructive programme was based on village India where the majority of Indians lived (and I believe still do). However, in the West, and increasingly throughout the world, most people live in urban centres. This, along with changes in society brought about by rapid technological developments perhaps require some adaptation of Gandhi’s ideas. Gandhi at times severely criticised modern civilisation, most especially in Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) written in 1909, but at other times he was more accepting of technological developments. If Gandhi’s broad principles were applied to modern society what would it look like ?

Among the liberal democracies a tolerance of the diverse religious and ideological traditions has taken root, indeed increasingly going beyond tolerance to embracing a real interest in both the different and the common elements of traditions other than ones own. Gandhi, although calling himself a Hindu, went further and adopted elements from Jainsim, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Humanism. British society has gone some way to catching up with Gandhi in this respect. While some intolerance persists, and indeed in some quarters has increased, an acceptance of a pluralistic society is widespread.

How different is the picture when we turn to the political and economic sphere, especially the latter. A basically free market system operates which admittedly has its worse features mitigated by social security in the developed states. But even in these communities there is gross inequality with outrageously high incomes for a small minority who are so oblivious to the injustice that they take their millions without embarrassment (and even when they have done their job badly). Gandhi was a great egalitarian, something which we badly need both between nations and within them (Wilkinson and Pickett have demonstrated this in The Spirit Level).

One of Gandhi’s major ideas, however, has, I believed, not proven a practical way forward and that is Trusteeship – that the wealthy should retain their wealth but not for their own use. Such is human nature that few will use their wealth only for the good of others. A more realistic way forward is to have common ownership of companies by those who work in them with decisions taken collectively. Private ownership, except for very small businesses, should disappear so that profits do not accrue to one individual or a small elite. This would also mean a healthy empowerment of the workers in the company. But if Trusteeship is interpreted in a wider sense, that is that everyone has a responsibility to use their income and wealth wisely, then there is value in the concept.

Another aspect of our economic world is the vast size of multi-national companies, some exceeding the wealth of smaller countries. The power yielded by the few who control these corporations is anti-democratic and sometimes dangerous. International agreements to limit the size and sphere of operations of these giants is desirable. Gandhi’s preference was always for small scale, whether in political or economic structures. Another relevant aspect is what Gandhi called swadeshi – a preference for local products, whether in agricultural products or in manufactured goods. This ties in with small scale activities and is also highly relevant to reducing impact on the environment. Trade where price only matters results in goods being transported from one side of the world to the other without consideration of wider impacts. Where international trade does take place it is important that it should be done on a fair trade basis. As individuals we can make purchasing decisions that have an impact and if we are not on very low incomes we have options. Today there is also too much travel by too many people who are using up limited oil reserves and polluting the atmosphere. Gandhi travelled a good deal (although he was never on an aeroplane) but that was at a time when world population was much smaller than today and many fewer people travelled.

A fundamental principle of current economic ideology is that one must have growth – something that runs counter to our knowledge of the finite resources of the planet. Gandhi’s advocacy of restraint and a more static society fits the facts in a way that conventional economics doesn’t. It is important, Gandhi believed, that everyone who is fit to work should – there is an obligation on the individual to seek work, but the corollary is that the state has an obligation to provide employment if necessary.

European culture’s distinction between animals we keep as pets or companions and those we eat is not one Gandhi would recognise. A population that was vegetarian in diet, or vegan even more so, would be more consistent ethically. Furthermore the greatly reduced animal population that would result would help reduce global warming through reduced methane and carbon dioxide emissions. It would also save large areas of land which could be used for edible vegetation or trees, and savings in water usage, something which is appearing in many parts of the world. On economic, ecological and humane grounds a widespread move away from a flesh diet towards ahimsa would be an advantage.

Gandhi had a great belief in ‘nature cure’ to deal with health problems as well as advocating a health style conducive to good health. The latter is readily accepted in the West – in principle, although in a rather indulgent culture the practice often does not match up. Most people however would doubt the efficacy of natural cures when it comes to many illnesses. Gandhi himself was deeply grateful to have an appendectomy by a British army surgeon when in prison in 1924 so his belief in nature cure was qualified.

One area where Western culture has more than caught up with Gandhi is gender equality. Gandhi showed support for women wanting to enter careers when he encouraged his secretary in South Africa, Sonja Schlesin, to apply for training as an advocate. The application in 1909 was rejected as no woman had been envisaged in such a role. In India many of his staunchest colleagues were women and many women participated in satyagraha campaigns.

Perhaps the least useful idea and the least likely to be accepted in general in the desirability of celibacy. It is an issue difficult to ignore because it was so important to Gandhi, but he also universalised it and thought that everyone should follow the path of restraint or brahmacharya. This is also how excessive population size was to be avoided. He believed his control of the sex drive enabled him to achieve what he could not otherwise achieve. Gandhi was generally ascetic and while few would follow him all the way a less hedonistic lifestyle than we have today has something to be said for it.

Last, but no means least, is the issue of war and peace, violence and nonviolence. While Gandhi admired courage (as a child he had been timid) which might be displayed by a soldier, better still was the courage of a nonviolent soldier or satyagrahi. He believed it was possible to defend a country, or community or an individual, by nonviolent means and it is necessary to develop methods for this. Alas, many states are more heavily armed than ever before, including India. Most politicians still have a misguided faith in the efficacy of the threat of destruction and death. It should be obvious that a world that had destroyed its nuclear weapons, abolished trade in weapons, and greatly reduced armaments in general would be a safer world, and in fact the countries of the world have agreed that general disarmament should be an achievable goal. It would also release vast resources for life-enhancing purposes. As inequalities between and within states diminish conflicts would too. Conflicts would still occur but they would be amenable to nonviolent solutions including those pioneered by Gandhi.

A Gandhian society would exhibit a tolerance of diversity, a fairer economic system, a change in diet, a greater awareness of impacts on the environment, and a new concept of defence. To reach such a society we require a new attitude of mind and there will be vested interests to overcome but, I suggest, none of theses things are impossible.

George Paxton is Editor of The Gandhi Way

Book Review – The Spirit Level

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Penguin 2010
ISBN 978 0 141 03236 8

This is an exciting and important book. The authors draw on a wealth of social research to demonstrate that life would be better if we had much more equal incomes. Intuitively this reviewer has long believed that, but Wilkinson and Pickett are able to show that it is true by presenting the facts in graphical form. Moreover it is not just that lower income people would be better off but those on higher incomes would benefit too – in terms of quality of life.

The countries studied are mainly the most developed – 23 out of the 50 wealthiest in the world (the 27 which were not chosen were because they were either very small or did not have full comparable statistics). The other societies looked at are states of the USA where, because of the federal system, there are considerable variations from state to state. One of the striking things to emerge is that the patterns revealed are very similar across a range of issues – physical health, mental health, obesity, teenage births, educational performance, violence, imprisonment, social mobility. One also finds the same countries in approximately the same positions on most of the graphs (with occasional exceptions). The two extremes are occupied by the USA at one end (the bad one) and Japan (the good one).

Close to Japan are the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark. Britain usually comes in a little worse than average. One of the striking facts to emerge is that looking at rich and poor countries on the world scale life expectancy increases rapidly as incomes increase but only up to a certain level (where the middle income countries are now) and then it begins to level off. However there are still notable differences among the rich countries when inequality within the countries is used as the measure rather than average income. Using the measure of inequality the authors demonstrate how physical and mental health levels, teenage pregnancy, drug use, crime, educational attainment and social mobility are all strongly determined by the level of inequality in their societies. The authors suggest that the cause of this pattern is due to individuals’ social status within unequal societies and the arising anxiety and long-term stress arising.

Two countries which have shown dramatic increases in income inequality in recent decades are the USA and the UK. In the UK the second half of the Thatcher period saw a steep rise in inequality which peaked in the early 1990s but has fallen little since then. In the USA inequality began to rise in the Carter period and rose steadily until the Clinton period when it levelled off. In both countries the rise in income inequality was about 40%. Countries which did not show an increase in inequality in the 1980s and 90s include France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Japan. In Japan, defeat in WWII followed by a benign occupation by the Americans resulted in a break with the past and a substantially new society which was much more egalitarian. Interestingly the smaller income range there is not produced by large government intervention but by pay rates that are less extreme than in most other countries. Sweden on the other hand uses government intervention to redistribute wealth but the result for both countries is good.

Although not the prime focus of the book, sustainability is also looked at – and how could it be avoided since it is now central to the future of the human race. Using data from the UN and the WWF the authors conclude that only Cuba has a reasonable quality of life without exceeding the biocapacity of the earth. However they also say that more could reach that state by using more environmentally friendly technology including renewable power generation. But a warning against depending on new technology alone is given as they point out that greener technology can be defeated by greater consumption, as has been observed already in some places. Nor would it be sufficient on its own. The aim of sustainability would be greatly aided if the consumerist philosophy of the last 50 years could lose its hold on people. The authors don’t mention Gandhi but I am sure they would approve of all attempts to follow his simplification of lifestyle. As Wilkinson and Pickett write:

“If, to cut carbon emissions, we need to limit economic growth severely in the rich countries, then it is important to know that this does not mean sacrificing improvements in the real quality of life – in the quality of life as measured by health, happiness, friendship and community life, which really matters.”

How far we have to go in the direction of egalitarianism in Britain at least is amply illustrated by the outrageous salaries and expenses and bonuses given to CEOs of many large companies and banks, in spite of a major economic crisis and prospect of a significant reduction in public services.

The authors, who are basically academics, are sufficiently convinced of the importance of their findings that they have set up a campaigning organisation – The Equality Trust – to promote the advantages of egalitarianism. As they say, unless there is a groundswell of public opinion the politicians will not take up the idea.

George Paxton

Peace and Security and Economics – by Eirwen Harbottle

George Paxton has persuaded me to share some thoughts on developing our Gandhi Foundation Trustees’ discussion on monetary reform. I am clearly no academic; merely an ordinary member of the public who has become increasingly angry over the financial mess that is causing so much misery and the injustice of handing on such toxic chaos to the rising generation.

18 months ago, I asked Canon Peter Challen whether he would allow me to attend the weekly meetings of his Global Round Table on Monetary Reform since when I have been listening and learning, grateful for his kind tolerance of my often childish questions.

Now I feel led to share this diagram with GF supporters. It shows how I suggest we might accept the inter-twining of peace and security in which economics is a crucial factor:

Over the past 60 years I have experienced global un-peace stretching from the dying months of the British mandate in Palestine, through WW2 and the violent birth of the Cyprus Republic, subsequent Greek/Turk conflict on that island, world disarmament and (working with my Michael) a reappraisal of the military role in peacekeeping/peacebuilding.

Now I can see with absolute certainty that the popular excuse “Oh, I don’t do economics…” is just a lazy cop-out. It is totally unacceptable because our inaction is threatening the very survival of our peerless planet.

So what to do ? I admire the 3 leading tenets of Jainism: we must recognise the ‘many-sidedness’ of our lives, act with ‘non-possessiveness’ and ‘do no harm’ (ahimsa). Were these not akin to the bedrock of Gandhi’s own thinking ? Would that it might also be that of all our bankers today !

If we are truly seeking financial ‘perestroika’, we have to educate ourselves on the history of money; the ethics of usury; the psychology of taking risks with no thought to the consequences of so doing; the rule of law to curb injustice; and ultimately to see all of this as the ‘many-sidedness’ of global wellbeing.

In his day, Buckminster Fuller often used the icosahedron 20-sided symbol to demonstrate wholeness. Perhaps we might use the same design now to present a Gandhian view of security and peace?

Eirwen Harbottle is a Patron of the Gandhi Foundation and a founder of Peace Child International. She received the first GF International Peace Award on behalf of her late husband Brigadier Michael Harbottle who founded Generals for Peace.


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