Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 714 (245) Small Things

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

"Small is Beautiful" by B. F. Schumacher is one of my favorite books. I read it maybe 50 years ago. Strange how some books stay with us and others are completely forgotten. Just the title was enough for me. It summed up his main point. We don't have to have the biggest house, farm, car or anything else. They may not be the most desirable. As a matter of fact; in many instances small is much better -  if not beautiful.

Jar lids seem to be among the first  toys of choice for most young kids. Parents and grandparents have all seen gifts opened at Christmas or birthdays and large expensive toys left in the middle of the room as a jar lid or simple ring occupies their child's interest. Smallness and simplicity; this natural preference seems to get lost in life. 

My mother's last visit to us while we lived in Alaska came when she was 66 years old. I remember her enthusiasm for sitting in the winter early morning darkness and watching  the world slowly fill with light. She was always talkative about something new she saw in the sky or in the woods at first light. You would have thought she had just discovered gold. She spent hours in our kitchen washing dishes and massaging the kitchen into gleaming sparkles. She loved the small things - the simple things.

Schumacher was an economist. He talked about the benefits of thinking small in terms of production and distribution of goods and services. Perhaps I am thinking about this because of all of our economic problems. Something is wrong. We have all sorts of PhDs making all sorts of decisions in this great land of wealth, power and knowledge. Yet we seem to have an economy that is struggling to just survive let alone prosper. Where have we gone wrong?

Everyone has a rationale for our predicament; it's the banks, the politicians, the corporations, the lawyers, the supreme court, the Chinese or the weather. Take your pick.

Small gardens spring up in what used to be front yards, cars get smaller, and smaller houses are becoming fashionable. We have chickens in the backyard. We seem to be downsizing in many areas. We also have interest on loans and savings accounts getting smaller and smaller. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or bad thing. I guess it depends on whether you are a borrower or lender.

In "Small is Beautiful" Schumacher gives an example of what India did concerning full employment. I am not consulting any books on this one so my memory may be a bit hazy. The details may be stretched one way or another. Millions of people were out of work in India. He used road building as an example about what made the best economic sense in relationship to creating jobs. Big equipment could be purchased and brought into the country and make quick work of it. Or they could use picks and shovels and employ tens of thousands of workers. They went with the shovels. It was very successful. People worked, earned money, bought clothing, food and other things. Business was stimulated. The pattern was followed in much of the country and the economy thrived.

We once saw condominiums being built in Mexico the same way. Big machines never visited the site. Men swarmed over the place; chipping rock by hand, mixing and carrying concrete, cutting and carrying steel. We were amazed. The building kept growing and it was all done through employing lots of people. 

The idea may be of some value. Smaller banks. Smaller manufacturers. Smaller corporations. Lets face it, we have gone crazy with bigness when it comes to these things. Perhaps we should look in another direction.

Government has also gotten bigger. Don't get me wrong, government is created to help citizens do what they can not do for themselves; build roads, provide police and fire protection, insure health care and education, and provide for the national defense, etc.

One thing individuals can't do is out compete corporations. We die. Corporations get absorbed one into another. They never die. They have become everlasting - sort of like gods. They get bigger and bigger. "Leave the market alone" is their mantra. They want no rules or regulations.

We all know that kids get greedy. Left to their own volition they will not consider others. We have to teach them to take no more than their share. Parents have to establish limits and enforce rules of conduct. One child cannot be given freedom to abuse others. Why should it be any different with corporations?

Yet Government regulations are painted as enemies of the people.  Corporations have been deregulated. They do grow without limits. They continually amass fortune and power. Corporate money pays for advertising, manipulates the press,  pays for political campaigns, and makes the rules for social media. In essence, they make the laws. One of our latest examples was the "bank bailouts''. The stated reason, "They are too big to fail." People that orchestrated this massive theft are not  prosecuted. Laws are lacking or absurd. If a rioter throws a brick through a window they go to jail. Corporations that steal billions are not prosecuted and their leaders receive bonuses by the millions.

I keep thinking of jar lids and morning sunrises. Small cars and small houses. Small banks and small corporations. Maybe Schumacher's book "Small is Beautiful" needs to be reread.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

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