Recently read E.F.Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, 'a study of economics as if people mattered'. It is a classic, first published in 1973, and ranked as one of 100 most influential books published since World War II by the Times Literary Supplement.
Organized as a collection of essays, it is a reassessment of economics as it was practised at the time (and which doesn't seem to have changed much in the ensuing 40 years). Schumacher points out that large scale, specialized industries conncentrated in a few large cities, while achieving progress in some abstract econometric sense like GDP growth or increased Capital/Output ratio, are failing to solve the real problems of poverty and economic imbalance. And the damage to the environment caused is unprecedented. As an alternative, he proposes 'Intermediate Technology', low cost, communally owned, easily accessible technology that can aim to spread development to all sectors, while reducing the environmental damage. Schumacher was also an enterpreneur, and tried to put these ideas in practice. But economics is only a part of what the book talks about; it is also a call to rethink the assumptions governing modern life and which ultimately gave rise to the current economic situation; to take just one example, our definition of the standard of life in terms of amount of consumption, more the better. Schumacher asks whether the natural world, which is undeniably finite, will be able to sustain such a model indefinitely. Is it not high time that we start treating natural resources not as income but as capital, focusing on conservation rather than consumption? There are many such examples.
Schumacher advises a return to traditional values that have governed societies for eons. While I found it hard to agree with everything that is in there, the book was certainly a thought provoking and eye opening read.