Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #63: Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered
Later today I'll be sworn in as a member of the Select Board in Kensington. It's a small town here, with a little over 2,000 people. Horse farms, wetlands, and old homes stretch languidly along our scenic roads. Our elementary school is outstanding, and our neighbors routinely come together to support one another. There's a community here. Last year that community was riven by strife among our elected and appointed officials, leading to the wholesale resignation of our three-member governing body. What followed was quintessentially New Hampshire, and quintessentially Kensington. Three citizens were appointed by a district court judge to assume executive responsibility for our town, serving a six-month stint as an interim Board of Selectmen. They did a phenomenal job righting the ship and getting us back on track. And then they all stepped aside, and in March we elected a new Board. I'm proud and excited to be one of the three taking on that job tonight.
Why do I tell this story here, in relation to this book? The last few months have involved a good amount of soul-searching for me in the wake of my achingly narrow loss in the Executive Council race last November. In that campaign across 32 towns, more than 118,000 voters cast ballots. The issues included health care systems and state support for education and regional transportation infrastructure and other weighty concerns. After my nine years on the Board in Exeter I felt I was ready for a seat at the table in Concord, and when I was defeated by less than a percentage point, I was bitterly disappointed and unsure of what I was supposed to do next.
During the winter of my discontent, I turned back to Schumacher's book that I first read during my master's program a few years ago. His central premise is that, simply put, bigger is rarely better. It is insulated national governments that author wars and massive wealth-obsessed industries that rape our natural resources. Schumacher states that "men organised in small units will take better care of their bit of land or other natural resources than anonymous companies or megalomaniac governments which pretend to themselves that the whole universe is their legitimate quarry." Villages and communities possess the inherent wisdom that comes from knowing our neighbors, and from living with the consequences of our decisions. That's where real democracy, and real leadership, happens. And here in New Hampshire, we've been doing it longer and better than anyone else.
My best use has always come when charged with representing a community, whether as a student leader in high school and college or helping to steward the town of Exeter. Tonight is a homecoming for me, back to the kind of work for which I am best qualified and suited. "There is wisdom in smallness," writes Schumacher. I'm ready to get back to that wisdom, and get back to work.