Appropriate Technology

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In his 1972 classic, Small is Beautiful: Economics as though People Mattered, E. F. Schumacher proposed a class of Intermediate Technologies, somewhere between the primitive tools of traditional societies and the mass production machines of technological societies. These would be optimized for production in smaller markets, where the cost structure was quite different from mass markets. This notion of an Intermediate Technology is quite vague, giving no particular idea where in the spectrum any application should be accommodated. Those who adopted Schumacher's program for technology development soon renamed the concept Appropriate Technology, emphasizing the optimization of production technology according to circumstances.

Over the centuries, production technologies have changed radically not only because of scientific advances, but also because of changes in infrastructure, primarily in transportation and communication, and in social arrangements and economic theories. Developing nations cannot simply skip to the end of this chain and go straight to mass production. Neither can they go through all of the stages that other countries were constrained to move through. What we need is to determine an efficient and politically acceptable path from here to an efficient and also sustainable set of production arrangements with the necessary support structures in place, where at each point along the path the next advances in infrastructure and the next set of production technology can be created using only what is already in place.

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