by Ioana Paul
A gripping read, which proves that the above stated idea is not just an assumption, is Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics, 7 ways to think like a 21st century economist, a fine critique of mainstream economics and its goals.
With ambitious ideas in mind and a desire to understand the social language of the world better, Kate Raworth started her bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Oxford, finishing it more confused and frustrated than before. Awkward assumptions, dull drawings and ignorance regarding themes she was interested in most pushed her away from the theoretical world of economics, into the real world. It was by working as a social entrepreneur in Zanzibar or by actively participating in various Oxfam projects, that she witnessed economic and social injustices first-hand. Her conclusion? She cannot fully ignore economics, for it determines how the world functions and it definitely shapes our mindsets. She also cannot agree with the current economic theory, for it is deeply flawed. So, she will help rewrite it, or… redraw it.
“Think of the lines and curves that make up the core diagrams in economics” she writes “-those seemingly innocuous pictures depicting what the economy is, how it moves, and what it is for. Never underestimate the power of such images: what we draw determines what we can and cannot see, what we notice and what we ignore, and so shapes all that follows.” Giving voice to all that we have ignored so far, she created a system, a new way of seeing the bigger picture, calling it doughnut economics.
Picture a doughnut, the dough is the safe and just space for humanity. It lies precisely between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling. The inside of the inner ring depicts shortfalls of basic elements, which are necessary to the well-being of each individual such as water, food, housing, political voice, gender equality, whereas surpassing the outer ring represents an overshoot of planetary boundaries and its harmful effects. Unfortunately, we have already transcended the inner and outer limits of the doughnut, but there is a way we can get to the safe space, argues the book.
With the doughnut in mind, Kate Raworth questions all the ordinary graphs that are so deeply rooted in the mind of every economics student, stating that some are just too dangerous to draw. She highlights the importance of asking ethical questions when discussing about economics and of daring to stop talking religiously only about efficiency and endless GDP growth.
Imitating nature when designing buildings, governing businesses that do not take resources from the environment and give something beneficial back, redistributing not only income, but also wealth, valuing the power of the commons, not just talking about their tragedy…are all some of the key aspects intensely discussed in her book. In the end, they all draw the picture of an economy that is regenerative and distributive by design.
Does it sound too idealistic? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, as much as we love to draw parallels between the laws that govern economics and those of the natural sciences, economic theory is a concept created by humans and it exists only because of our common belief in its power. So why should we then not be able to change it? …or, to redraw it?
In fact, Amsterdam has become the first city that has pledged to adopt the doughnut economics. With a Donut Coalition established before the pandemic hit, it plans to rethink the economic system with a post crisis recovery that is aligned with the ecological ceiling and the social foundation of Raworth’s doughnut.
Reading the book has left me with a bittersweet feeling. Bitter because of the realization that the limitations, which have been imposed on economic theory in the past, are now so difficult to remove from the academic syllabus, but also sweet, because rethinking economics has become a necessary, creative and difficult challenge for our generation. There is immense potential and there are so many good ideas. We just have to dare to take the pen in our hand and start drawing, before it is too late!
Should you need some sweet treats in the upcoming exam season, I highly encourage you to read Kate Raworth’s book and taste the doughnut. It is thought-provoking and low calorie, so incredibly healthy.