Apparently it is now a thing: https://guardianbookshop.com/doughnut-economics-9781847941398.html
I have not read the book; I have read quite a bit about it and looked into its author. Kate Raworth Holds a BA In Politics, Philosophy and Economics and an MSc in Economics for Development from Oxford. Now she is at Oxfam. Her specialty is not economics as such, but what different kind of economics would be able to produce the kind of world she envisions. She has written an Oxfam discussion paper “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity”. The “doughnut” is the space between providing the needs that human beings consider minimal to ensure they get a roof over their heads and food on the table, health care, etc. and the proposed maximum drain on Earth’s resources by human beings. The thing about this is that all these boundaries must be set by someone. Unlike with market capitalism, boundaries are in this scheme not set by the aggregate freely made decisions of households. It is unlikely that they will be set by poor people in developing countries — they have little power. It seems that Ms Raworth intends that they be set by people with her views and education — Western liberal development and ecological economics experts. But there is no way to ensure that this would be possible, even if it were agreed that this group is an acceptable decision-maker did the rest of the world, which is by no means certain. So realistically it is a talking-piece about what kind of economic controls this group advocates to enable its vision to be realized. As a pure proposal by a self-realized and self-accepted limited group with this set of characteristics (Western-educated liberal development professionals) it is a useful contribution; it is when those who propose it consider that their group should make decisions for everyone that it seems to me we should pause. Poor people in developing countries often have the uncomfortable characteristic of not agreeing with what such experts think is best for them and the planet. IMHO, if the actual views of poor people in various countries are not brought in, along with the views of rich people and middle income people of various educational backgrounds, religions, and cultures, then we are not creating a truly global system.
I have looked at websites, talks, etc. Not sure if the concept is even worth a book, TBH. It boils down to a popularization of the Limits to Growth concept of the 1970s. The idea is that economic growth should not be too little, because then people would be poor, but also not too much, because then the world would burn/drown. This happens because the economy is a system interlocked with other systems (like climate), and too much growth would destabilize these other systems. The doughnut refers to the key visualization of this idea: several systems are represented as surrounding the human economy, and giving it boundaries. The space close to the boundaries, but within them, is doughnut-shaped.
My problem with that is not that it is not true: it is. My problem is that it is super trivial. Any grandmother in an Italian village has great advice about balance, equilibrium, moderation, yeah-but-no-but-yeah and all that. It’s just not falsifiable, and not actionable.
I’m a bit surprised about the negative comments - I think this book is a significant milestone of introducing ecological economics concepts to a mainstream audience.
She questions some fundamental neoliberal ideas, like introducing markets everywhere, the idea of homo oeconomicus, or the obsession with growth. While criticizing neoliberalism isn’t new, she proposes a reframing of the problem, that it’s not about which school is right, but we start with the purpose - humanity and the society we want to create. Only then do should we concern ourselves with economic models.
She’s also very strong on integrating the economy and the environment as connected, rather than separate, and I think her book has contributed to “regenerative” receiving more attention and the understanding that “sustainable” is a milestone, not the goal. And I love that she uses a very different language to mainstream economists, one that comes much more from biology than war.
I understand that this seems trivial to many with progressive economic views, but she has managed to penetrate the mainstream with this accessible book and memorable metaphor.
Also, her Doughnut Economics Action Lab just put out a framework to simplify this to the city level - working with the city of Amsterdam. I wrote a short blurb on linkedin about it yesterday because I think this has the potential to be a basis for a wider public discussion/consultation.
Daniel, it’s just my personal take. Great that you have a different opinion.
Rant alert! continue at your own risk for a short version of my "embittered economist" rant
Bit of personal history: I did my first degree (equivalent of today’s bachelor + master) at Uni Modena. This had been founded with substantial trade union support in the late 1970s. It was staffed with (then young) professors that all came from Cambridge, and had studied with Joan Robinson and Piero Sraffa. We were taught not just economics, but its history, as it grew out of moral philosophy in the 17th and 18th century; and not just neoclassical economics, but also the classics – Smith, Ricardo, Marx. We were taught that markets are just a tool, and marginalism just another value theory – one that had been refuted for good by Sraffa in the 1960s.
We were also told that, when that happened, the economics profession did something remarkable: with the honorable exception of Samuelson, they just ignored Sraffa’s argument (the so-called “Cambridge critique”) and continued to develop the neoclassical model. This would be the equivalent of 16th century astronomers breaking Galileo’s telescope, shrugging, and sticking to the Ptolemaic system.
So, I cannot get excited about this argument:
Not only because it is already in The Wealth of Nations (1780), though it is. But because it implies the rest of us are idiots. What am I supposed to say? “Start with a fair society, then build the economics conducive to that! Why did no one think about this before?” People did think about this, a great deal. Even I, as a teenage fledgling economist in the 1980s, did.
We have the economics we have because this model does give rise to the society that we want, where “we” is dominated by the powerful people. We have built our utopia: you are looking at it. You and I may not find it so utopian, but this is because we are on the losing side, and economics, like history, is written by the winners.
So, when someone comes to me and presents this as an intellectual problem… I have a hard time respecting it. It is not. It is a power problem. And since the framing is wrong, the line of action will be wrong: in this case, the idea is (I think, hope I am wrong) to make Raworth famous, so she can present at Davos, and all the great and good will go “by golly, here’s an idea! We had never thought about it. Let’s do it!”. I don’t think so
The real question, which is why we have a Sci-Fi Economics Lab, is this:
What kind of economic models that are conducive to a fair society are also autopoietic, i.e. they can bootstrap themselves from the bottom up? And of these, which ones can scale and take over before they are stomped out from the top (the Walkaway problem)? Because I no longer believe help will come from the great and good. But hey, hope I’m wrong. I am certainly a little jaded.
Thanks so much for sharing, fascinating! I’m not an economist, so I suppose you are right, of course people have been thinking about this, and she is probably not adding much to the intellectual canon, so I suppose it’s trivial to the economic theory.
I couldn’t agree more, it is a power problem. I think her impact would be to give a more practical framework to local-scale planning and discourse, and through that, decentralize some power.
I have never read science fiction, and I’m extremely time-poor these days, so I have to catch up on a lot of the Sci-Fi Economics Lab readings. Thanks for that context, that’s indeed a really great question. It sounds like high hurdles, are there any interesting models you’ve found/created so far? (What is the Walkaway problem?)
I’m sorry you feel that way, I’d say that times like these are the ones where we need economists like you bringing ideas/solutions into the public discourse.
“Here is a possible society. It would be stable, if we could get there. What is a realistic path that would get us from here to there?” Most utopias never address it. Discussed it in section 3 of this post.
If you want a deeper take than Raworth’s on value theory, I recommend Mariana Mazzucato’s The value of everything.
- Not dumbed down, but accessible to a lay audience.
- Historical approach
- Plenty of examples
- Realistic actionables
I am re-reading it right now.
From what I’ve seen of her (I saw her discussion at long now and TED talks), I also think she’s quite interesting and relevant today. I know Climate-KIC loves her too.
What I’m still wondering: She does speak a lot about growth though, while it seems to me that the general idea of ecological economics is that there’s a planetary/ecosystem boundary within which the economy “happens” and thus we need to put the general idea of growth to rest.
This aspect I find more strongly developed in Raworth who talks about “thriving” rather than growth.
I promise I’ll read Mazzucato’s book as soon as I have time (aka kindergarten opens up again).
Thought of jumping into the fray, for a middle-way-kind-of positioning on the topic.
I feel you Alberto, and if I was an economist I bet I would feel you more . You nailed it with that last paragraph. And I don’t think anyone believes any more that help will come from above in that way.
But I want to make a point: just because what Raworth writes sounds trivial, doesn’t means it’s easy. Meaning, some times we don’t need a new theory or even actionable points. Some times we just need someone to grab a boring, 18th century club and hit the zeitgeist on the head . Would something good come out of it? Who knows. But if it’s power what we’re talking about, reaching out to the maximum amount of people is a good start.
Mazzucato comes across as a deeper thinker, agreed. But judging by her presentations (the same @hires mentions), it’s still too technical. It’s never a good idea to judge by a dataset of one, but here it is anyhow: I have a doctorate and am somewhat familiar with most of the concepts she discusses, but I’m having trouble following her. She’s a whirlwind. She gives me the impression that she’s good to deploy against the Commission or the Davos crowd, but mass appeal she hasn’t.
So where does that leave us? I would say, keeping your last paragraph intact and adding: what can we learn from both of them? How to reach the maximum amount of people with the lowest of hanging fruits, of the right tree?
A new theory: no, agreed. But without actionable points… what would be next?
Anyway, my beef is not with tried-and-true theories. I love them! My beef is with implying that said points are new, and now that we have (re-)discovered everything is going to be all right. “We have figured it out, people! We need much less short-term thinking!”. OK, but short-term thinking co-evolved with our economic and cultural environment, which rewards short-term thinking. It’s not the best theory, but it’s the fittest, and if you go head to head on it you are going to lose. Or rather, I am going to lose. You (proponent of a newly packaged old idea) are going to draw great consulting and speaking fees, and end up with your own TV show. So, in this sense your theory is actually very fit, just not for changing the system
And yet, here we are . Sometimes reaching out and breaking cognitive barriers en masse is the actionable point.
Of course what comes after the breaking is super important. My impression of Raworth is not so dire, but then again I haven’t been paying that much attention. It’s more like she’s been in my peripheral vision for some years now, but not in my face, which I count as good. And comments (mostly good) about her book reached me from different directions, which tells me there is something there and it appeals somewhat broadly.
Time will tell. But I’d say we have bigger fish to fry: endemic pandemics, on top of climate collapse, changing radically and permanently people’s lives all over the globe. Who decides? Who profits? How can people imagine a better future? Better human relations? (also economic, among other types)
(Lighter-but-potentially-offensive-to-vegans ending here.)
Finished pretty heavy there. Tried to lighten the mood but I only had this “the steaks have never been higher”-meme that I tried not to post.
My deepest apologies to all vegans out there.
This is my first post here.
I took an interest in this dialogue after attending the European Research and Innovation days last year, where Raworth’s concept was presented during a session on “redefining prosperity.” It is an interesting idea, likely to gain traction as multi-stakeholder collaborations are on the rise. Needless to say, certain strategies are more valuable than others.
One might say that theories will always be theories… and when positive, usually with a positive impact in practice. Nonetheless, action is action - some more effective than others.
I have had a look at the open-source coffee sorter project, awe-inspiring! It seems to be that EdgeRyders is doing precisely what the doughnut theory speaks about: transforming action towards a more holistic approach.
Although theoretical, experts increasingly recognise the thinning lines between society, economics and the environment. There is an active dialogue questioning the application of conventional economics, and whether it is time to rethink previous theories. Even radically - such as Piketty does (haven’t read his stuff myself but came across the article https://www.wired.co.uk/article/thomas-piketty-capital-ideology).
With regards to the doughnut theory, it has been introduced in Amsterdam, as a tool for transformative action. An attractive perspective for community cooperation and potentials encompassing multi-sector participation, providing leverage to (outcomes-based) projects, thriving communities, and positively taking into account the global supply chain
Quoting “Creating and pursuing such aspirational, yet science-based goals, could restore a community’s sense of purpose, mobilise diverse city stakeholders, and support residents’ health and wellbeing – all while dramatically enlivening the design of buildings, hardscapes, and landscapes.”
“Its potential as a transformative tool will be best realised when put into practice: by a network of changemakers, bringing government, business and academia together with innovators from SMEs, start-ups, the commons, and community networks….”
Exploring the platform and hope to keep in touch on future prospectives
Hi @Gabriella, and welcome! Thank you for the Amsterdam doughnut tip, it’s good to know that things are moving even during our troubled times!
I’m not super optimistic about these kind of getting-stakeholders-together workshops, and their chances of success, though. I’ve seen quite a few of these efforts come to a halt when they run out of money or key people left, to the point that it made me somewhat cynical about it. (I’m fighting it though! )
Granted, most human endeavors are like that. More importantly, there is a silver lining that’s worth gold: these kind of “green cities” bubbles leave interesting things behind, when they inevitably burst. E.g. the institutional memory of something unusual having happened - this public service talked with that one! And something clicked! - which lingers for quite some time, and even vital infrastructure which can be used by the next wave of doers.
On the other hand, I’m more of a fan of “what would you do even if no one was looking?” approach. Which is why I like Edgeryders . In my experience, these are the efforts that persist and don’t go away.
I’m super fresh myself but I think you came to the right place - have a look around and see if you find something that catches your eye! Once again, welcome!
Welcome from me, too, @Gabriella. It will be interesting to observe the changes in doughnut Amsterdam. Are you based there? Are you involved yourself?
Speaking of cities, Milan has just made its own bold move. Hard lockdown has brought down private car traffic by 90% (and cleaned the city’s air), and they decided to allocate 35 km of streets to bicycles and pedestrian traffic. As deputy mayor Marco Granelli said,
If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops. Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before.
I have written to friends in the Milan city administration to try to get an intuition on what they are thinking.
I am based in Belgium and took notice of the model because it advocates for collaborative efforts within geographic locality joining efforts from a multi-stakeholder perspective. It has the potential to bring about a lasting impact (to different degrees) if promoted through-out a consistent value chain. It is a holistic approach that gained substantial interest from several institutions. Also, it contributes to changing mindsets in general and where widely adopted, perhaps even until it becomes a norm.
I am not involved in any of these initiatives but broadly interested in the potentials of extended value chains, in particular, the role and difference ethics can make in developing societies at large. I am not actively working with this. However, I will start a simple blog, called the “value of ethics” – just for fun, more like a hobby and something I have had in mind for some time now. It will be very basic. Eventually, it would be great to work further with these ideas.
Relationships have a significant role in the outcome. Rooted in interactions between people, I share that ethics has immeasurable value to society and communities at large. One strategy of working might be more efficient than another, but I think that EdgeRyders is making that difference distinctly through immediate community work. On the other side, co-existence means that various types of stakeholders will ultimately play a role in reducing gaps and determining the paths for relations, be it economics, environment, technology… In general, governments, industry, private-public partnerships, etc. are pivotal contributors to this process: where stakeholders impact in different ways.
The role that various stakeholders take in shaping our society can be considered ground up, a collaboration that perpetually accommodates sustainable outcomes. Hence, an ambition to do something around the concept and value of ethics for communities, but these are just thoughts. Although idealistic, perhaps ideas that can develop towards an initiative for something like “our world in potentials.”
Communities in Potentials.pdf (125.3 KB)
For what it’s worth, here are some reference points;
Michel Bauwens at P2P foundation is a supporter of Kate’s work.
She has been active in Amsterdam community (WeMakeTheCity, Pakhuis de Zwijger). Proximity and popularity probably had much to do with the adoption.
Thanks for sharing this.
Besides popularity, beneficial opportunities in frameworks are worthwhile considerations. It can offer collaborative strategy towards (optimised) mutual actions.
What strikes me is the technical emphasis in the study - it leaves the reader to consider design systems creating behaviour vs. design behaviour creating outcome. While targeting how to change behaviour of end-users, the latter considers how this can be done (on a different level for greater impact), altering behaviour to create favourable sustainability situations. Closely inter-linked. Perhaps, these can be thought of as (binding) parallels in techno-social exchanges.
Are both aspects important in unfolding a new type of economy?
How can these be considered in different socio & cultural -contexts so as also to gain traction in uptake?
The study speaks about the system but not the people, still it is acknowledged that “a circular economy cannot be achieved without sharing the logistical knowledge that Is presently locked up in the walled gardens of private logistics. Only by sharing each other’s input and output can partners in an open ecosystem adapt towards a real circular economy.” For this very reason, behavioural aspects should not be overlooked or solely tackled through a systematic effort.
The P2P study provides a substantial overview of existing resources leading up towards a new type of economy (described in their conclusion). Emerging techno-social trends are supra interesting, as much as innovation radars it serves to facilitate agents towards changes in behaviour as a result of the system. While the initiatives listed are widely beneficial - it does not question the rate at which other and/or competing technologies are developed. Nor unforeseen circumstances that make build-ups for similar tools more vulnerable taken that people are ultimately and remain the primary creators & operators of tools. Technically, it is fabulous study where value is broadly discussed but the framework does not mention for whom and why (given that is taken). It does so to an extent by explaining how tools enable behaviour around commoners. Intangible assets such as humanity and relationships between human beings are central in that people are the creators and operators of functioning systems. In this sense behavioural design becomes a tool with complementary significance.
Schneider’s description of the P2P model, as a “paradigm-making vision for how to flip the future of the economy right side up, ” encapsulates the systematic result that influences behaviour. In its own right, the P2P report recaps a comprehensive overview of available technologies and alternative economies. On the other hand, it does this without fully addressing behavioural design: the very essence of what contributes to circulating economies, one might argue that it lacks a future-proof methodology. Individuals are the enablers and transformers of the economy. I believe that this point is understated, or at the very least vastly underestimated. The common good economy and the value flow shares livelihood, love and care are interesting concepts, accounting for value sovereignty. As mentioned in the study, recognising incentivising contributions and making participation sustainable for everyone at the very beginning of the economic process in a transparent way is essential.
Taken the speed of technological development coupled with social, economic and environmental issues requires attention, while simultaneously challenging people to demonstrate flexibility, learn quickly and apply the knowledge. With regard to a wider coordination and the capacity to manage a broad range of stakeholders is pivotal : the ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner, and work in various teams while demonstrating analytical thinking. Human capacity to manoeuver and leverage resources are indispensable to maintain positive outcomes, those that re-generate (reinforce) and accelerate sustainable actions across the broader spectrum. The P2P model places emphasis on the mutual, thereby encouraging an all-inclusive method. All-the-more, perceptions and perspectives matter.
This article provides an alternative (rather complementary) approach on emerging techno-social aspects, with regard to human-centric practices it discusses behavioral science as a powerful tool to direct human behaviours toward sustainable outcomes.
“Exploring the untapped potential of design behavior for sustainability is the focus of a recent expert panel [report from Nature Sustainability (https://www.nature.com/documents/design_behavior_for_sustainability.pdf)”
“Collaborating effectively in this way, however, is often easier said than done. The incentive structures in each discipline and between research and practice are very different. Even if all involved are sincerely aligned on the end goal of increased sustainability, the varied mindsets and contexts in which we work typically reward different activities and suggest different measures or proof of value.”
It continues by stating how they as a community can influence policy and inviting others to participate. Economies of scope as mentioned in the accounting for planetary survival study could consider the cognitive enterprise of people to maintain flow throughout the value chain and to encourage the footings of a sound architecture for what that may be.
In contrast to emerging trends in techno-social tools, “design of behaviour” illuminates the contributing requisite by pinpointing that “end-use behavior can determine what happens in a situation, design behavior often determines the situation itself.” Where what seems like an infinite perpetual discussion around virtuous cycles towards favourable, generative activity, it is also a signal for progress.
Research initiatives are continually touching on new horizons and valuable input to revamp current and future affairs. This means that there is a market for mobilising teams to speed up support structures and accelerate uptake of favourable behaviours… In particular, to surpass populist trends that no longer serve the greater good.
Some people I know are also big fans of the concept, but not because of the theory only, which as @alberto points out is not new, but because of a way of presenting it that is applicable, actionable.
If one would need to summarize the recipe for creating a city doughnut that works, it would have to be a mix of the following ingredients: a strong foundation of sustainable and successful experiments on circularity (existing or to be created), a local vision geared towards innovative and inclusive systems, openness for collaborative work and co-creation of city programs, inclusivity of all stakeholders (even citizens, not just city officials), everything supported by competent guidance and proper follow up on all set targets.
This makes me think that the beauty of the concept would mainly work for some level of readiness of cities - track record, political championship etc. Very interesting indeed!
… and when those ingredients are there, you get good, green governance. Not clear at all what the doughnut thing adds. So you have
- 1970s: Limits to growth. “Grow, but within (physical) limits”
- 1980s: Sustainable development. “Develop, but in a way that does not exceed the (physical, biological) carrying capacity of the environment).”
- 2010s: Doughnut. “Satisfy needs, but don’t overshoot the (physical, biological) limits of the environment.”
I don’t see the innovation at all.
It is not just a matter of not being creative. The innovation here is possible and needed – and in fact it has in part been done, elsewhere. I think we need innovative answers to two questions underpinning all three versions of Limits to Growth thinking:
- How do we define human needs? Neoclassical theory has a purely subjectivist approach: your needs are what you perceive as such. As a development economist, when I visited Cuba in the 1990s I was stricken by the fact that some of the needs listed by Raworth were addressed far better than in comparable countries (Dominican Republic, or Haiti): food, shelter, education, health care, employment. But people still tried to get around regulations: specifically, though holding foreign hard currency was forbidden to private individuals (justification: “the state needs it to cover strategic imports, such as raw materials for our industries”). Young men would approach you on the streets, trying to hustle dollars. What did they need that they could not obtain in the local currency? Simple: branded sneakers, design sunglasses, watches. Teenage status symbols. This is a fully legitimate need in neoclassical value theory. So are weekends in Ibiza, mindfulness coaches, Ayahuasca ceremonies and avocado sandwiches. What do doughnut economists think? Do we let people define their own needs, or do we have some objective method to tell needs from mere wants? Which one?
- Who is to meet human needs with products and services? In capitalism, by default, this would be a for-profit company. Trouble there is: in capitalism, the real action is not in meeting needs, but in creating them. The entire marketing/advertising profession is dedicated to this. This is how the kids I met in Cuba had gotten it into their heads that their lives would be much better in Nike sneakers. Again: no clash with neoclassical economics here. But if you do not want to overshoot the doughnut, it sounds like a bad idea to have an entire economic system running around creating more needs. Any thoughts?
The original Limits to Growth crowd was associated with radical thinking there. Some of those guys gave the impression to be OK with supercomputer-powered, democratically accountable central economic planning, as capitalism was clearly dependent on growth and incapable of limiting it. Industry screamed bloody murder at the original Club of Rome report. The sustainable development folks were a different story: they had heavy corporate support, and favored a system of pricing environmental externalities, creating markets or quasi-markets for them. This way, we could all go on with business as usual, but you know, sustainable.
And the doughnut proponents? Not clear. They are clearly embedded in the sustainable development framework, but in the 21st century that is almost the only game in town. In Raworth’s 2020 report there are some hints. For example, it is proposed that world income poverty could be ended by a transfer of 96 billion USD to the poorest 1.4 billion people (“0.2% of global GDP in 2005”, based on this report). As a transfer pure and simple, that would be about 6 dollars per person a year. By Western measures, those guys would still be very, very poor: the goal is of that transfer is to guarantee everyone at least 1.25 USD a day. Based on the report, I do not see the degree of radicality needed to make progress.
But without radicality, we will tweak a few things, but mostly wait. Vested interests love waiting and collecting more evidence, because, while we wait, profits roll in (and the world burns). Alex Steffen calls it “predatory delay”. And politicians tend to go along: they fear decisive actions, because it normally produces long-term benefits, but has short-term costs, and re-election needs to happen in the short term. The risk of wasting time is very real. So, before I give any new paradigm the time of the day, I need to know where it stands with respect to the twin questions of defining needs and the ways to meeting them.
Thanks @noemi for sharing my work here. To be honest, I don’t see myself as an expert yet, but I am utterly in love with how miss Raworth is expressing her view and inspires others - so, maybe a bit biassed. Buuuut I can tell for sure, upon reading her book and having met her, that she is quite modest and really interested in facilitating real change. She does say in her book that she bases her theories on existing works of other economists and thinkers, giving them full credit and admitting she drew her views from their books. I find that in general, there are very few innovative and new ideas in this world - it’s kinna the same content we have available, but we tell different stories about the same truths. Stories to ourselves and to each other.
What Kate did differently was to imagine an easier expression of an old notion: the limits to growth and ecological economy. And she’s actually using that for concrete projects. 2 years ago in Amsterdam, I was there for the first discussions between her and Circle Economy to discuss the city doughnout and in one year they actually came up with it and mapped 17 urban policies for the city. Yes, I do admit they are quite specific to Amsterdam, but the creators-the team at City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy, together with Kate are people I trust and that could spark changes in how other cities build their strategies.
I plan on following them as closely as possible to understand how easily applicable the plan is. But for now, I am quite optimistic. And, again: it is incredibly important how we express our creeds and our plans for creating a better future. To me and to the people around me that has been proven multiple times. This woman found a great recipe for the time being, let’s hope it will produce significant impact. So let’s just appreciate that and at least study the doughnout as a useful tool for communicating how our society and its economy needs to change.