Sunday 25 March 2018

Book Review - Time for Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

Written by Allan Todd

You just never know what to expect! Keswick’s annual literary festival, Words By The Water, has previously thrown up some ‘interesting’ events: including the appearance of a war criminal in 2013 (Jack Straw) and, this year, of a neoliberal now desperately trying to claim that, despite voting FOR the Bedroom Tax, he was always against austerity (Vince Cable)!

This year’s festival has just ended. Whilst I expected to be buying several books connected to the various interesting talks for which I’d booked tickets, I never expected to come away convinced of the need for a doughnut! But that is exactly what happened!

However, the ‘doughnut’ in question isn’t one of those delightful sugary & fatty ones that, sadly, aren’t that good for you: instead it’s one that is VITAL for the health of the planet! It’s a ‘doughnut’ that we all really need - but one that is especially needed by the world’s current crop of politicians and economists. Though it’s not one neoliberals will be keen on. Maybe, like the women who went on hunger strike 100 years ago, as part of their struggle to gain the vote, we shall just have to force feed these particular economists and politicians!

The essence of the Doughnut: a social foundation of well-being that no one should fall below, and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure that we should not go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all.
Kate Raworth, 2017.

Early Eco-Socialism and the planet

In early 1848, The Communist Manifesto - written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - was published. While it is widely known that Marx and Engels wanted social and economic justice, these two - until recently - have not been seen as having been very concerned about environmental issues.

However, it is now increasingly recognised that they were, in fact, early Eco-Socialists who were fully aware of how the capitalist Industrial Revolution of the 19th. C. was threatening the environment, and of the need for economic development to be in harmony with the natural world and thus sustainable. 

Their short 1848 book began with this famous short sentence:

‘A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism.’ 

Now, 170 years since their book was first published, a new spectre is haunting planet Earth - the spectre of catastrophic climate breakdown as a result of global warming. This spectre is now threatening the very stable conditions of the Holocene epoch which have lasted for about 12,000 years. These are the climatic conditions which have enabled the human species to thrive via agriculture.

The Anthropocene

In fact, the growing threats to, and mounting pressures on, planet Earth have led most Earth scientists to conclude that the geological epoch known as the Holocene has already been left behind. Instead, they argue that, since about 1950, we have been living in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

In the Anthropocene - unlike previous in previous geological epochs and ages - the overwhelming majority of factors now affecting the global climate are the result of human activities, NOT the usual natural changes. Most of those human-led changes are down to the great increases in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels - mostly since the start of the ‘Great Acceleration’ in economic growth that began after the end of the Second World War.  

The Doughnut

A previous article - Living in the Anthropocene, August 2017:

- dwelt on the various causes of current climate breakdown.  However, as in medicine, the point is to move on from diagnosis of a particular problem to the cure of that problem. And this is where that ‘doughnut’ comes in!   That ‘doughnut’ - an economic and ecological one - has been ‘cooked’ by Kate Raworth, currently a Senior Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, and a Senior Associate of the Ambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Previously, she has worked as Senior Researcher at Oxfam, as a Fellow of the Overseas Development Institute, and was a co-author of the UN’s Development Programme. In addition, she has been named by the Guardian as ‘one of the top ten tweeters on economic transformation.’ For those interested in these issues - and perhaps wanting to contribute to on-line discussions - here is a useful link:  

What makes her book, Doughnut Economics (2017), so valuable at this present time is that she goes beyond identifying problems to mapping out, in a very accessible way, how we can go about dealing with these problems - before it is too late. If her book is read widely and purposefully, it has the potential to be much more influential than Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. 

A picture IS worth a thousand words!

Her book is especially accessible for non-economists because her points are usually made - deliberately - via interesting illustrations. Particularly important is her whole concept of the ‘Doughnut’ -

that ‘safe and just space for humanity’, between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling:

Now IS the time!

This whole concept is based on the need to develop a ‘new economics’ for the 21st C. and its current problems, which is focussed on regeneration and redistribution. However, the point of this book is not just to read it - it is to act on it. This is especially true as she, like most Earth system scientists, is fully aware that four key planetary boundaries (out of the nine which have been identified) have already been breached - as a direct result of human economic activities:

These breaches have thus already gone beyond the ecological ceiling that Kate Raworth has identified as the upper limit for a ‘safe and just space’. Hence the importance of what she has termed

‘The twenty-first-century challenge’: to get into, and stay in, the space in which ‘we can meet the needs of all within the means of the planet.’

The Seven Ways

The bulk of the book deals with the seven main ways she has identified as essential to getting people to think like 21st. C economists:

1. Change the Goal (from continuously chasing after ever-rising GDP)

2. See the Big Picture (recognise the contribution of the home and the commons to a genuinely socially-embedded economy)

3. Nurture Human Nature (moving from individualistic economic goals to focussing on the nurturing of social adaptable humans)

4. Get Savvy with Systems (by developing economic systems that are based on dynamic complexity)

5. Design to Distribute (ensuring that economies are distributive by design, in order to create social and economic justice, rather than leaving it to the market)

6. Create to Regenerate (instead of leaving it up to growth and the market to ‘solve’ problems of pollution, economies are deliberately designed to be regenerative)

7. Be Agnostic about Growth (moving to a situation where ‘growth’ per se becomes less important - putting quality of life above continuous growth in products) 

Hopefully, there’s enough outlined above to get you running to your local bookshop - and then you can put into practice what Gandhi said:

               ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

Allan Todd is a member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party, an anti-fracking activist and a Green Left supporter

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