Can a doughnut help create social wealth?

As campaigners we need to keep abreast of big picture thinking. Development economist KateRaworth's new 'Doughnut Economics' book is full of food for thought. For the time-poor, my blogpost suggests 4 take-homes.

As campaigners, it’s crucial that we back up our day jobs with big picture thinking.  Thankfully a new crop of books has provided some fresh big ideas.  Amongst them is Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.

It will come as no surprise to those that know her that Kate has turned conventional economics on its head and put ‘meeting the needs of everyone’ (collective gasp) at the centre of her approach.  She suggests an eco-model in which the floor provides a ‘social foundation of welbeing’ that no one should fall below, and the ceiling is the ‘planetary pressure’ that we should avoid going beyond, with a safe space for all in between.  The whole thing is cleverly visualised as a doughnut.

Much of Kate’s book is focused on ways to think progressively within the safe space she’s suggested.  I’ve set out the four most relevant approaches for global campaigners below:

  1. Start by changing the goal. Kate suggests that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – as we know, a single narrow metric – has remained the leading indicator of economic growth for so long only because economists have lost sight of who they should really be serving – all people.  She warns of the unacceptable global consequences of this approach including growing hunger and denial of political voice if we don’t change course.
  2. Nurture nudge policies. Urbanisation has led us to live in an increasingly networked way with our behaviours more strongly influenced by the opinions and choices of those within our communities.  As campaigners, we know that this kind of influencing behaviour can be an incredible force for good.  Witness the millions of girls globally inspired by the ‘Malala effect’ to demand their right to an education with no payment needed.  Kate calls for such nudge policies to be scaled up.
  3. Think more like gardeners tending their plants. Rather than see economics as mechanical and predictable, we should embrace it as a complex system made up of interdependent humans in a moving world – exactly the opposite of what happened in the run up to the 2008 financial crash. In short, we must all learn to be better systems thinkers, like gardeners nurturing plants.
  4. Champion approaches that focus on distribution. Kate has collected emerging evidence of a global appetite for redistributing wealth – from the grassroots campaigns for a minimum basic income in the US and South Africa, to the local revolution in money creation from Bangladesh to Bristol.  She identifies the technological innovations in open source design as something that could reap huge potential social benefits.  At a global level, a tax on billionaires and encouraging the common stewardship of assets are part of a menu for eradicating inequality.

As campaigners, it’s not our responsibility to answer the big problems,.  Instead we need to celebrate credible solutions to economic injustice and promote them to our supporters to debate and champion in turn.  Only then could the Doughnut truly contribute to human, natural and social wealth.  And how fantastic would that be?