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Affirming, Critiquing and Enriching Doughnut Economics

Kate Raworth published Doughnut Economics, which she claims is an "optimistic vision of humanity's future" [p.286] in which the global economy "creates a thriving balance thanks to its regenerative and distributive design." It suggests that there is a band in which economic activity can flourish, its lower limit being "social foundations" and its upper limit being an "ecological ceiling", above which we damage the planet.

What seemed to motivate her was how ever more economic growth seems to be harming both planet (climate) and nature, and even society, but she disliked the doom-message of "No more growth". Especially since many still live in degrading poverty, especially in low-income countries. Surely, she thought, there must be a way to allow some growth, so as to reduce the poverty, yet without damaging the planet. So she devised the idea of [p.11]

Between them is a "safe and just space for humanity". A visual thinker, she depicts these as two circles, a doughnut.

This, however, was only one manifestation of her belief that seven fundamental things were wrong with economic theory and practice. She identifies (back cover of book): "seven critical ways in which mainstream economics has led us astray": the goal of ever-growing GDP, the assumption of a self-contained market, of rational economic man, of mechanical equilibrium, that growth will even things up, and will clean everything up, and an addiction to growth. She tells us that the "21st century economist" must think differently about all these.

She packs a magnificent lot of things together, and she is brilliant at packaging. However, while I generally agree with the things she brings together, I'm not totally convinced. I feel she might need a little bit more. In some ways, the doughnut still feels only half baked.

This page begins to discuss what "more" might be needed, especially in relation to Rethinking Economics with the Help or Philosophical and Christian Perspectives. This suggests we need to widen our understanding of economics in at least five ways and employs, as its conceptual framework to accomplish that, Dooyeweerd's philosophy especially aspects.

The Breadth Of Doughnut Economics

Kate Raworth identifies seven elements of the ecological ceiling and twelve of the social floor. This shows a magnificent breadth of understanding and concern.

We may understand and affirm it via Dooyeweerd's aspects (a conceptual tool that helps analysts and practioners think widely) as follows.

In aiming to foster a global economy that "creates a thriving balance thanks to its regenerative and distributive design" we can immediately see several aspect: balance is of the aesthetic aspect, regenerative is of the formative, and distributive is juridical. Her "ecological ceiling," includes several things whose processes are governed by the physical aspect but are problematic primarily in the biotic aspect: air pollution, ozone layer depletion, climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorus loading and freshwater withdrawals. The other two, biodiversity loss and land conversion are largely biotic in their meaningfulness, though land conversion is of course spatial and it involves some formative aspect. If we want to tackle these issues we need to recognise the laws by which they operate, which are given by the various aspects. Her "social floor" involves yet other aspects, as follows:

We can see most aspects represented there - which is not surprising since she tried to cover most of life. We also see that most elements are meaningful in more than one aspect, which is often the case. McGibbon [2018] suggests that such "cipations" may be considered in pairs and triples of main aspects to help us understand the meaningfulness and functioning of many things systematically.

However, there are also some concerns about Doughnut Economics. Does it need a little more baking?


Here are several critiques that may need to be addressed.

First Critique: Why These Issues?

I find myself asking: Why does she select the things she does? And how do they relate to each other? I did not find any convincing answers to those questions.

The lists of components of the ecological ceiling and the social floor sound very reasonable. But why, and on what grounds, did she select those? How do they relate to each other? Are any components missing? How might we tell?

She suggests seven ways to think as a 21st century economist.

However, for each, I found myself asking, "Why is this included?" How do they relate to each other? It feels a not-quite-well-formed list. Two of them seem to be norms (Design to Distribute and Create to Regenerate) whereas others (Get Savvy about Systems) seem to about mechanisms.

I found no reasoning for why she picked those seven things, nor much of how they relate to each other. And are there other things that should be added, to make it all work?

Second Critique: Is The Ceiling Above the Floor?

there is a presupposition that the ceiling is higher than the floor. Doughnut Economics says that we must not let the economy shrink below the 'social floor', nor rise above the 'ecological ceiling'. But we presuppose that the ceiling is higher than the floor. She does not seem to discuss that presupposition but takes it for granted.

It might be a reasonable presupposition, but we cannot take it for granted. I guess that most readers of her book would, like I have tended to, assume that the "social floor" is somewhat akin to low-middle-income living in the affluent cultures.

However, given that the average Ecological Footprint of people in the USA and UK is two-and-a-half to three Earths, That assumption must be severely questioned. What would the "social floor" have to be like to be less than the "ecological ceiling"?

We should look at each component of the social floor, and of them all together, to estimate what ecological and planetary footprint each imposes. What kind of lifestyle may all humans asptire to, which this planet can support?

On what grounds do we even begin to make such a calculation? To Whom are we responsible for deciding those things? In our Rethink we tentatively suggest: to low-income nations, future generations, to fauna and flora, to biodiversity, and even - if we allow it - to God the Creator, Owner, Judge and Saviour of it all.

Third Critique: Responsibility

I find nothing much about responsibility in her book. It's not even in the index. Why is that important? One reason is that if we have to define the social floor as half or one third of average UK living, then many people are just going to ignore it and reject her idea of Doughnut. We need a sense of responsibility among people across all affluent cultures in order to do that. That, to me, is the elephant in the room - nay, one of several elephants in the room. And it needs responsibility at all levels: individual aspirations and expectations, households, businesses and governments.

I find nothing about the selfishness of humans - as a reviewer pointed out. There's "Nurture human nature" yes - But does that mean nurturing people's selfishness, and desire for unjust ends? Buy "unjust ends" I don't mean obvious injustice, but rather than collateral damage that our seemingly innocent desires do. "Nurture humans" might mean that we give a lot of emphasis on the arts, film, etc. especially ensuring that all kinds of people have these. But the ecological footprint of the film, entertainment and arts sectors is huge.

So, we need to ask, What does "nurture" mean?

Reading her book, it feels still a little too restricted to the economic aspect rather than fully embracing all other aspects of meaningful reality.

Fourth Critique: A practical problem

Because Kate Raworth encourages people to have fun drawing circles and seeing what thoughts emerge, economic policy will be devised by those who like drawing circles. This might offer a benefit of stimulating new ideas; we need new ideas. But will these be really thought out? Several of them will be more attractive than others. Will there be a danger that economic policy might be too influenced by attractiveness than by validity? What we need, is not to denigrate new ideas, not even to discourage circle-drawing, but a clear foundational understanding of economics that is deeper than currently, one that is allows questioning of current presuppositions rather than working within them.


Affirming, Critiquing and Enriching the Seven Ways To Think Like a 21st Century Economist

Let us briefly go through each of the seven ways to think like a 21at century economist.

So, we largely agree with (affirm) Kate Raworth in these, but our Rethink offers a basis for taking them all further. It provides a systematic way to critique these and then enrich them Doughnut Economics.

Her presupposition of the ecological ceiling being above the social floor may be addressed by our multi-aspectual approach, insofar as we focus not on components drawn from current experience, but

Addressing Critique 2: Ensuring the Ceiling is Above the Floor?

How can we ensure the ecological ceiling is above the social floor? Or, put it another way, how can we reduce the ecological and planetary footprint of the affluent cultures, and allow those in degrading poverty to become more prosperous?

The ecological footprint of people in the USA, UK and Europe is 2.5 to 3 Earths. So, what is assumed of the social floor in these cultures is still not sustainable. How do we address this?

First we must recognise that much of what we deem necessary in affluent cultures is not so - nor is it truly conducive to full happiness. Some economic activity does harm as well as good - which is recognised by Kate Raworth in the ecological ceiling. But there are other kinds of harm she does not recognise, such as addictions, or instilling a self-centred, me-first attitude thoughtout (affluent) society. Harmful economic activity needs to be reduced, and we need incentives to do so, because many of us do not understand the harm done.

What we seek is the true prosperity, wellbeing, Shalom, Salaam, Eudaimonia, with which all would be truly satisfied, and which is sustainable over the long term. As mentioned above, we believe that Dooyeweerd's aspects can help, if taken as deep norms and, together, as an indication of what both defines and enables this. For example, we find multiple aspects of poverty, beyond the economic. These aspects may define the social floor in more than economic terms. Conversely, the aspects can define what is Good.

However, the social floor cannot be cast in purely quantitative terms of more and less. Dooyeweerd's aspects enable us to think out what is really important to cherish and ensure.

One example: Dooyeweerd's ethical aspect makes generosity, goodwill and self-giving love meaningful, along with their opposite dysfunctions, meanness and self-centredness, and postulates the former as norms that contribute to wellbeing. It is the aspect that enales trust. Not only life but even the economy would benefit from these. In a lifestyle, culture and society in which this aspect is important, there might be a lower GDP, but most people would prefer it - and money cannot buy it. Likewise, with each aspect, there are some characteristics of a good life that people would prefer, and which money cannot buy.

The ethical aspect is 'orthogonal' to the economic aspect - and so are all the others. Then cannot be reduced to the economic without reduction and impoverishment, by which all of us would sacrifice and harm the other aspects.

Instead, we see the economic aspect as serving all the others, by enabling our functioning in the others to be resources more efficiently-effectively. Dooyeweerd showed us a way to understand how each aspect relates to others. This helps clarify how the economy both helps to contribute to ("serve") the components of the social floor and to harm the components of the ecological ceiling.

Addressing Critique 3: Responsibility

In saying there is a "safe and just space for humanity", Doughnut economics is referring to more than safety and justice. For example it refers to education etc.

We see this as true prosperity, wellbeing, Shalom, Salaam, Eudaimonia, with which all would be truly satisfied, and which is sustainable over the long term. This is planet-wide and embraces all humans and all animals, habitats, etc. (Christians, Jews and Muslims would see it as All Creation.)

Each of Dooyeweerd's aspects defines a distinct deep norm that guides us towards achieving that. Each however also enables our functioning, and in most aspects humans have freedom to go against the norms, resulting in dysfunction in various aspects. Dysfunction in any aspect undermines this sustainable wellbeing. With some aspects the effect is immediate (e.g. physical, biotic, psychical) while in others it is long-term (e.g pistic commitments, aspirations and expecations in society, and society's attitudes (ethical aspect) change over years or decades).

Humans have responsibility to function well in all aspects, so that all Creation may be blessed rather than curses. Each aspect defines a distinct kind of responsibility. Without functioning in accordance with aspectual norms, we will not achieve the healthy state of affairs that Doughnut economics envisages.

Addressing Critique 4: Visual Metaphors

A metaphor, to Dooyeweerd, is made possible by an inter-spect analogy. But the warning is given that it is not the laws of the analogical aspect that apply, but those of the aspect in which the metaphor has been suggested. In this case, the analogy is with space and quantitative amount. But the laws that apply are not those of arithmetic (more, less) nor of space (inside, outside) but of all the aspects of the wellbeing we seek. That is, of all aspects.

Each might be tranduced to the quantitative or spatial temporarily to stimulate our thinking, but, having encountered an insight, then we should abandon the metaphor and focus on the laws of the aspects we have remembered.


In such ways we have sought to affirm, critique and enrich Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics, affirming by reference to our Rethink and the widenings it proposes, and mainly employing Dooyeweerd's aspects to enrich it.


Ecological Footprint Calculator: "https://www.footprintcalculator.org/" allows each individual to calculate their own. When I put in my own rather abstemious living, I found my footprint was 1.8 earths. I tried putting everything at the lowest it could go, that gave me a footprint of 1.02 planets. Any meat, travel, goods, or services at all would increase that.

14 June 2021: Created by adding in my critiques from my walk. 28 September 2021 aspects and breadth. 8 October 2021 Rewritten, and links to xn.rethink; link to home page; better sections; conclusion. Separate section on how xn.rethink helps. 15 October 2021 ecol footprint better, linked with responsibility. 17 October 2021 put responsibility after presupposition, and added more in latter. 2 November 2021 spelling error.