A Comment on 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.

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 convinced about that.

How to mend Doughnut Economics - How to Bake the Doughnut.

First Critique:

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

She's got seven ways to think as a 21st century economist. For each, I ask, "Why is this included>"

Moreover, some of these things sound of a different kind from others. Design to Distribute and Create to Regenerate seem to be two norms, whereas Get Savvy about Systems seems to be to understand mechanisms. Not a well-formed list.

I don't understand really why - I get this feel that she put these sever things together, but there's not a coherence in them, as to why, why these, and not other things. Could some of those things be merged together? She put it all together, dumped it all in a mixing bowl, as it were. But she hasn't made a system out of it. I don't see how it hangs together.

Likewise, her dozen elements of the 'social floor': Where do they come from (why is each included)? How do they fit? Where do they fit?

Critique 2:

I find nothing much about responsibility in her book. It's not even in the index.

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?

Critique 3: 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 Ecological Footprint calculator finds that just by living in the UK, the most abstemious person in the UK already has a footprint of one full planets, I wonder what the "social floor" would be like to be less than the "ecological ceiling." What I did was to put 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.

Kate Raworth suggests a dozen things that are important, so let us look at them all:

It looks as though the social floor as she defines it is above the ecological ceiling.

However, I realise my calculations are approximate. What it says, however, is that we should seriously research the presupposition that the ceiling is sufficiently above the floor.

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.


Ecological Footprint Calculator: "https://www.footprintcalculator.org/"

14 June 2021: Created by adding in my critiques from my walk.