Book Club

The Chair read for you Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist from Kate Raworth

Published on 26 February 2020

Kate Raworth is an English economist, currently teaching at Oxford. She worked as an economist for the PNUD and then as a researcher at Oxfam. Doughnut economics is the outcome of years of reflexion and discussion, a publication gathering all the keys needed to build a desirable economy, in an accessible language and easy to read. The author plays on the visual aspect all along the book, emphasizing the power of image and making easier the comprehension and appropriation of complex concepts.

Kate wants to rally the economy to its primary objective: an economy serving the society and the good of humankind. In order to illustrate the concept, she conceives the image of a Donut which constitutes “the safe and just space” in which we can prosper. It is delimited by the social foundation and the ecological ceiling, limits that must not be exceeded and which represent the life’s essentials contributing to the fulfilment of each person and the planet boundaries. Create a simple image to define a complex and dynamic society, working as a cycle and not linearly. This is the challenge that Kate tries to address in this book.

To understand how the economic conception can reach the goal of a safe and just society, we have to firstly understand how the current economy works and what its limits are. The publication is composed of seven chapters, exposing one by one the principles to follow in order to build the economy of tomorrow, and putting it in opposition with the model of the current economy.

Seven principles then, here there are: change the goal, take all the table into account, cultivate human nature, know the systems better, redraw to redistribute, create to regenerate and finally, be agnostic in terms of growth.

The author redefines the goal of the economy, built today on the partial, volatile and superficial measure that GDP is, whose author himself gave criticism. She revisits the founders of the modern economy such as Samuelson, Kuznets or Friedman, and why this model has been so widely spread in the 20th century. Maybe you are familiar with the graphic of the Circular Flow, main representation of the macroeconomy. Yet, this general graphic does not mention the energy or the materials on which the economy depends, nor the society in which those activities develop. The author put the open system of the economy in correlation with the closed system of the planet and relate that with the social and environmental consequences. Imagine that for the past 12 000 years, the Earth has presented very suitable conditions for the evolution of humankind. During this era, called Holocene, the planet stabilized and became warmer, enabling the apparition of agriculture and sedentarization. However, in a few decades, this bubble is blasting and the Earth is facing a powerful climate disruption, altering the conditions of life. We have nowadays exceeded four of the nine planet boundaries and, given the growing inequalities, we are far from reaching an universal access to essential rights.

Throughout her analysis, Kate tackles the caricature of the human economic rational and tries to integrate the social and interdependent being status of humankind in the model. Accepting the evolution and giving up the control of everything, integrating retroactive positive and negative loops and removing the concept of externalities, here are some of the concepts that must be implemented to the whole economic system.

The strength of the book is to bring concrete examples of dysfunction of the economy, to illustrate new or old concepts and to propose new imaginaries. Kate refers to a lot of studies and is entirely cited. A huge source of citations and inspiration. The positive and enthusiastic tone of the author calls to join forces and to participate to a desirable future. A boost, maybe, to the construction of the more environmental-friendly world which guarantees all minimum rights to every human on Earth.

Florine Ollivier-Henry, internship researcher « Sequestration of carbon by the wood in the building sector »

[1], Kate Raworth, Donut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, (2018)