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#4 from 2017: Review of Doughnut Economics – a new book you will need to know about

Duncan Green's picture

https://flic.kr/p/9XqtbSOur Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on April 24, 2017.

My Exfam colleague Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics is launched today, and I think it’s going to be big. Not sure just how big, or whether I agree with George Monbiot’s superbly OTT plug comparing it to Keynes’s General Theory. It’s really hard to tell, as a non-economist, just how paradigm-changing it will be, but I loved it, and I want everyone to read it.

Down to business – what does it say? The subtitle, ‘Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’, sets out the intention: the book identifies 7 major flaws in traditional economic thinking, and a chapter on each on how to fix them. The starting point is drawings – working with Kate was fun, because whereas I think almost entirely in words, she has a highly visual imagination – she was always messing around with mind maps and doodles. And she’s onto something, because it’s the diagrams that act as visual frames, shaping the way we understand the world and absorb/reject new ideas and fresh evidence. Think of the way every economist you know starts drawing supply and demand curves at the slightest encouragement.Her main target is GDP (the standard measure of national economic output), and its assumptions – an open systems approach to economics that ignores planetary boundaries as it promotes economic growth. Her breakthrough moment while at Oxfam was coming up with ‘the doughnut’ – two concentric rings representing the planetary ceiling and minimum standards for all human beings. The ‘safe and just space’ between the two rings is where our species needs to be if it wants to make poverty history without destroying the planet.

When Kate came up with the doughnut in a highly influential 2012 paper for Oxfam, my non-visual mind failed to grasp its full value. After all, wasn’t this just a restatement of the idea of sustainable development? But it went viral, especially at the UN, because it allowed activists and policy makers to visualize both the threats and how they were trying to overcome them.