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Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist – Kate Raworth

Penguin Random House, 2018.

A leading British economist explores the reasons why current economic thinking doesn’t work, and proposes a way to rethink our economic theory.

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Described by the many reviews on the book’s cover as a revolutionary and necessarily radical book, Doughnut Economics doesn’t disappoint. Acting as somewhat of a magnum opus for Raworth, the book covers her economic ideas and the journey that led her to developing a new model for economic thinking, which she calls ‘the doughnut’.

Despite sounding un-institutional and lacking the sense of credence we expect from terms such as capitalism and liberalism, Doughnut Economics offers an alternative future that doesn’t lose sight of the big picture goals of our economic and political ideologies; whilst at the same time recognising that we cannot continue these levels of environmental damage and increasing social inequalities.

Backed by serious data from global organisations and scientific studies, Raworth leads us through her seven principles as if the goals and aspirations she has identified are obvious and necessary. Many young liberals and the ‘woke’ class when reading this book will feel as if they have finally come across a viable alternative to the systems that are oppressive and unjust. Any recognised economist or respectable investor/business owner/politician would probably call the book ‘interesting’ and leave it at that. One must beware, however, that throughout the book, Raworth poses more avenues for future research than she does draw conclusions or offer ideological alternatives to the current reality. The first chapter describing ‘the doughnut’ is perhaps the only clearly transformational idea we have been looking for: which one could expect to be sitting at the centre of the book, given the title.

What is ‘doughnut economics,’ then? Raworth proposes to create a representational space within which humanity should live, which is guided by an inner social limit, where each person on the planet is provided with their basic needs and an acceptable standard of living (based on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations), and an outer limit representing our influence on the environment and the degree of regenerative processes we use. By adopting a sense of the ‘cancel culture’ we have seen of late with racism protests to the economic theory that was developed in the 20th century and carried over into the 21st, we could develop new economic concepts, goals, models and structures to be able to reach 2100 in a sustainable manner, and minimise the drastic effects of climate change.

This book is absolutely a must read for anyone who thinks they know something about economics, and for those who are searching for political alternatives to the current systems. I am sure that Raworth was watching closely when ouor current Government introduced their ‘Wellbeing Budget’ and began to measure the country’s success in ways that complement GDP, as this is one of Raworth’s main points.

I cannot help but be slightly disappointed by what I read, however. As someone with a strong background in philosophy, I look for rigorous thinking and well-developed arguments, which Raworth has aplenty. What the book seems to ignore however is the biggest question facing economists who chose to follow her path, for politicians who want to adopt these ideas, and those who are considering her beliefs. That is the question of ideology.

The term ‘capitalism’ doesn’t appear in the book’s index, and from memory is only directly mentioned once throughout the book’s 293 pages. It is clear that taking Raworth’s approach would be to denounce most forms of present-day capitalism and take another route, yet Raworth avoids this question directly and one must read between the lines to figure out the implications of new economic ideas on the capitalist ideology. One question we must ask, and that I feel is not answered by Raworth, is whether we want to continue to allow yet un-valued items such as natural resources, care done within households, and others, to become a type of ‘capital’ to be bought and sold, and to have monetary value placed on them. Can we continue to measure by giving things in the world a monetary or trading value? Alternative currencies, as Raworth suggests, do not avoid the hungry and devouring teeth of capitalist appropriation; they simply direct our attention elsewhere.

Ideological questions run so much deeper than just the models, and the theory that we use. If economics is about resource distribution and social development, it must not ignore the fact that politics, ideology, ethics, and many other qualitative disciplines play just as much a role in the way we think and the goals we have. Ideology matters, regardless of whether you want it to, or you’ve given it a seat at your dining room table. It’s in the wallpaper and the pictures, the cutlery and crockery: we would be wise to keep this in mind.

Doughnut Economics is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

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