Eating the ‘Doughnut’ of Economics

Every once a while an idea or a set of ideas comes along, usually in the form of a book, that changes everything for me.  It’s an exhilarating and unsettling feeling of things deeply shifting  in the brain as a reconfiguration of past knowledge occurs in reference to the new set of ideas.   Status quo is usually deeply questioned when this happens. I am in the middle of such a process and this piece is my reflection on it.

A colleague introduced me last week to the work of economist Kate Raworth and her book “Doughnut Economics.” With a title like that, it was unlikely that I would have been drawn to the book myself. I appreciate the visual symbol of that sweet concoction but try to stay away from the unhealthy sugary food item, occasionally found on campus meetings I attend, as far as I can.

Food analogies apart, the ideas of Raworth are awe-inspiring.  She takes on the theories and principles of modern economics. Outdated modern economics, as she eloquently points out, are based on 1950s economic textbooks in turn based on 1850s economic theories and  systematically and thoroughly explodes the myths underlying them. Then, brilliantly using metaphor and visual concepts, she proposes an alternative vision and action plan for the future that addresses the issues that economics routinely ignores – climate change and environmental disasters, deep economic inequity and recurring financial crises of our times.

In addition to the fact that her writing (and voice as I listen to the book, narrated by her, on Audible) deeply resonate on so many levels with my work I can trust the source because as she points out her vision is informed not only by the deep understanding of economic theories whose myopic scope deeply frustrated her but it is also informed by her international community based experience working at Oxfam, years in the United Nations (where she says she was able to watch the power play) and perhaps the most important of all, informed by becoming a mother of twins, and experiencing the economy from that perspective in which she understood the notion of unpaid work and gender as never before.

What does this mean for my work? In one part of my design work, I lead a program called “Design for Community Resilience” that works with communities in Minnesota, a community at a time, using participatory design processes with communities to envision design solutions for a building or landscape in the community and create appropriate solutions. Regenerative design and sustainability are fundamental to the approach as are the factors of environmental, social and economic sustainability.  As a designer, I am no expert on the economics side although I have over and over observed that we are trapped in an economic system that does not take into account either the environment or issues of equity and diversity.

You can probably see why I find Doughnut Economics so promising. As I understand its concepts more deeply I will consider the ways it informs and evolves my own work. How does one eat the ‘Doughnut’? Just like one eats the proverbial Elephant, one bite at a time. So far I can say it’s the healthiest donut I’ve eaten and that’s a treat!

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