How to build a vision
Last week I interviewed Kate Raworth, the renegade economist focused on making economics fit for 21st century realities: senior Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, she is the creator of the Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries, and co-founder of Doughnut Economics Action Lab.
Doughnut Economics is an incredible model for building and sustaining a regenerative and distributive economy which prioritises human, natural and planetary well-being. It is a vision for the world tomorrow as an antidote for the world of today.
One thing Kate and I discuss is the difficulty in getting to the vision (Step C) from the world we live in today (Step A), and how we trip up when strategising the requisite step B.
So what is Step B? How do we take a step towards a vision? I've written previously about the etymology of the word become – to become a thing is simply to move towards that thing; what is particularly apt about that messaging is that we will never be a new thing unless we take a step towards it. Equally, it invites examination of the concept of having a vision, and the intimidation it can inspire.
A vision is all about creating a grand picture to act as a driving force, as an antidote to the world we live in today. The closer one gets to that vision, the more steps one takes towards it, the more that will reveal itself in that picture, and one is able to fill in details that were impossible to envision and name from a distance. The closer we get, the easier it is to create the foundations of the vision.
An Emerald City
Imagine an Emerald City, and leave behind any preconceptions or unhelpful, negative metaphors established on university campuses. Looking from afar, it’s an otherworldly vision of beauty. Moving closer, you begin to see roads and paths. You see distinct buildings. There are building, walls, people milling around. Then you get even closer and you see the bricks, the foundations upon which the whole city is built.
The point of this exercise is to understand that whilst we can imagine the Emerald city, we cannot build it without understanding the first brick. Kate’s model provides both vision and the tools we need to create those bricks.
Kate’s doughnut model incorporates the nine planetary boundaries, seen in the outer ring of the doughnut above, and the social boundaries which protect human wellbeing. In her model, a balanced and regenerative economy does not overshoot these boundaries nor under-provide these necessities. The doughnut provides a grace range within which these boundaries can be safely protected, and a language with which to discuss, explain and prioritise it all. Equally, in her research and the research of the Doughnut Economics Lab, the Doughnut is built upon a myriad of progressive economy theory which has been researched and experimented with all around the world.
The doughnut is a blueprint for a green economy, and with it cities and communities are trialling their own emerald cities.
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Long-termism vs Short-termism
During the interview, I questioned Kate about the cost of living crisis and how to communicate new models to people who are facing the immediacy and urgency of a dire situation. She responded with an explanation of how politics currently describes growth—that, as long as we keep growing (which is physically impossible), wealth and opportunity and jobs will trickle down and sort these problems out. In this model, the long-term goal is growth and the short-term outcome is (allegedly) security for citizens.
The doughnut flips this model on its head by putting social needs at the heart of the economy; we cannot have a functioning economy without a well citizenry. The doughnut identifies the essentials and then creates a vision of how to build an economy to implement those essentials. The immediate focus of the doughnut is stability and security for people, producing a long-term outcome of a stable and secure economy.
Our current economic plan is built on an amorphous, nonsensical vision of endless growth, and authorities claim that spurring growth will meet people’s basic needs, which are immediate. Our economic model identifies the economy as having urgent needs and renders the needs of citizens non-urgent. The doughnut says the needs of citizens are the foundation point from which we build the economy.
Foundations and Visions
The foundations we choose to build with affects the resulting reality, no matter the vision peddled on campaign trails. The foundations and principles we align with will impact our vision.
Let me now argue that our current politics does not even begin with bricks or principles. They begin and end with an Emerald city that is available for the select few, built long ago on the back of extractivism, slavery, inequality and inherited wealth. From behind its walls, they promise everyone else will be able to produce their own Emerald Cities, denying the reality of the bricks with which their own was built. The result is ghettos and favelas and hunger and cold.
You must not start with an ideology. You must start with foundational principles, and foundational principles are not limiting; they spur creativity. Ideology impinges creativity, because within that very ideology are the imposed limits of creativity. Creativity is disallowed and rejected in ideological frameworks because the ideology provides the vision. One’s job is simply, then, to engineer it.
One could even argue about whether or not neoclassical or neoliberal economics even has a vision or if it’s just a stagnated mechanism of the past. It’s certainly not a vision for everyone. And perhaps that in itself reveals the true vision of the thing. It is doing exactly what it was created to do—to sequester wealth to a few, to rob from the many, to sequester power, to create an Emerald city for the minority to live in while everybody else scrambles over the leftovers to build their own ghettos in both the vision of and shadows of wealth, hoping one day they may be granted access.
The doughnut economic model doesn’t demand people live in hope and fear. It promises everyone may have what they need. It denies greed to promise fulfilment. Simply, it is economics for the 21st century.
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"One could even argue about whether or not neoclassical or neoliberal economics even has a vision or if it’s just a stagnated mechanism of the past. "
It is both. Neoliberalism has a vision of our human relationship to Nature in which Nature is vast, and we are not, so that humanity can take, and take, and take and take, without ever reckoning on the consequences of our taking, because there will be no consequences: whatever consequences there might be will be absorbed back into Nature, without consequence to us.
This is a vision inherited from the 19th Century that failed in the 20th Century. But instead of being replaced in the 20th Century, it was transformed, Frankenstein-style, through Neoliberalism's discovery and colonization of a powerful innovation of the 20th Century - worker pensions - into our prevailing ecosystem of Asset Owners Allocating Assets to Asset Managers for profit extraction through share price trading in service to Growth to support Liquidity in the Markets in which shares are traded.
Whether we replace this vision of more that is better for more through reckless unreckoning with Doughnut Economics, a Circular Economy, a Regenerative Economy, a Wellbeing Economy, a Bright New World or some other vision for living our best lives, Step B of getting to that Step C is replacing and retiring this ecosystem of Asset Ownership that we inherited from the 20th Century.
"So what is Step B? "
Step B is building a new ecosystem within which people can make their living doing the work of building to Step C, designing within constraints, for living our best lives.