Book Report III: Doughnut Economics

"The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all - not the car, not the TV, not the smartphone." 
Ken Burns, 2016

In our Book Report series, we'd like to introduce ourselves via our bookshelf and share the books that most shape our diplomacy. Our third book is Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

Earlier this year, Einhorn, the legendarily cheeky reproductive health company, had a job posting for a “Fairstainability Manager”. This person would develop frameworks of fairness and sustainablity for Einhorn and its supply chains using “the Donut Model and other post-growth concepts.” Einhorn is well-known for its mission to “unfuck the economy”, but before I get to Einhorn founder Waldemar Zeiler’s book, I wanted to first read the foundational text about the “Donut Model” by British economist Kate Raworth. 

This book changed how I think about economics. Raworth visually re-frames seven axioms of economic science, and gives us a new vocabulary to articulate setting goals beyond growth. She shows us how to design economic systems that are both fair and sustainable. 

Her thesis is that we need a new model beyond GDP growth to measure a society’s success. The metric she suggests has two rings, like a doughnut. The smaller ring represents the baselines for a just and fair society: healthcare, rule of law, education, gender equality, etc. The outer ring represents the boundaries of ecological resources Planet Earth can provide. Operating between the two rings is the sweet spot where our societies should be: providing for all without bankrupting our natural assets. 

In addition to the doughnut, she challenges six other economic axioms that block how to think about setting fair and sustainable goals. She shows us how to:

2. embed economies within society and nature, rather than expecting it to be self-contained
3. see humans as socially adaptable creatures rather than just rational ones
4. get comfortable with complex feedback loops rather than an oversimplified supply-demand equilibrium
5. design distribution into our systems rather than concentrate value in the hands of the few
6. regenerate, not deplete, natural resources by design
7. become agnostic about growth; she reminds us that our goal should be to build economies and societies that thrive, not just grow infinitely.


Each of the seven models makes the book worth reading on its own, but I’d like to dive deeper into two of them here: design to distribute and create to regenerate. 

“An economy that is distributive by design is one whose dynamics tend to disperse and circulate value as it is created, rather than concentrating it in ever-fewer hands. An economy that is regenerative by design is one in which people become full participants in regenerating Earth’s life-giving cycles so that we thrive within planetary boundaries.” 

She agues that unequal societies are not an inevitability, but a design flaw. The 1970s trickle-down assumption that societies must push through inequality to eventually get richer overall seemed to make sense with the American post-war boom. But two devastating world wars, the Great Depression, and unprecedented state investment in almost every aspect of public life (paid for by progressive taxation!) are not lab conditions. And there’s a crucial difference between who earns and who owns. Raworth challenges us to imagine systems in which all participants can benefit from ownership and equal access to the value they’re creating. 

“Create to regenerate” is particularly relevant for Polar Embassy as a producer of a physical product. Raworth asks: why do we commend designers for depleting natural resources less, instead of celebrating the ones who replenish natural resources generously? Product designers need to be reminded that we are responsible for changing our industry to replenish, nurture, and support the ecological environments around our products’ production, transport, use, and material reclamation. 

Polar Embassy would love to sell more of our Tarot Cards! But not infinitely more. We aim to operate in the doughnut. We’re proud of our supply chain - we picked a family-owned printer in Austria that, beyond printing fully compostable cards on paper from responsibly managed forests, adds green energy back to their local grid, and offsets 10% more carbon than they emit in production. When we’ve made enough Tarot Cards, we’ll design to distribute and regenerate within some other product category.

Do you have suggestions how we can be more distributive and regenerative in our supply chain? And are you still hiring, Einhorn? ;) 

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