A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow

A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow

TED Talks have become a staple of our culture, featuring the most innovative leaders in Technology, Entertainment, and Design, along with many others. In this talk, Oxford economist Kate Raworth asks the question, “What would a sustainable, universally beneficial economy look like?” The answer, "like a doughnut," gets some laughs, but opens many eyes. Countries and people who are falling short on life's essentials are in the hole, but they can be moved out. Regenerative, distributive economies working within the planet's ecological limits are the solution.

Forwards and upwards, “it’s the most basic direction of progress we humans recognize,” Raworth begins. It’s how babies learn to crawl, it’s in our story of evolution, so, it’s no wonder we assume that economical progress will take the same shape. A graph appears, time at the x-axis and GDP at the y-axis, the curve going up, and up, and up. Where did obsession with growth come from? GDP is just the total cost of goods and services sold in an economy in a year invented in 1930, but now it is the goal of global policymaking. 

We are addicts now, and where has it gotten us? A fraction of the global wealth is held at the top 1% at the cost of disturbing the balance of our delicate planet. Yet, we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive. So too, we have rich economies that need to make us thrive, whether or not they continue to grow.  Raworth says, “If humanity is going to thrive here together this century, we need a shift.”

She drew out the new graph for growth. “The one donut that might actually be good for us.” In its circle, a safe and just space for humanity with a regenerative, distributive economy. Those in the hole, needing basic needs like water, food, and healthcare, as well as social reforms like education, gender equality, and political justice. This is the shortfall, the overshot, or outside of the ring is then growing economies that surpass the ecological ceiling and in obtaining its goals create biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change. It is the perfect circle, the sweet spot of humanity, we are after.

It is a double-sided challenge to meet the needs of all within the needs of the planet but Raworth believes it can be done. We need economies that regenerate biological materials, restore technical materials, and that work with the natural world. Design such as this is already popping up worldwide, over 100 cities get 70% of their electricity from the sun, wind, and waves. But these new economies also need to be distributive by design, reaching those who need healthcare, education, and a political voice. How we view growth needs this circular financial, political, and social reform. “Look to nature, yes growth is good, but nothing grows forever.”

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