The degradation of the planet is arguably the most important problem in the world right now. You would expect that economics – concerned with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods – would in some non-small way recognise the fact that environmental impact plays a hugely important role in the economy. Yet, strangely, the planet fails to feature in mainstream economics as little more than an externality.
Whilst this omission may be curious to some, it is deeply alarming for others. Kate Raworth is one such individual, who argues that since the planet is omitted from mainstream economics, mainstream economics is no longer fit for the 21st century.
Raworth is a renegade economist working at the Environmental Change Institute (Oxford University) and the Institute for Sustainability Leadership (Cambridge University). Prior to this, Raworth spent 20 years with the UN and Oxfam. In 2017, she published her book ‘Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’ which was long-listed for the 2017 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, and has since been translated into 15 languages. Raworth speaks at universities, think tanks, and conferences all over the world and, in March this year, she came to visit LIS.
We want to make our curriculum the best it can be. Meeting with academic experts, from across different disciplines, is a huge part of this. The input of a scholar as experienced and esteemed as Raworth is invaluable when thinking about what to include in the economics portion of our new undergraduate programme. As such, we were both thrilled and humbled when we found ourselves in a meeting with Raworth, prior to her appointment with a government select committee that afternoon.
The nature of the visit took on a dual role. Raworth offered advice on the LIS curriculum – how should we teach economics in the 21st century? – as well as her views on how we should structure LIS as an institution.
Typically, British universities teach undergraduates neoclassical economics (think supply and demand). This methodological monoculture is being challenged by thinkers like Raworth, who envisage a university education that draws upon multiple different approaches to the subject. Raworth wants to see a curriculum grappling with ecological economics, post-Keynesian economics, behavioural economics, and so on.
To ensure that the economics taught at LIS is relevant to the real world, we need to recognise that it’s not a closed system, but part of something much bigger and much more complex. What students learn about now will change the future landscape of society. Everything from the environment to trade to politics will be impacted by the knowledge and skill sets of current students.
Raworth also shared her insights into the design of LIS as an institution. We need to aim to satisfy Raworth’s own economic model (the Doughnut) in that – crudely put – LIS should add social value without overstepping any environmental boundaries. Inside the doughnut lie basic human needs (water, food, education, justice, and so on). Outside the doughnut are nine planetary boundaries which represent our ecological ceiling. If we overshoot on things like climate change or biodiversity loss, we’re damaging the planet to the point where it won’t be able to sustain us in the future.
The ideal space for LIS to be in is the dough of the doughnut, aka, the green bit. There are a number of ways in which LIS aspires to be here. Some are big, like partnering with disruptive, purpose-driven organisations. Some are small, like making name tags out of plantable paper for our Discovery Days.
We’d like to say a big thanks to Kate Raworth for coming to talk to us – she certainly gave us lots to think about.
You can visit Kate’s website to learn more about her work.