Food for thought: doughnut economics

A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow

Sam Austrums

Oxford economist Kate Raworth does not share society’s obsession with GDP growth. Despite bringing prosperity to millions of people, the vast returns of years of economic growth have not been distributed fairly, she claims. What’s more, this growth is degenerative and destabilising to the planet. Rather than growth, Raworth wants us to choose a higher ambition, something which meets the needs of all people within the means of the planet. Such goals aren’t measurable by money, but instead have a range of indicators. To Professor Raworth this is best visualised as… a doughnut.

The doughnut’s inner ring – its social foundation – sets out the basics of life on which no one should be found wanting. The outer ring, split into nine critical processes, signifies the limits beyond which activity would damage the planet beyond repair. It demonstrates the double-sided nature of the challenge we face. Instead of an ever-rising line of growth, Raworth suggests we should find humanity’s sweet spot, somewhere between the doughnut’s social foundation and the ecological ceiling.

Currently, though, we are falling short and overshooting at the same time, as demonstrated by the doughnut below, which indicates humanity’s errors in red.


Our failures in these areas are well understood. The solution, however, isn’t. Exponential growth is unable to tackle either inequality or pollution, Raworth asserts. Economies must explicitly tackle both the overshoot and the shortfall, replacing the current degenerative production cycles which push us above our planetary boundaries. Instead, Raworth urges, we need to create economies that work with and within the cycles of the living world, so that resources aren’t used up but are used again and again. They must also be distributive by facilitating wealth, knowledge, and empowerment.

Whilst increasing dematerialization has led some to think that endless ‘green’ growth is sustainable, Raworth objects, stating that dependency on exponential GDP growth – whatever colour – cannot be uncoupled from resource use which surpasses our planetary boundaries. Instead, she urges us to focus on thriving and balance within the social and economic boundaries of the doughnut.