• Alice Bodkin

Can We Redesign Economics To Carve Out A 'New Normal'​

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

About a year ago, I picked up Kate Raworth’s book: Doughnut Economics, Seven Ways to Think like a 21st-Century Economist. Here I share how this read helped me question how we can move forward amidst a global health crisis.

Raworth begins by outlining that in the last 70 years, economists and government leaders became attached to measuring growth by GDP. She goes on to question:

'How can we transform from individualistic economic theory, whereby we rely on human kind’s self interest to make markets work effectively, to a system where the wellbeing of humankind and the planet takes centre stage. How do we shift from our growth addiction, to a climate whereby we are growth agnostic? How do we move from being self-interested to socially reciprocating?

Fast forward a year from reading this book, the economic landscape has shifted dramatically in response to Covid-19. In a global lockdown, the world is closed. From nationwide lockdowns, business restrictions and sweeping travel restrictions countries have implemented and enforced unprecedented actions. In short, market activity has reduced dramatically in order to prioritise human wellbeing. By consequence, we are also causing less harm to the planet.

In the turn of the last couple of weeks, we have entered an age of self-isolation. Yet with that, has revealed the human capacity for innovation and desire for connection. Globally, companies who have been cautious to trial work from home set ups, have been forced into mass remote working experiments and are continuing to work in this set up.

Gyms, fitness brands and yoga studios have set up digital schedules. Restaurants are offering contactless delivery. We have embraced new virtual pastimes, catching up friends on HouseParty, enjoying pub quizzes via BrewDog’s Online Bar, and date nights via Netflix parties. We have created online spaces for connection and community. And by doing so, we are following government advice, helping our health systems and staying at home. Our commute times are non existent and instead, we have an opportunity to fill that space with something more mindful, start a hobby we never go round to doing, read that book we have always wanted to read, or perhaps connect with a loved one.

Adjusting to this new way of being, I have been checking in with clients and my peers and scrolling down my social media feeds. There has been a repeated theme surrounding this idea of ‘pause’. A quote by Dave Hollis particularly resonated: ‘In our rush to go back to normal, we should use this time to reflect just what that normal is’.

If we return back to the initial points and questions posed by Raworth, we are currently socially reciprocating. Our capacity to change, in such a short space of time, illustrates that we are both social and adaptable. We have moved past 20th century economic thinking that humankind is self interested, but rather we are self-effacing. We are embracing ‘we’, over ‘me’. We have pressed pause on economic growth and we are putting the collective health of humanity first. 

What is clear, is that we have built our society around our economy, as opposed to embedding the economy to meet the needs of society and the wellbeing of the planet. Whilst we are in uncertain times and amidst a health crisis where lockdowns have no time line, we must ask ourselves, whether our ‘former normal’ is one we want to go back to. How do we wish to move forward? 

Burnout and overcharged living were key words that summed up our style of living. If we are to rebuild our economy, how can we conjure new ways of living that enable lifestyles to be healthier and more fluid, so that people can spend more time with loved ones, prioritise their mental health and spend less time commuting. In fact, can we boost productivity by spending less time in the office and carving out space for relaxation and creativity? Do we need five day work weeks, or can we perform better with four? 

Yet, thinking up new ways of living extends beyond the world of work. We must also question how we consume. If we are to step into a 'new normal', how can we build an economy that measures success based on the capacity for regenerative design so we protect our environment and resources. Now is the time to change our economic goal, moving from GDP, but rather working towards a global mission that prioritises, protects and nurtures the wellbeing and health of our society and planet.

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