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Kate Raworth: reroute economy in human and ecological values

In an interview organised by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, economist Kate Raworth, an advisor to the Pope’s Covid-19 commission, discusses the importance of giving room to young economists.

By Vatican News staff writer

The goal, begins Kate Raworth is that “no person should be left falling short on the essentials of life”. Her “doughnut theory” specifically has at the centre those who are left in a state of deprivation; and asks, as Pope Francis does, that we attend to the poorest and most marginalized among us.

All this, says Raworth, must be done collectively. “It calls on all of us” to make sure that the economies and institutions that we create ensure that we live within the pressures of the planet. Raworth recalls that we humans are actually only “one of many living creatures within this planetary home”, and we must learn to see ourselves as a part of a much bigger living whole, as “part of the web of life”.

The economy of Francesco

Kate Raworth recently took part in The Economy of Francesco, speaking to young upcoming economists online — an experience she describes as “wonderful”.

Raworth was trained as an economist in the 1990s and describes the “shift in generations” between her times and the present. The young economists of today have already lived through so many different crises that have occurred in the 21st century. These crises, she explains, range from “the financial meltdown to the climate breakdown”. She says young economists are responding to these recurring crises by recognising that “so many prices and numbers are emerging from the very systems that we actually created”. This, she says, is why we need to transform and assist our young economists of today.

In The Economy of Francesco, the young people were able to “speak across the barriers of language and across the barriers of difference and different cultures finding collective thinking”.

The messages and their implementation

Based on her session with the young economists, Kate Raworth says she learned that one of the messages that must be implemented as soon as possible is that “all countries should be thought of as developing countries”. There is no single country in the world that can be described as developed, she explains: “Every nation needs to transform and redevelop national prosperity”, and leaders learn to be humble.

“We need to come up with a new model”, she says. She noted that today’s young economists are placing the value of the life of humanity, of society, and of respecting the living world at the heart of thinking; and then deriving policies and interventions that are compatible with a completely different form.

“I think the discussions that came out of the Economy of Francesco are bringing us ‘an economy that is rerouted in human and ecological value’: the right place to start in the 21st century”, she says.

Courage and imagintion

Sometimes what we are lacking is imagination, says Raworth. “Even just the imagination to believe that ‘once I commit to that and I take that step, it will be a relief’”.

“Changes are hardest just before we make them, but once you have committed to it, it all becomes so much easier”, she adds, saying “shift from daring to leading”.

And that is what Pope Francis is promoting, in Laudato sí, in The Economy of Francesco and throughout his pontificate: he is indicating the importance of the humanistic values that have “clearly resonated with young people worldwide and have clearly connected that bigger vision to so many people”. It is great, she adds, to have someone in his position proposing such a poetic vision so ambitiously.

A life dedicated to fighting injustices

Kate Raworth says what inspired her to dedicate her life and thoughts to the progressive movement towards justice and equality came partly through her studies of economics in developing countries.

“I was posted in Zanzibar, and basically spent three years going around the villages of the islands, meeting villagers who were barefoot entrepreneurs… forced to survive on literally nothing but their community, the forests, and their wits”. There, she says, “I met such amazing entrepreneurs and realised that entrepreneurship and business, “something that highly qualified graduates get to do is something that the world's poorest people do everyday through force of circumstance”.

“We need to talk about power”, says Raworth. “We need to talk about rebalancing the relationship between economics and power: there’s no power in economics. Why do some people have nothing?” she asks.

“We can't reinvent the laws of nature. We can't reinvent the climate, create stability or instability”, Raworth says. That is part of the living world. “We can however reinvent and redesign human institutions” which today clearly don't work. However, they can be made to work, she stresses. Being an economist is a design challenge for putting human integrity and ecological integrity at the heart of our thinking. And one way of accomplishing this, she explains, is through “regenerative design”.

Regenerative design

“As humans, we must learn to move from degenerative to regenerative”, says Raworth: “Away from the linear industrial systems that run down the living planet endlessly from mines and forests to the ocean. One of the most beautiful things we can do now is to regenerate living systems as well as economics”.

This could be applied to everything, says Raworth. She uses architecture as an example: “Let's build an apartment block that provides cleaner air to the people in the building and then when it puts it back out in the city it is cleaner than it came in - so this building is actually acting as an air filter for the whole city giving clean air back to the city”.

It’s a cycle

“Cycle is the key word, Raworth says. “To understand life we have to understand cycles, there's a carbon cycle. There's our own personal cycle of life and death.. we are embedded in cycles. We must realise that we are leaving a legacy for generations we will never meet but whose lives will be shaped by what we do or don't do now”.

“We need to be 100-percent circular economy, only using and reusing materials again. We just need to start changing”, Raworth concludes. “We need to build differently; we need to build buildings that are reusing old material. We need to do a stocktake of all the food that's coming in and being consumed in and circulating to a city food waste”. Change, she insists, can and should happen.

30 November 2020, 12:24