I have been mulling over ecosocial work, or ecological social work recently. This open access journal article calling for all social work to be ecosocial work provided a good starting point. If social work’s main goal is human thriving, now is an urgent time for this aspect of social work to get the attention it deserves- given our intimate dependence on the ecological systems (and I also have a faith-based reason, by way of creation care). Adding on to ‘Why’ for ecosocial work (and also to recommend a very good book), I will do a mini summary and review of the book Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.
Raworth starts off by making a strong case for why a new paradigm for economic theory (used interchangeably with economics here) is needed:
“Economics is the mother tongue of public policy, the language of public life, and the mindset that shapes society.” (p11)
Social work (and other areas public interest like education) therefore is not exempt from the influence of economics- from individual social workers seeking to help their clients sustain jobs and maintain their families’ welfare, to indirect practitioners in policy planning. After all, social and welfare spending is accounted for in an economic way- as a proportion of GDP. Thus, countries are often compared in terms of their expenditure as a percentage of their GDP in important areas like healthcare. Politicians try to secure votes by promising GDP growth that ostensibly will increase the prosperity of the people. Few would stop to question this- after all, this has been embedded in the modern statecraft and social compact for so long. However, such unsustainable growth has led us to a point where humanity’s quality of life and in the long run, survival is threatened. At this point, I think of how one-third of Pakistan is underwater.. it is an injustice on a global scale when these communities bear the brunt of climate change that is fueled by the consumerist economic growth of wealthier nations.
Such an unquestioned form of economics is precisely what Raworth’s book seeks to confront. In her words, facing the Medusa- the limits of economic growth.
At the same time, my belief is that some of the strategies within the current economics paradigm is helpful. For example, the Bloomberg Healthcare Efficiency Index ranks countries in terms of their efficiency in healthcare spending- underlying this is the principle that both efficient resource management and quality health outcomes are important. I thus appreciated Raworth’s call for moderation- to “be agnostic about [GDP] growth”. This is one of the 7 main points on being a 21st century economist.
The bulk of the book discusses these 7 main points, which are also niftily summarised through 7 videos that are within 2 mins long on the Doughnut Economics YouTube channel (link to first one here). However, that these videos are merely a teaser to the book, which I experienced as an almost-encouraging revelation of how ideas do change the world. Many examples were cited by Raworth of how the diagrams and graphs drawn by economists to illustrate their hypotheses of how the economic system worked had a hold in the minds of policymakers and world leaders, even though these hypotheses have scant evidence. One is the Kuznets Curve that has since been debunked, but the idea of a needed tradeoff for continued economic growth where the returns will ultimately uplift everyone is still present- “the myth of trickle-down economics” (p.138). While these are negative examples of how the world is shaped by such powerful ideas, the doughnut presents a shining positive example of how we might reshape our narratives- super encouraged to see how cities are adopting this.
Nurturing the human nature was another main point which struck me as very bold because it felt so idealistic in the face of public policy-making and economics. However, this again is a call for humanity to reclaim a more positive narrative for ourselves- To divorce from the dominant singular narrative of a “rational economic man”, which has been made as ‘truth’ in economic theory through the forces of scientific positivism and powerful academic thought. Social working this, I realised that there is so much value and potential for community work to encourage economies that promote human thriving. Some ways that this has been done already:
- The use of complementary currencies to encourage “regenerative behaviours” that benefit the planet like the Toreke in Belgium (see p.5 of report); where the Toreke was used with other community building efforts to bridge social divides and encourage environmentally friendly practices
- Creation of localised economies based on principles of mutual aid and planet care rather than the value of utility that the dominant economy functions on: Viva Blue House in Hong Kong (!! so close to me but I have yet to visit; clean forgot about it after I KIVed to go)
- Sharing points for ‘rescued’ food and items (must include example closer to home haha): KampungBishan and Fridge Restock Community Why do I consider this an economic design? Economics is basically how resources are managed- in the production, distribution and consumption. Having these sharing points addresses the distribution and consumption aspects.
I don’t really know the answer to “what next?”, or rather, “what more?”. Perhaps as with a kernel, this needs time and the right season to germinate. In the meantime, I rage and I hope.
Update: News of Patagonia founder transferring ownership of the company to a trust and nonprofit to fight climate change is encouraging! 🎉 At the same time, pondering on how it will pan out: Some experts sounded caution that Patagonia and its linked entities can go off-track- “What makes capitalism so successful is that there’s motivation to succeed” // There is some truth in that quote but perhaps it focuses too much on the “rational economic man”.