Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” is a great starting point for new thinkers

Kate Raworth is an author who can’t be ignored. Google her book “Doughnut Economics” and you get 155,000 results. In September 2020 Goodreads had 549 reviews and Amazon 469 ratings. Her book is lucid and accessible and I love her chapter headings. She has an extraordinarily comprehensive list of references.(Some chapters have 90-100)

This is a comprehensive review of orthodox economics over a few centuries. Her “doughnut” metaphor describes the realm of a living habitat for humans as being only in the doughnut. We have to be lifted out of poverty to reach a certain minimum standard of living, yet not consume so much of the earth’s resources so that we are breaching planetary boundaries. Her doughnut is unforgettable and will go into future economics textbooks. She describes a social floor for wellbeing and an ecological ceiling. 

To illustrate her strong call to rethink economics she packs her chapters with a dense and interesting mix of facts and trends within economics thinking. The strength of this book is that because of Raworth’s deep understanding of the history of economic thinking she is acutely aware she is just but one thinker in a chain, and that there will be another generation of thinkers beyond her. She regularly invites her readers to think our way out of this mess and tempts us with numerous leads. She is an advocate of drawing diagrams. 

However naturally there are omissions and blind spots. 

Naturally when reading a new book on new economics (I have written two) I go straight to their bibilography and there I find a good list on the topic of money and an excellent one on tax –Gaffney and Harrison, Henry George, Michael Hudson, JS Mill, Ricardo, Josh Ryan-Collins and Peter Barnes. I also find Michel Bauwens on the commons and Janine Benys on biomimicry.

So here is what I think a list of what the next generation of thinkers could productively focus on:- 

First Omission – asking what is the root cause of the growth imperative?

One of the more irksome features of her discussion is that she never really asks what causes the growth imperative. She doesn’t appear to stress that it is built into the system. While she cites many who write on money creation including Benes and Kumhof, Charles Eisenstein, Michael Hudson, Steve Keen and Bernard Lietaer but never seems to use the phrase “interest-bearing debt” or explore the consequences of issuing money this way. She dabbles but pulls back when it comes to probing important leads. I urge thinkers to read Chapter 2 of economist Richard Douthwaite’s book The Growth Illusion, where after a discussion about the consequences of issuing money as interest bearing debt, he concludes. “In our present economic system, the choice is between growth and collapse, not growth and stability…The alternative is slums, dangerous roads, old factories, cramped schools and stunted lives.” Douthwaite, like Raworth, was a development economist who spent years on overseas aid work,  and in the process he had to spend time relearning and unlearning economics. 

Second Omission – the role of power

When I was a  full time advocate in the smokefree campaign in the 1980s, I watched public opinion change over a decade of debate and conflict. I was high profile in the media for a decade. On non-smokers’ rights I was a controversial figure in many households, workplaces and clubs. The health lobby, equipped with all the scientific facts, gradually and painfully learnt the reality of political power. We started to understand the subtle influence of the tobacco industry, and came to realise that the frustrating reluctance of politicians to move was because they were waiting for public opinion to change. So I always notice when an academic advocates for change and appear to imply it happens without pain and struggle. The famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” is relevant here. So even a passing reference to the role of power and the agony of the political struggle would have been helpful here.

Third Omission – the importance of currency design 

Kate Raworth leads us to the insightful author Silvio Gesell, summarises his argument for a demurrage currency, chooses the best quotes from him, and then pulls back. I urge the next generation of thinkers to follow through this clue, because the design of money changes everything, from purchasing behaviour to investment patterns. If Keynes called Gesell ‘an unduly neglected prophet’ we should really pay attention. She has a whole chapter called ‘Design to Distribute’, but completely omits the critical nature of currency design. 

She has read Bernard Lietaer, or at least one of his books, but the next thinkers should read the more of Lietaer and think deeply about his argument that the design of money affects human economic behaviour and that there are good examples in history of a dynamic, successful societies where dual currencies contribute to this result.

Fourth Omission – Energy Decline

I am not sure I do it justice either, but those who understand that because of peak oil the net energy in the industrial system must decline, also know that we have to live with progressively less net energy. That is a big concept because economic growth has for decades been closely correlated with energy growth. 

When it comes to discussing the regenerative circular economy,  where the essential concept is to ensure we can unmake everything we make. I am not sure how this fits with the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that processes that involve the transfer or conversion of heat energy are irreversible. … It  also states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state. As energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. So the circular economy is not that simple.

I am rather inclined to agree with a University of Otago scientist Craig Anderson who recently wrote on an email discussion, “Concepts like Doughnut Economics will not achieve what we need – they sound lovely and the heart is definitely in the right place – but these concepts are still not yet grounded in the realities of the remaining resource base and energy constraints.”

Fifth Omission – Land Tax reform

She has spent a few pages on Henry George who would replace income tax with land value tax and on the origins of the board game Monopoly. This occurs under the chapter heading Design to Distribute. But she doesn’t really convey that land tax is the most powerful way to distribute wealth. Those wanting to take this topic further should learn about the value of inner city land, not just rural land and learn from Georgist organisations like Progress in Australia for more information. A discussion of the relative merits of capital gains tax, land value tax, death duties, wealth taxes, estate taxes would have been useful.

This book is a must read for any critic of orthodox economics. Raworth concludes, “We are all economists now”. So if we are to survive, we can’t avoid this discipline. 

 

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The amazing vitamin you have probably not heard of – Vitamin K2

For a while now I have been reading everything I can get hold of on Vitamin K2. A year or two ago I read Kate Rheaume-Bleue’s e-book “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox” and I have been hooked ever since. I am a big watcher of YouTube and recently ran across one presentation that stood out from all the others. It was from a microbiologist Dr Kiran Krishnan and it took about 47 minutes.

Dr Krishnan is the Chief Scientific Officer at the Microbiome Labs so he explains the microbiome can manufacture Vitamin K2 from Vitamin K1, given the right bacteria  in the bowel.  (probably those on a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet, especially younger people, have bodies perfectly capable of doing this conversion) Vitamin K2 is called menaquinone. Dr Krishnan has been studying Vitamin K2, particularly a form of Vitamin K2 called menaquinone MK7, for a decade. In the video he lists all the important functions that it performs in the body. And he says that “We are all subclinically deficient in Vitamin K2” because it is not common in our typical diet.

Natto

Contrast our typical Western diet with the diet of Eastern Japan where they eat nattō, a fermented soy bean. (Krishnan cites at least two studies showing high levels of nattō prevents osteoporosis.) You can source a list of natural sources of Vitamin K2 and Nattō is head and shoulders higher other foods, having 1000 mcg of MK7 per 100gm. The others foods are animal based and less than 10% of nattō in terms of Vitamin K2 content e.g. Gouda cheese (73mgm per 100 gm),  chicken liver (14.1mgm), eggs (8mgm), butter 20.9mgm, chicken wings 25.3mgm and then there are the processed meat sources like sausages and salami. But these animal sources  have it only in the various forms of MK4, the form that doesn’t stick around in the body long because it has a shorter half life.

People often dismiss the possibility of eating nattō because it is slimy and smelly and unfamiliar. In New Zealand it is available in Asian food stores but comes frozen from Japan. I didn’t find it offensive at all so I am now experimenting various ways to make it. I found that in our country it is almost impossible to source organic soy beans so I have to make it from black beans or chickpeas or mung beans.

Now what is this list of functions that Vitamin K2 performs in our bodies?

I won’t go over all his scientific sources, but I will list the diseases that can be avoided.  Vitamin K2-MK7 plays a vital role in the following:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Joint health
  • Dental health
  • Facial/cranial development
  • Muscle function
  • Neuropathy
  • Mitochondrial function
  • Cardiac function

That is a long list! Because it activates a protein called osteocalcin, it helps deposit calcium in the bones where it should be. Because it activates a protein called Matrix Gla which loves binding with calcium, it removes calcium from arteries and other soft tissues. In other words it takes calcium and deposits it in the right place in our bodies – in our bones and teeth not our soft tissues. It can slow dow the progression of diabetes.  He says it can revive dead or dying mitochondria , which are the power houses producing energy in our muscles. The muscle that has the highest number of mitochondria is your heart so that is why it can improve cardiac output. The improved cardiac output helps every cell get more nutrients and blood. It can revive dead and dying nerve cells.

Vitamin K2 reduces risk of fractured hip as well as heart disease.

Remember Vitamin K1 has been known about for a long time. It is available in leafy greens and is necessary for normal blood clotting. We have been taught that Vitamin K exists but few know that Vitamin K2 performs very different tasks from Vitamin K1. Many descriptions fail to differentiate between the two, and they are very different.

There are now a great many studies on Vitamin K2.  Dr Krishnan’s group  has been doing their research using supplementation with 320 micrograms a day, but many sources say an amount of 50 micrograms/day is enough to improve some health outcomes.

Official Guidelines for Australia and New Zealand

On our Ministry of Health’s website there is no Recommended Daily  Intake for Vitamin K2 that I can find.  In fact one would be forgiven when reading P147 of their 2006 document Nutrient References for Australia and New Zealand for thinking that only Vitamin K1 was important. It mentions menaquinones only as an offshoot of Vitamin K1 and even says, “The only important molecular form of vitamin K in plants is phylloquinone (vitamin K1) but bacteria can synthesise a family of compounds called menaquinones (vitamin K2).”

On Vitamin K2  it says in 2006, “The only important molecular form of vitamin K in plants is phylloquinone (vitamin K1) but bacteria can synthesise a family of compounds called menaquinones (vitamin K2). The biologic functions of vitamin K-dependent proteins produced in other tissues, notably osteocalcin and MGP are unclear…. Evidence of a possible association of suboptimal vitamin K deficiency with increased risk of adverse outcomes for bone health and bone fracture is under investigation by a number of groups but the outcomes have not been clear cut to date (Binkley & Suttie 1995, Binkley et al 2002, Braam et al 2003, Schaafsma et al 2000, Shearer 1997, Vermeer et al 1995).”.

The guidelines are being reviewed now, according to an email I received from a team member at the National Health and Medical Research Council   (of Australia)on 22 October, 2019 .

You can take a supplement of Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 by pill, but having read Colin Campbells’s book Whole  I  prefer eating it in food. So I am ready to make my own nattō and experience the health benefits that the elderly Japanese do when eating it. I have followed a guy called Natto Dad on YouTube and he makes nattō from many sources. Here is one of his. However because I have small house I have bought myself a yoghurt maker and am making it that way. I read this piece from the fellow that is sending me my nattō starter.

And having written all this, I discover Dr Krishnan is actually in a commercial venture selling supplements, so I might have to take his research as having declarations of interest. I knew there was a Microbiome Institute and thought he was from this non-profit.

Pubmed search

So I checked different sources. When doing a search for Vitamin K2 on Pubmed  I found 3951 studies reported. There are 266 on osteoporosis and 100 on “vascular”, 102 on “calcification” and fewer on Altzheimers, dementia and diabetes. There was nothing where Krishnan was an author. It seems Krishnan publishes on researchgate.net because I found a lot of his articles there.

A review of the literature there summarised the case in 2015. “Vitamin K2 may be a useful adjunct for treatment of osteoporosis, along with Vitamin D and calcium, rivalling bi-phosphonate therapy without the toxicity”. They said the evidence was insufficient for diabetes, arthritis, renal calculi and cancer but it was promising.

So it is an important Vitamin in the body. Even if it just made sure the calcium you absorb from your food is going to the right place, it would significantly reduce your risk of osteoporosis and vascular disease. And that means heart disease and strokes. But it definitely looks as though it does more than prevent heart disease and fractures.

So it’s worth keeping an eye on the new dietary guidelines now that will be coming out of Australia for our use!

 

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Two books ten years apart and the theme is the commons

Today I found a photo from the launch of my book Healthy Money Healthy Planet –Developing Sustainability through New Money Systems and I post it here. It was a good book, took a long time to write and Helen has sold a great many through Living Economies shop.

Yesterday I had an email from a city councillor in a small city which started off by saying, “I read your book, Healthy Money, Healthy Planet, September 2006. I think it is one of the best books I have ever read on the money system.”

This newest book is smaller but just as important. It recognises that money isn’t the only issue in the commons. Land is critical and so we have to look at the tax system which at the moment gives rewards to those who speculate on land. And who owns the earth? Is it individuals? The Donald Trumps of the world? Na. What about the minerals of the earth? Who owns the gold in the ground? Who owns the water, the forests, the fish?

So what is the commons? It is not common land. Wikipedia says, “The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.”

But it also includes money. As David Bollier said: “We need to democratize money.  Commoners must re-capture the money-creation system for public purposes and replace debt–based money.” I think he should have said “bank-created money” For if you allow private banks to create and control the public money, you lose democratic control.  In his excellent article he expands on this here.

My essay, based on this latest book, was entered into the Next System project’s essay competition. It didn’t win. So I skimmed through the six that got first or second place in their section, as did a colleague who understands both money and land issues. It seemed the essays didn’t address the money system or the tax system. I may have skimmed too fast. He quoted me a saying,

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

–Henry David Thoreau,  Concord, MA (1817 – 1862)

Deirdre Kent and Helen Dew 2005
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