Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Two books that I've read recently have got me thinking further about the future, how things can and might work, and learning. They are Donut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Both have had me furiously scribbling ideas for teaching and learning, and prompted a lot of reflection around learning and education system design and what learning currently looks like for most of our students. The gap appears to be vast and growing.
The premise of Donut Economics is that our economic system is broken and not designed for the future. It introduces seven transformational new ways of thinking and creates an economic model that is fit for the 21st Century. At risk of over-simplifying, the Seven Ways are:
1. Change the goal from GDP (unsustainable) to the Donut. GDP as the primary measure of human progress has driven huge inequality and environmental destruction. The Donut provides a 21st-Century model or compass for how to thrive in balance, between a foundation of human well-being and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure.
2. See the Big Picture: move from a self-contained market to an embedded economy. It's time to embed the economy within our communities, society and the natural world, in which the importance of the household is recognised, and essential protections of our environment are fundamental.
3. Nuture Human Nature: shift from a theory of rational economic man that of social adaptable humans. Humans are more than selfish beings, always looking out for Number 1 regardless of the cost - we're better than that. Instead, let's look at humans as social, operating with uncertainty, with shifting values and dependent on our natural environment. Most interesting was the ten basic human values that we all share and are common across cultures (See P. 107-109).
4. Get Savvy with Systems: transition from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity. We must learn to think in a systems-oriented manner, with the economy treated as being complex and ever evolving rather than something simple that we believe we can control.
5. Design to Distribute: economic growth won't reduce inequality - it won't. Instead, create an economy that is distributive by design. (P. 174). How? Treat inequality as a design failure, and distribute not income but wealth, specifically wealth in controlling land, technology and the like.
6. Create to Regenerate: degenerative economic growth will also not clean up our environment. Instead, think about a 'Butterfly Economy', in which everything we produce and consume is designed to be repaired, reused, refurbished and recycled within a circular system.
7. Be Agnostic About Growth: we are currently growth addicted, and we need to become agnostic about growth. We need economies to thrive, not necessarily grow - there's an important difference.
I highly recommend you have a look at this book. It's well-written and easy to read (for economics) and extremely important to anyone thinking about the future in my view. Rest assured that this summary does not do it justice.
From the author of Saipens and Homo Deus comes this exploration of 'what it means to be human in an age of bewilderment'. He presents a global agenda, confronting the reader with humanity's challenges and choices, and asking 'What should we pay attention to?', and 'What should we teach our kids?'. The book is presented in five parts, with several chapters in each:
Part I: The Technological Challenge - Harari highlights potential threats and dangers of new technologies. He cautions that those who are leading the technological revolution on tend to sing the praises of their technology and ideas, giving less thought to unintended consequences and how it can all go terribly wrong.
Part II: The Political Challenge - is liberalism finished? Will Facebook create a global community run by AI that guarantees liberty and equality? Is humanity now a single civilisation? Should we re-empower the nation state? Are some cultures better than others? Can humans cooperate to solve our collective problems? Fascinating and at-times provocative reading.
Part III: Despair and Hope - the thesis here is that while our challenges may be great, humankind has the ability to rise to them. It examines how it might be to our collective benefit to stay a little bit humble about our own views and open to those of others. It also discusses the characteristics of terrorism and the threat of global war, and the biases that spark conflict - we need to recognise and understand them.
Part IV: Truth - the human situation is becoming overwhelming, confusing, and too much for any single person to understand. Are human beings still capable of making sense of the world we've created? What does 'truth' even mean anymore, and how can we seek it? Are traditional notions of justice outdated? Is science fiction real?
Part V: Resilience - the final chapter looks at Education, Meaning and Meditation. What should teachers be teaching? Is education even relevant? What advice should we give our young people? Should adults be offering advice and guidance about a world they themselves don't understand? Change is the only constant, and it's going to accelerate for all of us. We need to know ourselves and our own minds - before the algorithms make our minds up for us.
21 Lessons touches on economics throughout, but is a far more sweeping looking at the human condition and experience as we head into the future. Sobering and optimistic, both books are unequivocal that human beings have it within their power to change our world for the better. It's up to us to do something about it.
Thank you for joining us this week. We welcome any and all feedback and comments, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.