Doughnut economics, Seventh Generation decision-making, and an obscure Executive Order

Dear President Biden,

Last night while Laura and our daughter were watching Ozark (I’m pretty tender so the violence is too much for me) I happened to read two articles back-to-back and the inadvertent pairing felt incredibly serendipitous. The first is a Time magazine article that was at the top of my Pocket offerings (those articles Firefox selects “just for me” that show up when I open a new browser tab) and the title is “Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism?” The second is a Huffington Post (HP) article entitled “The Game Changing Biden Order You Haven’t Heard About.”

I read about economist Kate Raworth’s theory of “doughnut economics” a couple of months ago and remember thinking it seemed cool, if fuzzy. Maybe it’s just due to the re-exposure, but reading Ciara Nugent’s Time article I came away much clearer about the basic idea (the explanatory graphic was particularly helpful). You’re probably familiar with the theory but if not, you already seem to have an intuitive grasp of the underlying premise, which is that there is a real limit to what the environment can support in terms of human activity and once that threshold is passed, we risk potentially catastrophic damage AND at the same time, there are certain basic things that all humans need to be healthy and happy.

The idea is that in between the outer bounds of environmental limits and the inner bounds of viable existences for all humans is where our economies should operate – in that sweet doughnut spot – so that we neither overshoot (and cause further damage to the environment) nor undershoot (and risk shortfalls that endanger people). It’s a super cool idea that’s akin to the Iroquois practice of subjecting every decision to a consideration of the downstream impact on people and place seven generations out. Both of these positions maintain that we must actually consider the long-term sustainability of our current decisions before we act. It shouldn’t be a radical aspect of decision making, but profit motives clearly tend to swamp our better, future-looking, angels.

Ok, so how does an Executive Order that’s gotten virtually no press fit in with “doughnut economics” (and Seventh Generation decision-making)? The new EO in question is called “Modernizing Regulatory Review” and holy cow does it have the makings of a radical (albeit very ancient) and refreshing way of vetting new legislation and regulatory changes. I know you signed it and will trust you’re actually familiar with it, but here’s some of the key text:

You are directing the OMB to develop regulatory review processes that “… provide concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.  The recommendations should also include proposals that would ensure that regulatory review serves as a tool to affirmatively promote regulations that advance these values.”

I love that the following two considerations are also included in the directive: 1) “…revisions to OMB’s Circular… (need to) fully account for regulatory benefits that are difficult or impossible to quantify, and do not have harmful anti-regulatory or deregulatory effects,” and 2) “…. (it must) ensure that regulatory initiatives appropriately benefit and do not inappropriately burden disadvantaged, vulnerable, or marginalized communities.”


If you really do this right and pick a solid person to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, this could be the most important EO you’ve signed so far, an absolute game changer.

May we safeguard the planet for all the children to come.
May we be willing to grapple with living within our environmental bounds and meeting everyone’s basic needs.
May we see that our health and long-term viability depend on a massive re-think. And re-do.
May we accept that life as many of us know it needs to change sooner rather than later.

Tracy Simpson

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