How would technological innovation work under a Doughnut System?


I’m like a lot of people in the process of learning about possible solutions to our economic, political and ecological crisis.

I’ve just finished reading Doughnut Economics, it was fantastic and provided a nice shock to the traditional economics lessons I took in school.

One thing that my study of the past has taught me is the importance of technological change to society and social progress in general. For example new forms of communication enabled by the printing press enable us to share knowledge, ideas and even organise for political change or how the rise and creation of birth control helped to shift traditional gender narratives.

I’ve noticed some focus in the book on Mariana Mazzucato. I am yet to read her book the entrepreneurial state but intend to do so and imagine it will provide me with a model for technological innovation.

However besides that I didn’t see much. I noticed some focus on the commons. I think the commons is great, who doesn’t ove wikipedia, their local beach or indeed the linux operating system.

However does the commons not have a limit to what it can provide with regards to technological innovation. The standard narrative I was taught and I suspect there could be a great deal wrong with this or indeed it could well be rooted in neoliberal propaganda, was that during feudalism we had a commons system. However the commons were then enclosed and people driven off the land.

The result of this was an increase labour force, waged labour and the birth of the modern factory system. Essentially the birth of privvate property made landowners want to tend to their land more and create improved systems for land development such as crop rotation. This could create bigger yields, these could then be sold and the money invested to buy more land or indeed invest in capital. Thus spurning technological innovation.

Without private property there can be no technological innovation so goes the argument. Indeed parliamentary democracy came about because of private property. With this in mind does increasing the commons focus in our economy not lead to statis and a sort of step backwards.

While we don’t want unsutatainable growth, we do want a continuation of technological innovation. So would the commons not impede that. Indeed what would have happened if feudal England had remained common would we be as economically and politically advanced as we are now?

I’m not asking this as some crackpot libertarian who wants to privatise everything but more as someone wondering how far we can go beyond a system of mass private property and still continue innovating and creating. Would the state have to become important for our understanding innovation?

Would the industrial revolution happen if land remained in common? Indeed would it have happened in a fairer way?

Am I missing the point and overemphasising the commons?

I don’t want to come across as besmirching the commons, I’m just comparing the doughnut to what I learned in traditional economics and trying to evaluate different ideas and thinking and come to terms with my own ideas about the economy.

I was wondering can anyone help me clean up my confusion?

Thank you for your time.

Technological has been continuously happening yet our social system, even when expressed in doughnut form, has not kindly responded and the past differences between rich and poor people (which one would imagine to be reduced by technological innovation), has actually become a lot worse. The doughnut approach is no better at explaining the reason for this problem than the other ways of expressing how our social system is supposed to work. Only one economist actually did explain in terms that are clear and which we can understand. His name was Henry George and his classic book “Progress and Poverty” (of 1879) sold more than 3 million copies and is still in print. I could explain his thesis but I suggest you look it up and find out for yourself more about George and his Movement towards ethical taxation.

Thank you so much for your reply David.

I’ve been meaning to read Progress and Poverty by Henry George and noticed it listed a few times in Doughnut Economics and so will endeavour to read it.

I need to also read Karl Polyanis the Great Transformation which I assume will also help clear things up