Kate Raworth is a renegade economist focused on exploring the economic mindset needed to address today’s social and ecological challenges and is author of the internationally best-selling book Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. We chatted with her about the making of Economic Man vs Humanity: a Puppet Rap Battle, a short puppetry film that illustrates the thinking, and the artistic team behind it.
What is Doughnut Economics and why did you choose puppetry to illustrate this message?
Doughnut Economics is a playfully serious approach to rewriting economics so that it is fit for the 21st century and its challenge of meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet. One crucial aspect that needs rewriting is the model of humanity at the heart of mainstream economic theory – a character known as rational economic man. This character has, in many ways, been a puppet of economic theory and policy making, so the temptation to use puppets to tell his story and to write a new one was too great to resist.
Economic theory also celebrates the notion of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, so I think the very visible hands of the puppeteers make a playful counterpoint to that ideology. I have always loved puppets and when my children were small we put on puppet shows in our living room for kids and families in the neighbourhood. So the chance of working with a professional puppet maker and puppeteers to rewrite economics was too good an opportunity to miss.
How did you gather the team?
When I first had the idea of working with puppets to communicate the core ideas of Doughnut Economics, I was recommended to look at Emma Powell’s work and as soon as I saw the incredible creations on her website, I knew it would be a great match. Emma then suggested bringing the musician and songwriter Simon Panrucker onto the team and once I saw his wonderfully zany videos online (check out the one in which he raps about constructing a Peace Machine) I was convinced that the puppets should go head-to-head in a rap battle written by him. Simon and Emma came up with the idea of pitching three students in a classroom debate with their professor, and from that point, we knew we were on a roll.
This three-way collaboration was a wonderful creative adventure for me because it was very clear that each of us was bringing a unique and essential set of skills to the project, which would not have worked without all three. I brought the economic theory and critique, Simon did a masterful job of transforming that into a witty rap, and Emma gave it characterful life with her ingenious puppets. Add to this the skill of the puppeteers along with the video and production crew, and we had a brilliant team, which it was a privilege to be a part of. During filming I was impressed by the detail, patience and dedication of the whole team during an intensive week, working with meticulous detail to get each shot and its continuity just right.
We launched the video online at the start of September, just as students were returning to school, and were delighted by its instant positive reception and rapid spread. It moved fast through social media, being watched and shared by students, professors, politicians, campaigners and corporate executives alike. One leading economist played it to conference delegates at the OECD headquarters in Paris. I think that has to be a double first: getting both rap and puppetry into one of the most influential international economic institutions!
On launch, we aimed to make the video as useful as possible for teachers so that they can use it creatively in the classroom. I added detailed theoretical and historical footnotes to the rap lyrics so that students can understand the richness of ideas behind every line. We also made the rap backing track available in the creative commons so that anyone can write and record their own economic critique as a rap battle and we are looking forward to finding out what students create in response.
Every time I give a public talk or university lecture, I now take with me the little cut-out figure of rational economic man – the anti-hero in the video – and he raises a smile and some heated debate. Through this project, I’ve learned the clear value of making economics playfully accessible, taking it out of dry theory and immersing it in art and wit. I’m constantly struck by the wide range of people who are drawn into economic conversations when they start in this far more engaging way. Play and creativity are, I think, very powerful tools for democratising economics.
So watch out – you may not have seen the last economic puppet rap battle yet!
To find out more about Doughnut Economics, visit Kate’s website: https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/ or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Visit Emma Powell’s website to view her portfolio. For more information on Simon Panrucker, visit his website and YouTube channel.