TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD | Bernard Lietaer | Delta Institute – Dieter Legat

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Table of Contents

TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

3 Paradigm Shifts To Achieve

Book Summary – Video


Dear Reader,

I have spent my entire professional life in the monetary world. Since 1987, I have developed, tested and implemented complementary currencies in many projects all over the world. This work, and the entire concept of monetary systems, has even more relevance in the turbulent times we find ourselves in as the second decade of the new century comes to a close. And as my life comes to a close, I am compelled to share with you, dear reader, my thoughts about how we, as the human race, can and must address the critical challenges that are facing us – and indeed, threatening our survival.

Today, I see mankind facing enormous challenges, including three that are overwhelming.

  • Climate change: It is happening and will bring drastic changes to how we can live and survive. It is truly a climate emergency and we are rapidly approaching the point of no return.
  • Refugees: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasts that Europe must cope with hundreds of millions of migrating people. We can also expect similar moves worldwide, driven both by climate change and political and economic conditions in their home countries.
  • Monetary stability: our present monetary system is staggering from crash to crash.

Yet, I am and remain optimistic. I do believe that human beings have always faced challenges that stretched beyond the limits of their present capacity. Such challenges forced humans to grow and develop to the next phase in their evolution, ultimately navigating the paradigm shifts they faced. We are in a period now where we must enter another phase in our evolution, and this time we must simultaneously navigate three critical paradigm shifts.

So, that is our situation today: we face challenges the likes of which we have never seen before. Yet, I see the opportunity for mankind to learn and develop. The opportunity lies in going through three paradigm shifts in one sweep, something mankind has never had to do before. These paradigm shift imperatives – all aimed and ensuring sustainability of our world – are the subjects of this book. We must move:

As my life draws to a close, I write this last book to show that, despite the severity of the challenges we face, there is no reason for despair. Instead, I challenge the people of this world –– each single individual – to get up and move (even better: lead) through these three paradigm shifts. It is the only path to a sustainable future.

I wish you all success!

Bernard Lietaer, January 10, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bernard Lietaer passed away on 4 February 2019 following an illness, which he thought he had overcome.


From Aristotle to Tao: The law of sustainability

Change our view of how the world works

This chapter makes the reader aware that we must change our view of how the world works: That …

  • We depend on “living” systems of many kinds – like our food system, our forests, our monetary system, our cultural system, our climate system,
  • We can survive only if these are sustainable,
  • Sustainability of any living system results from balancing its resilience and efficiency.

The law of sustainability of living systems

Bernard Lietaer, with Sally J. Goerner and Robert E. Ulanowicz, (both leading scientists), in 2008 presented scientific proof that to attain sustainability living systems must reach a balance between efficiency and resilience – as presented by this graph:


Sustainability: Balance resilience and efficiency

Too much resilience leads to system stagnation. Too much efficiency leads to system crash.

The law of sustainability
To reach optimum sustainability, a living system must balance its efficiency and resilience.

Bernard and his friends found that all natural ecosystems operate within a window of viability around the optimal point of this balance. In other words, the optimal point is the ideal balance between efficiency and resilience. The window of viability defines the acceptable range before the balance is tipped too far one way or the other – reducing the system’s sustainability.

Complementary Forces

Both resilience and efficiency are related to the levels of diversity and connectivity found in the network, but in opposite directions:

A well-woven multiplicity of connections and diversity plays a positive role in resilience, for example, because additional options help the system rebound from the loss or disruption of one or more pathways or nodes.

Yet living systems also require efficient end-to-end circulation of products in order to properly catalyze crucial processes at all levels of the whole. Redundant pathways and excess connections hinder throughput efficiency, leading to stagnation that erodes vitality.

In short, resilience and efficiency are essentially complementary forces because the streamlining that increases efficiency automatically reduces resilience. In general, then, greater efficiency means less resilience; and, conversely, greater resilience means less efficiency. The challenge is to find the balance that defines the window of viability.

Paradigm shift required

Both to recognize this law and to follow it requires a massive paradigm shift. At first sight, it may look easy. But it is not. It asks us to undo a deeply engraved orientation in our world: the focus on quick profit.

At the end of this chapter Bernard Lietaer challenges us to go, move and lead through the required paradigm shift:

  • Accept the law of sustainability: that we must balance efficiency and resilience in our world,
  • Follow this law in our own actions
  • As leaders of communities, business, governments: set sustainability as prime goal, recognize our myopic focus on efficiency and balance it with equally strong focus on resilience.

Towards a better matrifocal – patrifocal balance

Sustainable society, defined

A sustainable society satisfies its needs without limiting the prospects of future generations.

Our values determine our societies’ sustainability.

The values we cherish and by which we decide which actions to take determine our societies’ sustainability. Some values focus more on our societies’ efficiency, others on its resilience.

For sustainability, balance efficiency and resilience of our societies


Sustainable world – Rebalance human culture

Balancing matrifocal and patrifocal values essential for sustainability of our societies

Sustainability by matrifocal-patrifocal balance

To be sustainable, a society must focus on both. Bernard Lietaer named them “matrifocal” (focused on a societies’ resilience) and “patrifocal” (focused on its efficiency). These terms perhaps seem a little unusual or strange, but Bernard could not find other terms that were clear enough to communicate his meaning:

There must be focus on patrifocal values of a societies’ efficiency; for instance, to wisely use a societies’ resources or to cope with imminent danger like an attack from for a hostile society or of the effects of climate change.

Of course, all societies need to also focus on matrifocal values – otherwise vitally important matrifocal functions such as raising and educating children, caring for the elderly, or community and volunteer activities, would not exist. A society completely lacking matrifocal values would therefore soon collapse.

Some progress. More required.

Actually, as a global society, we are making progress toward this paradigm shift in many cultures.

Compare our grandmothers’ situations in their societies to the positions our daughters have today:

  • Women are much better educated now; and in some countries, the majority of students are female – the first time this has occurred since the 13th century.
  • More women are in leadership positions now – in politics, public administration and business.

These developments indicate that we are starting to bring out more and more matrifocal values and that the paradigm shift towards a more balanced matrifocal/patrifocal partnership has started. Great start – but much more is required to achieve true balance.


Make the human information system sustainable

Towards more personal ownership of information

The human information system

This paradigm shift concerns the human information system, the flow of information between humans that is vital for mankind. In this flow we generate, own and share information in our societies

Unconstrained flow of information essential

Flow of information free of constraints is essential for living systems.
To underscore the importance of unconstrained flow of information in human societies, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes the importance of freedom to seek, receive and impart information as a human right under Article 19. Also, the same is acknowledged in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Today: Centralized information systems – Proprietary information, filtered for money

Businesses found ways to make money from the human information system. For that purpose, the obvious design of the supporting information system was to centralize it – taking possession of people’s proprietary information from their flow of information and centralized it in large data centers.

Not only that: To pass information between users as “search results,” they filter out what they don’t want us to receive and amplify what they want us to see. This happens on a large scale in our most frequently used communications tool, the Internet.

By this process, the Web actually constrains sustainability of the human information system.

Paradigm shift required: Towards more personal ownership of proprietary information

Checking the human information system against the law of sustainability, Bernard Lietaer demonstrates that dispossessing and centralizing positions our human information system in the efficiency corner, making our society increasingly vulnerable to instability and political crisis.

To ensure sustainability of the human information system we need a significant paradigm shift –  to recover from this dramatic change in the use of information by third parties.

Awareness of this necessity is growing – but we need to reverse this trend to avoid paying a high price for the consequences of continuing in the wrong direction.

Two domains must join forces to bring this shift about:


Sustainable world: Personal information ownership

For sustainability of human information system information technology & governments must join forces

Decentralized information systems

In the book, Bernard Lietaer calls Information Technology to bring information systems to a truly decentralized setup, ceding ownership of all proprietary information to the individual user, and

Legislation for personal ownership of information

calls governments to support information technology’s move with legislation for personal ownership of information.


Books by Bernard Lietaer

Over Bernard Lietaer’s long career, he has written a large number of books on monetary and financial topics. This book refers to four of them and one paper, which he sees as especially important for the paradigm shifts discussed here. We recommend reading them if you wish to delve further into the topics addressed in this book.

Mysterium Geld

Publisher: Epubli, Germany ISBN: 200-0-040182-8-25 –English version in preparation

In this book, Bernard describes a society’s collective emotions and how they form its monetary system. In the last 500 years, the archetype of the Great Mother – symbol of nature, fertility and abundance – was systematically suppressed – leading to dominantly patrifocal values at the expense of matrifocal values.

Money and Sustainability

A report from the Club of Rome – EU Chapter

Publisher: Triarchy Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-908009-7-53

In this book (written with Christian Arnsperger, Sally Goerner and Stefan Brunnhuber), Bernard Lietaer discusses in detail the position of our traditional money in the law of sustainability. We consider it as essential reading for policymakers, business leaders and economists, anyone concerned with sustainability, those working in the field of monetary systems and anyone with an informed interest in the future of our planet.

Creating wealth – Growing local economies with local currencies

Gwendolyn Hallsmith & Bernard Lietaer

Publisher: New Society Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-86571-667-4

This book – based on a large number of projects for complementary currencies – describes in detail the reasons for implementing them, the projects you need launch and drive through and critical factors for success.

Rethinking Money – How new currencies turn scarcity into prosperity

With Jacqui Dunne

Publisher: Berret-Koehler, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-60994-296-0

In this book, Jacqui and Bernard give an updated view of our traditional monetary system and offer strategies for dual monetary systems for banking, business and entrepreneurs, governments and NGOs.

A world in balance (PDF, available for download)

In this article Bernard Lietaer discusses in more detail patrifocal and matrifocal values and how they drive a society’s monetary system, and especially describe a flourishing dual currency system in Bali.


Authors of TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

Bernard Lietaer dictated the key passages of TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD to Helga Preuss and Dieter Legat. He determined that:

  • Marek Hudon – Professor at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium – should edit the manuscript and suggest some references,
  • Helga Preuss – Bernard’s companion for years –  should make sure that every word was precisely in his frame of thinking.
  • Kristof de Spiegeleer – CEO of Threefold, a leading high tech company using a complementary Token currency worldwide – should finalize, from Bernard’s notes, the content of Paradigm 3.
  • Cary Sherburne – Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink, a media resource focused on the analog-to-digital transformations several industries are undergoing, as well as a marketing consultant and author – should help to transform the manuscript into text easy to read by lay people.
  • Dieter Legat – retired Hewlett Packard manager and top management consultant, a friend of Bernard’s for more than 40 years – should be the scribe of the team.

Authors referred to in TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

These authors are mentioned in the book (in alphabetical order):

  • Christian Arnsberger – Co-author (*) of MONEY AND SUSTAINABILITY, report from THE CLUB OF ROME, ISBN 978-1-908009-75-3
  • Stefan Brunnhuber – Co-author (*) of MONEY AND SUSTAINABILITY, report from THE CLUB OF ROME, ISBN 978-1-908009-75-3
  • Jacqui Dunne – Co-author (*) of RETHINKING MONEY, ISBN 978-1-60994-296-0
  • Sally Goerner – Co-author (*) of MONEY AND SUSTAINABILITY, report from THE CLUB OF ROME, ISBN 978-1-908009-75-3
  • Gwendolyn Hallsmith – Co-author (*) of CREATING WEALTH – GROWING LOCAL ECONOMIES WITH LOCAL CURRENCIES ISBN 978-1-55092-477-0
  • Daniel Kahnemann – Author of THINKING, FAST AND SLOW – ISBN 978-0-141-03357-0
  • Robert E. Ulanowicz – Co-author (**) of QUANTIFYING ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY: IMPLICATIONS FOR FREE-ENTERPRISE THEORY, POLICY AND PRACTICE

(*) with Bernard Lietaer   (**) with Bernard Lietaer and Sally J. Goerner


Comments and Feedback

In preparing this book for publication, we reached out to a number of the world’s foremost thought leaders to gain their comments and feedback about this important book. The responses we received will be valuable to readers in framing their own thoughts about this book, and how they will implement these paradigm shifts in their own personal and professional lives. Please see the Epilogue at the back of the book for extensive and thoughtful testimonials from Marc Dubrulle, Ex officio Member of the Club of Rome, President emeritus, The Club of Rome EU-Chapter; and Father Simon Pierre, Benedictine Monk and lifelong friend of Bernard Lietaer.


Our planet is in crisis. More and more people are aware of the harm we are inflicting as we destroy and pollute the natural world whilst at the same time our population grows. We have brought the climate crisis upon ourselves. There is increasing awareness of this, but most people do not take action – they feel helpless. Bernard Lietaer’s book provides guidance. Suggests ways we can seek to move forward in greater harmony with nature. We must seek to live more sustainably and remember that each one of us can make a difference – every day.

Jane Goodall
PhD, DBE Founder – The Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace


Two decades ago, Peter Drucker emphasized: “Change in society has a deeper impact on companies than change in management.” Bernard Lietaer’s book is a perfect illustration of this paradigm shift illustrated by the sustainability challenge. Leaders need a more holistic approach to the world and to walk the talk. Managers can better rationalize how companies operate by reaching a higher level of efficiency and resilience. People should be aware of the global impact of their lifestyle on the environment. A world of sustainability is one of a different mindset, where information and attitudes are valued differently, and hopefully better. It is a key message in this remarkable book.

Stephane Garelli
Founder, World Competitiveness Center
Professor Emeritus at IMD and at the University of Lausanne


Towards a Sustainable World is a last appeal by a talented, thoughtful man whose life was devoted to understanding our deeply troubled world and what must be done about it. It deserves the attention of concerned people at every level of society.

Dee W. Hock
Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa Inc.
Author of One From Many


In Towards a Sustainable World: 3 Paradigm Shifts to Achieve, Bernard Lietaer shares an optimistic vision of a sustainable future in which efficiency and resilience are balanced in our natural, economic, and information systems. The bold path forward outlined in the book provides the basis for important conversations that need to occur if our global society is to survive in an increasingly complex world. This is an important read for anyone interested in how humanity can navigate our technological future.

Michael Soskil
Co-Author of Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution;
2017-2018 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year;
2016 Global Teacher Prize Top-10 Finalist


For a small book, Bernard Lietaer’s Towards a Sustainable World contains an outstandingly rich set of arguments, examples, principles, guidelines, and recommendations for ultimately achieving the transformation needed for the long-term survival of humanity. In a world out of balance, it is quite urgent for us to take action in the direction of the three paradigm shifts proposed by Bernard Lietaer and his colleagues.

Wilhelm Krull
General Secretary
Volkswagen Foundation


In his book, Towards a Sustainable World, Bernard Lietaer articulates the case for sustainability and the alignment of the pursuit of environmental and social benefits. He demonstrates that sustainability is of value when employed as a sufficient and strategic framework for creation of value, enhancement of organizational methods for sustainability, and real innovation.

As the reader discovers – what has changed is the context within which the world today operates and the shift that is imperative. The author encourages and iterates a positive message that the shift toward the pursuit of ethical, sustainable capitalism is on the rise. It is and will be full of integrity, balance and thoughtfulness. Most importantly, the positive message from the author is that he has faith we will get it right before it is too late.

I highly recommend Lietaer’s thoughtful book as a must-read to understand the shift taking place and as a guide to a creative, sustainable future.

Jennifer Long
President Biolley Farms, Costa Rica


I never had the pleasure of meeting Bernard Lietaer in person; but of course, his name is well known to me. I know that he has been in regular contact with WIR Bank for many years. Be it in personal talks at our headquarters in Basel, by phone or very often via email. The constant dialogue was extremely valuable for both sides. On the one hand, Lietaer found answers to his questions about the practical implementation of a complementary system with its own currency. On the other hand, we learned from him where exactly the problems with the Euro resided and how and where Silvio Gesell’s idea and basic ideas could flow into the problem solution. In addition, we received a critical view of the WIR system and its role in the future from an internationally recognized economist, who had dealt with the topic of complementary systems for decades.

Sustainability – this term already appears in the title of Bernard Lietaer’s new book – is also the basic idea behind our WIR system. For 85 years we have been committed to promoting small and medium-sized enterprises in Switzerland, which form the backbone of the Swiss economy. And we will continue to do so, contributing to the prosperity of our country. We very much hope that Bernard Lietaer’s book will provide valuable impulses for a more sustainable economy.

Bruno Stiegeler President
WIR Bank, Switzerland


In our current challenging worldwide environment where we face a new kind of political leader embracing nationalist objectives empowered by minor and well-organized social activist groups and old corrupted political parties that are mainly concerned with maintaining their political power above dire social needs, worldwide corporate organizations are under huge pressures from shareholders for immediate and short term profit increase on a year to year basis.

The academic environment is mainly focused on innovation, competition and all the technological revolution impact we are facing in every discipline. But the subjects mentioned in Bernard Lietaer ́s book are not considered as they should be in order to build and reinforce a “SUSTAINABLE WORLD.”

The paradigms in Bernard ́s book are a great contribution to take into consideration, and they should begin in academia and should be implemented from the very beginning of the education cycle, high school or Junior High.

Sustainability and Efficiency must be included in the Strategic Planning Process of our businesses and government environments, prioritizing these implementations as Corporate/Government objectives for a Superior Value Delivery in our world.

Federico G. Lepe
President, International Logistics Commission
Council of Industrial Chambers, Mexico


During his life, Bernard Lietaer was one of the world’s most original thinkers about the financial system. I learned a great deal from him and I respected his work. I was surprised and very saddened to hear about his death, since the world needs his ideas now more than ever.

Dennis Meadows
Author of The Limits to Growth
Member, The Club of Rome


Epilogue: Two important endorsements

Two important endorsements for this book are better read after the reader has absorbed the context of this book. We thank both Marc Dubrulle and Father Simon Pierre for their thoughtful contributions to this book.

Marc Dubrulle

Ex officio Member of the Club of Rome, President emeritus, The Club of Rome EU-Chapter

The Superb Legacy of a Visionary Monetarist

Bernard Lietaer saw far and deep. Perhaps too far and too deep. His thinking was audacious and bold. Questioning the mainstream assumptions from monetarists, financiers, bankers, economists and political leaders is disruptive. Moving on these grounds leads to dismissal or – worse – to ignorance and indifference.

I made Bernard’s acquaintance more than ten years ago in the Club of Rome (CoR) EU-Chapter. We were both Board members. When elected President, I started looking with more detail into his career, expertise and publications. We had most pleasant and stimulating conversations, often over a friendly private lunch or with a glass of Belgian Trappist beer after a meeting.

Sustainability was at the core of the Club’s concerns, but little attention had been paid to monetary issues. They were thought too highly technical, requiring solid financial expertise. However, at our Aurelio Peccei Lectures & Dialogues on 19 February 2009, Bernard was invited to present his views on systemic solutions for today’s world challenges. They obviously referred to money systems. We both felt there was room for a specific analysis of these systems and their possible alternatives. The first drafts of a manuscript were already available, with contributions from Christian Arnsperger, Sally Goerner and Stefan Brunnhuber.

In 2011, Finance Watch was founded as a European NGO in reaction to the last financial crisis, when policymakers realised that there was no counter-power to the finance lobby. Its first Secretary General, Thierry Philipponat, was invited with me for a lunch at Bernard’s flat. We discussed the project of a report from the CoR-EU to Finance Watch. The idea was to expose the systemic flaws in our money system and the wrong thinking underpinning it, leading to the financial catastrophes. The report would set out practical proposals for creating a money ’ecosystem’ with complementary currencies to support and stabilise the current money system.

Thierry Philipponat was enthused. The link between money and sustainability was established. Dennis Meadows, co-author of Limits to Growth, agreed to write a foreword which is very enlightening: …We will never create sustainability while immersed in the present financial system. I used not to think this. Indeed, I did not think about the money system at all. I took it for granted as a neutral and inevitable aspect of human society. But… now I understand, as proven clearly in this text, that the prevailing financial system is incompatible with sustainability.

It is the undeniable merit of Bernard Lietaer to have revealed this crucial issue for all those who endeavour to make the planet and quality of life sustainable. The report Money and Sustainability: The Missing Link, was published in 2012 by Triarchy Press, UK, endorsed by the Board of the CoR-EU, presented to Finance Watch and the World Business Academy with a launch event at the University Foundation in Brussels on 30 May 2012.

Bernard’s world view obviously reached far beyond monetary affairs, his professional expertise. He had this holistic approach which is too often missing when addressing the many problems of today’s civilisation. He was a humanist in the most positive sense of the word, caring for more equity and justice. Above all he had a strong willpower, looking at the future with optimism. His latest book is a superb legacy to all of us and a challenge to review our obsolete models.


Father Simon Pierre

Father Simon Pierre is, perhaps, Bernard’s oldest friend. He is a Benedictine Monk from the monastery of Wavreumont Belgium, living in the monastic foundation in Perú since 1974 and more specifically, since 1992, in the midst of the indigenous Aymara people near Titicaca lake.

In Loving Tribute to Bernard Lietaer, My Friend

In Bernard’s long list of friends, I must probably be one of the first, since we met in adolescence: I was 14, he must have been 18 or 19. We were, on the surface, at the opposite end of the spectrum: I wanted to become a Benedictine monk, which I ultimately did become, and he was already searching all over for the meaning of reality, visible and hidden, and how to approach it with intelligence and heart. Since then, however, our friendship has been forged through an uninterrupted Yin-Yang conversation between mysticism and utopia, a mysterious and silent contrivance that only death seemed to be able to suspend at its peak.

I would like to thank the authors of this book for allowing me to resume the conversation beyond the mystery of the invisible. They encourage me to resume, on the basis of the three paradigm shifts proposed here, an ever-open debate between the monk and the visionary, both researchers, on different paths, of the “indispensable impossible” that we call hope.

But I am not here to talk about “him and me,” which belongs only to him and to me, but to reread with you the invitation of this book from where I am in my human and spiritual adventure. I will therefore allow myself to react to the paradigms proposed here from two points of view: culture and mysticism.

Culture as a transversal axis

As every time we open a debate, I will allow myself to propose once again a fundamental objection to Bernard’s hypotheses, not to deny their relevance, but to broaden their horizons.

Is the efficiency-resilience binomial not too narrow and will we not run the risk of consolidating, by making it more flexible, the system of Western civilization, which, obviously, dehumanizes the world in many respects? I have always admired, of course, the West’s ability to adapt and correct itself so as not to fundamentally question its own dogmas of progress. No culture and no system have, like us, the ability to constantly recreate itself and never really question itself.

Is this not still the risk of this paradigm shift: reinventing in order not to change? Who, indeed, would not agree with Bernard’s beautiful utopia? The future of the planet, but above all the continuity of the Western world view, depends on it. But is that the priority?

The missing link of cultures

Having myself lived in the heart of the indigenous cultures of the Peruvian Andes for many years, I have learned to radically challenge my European dogmas about happiness, life and the world. There are really other ways of looking at man and in particular the relationship of differences between humans and the whole cosmos.

The first revolution is anthropological. Is the human being, conceived as an individual, really the center of the world? Is the West’s exacerbated anthropocentrism good news for the world? In the traditional cultures of the Andes (and this is probably not the only case), the community exists before the individual; and the human being recognizes himself only in the relationship of reciprocity.

Thus, the patrifocal paradigm and the matrifocal paradigm are not two complementary points of view, but a unique movement of reciprocity. We can even go further and wonder, with these traditional cultures, if humans have a privileged function compared to the rest of the inhabitants of the universe. In non-Western cultures, very often harmony, preserved and constantly restored among all living beings, is the true goal of life in and the universe, not sustainability first and foremost. Efficiency and resilience are absolutely absent from this intuition.

This diversity of cosmovision, implicit anthropologies and utopias is always present in the collective unconscious. A people may well superficially adopt the categories of Western rationality; and even if corrected and softened, its deep being always continues to react and feel in tune with its roots.

It therefore seems essential to me to submit the new paradigms we are talking about here to the judgment and transformative melting pot of cultures in their specificity. It is certainly unthinkable today to exclude Western rationality, which has become the heritage of all humanity. But it can, and must, be rethought from top to bottom, based on other, healthier and more humane approaches. Universal violence, generated by the imposition of Western categories on the world, certainly has its origin, for the most part, in the forgetting of the wisdom embodied in the cultures of yesterday and today.

The symbolic dimension

An increasingly absent dimension of Western rationality has much to do with symbolism and poetics. We have separated these spaces to such an extent that they no longer have any real interconnection. Everyone moves in their own universe.

In non-Western cultures, symbolism and poetics are intimately integrated. We are even talking about symbolic technology and the intrinsic rituality of human action. It is precisely in this field, symbolic and ritual, that the human community not only reappropriates all the information, as implied by the third shift of paradigms, but also reinterprets and re-enchants it, in some way.

Without this re-enchantment of the world, in the multiplicity of peoples’ intuitions, the new paradigms will never be anything more than a change of clothes that are more flexible, more adapted but just as foreign to the body that wears them.

The ethical dimension

Even if resilience corrects blind efficiency, and patri- and matri-focal dynamics humanize in diversity, just as the reappropriation of information allows critical discernment and decision making, it cannot be denied that recent developments in the West have largely removed the notion of ethics from decisions and choices.

Certainly, democratic humanism imposes a series of normative conditions and limits on the blind voracity of the market. But this is hardly the case in the vast majority of countries in the world, including the United States. The universal economic dogma of profit seems infallible and above the ethical requirements of States and multinational communities.

Introduce mysticism into decisions?

It seems very insulting, even absurd, to speak of mysticism in this context. And yet, the unpredictable whims of reality, even the market, seem to tell us that there is a dimension of mystery in the world that must be taken into account and that has to do with the unpredictability of the human being. Is there not a massive form of arrogance in the very notion of sustainability, as if we could finally foresee and manage everything?

As monks, we claim to be witnesses of this mystery, of this unpredictability of reality, of the beyond of all our achievements in the invisible. Madness necessary for a world that breathes beyond its forecasts and readjustments, even brilliant ones.

Ethics as a prerequisite

I mentioned above the absence of ethical criteria in most of our political and economic decisions. Eventually we ask ourselves the question a posteriori. Ethics, as a consequence of mysticism, is, on the contrary, a necessary a priori, a condition for any decision and any discernment.

For a long time, I have advocated the creation of an ethical United Nations, where all the world’s wisdoms would share their spiritual and ethical foundations, to manage the political, economic and social world. This was the meaning, I believe, of President Mitterrand’s creation of his famous multi-philosophical ethics committee. But it seems to have been a long time coming.

The dialogue has resumed

These are some of the follies of an atypical monk, who looks at his friend Bernard’s utopias, as we have always done, from the friend’s heart, but with the distance that any true friendship always allows.

I can already hear his silent response from the absolute mystery where he now lives, and I await this reply with impatience and joy. But it will be done in another space.

Forgive me for this shared nonsense. But I know that Bernard was essentially a mystic and that he has known, since our beginnings in adolescence, this particular song scratched on a mysterious guitar of silence.

Thank you, Bernard.


Bernard Lietaer – Biography


Bernard Lietaer – Author of SUSTAINABLE WORLD

Found law of sustainability with Robert E. Ulanowicz and Sally J. Goerner

Bernard Lietaer (February 7, 1942 – February 4, 2019) was a civil engineer, economist, author and professor.

He studied engineering at the University of Leuven, where he went back as a professor of international finance from 1975 – 1978 and again from 1983 – 1986.

Already as a student he was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the best business students in America; discovered the link between monetary system and misery.

Working for the Central Bank of Belgium he implemented the convergence mechanism (ECU) to the single European currency system, conducted fundamental research about the subject of money, and – in 2009 – found, with Robert E. Ulanowicz and Sally J. Gerner, the law of sustainability.

In this book he outlines 3 paradigm shifts we must go through to ensure sustainability of our world.

Chosen by Time Magazine as one of the best business students in America

When he went to MIT in the U.S., he started working as well for McCormick Consultants. Because of his post-graduate thesis, “Financial management of Foreign Exchange. An Operational Technique to Reduce Risk,” in 1969, he was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the ten best business students in America that year. When it was published as a book in 1971, just after President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, it turned out to be the only systematic research which could be used with all of the major currencies of the world.

Clarified the link between monetary system and misery

Continuing to work on this subject, he discovered the link between our monetary system and misery; and in 1978, he published the book “A role for Europe in the North-South Conflict.

Implemented the convergence mechanism (ECU) to the single European currency system.

During his time at the Central Bank in Belgium (National Bank of Belgium), he was the president of Belgium’s Electronic Payment System and implemented the convergence mechanism (ECU) to the single European currency system.

World’s top currency trader in 1992

He co-founded one of the largest and most successful currency management firms, Gaia Corp, and managed an offshore currency fund (Gaia Hedge II) which was the world’s top performing managed currency fund during the 1987-91 period while he ran it. Business Week named him “the world’s top currency trader” in 1992.

Fundamental research about the subject of money

In 1991, he obtained the book “Interest and Inflation free money” written by Margrit Kennedy (German version published in 1990), which made him finally understand the most important problems of our monetary system. He started fundamental research about the subject of money, which resulted in two books: “The Future of Money,” 1999, and “Mysterium Geld” (Mystery of Money), 2000.

As a consequence, he developed the idea of Complementary Currencies, which he spread in several books, also together with Margrit Kennedy and other authors as well as in other publications, numerous conferences, as a professor at different universities and a consultant to companies, organizations and governments worldwide.

In 2009 found – with Robert E. Ulanowicz and Sally J. Goerner – the Law of Sustainability

In 2009 he found – with Robert E. Ulanowicz and Sally J. Goerner, based on the research of Ulanowicz – the Law of Sustainability, the scientific proof that as monocultures, our actual monetary systems are very unstable over the long term. In the publication “Money and Sustainability – The Missing Link” of the Club of Rome, he pointed out, with Christian Arnsperger, Sally J. Goerner and Stefan Brunnhuber, that our monetary system drives our world out of sustainability.


Videos – Lietaer on sustainability of  monetary system

World sustainability and monetary system

On the book “Money and sustainability”.
The law of sustainability and how it applies to monetary systems.


New currencies support sustainability of monetary system

On the subjects covered in his book “New currencies for a new world”.


The future of money: Towards sustainable monetary systems

On the principles covered in his book “The future of Money”.


Book chapters of “Towards a sustainable world”

The “Law of the Sustainability of Living Systems”, developed with other experts, explains and specifies the principles of sustainability: It says that living systems are only sustainable if they achieve a balance between productivity and elasticity. Balance, therefore, between short-term benefits of long-term existence. Just like that of Yin and Yang – not an “either – or”. We violate this law criminally. We have driven most living systems out of balance, making them non-sustainable.. Mono-cultures of all kinds, for example, emphasize short-term benefits and are not even sustainable in the short term without massive additional costs, as Lietaer shows with the example of forests and today’s monetary system. The book calls on readers to ensure that this law of sustainability is recognized and complied with. Both as individuals and as leaders in business and politics, readers are challenged to balance the short-sighted overvaluation of rapid return with the preservation of resilience.

Table of figures 8

Dear Reader 11

The story of this book 13

At a glance 15

The language of the new paradigms 19

General 20
Paradigm Shift 1: From Aristotle to Tao 20
Paradigm Shift 2: Towards a more balanced matrifocal/patrifocal partnership 22
Paradigm shift 3: Towards more personal ownership of information 22

Paradigm Shift 1: From Aristotle to Tao 25

Sustainability: The goal of living systems 25
The vital question: How can we ensure living systems remain viable, and thus, sustainable? 25
Aristotle’s logic: Only a partial answer 26
The law of sustainability for living systems 29
The Tao view: Balanced forces 34
Yin, Yang and the law of sustainability 36
This is the root cause of our problems 37
Hey, is there anything new here? No and yes. 38
Example 1: Shifting toward more mixed woodland 40
Example 2: Towards dual monetary systems 46
And now, it’s your turn 61

Paradigm Shift 2: Towards a better matrifocal/patrifocal balance 66

Sustainable societies, defined 66
Our values determine our societies’ sustainability 66
Focus both on efficiency and resilience of our societies 66
Patrifocal and matrifocal values – both in women and men 67
Out of balance 68
Not always so 70
The required paradigm shift 70
And now, it’s your turn 73

Paradigm Shift 3: Towards More Personal Ownership of Information 76

The human information system 76
Centralized information systems: Proprietary information, filtered for money 81
The paradigm shift required: Towards more personal ownership of proprietary information 85
Governments must provide laws to strengthen private ownership of information 88
And now, it’s your turn 90

What Bernard promised and what this book delivered 92

Four books, one article 94

About Bernard Lietaer 96

Index 100


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Towards a Sustainable World

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