Integral Economics

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* Book: Ronnie Lessem’s and Alexander Schieffer’s Integral Economics (Gower, 2010)



Christian Arnsperger:

"In this context, Ronnie Lessem’s and Alexander Schieffer’s Integral Economics: Releasing the Economic Genius of Your Society is a truly fascinating piece of work. It would have greatly benefited from more careful copy-editing as well as grammatical and stylistic upgrading. Alas, the writing – apparently in part due to passages having been translated too literally from the German – more than occasionally gets in the way of the reader’s enjoyment. There is also, by and large, a tendency towards terminological overkill. I am not convinced the many acronyms and categorizations introduced by the authors are all absolutely necessary. But let’s not dwell on this. As a whole, this book is an extraordinary achievement offering what I would call an integral model of cross-cultural economic fertilization.

Be forewarned, however, that Lessem’s and Schieffer’s use of the term “integral” has nothing immediately in common with Ken Wilber’s AQAL model. There are four main economic “paths” investigated in this book, but this largely formal analogy with Wilber’s four “quadrants” should not mislead us. While the AQAL map analytically decomposes reality into the exterior and interior dimensions of the individual and the collective, Lessem’s and Schieffer’s “four worlds” map operates with a geographical-and-cultural matrix: they analytically distinguish between the Northern path of rationalism, the Western path of pragmatism, the Eastern path of holism, and the Southern path of humanism.

I suppose one could find commonalities between this and Wilber’s method. For one, both approaches share a basic presumption, which motivates the use of the word “integral.” Today, in an era where the contents of all cultural, philosophical, and spiritual traditions can and do circulate worldwide, each formerly separate tradition can only ever occupy the world stage as one ideal type among others – equally valid, but equally partial. As Ken Wilber is fond of saying, no one can be 100 percent wrong, which obviously entails that no one can be 100 percent right until they have deeply investigated what is right in all traditions. This is the grounding axiom of any integral approach. Lessem and Schieffer honor it by spreading out before the reader an impressive landscape of economic wisdom traditions from East and West, past and present, destined to gradually evolve into a new discipline of “world economics,” just like the 1980s saw the advent of “world music” out of a creative fusion of colorfully diverse musical traditions previously scattered all over the planet.

The authors’ basic presumption is, indeed, that once the barriers of mutual ignorance have been brought down between traditions, an irrepressible process is unleashed whereby – notwithstanding the development of pathologies along the way – they are called forth to fertilize each other in unforeseen ways. Is this process developmental? Is it evolutionary? I would prefer to call it a process of synergistic emergence: the traditions don’t simply merge, they come into contact and, each from its own specific core, start contributing to something new that can’t be reduced to, or deduced from, any of those traditions. This something new is what the authors call the “integral economy.” The key feature of this new economy is that it will “give each of the different worlds a distinctive voice of their [sic] own” (p. 11).

The four worlds or paths that make up the landscape of economic wisdom, according to Lessem and Schieffer, are:

(1) the pragmatic Western path of realization and “doing,” which emphasizes finance, management, and enterprise, and potentially opens into a “living economy” centered around the private sector;

(2) the rationalistic Northern path of reason and “knowing,” which emphasizes science and technology, and potentially opens into a “social economy” centered around the public sector;

(3) the holistic Eastern path of renewal and “becoming,” which emphasizes culture, spirituality, and consciousness, and potentially opens into a “developmental economy” centered around the civic sector; and

(4) the humanistic Southern path of relationality and “being,” which emphasizes nature and community, and potentially opens into a self-sufficiency economy centered around the environmental sector.

These are, of course, ideal types, since in many Southern or Eastern areas there has already been an invasion of Western traits, while in all Northern and Western regions there are, even today, remnants and revivals of Southern and Eastern characteristics. Ideal types, or what Wilber calls guiding generalizations, are notoriously unpopular among self-proclaimed realists and empiricists, who always want to go immediately into the infinite details of each situation. I believe in the usefulness of broad pictures and I want to commend Lessem and Schieffer for having attempted to hold together so many elements of reality without getting lost in the fine grain. No map can claim to be a perfect replication of the territory, but what the authors have offered here is very useful." (


The GENE Methodology

Christian Arnsperger:

"Each path or world of economic wisdom, they suggest, possesses its own specific “genius.” Etymologically, this Latin word designates the guardian and guiding deity that watches over a person from birth; by extension, it means that specific internal driving force which inhabits those who are single-mindedly driven towards a goal to which they seem predisposed. In a play on words and letters that I personally find somewhat contrived and artificial, but with which I’m prepared to go along since it appears to be rooted in their earlier work on innovation, transformation, and change,[1] Lessem and Schieffer propose the acronym GENE-IUS. Each of the letters has its meaning. Here is how they formulate it:

All worlds are needed for a full cycle of transformation to occur. The GENE is a fourfold cyclical process starting from grounding (G), to emerging (E), onto navigation (N) and finally effecting (E). As the GENE implies, different worlds co-creatively engage with each other. Transformation, for us moreover, also—and paradoxically—links the inner ‘I’ (moral Inspiration) and the outer ‘U’ (Universal truth), through a Synergetic process (S), hence GENE-IUS. The ultimate outcome would be a transformed economic approach in action:

a) by drawing inspiration (I) from your moral core;

b) by aligning this core with your own individual and collective grounding, emergence, navigation, effecting (GENE); and

c) by releasing your full GENE-IUS by synergizing (S) the moral inspiration (I) with a universal (U) truth. (pp. 14-15)"


More information

  • Christian Arnsperger, Full-Spectrum Economics: Toward an Inclusive and Emancipatory Social Science (London: Routledge, 2010).
  • Arnsperger recommends: "For a quite extraordinary piece of work on intercultural economics, which complements Lessem’s and Schieffer’s model and may find its theoretical grounding in their methodology, but alas has not yet been translated into English, see Thierry Verhelst, Des racines pour l’avenir: Cultures et spiritualités dans un monde en feu (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008). Verhelst, a Dutch-speaking Belgian living in the French-speaking part of the country, fluent in English, has worked and lived extensively in Africa and Asia and co-headed an intercultural development NGO called Cultures & Development. He is also a priest in a French-speaking Orthodox Christian church that merges Oriental and Occidental spiritual paths – a genuinely integral personality in the sense of Lessem and Schieffer, to be sure."