In this second part of the interview with The Bhutanese Dr David L Luechauer stressed that he is neither for nor against GNH as a philosophy. He feels that like all philosophies GNH has its strengths and weaknesses and the problems he sees is in its implementation and interpretation.
1. Despite your criticism hasn’t Bhutan’s international profile increased due to GNH?
GNH is a topic that is getting some press coverage but even that is minor. Honestly, except in some academic circles and a few media outlets there is neither a view of GNH or for that matter Bhutan. I just gave a leadership presentation to 50 Chief Financial Officers of major companies. I was introduced as just having returned from Bhutan. You have to understand, these were men & women, who held the senior financial position in companies worth anywhere from 100 – 500 million dollars. Less than 5 could even place Bhutan on a map (I am not really proud of that but it is a fact). In terms of GNH, the typical response was oh yes, aren’t they the people trying to be happy or something like that. The even fewer who had any substantive knowledge of GNH basically had the same impression – it is nothing more than environmentally friendly socialism. In my experience teaching and lecturing around the world – Business leaders, the people who really create jobs and drive economies, neither knows nor particularly cares about either GNH or Bhutan.
I think the average person on the street that we have met on our travels back home from Bhutan and since we have been home is more interested in the King and Queen than in GNH.
2. The GNH philosophy in part or full is supported by countries like the UK, France, Japan etc where some forms of happiness measurement tools and indicators are being put in place inspired by Bhutan. They must have found something right with GNH?
The presumption that Bhutan has inspired this is not true. Measures of happiness and other forms of social well being go back many decades and reference to such lifestyles can even be found in many ancient holy books and religions. Men and women and even governments have espoused and tried to practice the principles which are at the core of GNH for centuries. Both the Quakers (Society of Friends) and Shakers in the USA advocated and actually practiced much of that which is contained in GNH in 1700’s.
Even the USA practices GNH with the application and enforcement of strict laws on everything from labor practices to trash disposal to civil rights. Measuring things is not the same as doing them. More importantly, however, is measuring the right thing, in the right way, and at the right time.
Measuring happiness in the aggregate is fraught with numerous problems and then attributing much meaning to those results could lead to even more problems. Instead of measuring “happiness” how about we measure significant things like a nation’s degree of tolerance and protection of civil rights, the amount of philanthropy displayed by the populace, the extent to which a nation actually creates and enforces laws that provide: consumer protections, protections for children, basic freedoms of speech and other civil liberties.
What matters is that a government provides people with all the protections to pursue happiness but whether they actually attain happiness or not, is not a concern for the government.
In the final analysis, I am glad those countries are measuring the happiness of their people. The real question will be what they do with the results. Anyone can conduct a study or take a poll, a few people can accurately interpret the results, and even fewer still actually do anything meaningful with the findings.
Case in point, I handed RUB a major and important study that probably has far greater implications and import in the short and long run than whether or not Bhutan pursues GNH. In fact, I would argue that Bhutan’s ability to pursue GNH at all may be largely and ultimately impacted by how it handles its current alcohol and soon to be drug problem at its Universities not to mention among its high school students, unemployed and under employed youth. So far, what I have seen and heard out of RUB in general and GCBS in particular has me alarmed that key officials are locked in denial and ignorance that could prove catastrophic.
It’s not the measure, it’s not the interpretation, the real question is whether or not France & Japan and others who may measure happiness have the political will, the resources, and the social support to do anything meaningful with the results.
3. Has GNH become an intellectual concept?
Yes, it has largely become an elitist concept embraced by fundamentalist environmentalist, left wing liberals, and economists with Marxist, Socialist, Communistic leanings. GNH is discussed in academic hallways, high end political conferences held in swanky resorts or conference centers by people who likely live lifestyles far superior to the average person in the street or in the village. I doubt rather seriously whether or not the average Bhutanese farmer or village cares whether the USA/Bhutan/France/Japan measure GNP, GDP, or GNH.
The literature on GNH drips of socialism which is not a big surprise since most of the economists who seem to be writing about GNH have strong leftist leanings. I am a bit afraid that pushing a socialist or socialistically grounded model of economic development will lead to negative social and economic results that will push Bhutan even further behind the rest of the world in terms of development and standard of living for the people of Bhutan.
In short, GNH is a competing philosophy, a hot topic among a few. It offers nice platitudes to debate and upon which to pass generally meaningless and toothless UN resolutions about which some people can feel good.
4. As an educationist what is your view on the success of the Ministry of Education’s efforts to take GNH to students across the country?
My family and I had the opportunity to meet the minister of education on numerous occasions. I can’t think of a finer man. The only concern I might have is that GNH must be taken and taught as an option not as a command. In short, children should be taught to analyze, assess and be given the freedom to critique GNH as model particularly as they move from grades 6 – 10/12 instead of having GNH forced upon them as a socio, political, cultural and economic imperative.
They should be taught the underpinnings of the model, the way the model impacts behavior, and given an honest and fair perspective on other models of economic development.
Unfortunately, I’ve read two massive handbooks of articles on GNH and they all paint the west or other models as being comprised of people who are miserable, mean-spirited, depressed, anxious, and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. If GNH is taught as one of many economic models to which a person in Bhutan could subscribe it would be marvelous and acceptance of GNH would be sincere. If GNH is taught as the only acceptable model, then this is nothing more than indoctrination and socialization. It would be antithetical to democracy, but, and through no fault of the Minister’s, I fear this may happening.
5. In your article on GNH you talk of the importance of ‘truth telling to power’ and how there is little of it in Bhutan. Can you please elaborate?
People are very reluctant to speak up and advocate alternative points of view on any number of issues. I saw this all the time with the students at GCBS they were too afraid to confront either professors or administrators about much needed reforms. Conversely, I do give much credit to the press in Bhutan. They are willing to report on less than flattering stories and raise serious questions but even that is done cautiously. You have to understand, from my perspective, the conflict averse nature of the populace leads them into a tacit acceptance of the way things are instead of a passionate commitment to working for how things should or could be. I think people in Bhutan are afraid to say they are not happy, in public forums. Yet observing their behavior you can see they are not happy and that is why there are increasing social problems such as alcoholism, drug use, violence and the like. The real problem, however, is that people say one thing and do another.