1. Will Bhutan stand to benefit in a significant way by propounding GNH to the international community?
At some level it may attract attention and even a few visitors. However, the let down was amazing. Bhutan over promises and under delivers. The more people who come to Bhutan, particularly those who come unscripted and with a sincere desire to help, will likely walk away with the same impression as I. I believe you will sense that while she had much love for the Bhutanese people, Lisa Napoli the author of Radio Bhutan, holds much the same opinion as do I.
Bhutan needs to get a basic infrastructure in place and demonstrate that is has a self-sufficient economy in place before it even begins to tell the world it has any meaningful operational model for the rest of us to follow. Singapore, Sweden, Finland are places that could advocate GNH as a model for others to follow – but, not Bhutan. Advocating GNH could possibly attract some international development dollars and grants but again that would attract attention and I fear that corruption could be or become an issue with a large influx of grant and aid packages.
2. What is your view on the application of GNH values in Bhutan?
I think the first issue is to build your democracy and get people away from relying so much on the government and on foreign aid.
Concomitantly, Bhutan needs to build a quality infrastructure (hospitals, roads, schools, public toilets); build a large middle class of people who have skills (plumbers, electricians, medical technologists) and purchasing power. Build a culture of self-sufficient, self-reliant and entrepreneurial people who come up with ways to generate internal products and internal demand for those products. Goodness, every time we wanted anything the common refrain was, go to India and buy it.
GNH is a measure nothing more, nothing less. The devi so to speak is in the application. I am a big believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The pursuit of higher order constructs such as happiness -follows from the meeting of base level needs. My fundamental concern from touring Bhutan and speaking with ordinary people is that Bhutan really has too many people whose base needs are not being met. For example, the living conditions for the majority of the faculty at Gaeddu College of Business Studies (GCBS), which I would estimate to be some of the best living conditions in the country are substandard at best and in many cases are worse than substandard. Gedu was rife with TB. Even basic over the counter medications were unavailable and finding clean and sanitary toilets was a major challenge on almost any trip we took.
Medical care, albeit free, is most problematic. It’s hard to describe just how challenging and difficult the living conditions are for the “average Bhutanese citizen.” Until recently, this probably has not been a problem because the average citizen didn’t know any better. However, the advent of TV and Internet is going to heighten awareness among the populace of how “relatively deprived” they are in comparison to others in the region. Moreover, the “standard” by which one defines base will escalate in the minds of the populace and as those needs go unmet social problems will increase drastically. We already see this at GCBS and in the Capital. Over 30% of the student population already tests for having alcoholism, not social drinking but alcoholism. Sadly, the problem isn’t being created in college as the second semester students report that drinking and drinking heavily beyond socially acceptable or healthy limits starts back in high school. “Happy” and content people do not drink at problem and alcoholic levels.
It is hard to type an answer to this question but it is just imperative that Bhutanese leaders understand just how much basic infrastructure work needs to be done before launching out and telling the rest of the world to follow GNH. Rather than following GNH, I would much rather see Bhutan look at the New Deal program of Franklin Roosevelt and seek to emulate something along those lines. However, even that would be a challenge.
I fear that too much emphasis is being placed on the happiness component of GNH. At this stage of development what Bhutan needs is the development of self-reliance and entrepreneurship. However, as my eldest son experienced in talking with many students about business ideas and start up ideas, they just couldn’t understand. They kept telling him he was simply a money grubber or that the best jobs were in the civil service.
I tried to have groups comprised of five students in my classes generate 25 ideas on how they could make more money than what the government was supplying them by starting up local businesses in and around Gedu (e.g., doing laundry, offering grass mowing services, collecting and selling all the discarded wood and fallen branches as starter fuel for the bukharis, collecting recyclables and selling them, etc were just some of the thoughts that had sprung to my mind.) I couldn’t find one group that could even come up with 10 ideas.
When I finally listed my ideas, the general response was “that would be a lot of work doc” or “we don’t do those kind of jobs.”
This was a particularly tragic line of thinking when we also found out that the typical student at GCBS spends less than two hours a day studying or preparing for class. What do they do with all their time?
A new deal type program would actually require Bhutanese citizens to get out and build roads, build damns, haul away trash, fix toilets, clean increasingly polluted streams and roadside areas but sorry to say, my candid observation is that there is at least two generations of Bhutanese who are content with either letting things decay or are waiting for foreigners to do the real hard work of building the infrastructure the country so desperately needs.
In the cities, the work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit is tragically low. The Minister of Labor even reported in a speech/talk delivered to GCBS faculty that he could not find students to fill seats in the many vocational schools because they were told by their parents that such jobs were not prestigious enough or too much hard work. In a sense, these parents were telling their kids it was better to be unemployed than to do real work, the type of work that actually builds nations, builds wealth, etc. The government will soon learn that it can’t provide for the growing number of unemployed youths in the country and that many are unemployed in a sense by choice because they simply do not want to do the type of jobs which need to be done. All this emphasis on happiness is also breeding a sense of laziness or entitlement which the nation simply can’t afford. I would recommend having a program where college students have to do two years of “labor work” around the country before they get their free tuition and stipends. I would also recommend that all Bhutanese College Administrators come to the USA and study in Berea College.
3. You claim that countries such as Singapore, Sweden, USA, Finland, Denmark, Netherland, Germany and etc are closer to GNH than Bhutan. Please elaborate?
Seriously, look at the policies, the laws the actual practices in everything from waste disposal and collection, to employee rights, to civil liberties. Singapore is much cleaner than Bhutan. Finland currently boasts the best education practices in the world. For all its faults, the USA demonstrates a concern for the well being of its own citizens as much or more than any nation I have ever visited. You know, we are not all miserable in the West and as nations all of the above are among the first to be on the scene anytime there is a catastrophe anywhere in the world whether it happens to friend or foe. Bhutan could pick the best practices from all of them and seek to emulate and then surpass them. Simple things like child safety laws which are in place in all of those places, are non-existent in Bhutan, so how can Bhutan claim to have any great concern for the well being of its children.