It’s true that there are not many high quality goods made in Bhutan, but it’s also true for Europe and the US where most products, including iPhones, are made in China, Mexico, or other countries. Not a single developed country Dr David has listed is self-sufficient in producing goods for their citizens. They all outsource and heavily rely on other countries’ resources and labor such as Middle East oil or cheap Chinese workers.
Bhutan was basically self-sufficient when it was an isolated agrarian country. With globalization and uncontrolled urbanization, higher expectations of urban populations have to be met through importing goods. The real question for me is whether Bhutan will be able to generate sufficient income through tourism, foreign grants, and sales of electricity and locally made goods to continue buying foreign products and services, and occasionally reduce its current debt. If not, individual consumption and government spending have to be reduced to a lower level and politicians and citizens should accept that.
3. His proposal: be driven by Dow Jones and Nikkei, in other words by the stock exchange.
I’m not sure what this means. Can Dr David imagine, for instance, an effective rehabilitation system for alcohol addicts that is driven by the stock exchange index, instead of solidarity, empathy, human caring, family support and love? Companies may be driven by numbers, but not entire societies.
4. His proposal: don’t rely on foreign aid.
I agree. It’s good to be independent from foreign money in the long run. On the other hand, foreign aid is not necessarily bad and can be used wisely at early development stage. After World War II, Western Europe was basically rebuilt on foreign support: the Marshall Plan of the United States. The same aid was proposed to the Soviet Union which rejected it for political reasons. Well, one can decide today who made a better decision.
5. His proposal: get back to monarchy so the King has full power to follow Jack Welsh’s example who restructured General Electric.
I think it’s a bit irresponsible to propose 30 year-old business management techniques to a country’s leadership. What Bhutan needs is 21st century solutions tailored to its unique geopolitical situation and culture. A country is not a company.
6. His proposal: look at the US, Denmark, Germany, etc.
Discussing solutions, Dr David compares small Bhutan with the US, Singapore, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden in his article. On one hand, I agree: Bhutan can learn from more developed countries in terms of education system, health care, skilled labor, English language skills, craftsmanship, or entrepreneurial spirit.
However, this comparison has its limitations. Sweden has always been a trading country and it assisted both warring parties during Second World War which helped create a strong industry. Singapore is perfectly situated to be a trading hub which generates wealth. We can clearly see further limitations when we compare populations, geopolitical status, the huge amount of resources these highly industrialized countries use, the garbage and pollution they produce, and the money some of them spend on military projects or government subsidizes in order to protect their national interests and serve their citizens’ needs.
Just on agriculture subsidies: since 1995, $277 billion have been paid in government subsidizes to farmers in the US (http://farm.ewg.org). In 2011, direct aid to farmers and market-related expenditure amounted to 30% of the total European Commission’s budget. (http://ec.europa.eu/budget). This high percentage translated into over $55 billion in one single year coming from tax-payers (including me) to private companies. Recipients of six-figure agriculture subsidizes in 2012 also included the Queen of England (BBC news).
I wonder what the learning in this for Bhutan is. Should it use 30% of its public budget to subsidize farmers? Or the learning is actually to avoid such anomalies? It’s not clear in Dr David’s recommendation.
Again, no doubt, Bhutan can learn from these so called ‘GNP’ countries keeping in mind that they have developed their strong economy over centuries of wars, colonization, slavery, migration and immigration, revolutions, industrial revolution, international trading, outsourcing, social unrests, fiscal paradises, and environmental degradation. In many ways, Bhutan can also learn from other emerging market countries or from smaller countries like Hungary which have gone through major political and economic transition similar to the one in Bhutan.
The business sector’s role in developing Bhutan
I think Dr David and I would agree on the high importance of the business community in a country’s development. Recognizing this importance, GNP is a part of GNH which places the business community, with targeted government support, in a key position creating suitable solutions for Bhutan.
Working with small and medium-sized enterprises at the Thimphu TechPark and Loden Foundation, I observe that local businesses – apart from the need to be more entrepreneurial and professional in their management – need to be more socially and environmentally responsible in their operation. The goodwill is most of the time given, but new entrepreneurs need to find their way of balancing profitability and responsibility. Government incentives, visible good examples from larger businesses, educated consumers, and tailored training programs would help them a lot.
As a coach, I work with Shoe-Vival/Help-Shoe Bhutan. Started about 2 years ago, this small enterprise has demonstrated that it’s possible to provide high quality service in a socially and environmentally responsible way. If they can do it, everyone can at least try. I hope to see a more engaged business community in Bhutan.
As a global citizen who genuinely cares about Bhutan, I aim to make a difference by offering assistance in finding 21st century business management solutions that consider social and environmental impact and suit a small nation like Bhutan. If Bhutan could adapt the latest telecommunications technologies, why not to tap into the latest management techniques and economic models based on stakeholder engagement, sustainable agriculture and tourism, social entrepreneurship, collaboration, ethical business conduct, values-based leadership, frugality, simplicity, locality, corporate responsibility, small and medium sized company development, Buddhist economics, behavioral economics, impact investment, ethical banking, etc.
Today, I don’t think that opening a bottle of Coca-Cola would make me happy and I think twice before buying a Big Mac, because I know that my purchase could increase the risk of floods in Bhutan endangering the beautiful Punakha Dzong and modest houses of my Bhutanese friends. That’s what I would call globalized solidarity and awareness of interconnectedness.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”. Creating this happiness is challenging, but such public debates may help move towards such harmony in Bhutan, Hungary, US and all over the world before its too late.
The writer used to work for Levi Strauss and he’s currently an independent Corporate Responsibility Advisor in Europe and a volunteer business coach in Bhutan. He’s also founding president of the Hungarian Bhutan Friendship Society. He can be contacted at email@example.com