One of the biggest criticisms of the Gross National Happiness philosophy is that, it is an elitist philosophy. This view will get more traction as the head of the government, the Prime Minister, is away on a GNH meet in New York, meeting top global leaders and intellectuals when the country is facing its worst financial crisis till date. This crisis is getting worse by the day causing real economic pain to most Bhutanese.
If our elected leaders really want to find out how happy the people are, they should meet the vegetable and meat stalls vendors and find out how prices of basic food commodities have shot through the roof due to a weakened Ngultrum. They should meet some of the 29,000 small businesses owners across the country and find out how difficult it is for them to get supplies without rupees.
They should also meet the patients and students who are not getting adequate rupee either for their treatment or as educational allowances.
As our leaders speak of happiness from a well lit podium in New York, the situation back home is anything but happy.
Apart from the economic crisis there are a number of things that are making most Bhutanese unhappy. A few examples would be high unemployment, growing crime rates, growing alcohol and drug abuse, widening gap between the rich and poor, increasing corruption cases, and growing intolerance in political circles.
This conference was planned well in advance of any rupee crisis and cancelling it was not an option.
However, the issue is not just about the conference but how the same energy and focus used on GNH overall, should also be used in other more important areas like the economy.
There is no argument that the GNH is fundamentally a good philosophy but there is a time and place for everything and even too much of a good thing is not advisable. We should lecture the world on GNH, no doubt, but only when we have our own house in order.
The need of the hour is first to solve the rupee crisis in the short term and then come up with policies and measures to ensure we don’t face one in the future.
The issue as pointed above is about getting our priorities right. If even half the resources, energy and time spent on our GNH visits and conferences were applied in promoting Bhutan as an investment destination then we would see more investors coming to Bhutan. After all, investment is one of the long term solutions to the rupee crisis and unemployment.
There is also a perception that our elected leaders are more eager to please the world first and then think of national priorities and not the other way around.
An example is declaring Bhutan to be a carbon neutral country when Bhutan has so much manufacturing industry potential with huge upcoming hydropower resources and large industrial estates in the south.
There is growing public impatience with the current economic crisis and this impatience is turning into anger as people have the perception that their leaders have lost touch with reality.
Bhutan no doubt faces strong pressures as a tiny and poor nation landlocked between two giant neighbors. In the face of such pressures we have strengthened our own unique identity and culture and in doing so have come out with a unique developmental philosophy like GNH.
This has been achieved and the time has now come to move on to the next goal which should be economic development only after which we can call ourselves self sufficient. Once we are not dependent on any other country for our needs, Bhutan’s sovereignty will be further strengthened.
The tiny and poverty stricken nation-island Singapore, like Bhutan, faced a similar situation. However, in a short time, the nation and its people focused on unprecedented economic development. As a result Singapore is a regional power, a global player, and Singaporeans enjoy a standard of life envied even in the developed world.
On the other hand Greece probably has the western world’s richest culture going back thousands of years with good governance philosophies that have defined subsequent western civilizations and empires like Rome, Britain, and America. However, after Greek leaders took their eyes off the economy, the country today is a text book definition of sovereign debt crisis in Europe.