I read with great bemusement, Sonam Gyamtsho’s, response ‘GNH Is a Better Development Paradigm’ to my article in Kuensel.
I am worried that Gyamtsho’s comments belie the arrogance and hubris which seem to pervade so much of the dialogue about GNH in Bhutan. For example, Gyamtsho writes, “Bhutan’s development philosophy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ has received overwhelming global attention.” To be certain GNH has received some publicity for example the UN statement and Brazil summit. However, I just Googled GNH in the news and the most recent article I could find was from the Jakarta Post on bans in Bhutan and Bhutan’s development process. The next 3 articles are all from Bhutanese sources and finally there is an article on August 9th about GNH. This is “overwhelming global attention?”
Later he goes on to write, “While many scholars; economists and politicians around the world have received the concept quite favorably.” The concept of GNH isn’t even present in any of the introductory Economics books except as a sidebar or a foot note. True a few leftist socialist Economists have supported GNH but to use the word many and as for politicians I wouldn’t exactly say that global leaders are lining up to sing the praises of GNH.
To me the most alarming statement is when he writes, “Being a poor country but our people have enough to feed, have proper shelter and clothes to wear. We are happy and content with what we have and we also make sure that our environment is protected and our tradition and culture are preserved. That is the whole essence of GNH in brief.”
It is painfully obvious from just the stories in the newspaper that there are real issues of nutrition impacting children, Sonam has no concept of proper shelter or sanitary living conditions or the unsafe conditions confronting many of your countries children, protecting your environment – has Sonam seen the level of trash and bio waste accumulating in alleys, along the streets and in the precious streams of your land, I have could attach over 100 photos taken just in Paro, Phuntsholing and Gedu which show a country trending more toward the filth and unsanitary conditions of Bangkok, Manila, Kolkata than Singapore, Finland or Sweden.
As for being happy and content, the papers show proportionally Bhutanese social ills are far higher than and growing at a more rapid than many GNP countries. Does Sonam not see the massive wave of social problems that are looming on the horizon with your out of work and tragically underemployed youth?
Finally, he writes, “We are not talking about happiness as a momentary pleasure; on the contrary, we are looking at something deeper and meaningful in life.” I think this gets to my point that not everyone agrees in Bhutan what happiness means. I see a lot of consumerism among the youth and growing pressures to have more. If GNH is working so well and if everyone is so happy how come my students have so much lust for all the consumer products they are now seeing on the web and TV and how come so many of them want to leave Bhutan? I think Mr. Gyamtsho is a very gifted writer, but what he wrote was fiction. That ultimately is my concern, I think a relative group of academic and economic elite are trying to jam a philosophy down the throats of the citizens by telling them how superior the philosophy is, how good the philosophy is and how those of us who follow a different philosophy are so miserable and nothing could be further from the truth.
The writer was a lecturer at the Gaeddu College and is now teaching at the Krannert School of Management in the USA.
By Dr. David L Luechauer