UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 8, 2009

GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS

Seth Mydans, New York Times - "Greed, insatiable human greed," said Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, describing what he sees as the cause of today's economic catastrophe in the world beyond the snow-topped mountains. "What we need is change," he said in the whitewashed fortress where he works. "We need to think gross national happiness."

The notion of gross national happiness was the inspiration of the former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s as an alternative to the gross national product. Now, the Bhutanese are refining the country's guiding philosophy into what they see as a new political science, and it has ripened into government policy just when the world may need it, said Kinley Dorji, secretary of information and communications. . .

Under a new Constitution adopted last year, government programs - from agriculture to transportation to foreign trade - must be judged not by the economic benefits they may offer but by the happiness they produce.

The goal is not happiness itself, the prime minister explained, a concept that each person must define for himself. Rather, the government aims to create the conditions for what he called, in an updated version of the American Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of gross national happiness."

The Bhutanese have started with an experiment within an experiment, accepting the resignation of the popular king as an absolute monarch and holding the country's first democratic election a year ago. . .

Bhutan is, perhaps, an easy place to nimbly rewrite economic rules - a country with one airport and two commercial planes, where the east can only be reached from the west after four days' travel on mountain roads.

No more than 700,000 people live in the kingdom, squeezed between the world's two most populous nations, India and China, and its task now is to control and manage the inevitable changes to its way of life. It is a country where cigarettes are banned and television was introduced just 10 years ago, where traditional clothing and architecture are enforced by law and where the capital city has no stoplight and just one traffic officer on duty. . .

The government has determined that the four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment and good governance. It breaks these into nine domains: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, each with its own weighted and unweighted GNH index.

All of this is to be analyzed using the 72 indicators. Under the domain of psychological well-being, for example, indicators include the frequencies of prayer and meditation and of feelings of selfishness, jealousy, calm, compassion, generosity and frustration as well as suicidal thoughts.. . .

Every two years, these indicators are to be reassessed through a nationwide questionnaire, said Karma Tshiteem, secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission, as he sat in his office at the end of a hard day of work that he said made him happy. . .

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