no future for Gross National Happiness

Raising a standard against happiness is never going to be popular, but here goes.

The mountain kingdom of Bhutan has got a lot of mileage out of its practice, first adopted in 1972, of using a broad “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) measure of its people’s welfare rather than a narrow measure like income.

… [M]any people … have fallen in love with the idea – the UN went as far as declaring March 20 the “International Day Of Happiness” ….

Unfortunately for its international enthusiasts, its originators are losing faith. Tshering Tobgay, elected with a thumping majority last year in only the country’s second parliamentary election, has distanced his government from the concept. ….

GNH has proved no guarantee of individual human rights. Taking it at face value, you would never know that Bhutan has for decades been carrying out a brutal ethnic cleansing policy against the country’s Nepali-speaking minority. Once around a sixth of the population, a “Bhutanisation” campaign that began in the 1980s resulted in tens of thousands of Nepalis being expelled from the country. Their houses were seized or burned down and people deported for speaking Nepali, refusing to eat beef (Nepalis are generally Hindu while ethnic Bhutanese are Buddhist) or declining to wear traditional dress. The displaced are still living in refugee camps in Nepal, or have been resettled in the US or elsewhere: none has been allowed to return. ….

As for the future of GNH in Bhutan, Mr Tobgay seems to have exactly the right idea. He wants the king (now happily reduced to the role of a constitutional monarch) to proselytise for it in an abstract way, much as Queen Elizabeth II is sent abroad to chunter vaguely about Britain’s enduring values while the UK government gets on with running the country according to what its voters want.

Alan Beattie, “Gross National Happiness: a bad idea whose time has gone“, FT Beyond Brics blog, 4 September 2014.

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