Hon’ble PM delivers keynote address at the 80th anniversary of Thai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

KEYNOTE ADDRESS ON GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS (GNH)
BY THE HON’BLE JIGMI Y. THINLEY,
PRIME MINISTER OF THE KINGDOM OF BHUTAN
AT THE 80th ANNIVERSARY OF THE THAI CHAMBER OF COMMERCE,

Bangkok, Thailand.
Mr. Chairman, Vice Chairman and Honorary Chairmen of the Thai Chamber of Commerce,
Chairmen of the Provincial Chambers of Commerce,
Provincial Governors,
Thai Government officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am most delighted to be invited to speak on the subject of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that has guided Bhutan’s development process for four decades. Besides, it is always a pleasure for me to be here in the charming capital of this great country. I thank the Thai Chamber of Commerce for their warm and gracious hospitality.

In speaking on the subject, I wish to acknowledge the remarkable similarities in the essence of the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy of His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Bhutan’s GNH. It is also an interesting coincidence that, moved by the same concerns, our two kings conceived their separate but similar ideas within the same period, ie, in the early 1970s.

I imagine the reason for the interest shown by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in the Bhutanese development paradigm has to do with the growing disillusionment the world over with the conventional development models that are guided principally by the GDP indicator. This indicator that has been blindly and wrongly accepted as a measure of societal wellbeing is now being recognized as the primary culprit for setting human society on an unsustainable path to self destruction. While it is to be given the credit for much of the good that mankind has achieved since the Great Depression when it was first adopted, more and more are now convinced that the pursuit of limitless growth in a world of vastly depleted resources, population explosion and insatiable consumerism with questionable impact on human wellbeing, just does not make sense any more.

The world of plentiful resources is no more; nature is no longer bountiful and powerful. Our planet is dying. Eco-systems are collapsing as evident in the rising frequency and magnitude of natural calamities. Climate is changing with devastating impacts especially on the poor and the vulnerable. Species are disappearing into extinction to signal the approaching planetary conditions that will no longer sustain even human life. Financial crises, food crises, energy crises, health crises are the order of the day rather than the exception. And communities are disintegrating, families falling apart – society is crumbling. As if these were not enough, governments are failing, conflicts mounting and wars over scarce resources are but inevitable. All the while, there is growing sense of discontent, alienation and dispossession. For too many, it is an insecure, inequitable and indeed, unhappy world that we live in today.

It is, however, encouraging to note that the sad truth is striking the conscience of more and more people across all walks of life. The search for a meaningful and fulfilling way of life has become serious and it begins with the call for a more reliable measure of development that goes beyond the singular purpose of monitoring quarterly economic growth variations.

But what we measure is what we get. So, the bigger question is what should we measure? This has led to a deep introspection and analysis of what ought to be the purpose of development, indeed, life itself. That it was the pursuit of wrong ends which has brought humanity to this perilous state is now the issue and subject of lively international discourse, not the least among some of the world’s greatest minds and thought leaders. At a recent workshop on Happiness at Columbia University, there were, among other eminent scholars, six Nobel Laureate participants.

It certainly has become an important item on the agenda of the international community, which saw the United Nations General Assembly adopt happiness as a holistic, sustainable and inclusive goal for societal development. It also passed a resolution declaring 20th March each year as the International Day of Happiness. Aside from these, a high level panel has been appointed by the UN SG to recommend ideas for a post MDG world; the OECD has developed a set of indices for measuring societal progress and the Sarkozy Commission has made its own recommendations for alternative approaches to development. Countries like the UK, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Japan and many others are developing their own wellbeing and happiness indicators. The US Department of Health has recently appointed Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman to lead a team to develop wellbeing indicators for the US and the US Treasury Chairman makes references to the happiness indicators of Bhutan. The UN GA is now engaged in identifying a set of sustainable goals to guide future development. In the meanwhile, Bhutan has been mandated by an extremely successful high-level meeting in April this year at the UN, to lead a global team of experts to elaborate the new economic paradigm that was the subject of discussion at the meeting.

But what brought humanity to this precarious state where we desperately need corrective measures? The answer to this critical question demands knowledge and understanding of the rights and wrongs of the turns we have taken on the path that have brought us to this point in the journey of our civilization. I believe it is necessary for us to engage in an honest retrospection so that we might best understand our mistakes and be able to avoid falling once again in the trap of pursuing the wrong ends with misleading notions of progress. We need to find the wisdom to determine how, by agreeing on a shared vision, we choose a path that will not only ensure our survival but lead us toward real progress.

Allow me then to invite you to reflect on the main global currents of change – the forces that have and could continue to affect us in profound ways. Even though the separate will of our sovereign nations will always guide domestic politics, it is clear that the trajectory of our inter-dependent countries cannot be set independently. It is evident that the realities of a globalized world, confronted with shared challenges of security and survival dictate a common future. Indeed, the fate of humanity will depend on how it can, with creative daring and collective will, face these challenges.

Looking back at the contours of the immediate past, we see that the last century has been one of titanic wars and preparation for a thermonuclear end for the planet. It was a century driven by production and proliferation of an astounding array of weapons piled high enough to reduce the world to dust a hundred times. As the arms industry produced weapons disproportionate to any conceivable threat, the war merchants thrived on conflicts and tensions they helped to cause, escalate or prolong. Military might and economic muscle have been the means used in the competition for market access and resource control. Sadly, little has changed even as we enter the second decade of the third millennium.

The emerging multi-polar world shows no signs of an era of reason and peace. Instead, arms rivalry and wars abound amid famine, hunger, disease and deprivation. The main nuclear powers continue to develop more sophisticated and destructive weapons even as they claim to be committed to arms reduction. And the chilling phrase, “nuclear terrorism”, has enriched our vocabulary to remind us of the hazardous state of our planet’s security. It is time that we recognize nuclear weapons for what they are not. They are no longer war deterrents. They make human survival less certain. The world is no more secure now than in the heydays of super-power rivalry. What human society needs instead is the will to build relations that are founded on trust and cooperation to make our world equitable, safe and peaceful.

The past century was one of heroic struggles for freedom and emancipation of epic proportions. Colonialism, authoritarianism and other non-liberal forms of governance systems collapsed and democracy triumphed. But for far too many, democracy does not mean good governance, justice and equity. Too many are yet to gain freedom, hope and security through broader social and economic participation that are the promises of democracy. The struggle for survival has not been made easier in the countries of the South by the explosion of global population from 2 billion at the end of 19th century to 7 billion in October of this year. By 2050, 9 billion will overcrowd this small planet. In the North, populations are diminishing and aging with dwindling work force presenting serious challenges. In contrast, many developing countries will become younger in the early part of this century. How we can take advantage of the mutually beneficial opportunities offered by such demographic disparities and complementarities between the two parts of the world will be a true test of will and wisdom for nations.

The last century was a century of urbanization. From 30% of world urban population in 1950, it has increased to over 50% now. We are resigned to the possibility that 70% of global population will live in cities in the next 40 years or sooner. But must we accept that development means urbanization? Urbanization is the result of incongruent development and can be contained through localization of production and scaling down of huge settlements. The negative consequences of urbanization in terms of ecological and carbon foot print are well-known, though hardly taken into account in policy making. For instance, food that sustains urban populations travel perhaps the longest distance, leading to the longest food-miles. Is food not important enough to be grown locally and in a sustainable and self-reliant way? Above all, the consequences in terms of breakdown of the social links and communal affiliations through urbanization have been extremely severe.

Rural urban migration usually translates as leaving ones roots, family, friends and neighbors. It often means separating oneself from close and caring relationships, vital community life of interdependence, communion with nature, self-sufficiency and a less stressful and slower pace of life. For too many, urban life has come to mean a life of loneliness amid bustling crowds. The social safety net offered by family and neighbors, back on the farm, is traded for state support, which in many rich countries is already over burdened and collapsing. The consequence is in the lower levels of happiness that expanding and unmanageable urbanization seem to cause. At least, that is the early evidence from GNH surveys in our country. And it ought to be true. Happiness, after all, is about joyful birth and parenting, meaningful and satisfying labor, aging with contentment amid security; and dying in dignified serenity among family and friends.

The previous century was an era of amazing advancement in public health engineering and medical science and technology. But the treatments provided were more for non-communicable diseases wrought by unhealthy lifestyle. Roughly 64% of global mortalities are from non-communicable diseases. Some 450 million people – 12% of world population – suffer from mental health problem of one kind or another. Our society is plagued with the spiraling problems of alcoholism, dependence on psychotropic drugs, relational failures, violent crime, clinical depression and suicides among others. Given that they are preventable and avoidable, it is a sad commentary on our society. It seems evident that people will slide further into unhealthy lifestyle, imposed by wider systems, at a rate that will require increasingly more treatment of non-communicable diseases the cost of which is becoming just too high for both the state and individuals. Should we not at least, aspire to move from a century of costly treatment to a century of physically healthy as well as mentally and emotionally fulfilling way of life? This is no small aspiration because it will demand a big shift in work- leisure balance and reprioritization of our options, which in turn will demand major departures in the structure and functioning of our organizations and economy.

The last century was a period dominated by the mind altering and life setting forces of market through deregulation, privatization and free trade. This was largely spurred on by the GDP fetish for growth and material prosperity at all costs. GDP, which is only a measure of the goods and services transacted in the market place at a given time, has been mistakenly and unquestioningly but conveniently adopted as the measure of human wellbeing. The consequence has been the quest for unlimited growth in a world with limited natural resources. Unconscionable exploitation of natural resources, excessive production, wasteful consumption and pollution are the manifestation of the greed that fuelled consumerism which, in turn, powers our market economies. These have led to the highest level of aggregate wealth in the world ever created by man. But the illusory nature of this wealth has been made ever so clear by the current global recession, the European financial crisis and the Great Depression when wealth in stocks, bank balances, luxury homes and even basic jobs disappeared overnight.

The moral and ethical bases of our material prosperity are also questionable for the reason that absolute number of people suffering from poverty and vulnerability of all kinds are at a historic peak. According to the World Health Organization, one in twelve people worldwide is malnourished and every year 15 million children die of hunger. Furthermore, it is directly responsible for the depletion of natural resources, collapse of biodiversity, climate destabilization and the imminent disappearance of some of the island states and coastal areas. It lies at the root of the increasing frequency and devastation with which natural calamities are exacerbating the plight of the poor and the vulnerable in particular. Scientists now confirm that even earth quakes and tsunamis can be triggered by changes in stress levels on the earth’s crust and ocean floor as may be caused by loss of snow and ice cover in the mountains and resultant rise in ocean level as a consequence of global warming.

As for mountain countries such as my own, the impact of climate change is immediate and life threatening demanding mitigation and adaptation efforts that we can hardly afford. That is why when Bhutan hosted the South Asian regional summit for the first time, we convinced the 8 member countries to accept climate change as the focus of our deliberations.

All these problems that haunt us from the last century compel us to open up new vistas of thinking and action, rather urgently. Unless we radically change our way of life, not only will the causes for unsustainability, instability and inequality continue to grow, but we may, very soon, be reaching the irreversible point toward annihilation of our civilization and all other life forms. The questions that beg to be asked are:

Are the goals of material wealth we have unwittingly set for ourselves really worth pursuing? Have we mistaken the means for the end? Could we have placed too much trust in the market to set our goals? How did we allow ourselves to be enslaved by market forces and become numbers that matter only as consumers?

For far too long, GDP and its market forces have deluded us into accepting them as the true measure and source of wellbeing and happiness. We have all succumbed to the obsession of limitless growth and consumption – a way of life that is founded on greed. Our successes have been largely quantified and communicated in purely economic terms. Because of the application of GDP as the widespread criterion of success, we have been negligent of what really matters in life. We have infact, trivialized what makes life worth living by keeping happiness, our indisputable, universal and innermost desire, away from public discourse, policy and politics.

Dissatisfied with the conventional developmental models, GNH was conceived by our former King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, as the development framework with a clear purpose. That purpose is the collective happiness of the Bhutanese people. It defines human progress as an endeavor to meet the holistic needs of the individual and that of society within which he must have the opportunity to flourish and attain happiness. It recognizes the needs of society as going beyond accumulation of material wealth and calls for mindful attention to psychological health and spiritual fulfillment within a stable and supportive environment. In so doing, GNH requires that the state be responsible and held accountable for variations in the degree of gains or losses made in the conditions that affect happiness levels over periods of time.

The Bhutanese state has been undertaking this responsibility through what is popularly known as the four pillars of GNH that, in fact, are what we consider to be the basic happiness enablers. These are:

1. Sustainable and equitable socio economic development,
2. Conservation of our fragile mountain ecology,
3. Promotion of cultural growth and diversity and
4. Good governance.

The last forty years of Bhutan’s development experience have been devoted to strengthening these pillars. Today, Bhutan is well on the way to becoming free from dependence on foreign aid while public policy and finance are dedicated to ensuring that there is equitable access to all basic services and opportunities and that the gap between the rich and poor does not widen. With 80% forest cover and close to 50% of the nation’s territory protected as parks, our natural environment is healthy and resilient. Having declared that Bhutan will always remain carbon neutral, we are also engaged in promoting our country as an all-organic brand within a green and sustainable economy that capitalizes on our geo-economic advantages. Cultural heritage and traditions founded on timeless human values continue to guide our thinking and every-day life, and our unique identity grows more secure even as we have become an active member of a globalized world. And our commitment to good governance has given us a kind of democracy that has truly empowered the voter as opposed to merely delivering its external trappings.

We have thus far, managed to balance modernity with tradition, the material with spiritual and cautious growth with sustainability and equality. This is largely attributable to the internalized nature of GNH values in the people themselves. However, we can no longer take for granted that good intuitive traits will continue to guide national policy and decision-making. Globalization, propelled by communication and information technology and the unrelenting forces of consumerism will cause perceptions and values to change.

These concerns and the growing international interest in GNH have persuaded my country to appreciate that unless GNH renders itself quantifiable with a clear yardstick, it will fail to guide practical policies and programs in a world where anything that cannot be measured is not worth pursuing.

The Royal Government has thus, established and operationalized a GNH index. In so doing, we have had the benefit of support and contributions from many academics and practitioners around the world. Such collegiate effort was greatly enhanced by the international conferences on GNH that were held in Bhutan, Canada, Brazil, here in Thailand and many other national level conferences around the world.

In presenting the index, I would like to explain that it is an elaboration of the four pillars of GNH into nine domains which are measured against 72 variables. These are:

1. Living Standard or income distribution: This covers the basic economic status of the citizens. By gathering information on disposable income, levels of material wealth experienced by different sections of the population are determined. The domain also reviews levels of poverty and income inequalities within the country. Economic security is ascertained by collecting data on land ownership, food security, and employment.

2. Health Status: This domain comprises the physical health status of the population. In addition to mortality and morbidity rates, this domain incorporates individually reported health status and health risk behaviors. The status indicator of % reporting good/excellent health, although subjective, has been found to be a good predictor of disease incidence and mortality. Other status indicators include % reporting healthy levels of physical activity and % reporting healthy weight etc.

3. Educational standard and Relevance: A number of factors are the subject of enquiry in this domain. These include participation, skills, and educational support, among others. The domain covers informal, non-formal, and monastic education and assesses the national, community, and family resources that influence education in Bhutan. Other status indicators in this domain are % reporting strong skills and knowledge in at least 5 important areas and % reporting high level of family, civic, and cultural knowledge.

4. Ecological Diversity and Resilience: By looking at the state of resources, the pressures on ecosystems, and different management responses, this domain describes domestic supply and demand and their consequences for Bhutan’s ecosystems. In terms of supply, the survey reviews the status of land, water, forest, air, and biodiversity. In terms of consumption, the domain looks at such factors as production, waste, transportation, energy use, and ecological footprint. As Bhutan orients its natural resource use towards the sustainable paradigm, status indicators such as the % reporting sustainable natural resource practices in their communities measure the prevalence of sustainable resource use at the local level, and assist in registering the effectiveness of renewable resource use policies. The impact of global warming and its threats are also being measured. I am particularly proud to inform that Bhutan has successfully launched a full cost national accounting system that reflects the dollar value of our natural capital or ecosystem services. The World Bank is now supporting the development of such an accounting system in several countries and business entities.

5. Cultural Diversity and Resilience: The domain assesses the diversity and strength of cultural traditions in Bhutan. It takes into account the nature and number of cultural facilities, language use patterns and diversity, as well as participation in community based religious activities. The survey also reviews people’s responses regarding core values, local customs and traditions, and changes in values etc. Thus, status indicators such as % reporting good or excellent knowledge in a certain number of traditions reflect the degree to which members practice and maintain traditional skills and forms of knowledge.

6. Community Vitality: The domain of Community Vitality focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of relationships and interaction within communities. Status indicators, such as % reporting high sense of trust in people, % reporting high level of vitality in community, the % reporting voluntary activities, and % reporting feelings of safety within one’s own home and community, enable policymakers to track the changes in community vitality. These help us devise appropriate and timely strategies to prevent disintegration of community life and strengthen social capital. In this regard, I may add that we consider the extended family network as a vitally important social capital, in that it is society’s most resilient and sustainable form of economic, social and emotional safety net.

7. Time Use: This analyzes the manner of time spent within a 24-hour period, as well as activities that fall under longer periods. The data collected determine how the population spends its social, cultural, economic, and human capital. From the data, the percentage of time accorded to work, travel, food preparation, household chores, etc. are calculated. Some of the status indicators available from this domain pertain to % reporting satisfactory pace of life, time spent on community activities, and time spent on social/family activities. One important function of time use is recognizing the value of leisure time.

8. Psychological Well-being: This domain encompasses contentment, satisfaction with various aspects of life, and health of the mind. As collective happiness is the main goal under a GNH society, psychological wellbeing is of primary importance to gauge the success of the state in providing appropriate policies and services. As psychological wellbeing of the population is an outcome of life circumstances related to societal conditions, it is also an indicator of wellbeing for the community and society as a whole. A holistic approach to development calls for inclusion of people’s perceptions and state of mental wellbeing. A self-reported mean happiness score, based on a ten-point scale for international comparison, is one of the primary means of evaluating the sense of psychological wellbeing of citizens.

9. Governance Quality: This domain evaluates five sub-domains: participation; effectiveness of government; just and equal law; freedom and quality of media; and transparency, accountability, honesty or corruption. An example of relevant status indicators is the % reporting participation in local government meetings, % reporting good/excellent performance of various levels of government, and % reporting trust in the media.

The last national population housing and census reported the following levels of happiness among the Bhutanese people:

Not very happy = 3%
Happy =52%
Very happy = 45%

It is being contended that the GNH index has a strong dependence on subjective data and that the nature of happiness itself being such cannot be allowed to guide governance of any society. Such distrust of subjective data can only lead to negligence of happiness in governance and development planning. Disregarding subjective information will free governments as it has thus far, from what must constitute its primary obligation to enable citizens’ pursuit of happiness. Variability of happiness among people is critical in evaluating the quality of governance. Where deep unhappiness exists, surely government should act without waiting for objective data which, in any case, cannot tell us the reality that is ultimately subjective.

Change from the GDP inspired consumer or market centric macroeconomic model to the GNH paradigm calls for a fundamental departure from the way we are used to living our lives. It must arise from acknowledging mankind’s astonishing material achievements and accepting that more will not necessarily further human advancement or result in greater happiness. It requires breaking out of the mold of consumerism to pursue not so much the unknown but the less trodden path.

The biggest challenge however, is to redefine and promote wealth and prosperity in ways that these become the objects and measure of true human advancement and therefore, the common aspiration. We need to understand wealth as not only material but also as comprising the intangible kind that strengthen identity, security and relationships; cause contentment and generally contribute to the flourishing of all life forms with which our own survival is profoundly interconnected. These should include, for instance, circle of friends and integrity of the extended family network; the number of people that one can count on to share not only joyous moments but to provide material or emotional support and counsel in times of trouble and pain. Wealth needs to be redefined in terms of one’s capacity to refine and improve living conditions without destabilizing the environment and to render the future more predictable and secure. Genuine or GNH wealth and prosperity must raise the sense of fulfillment and diminish desire.

As leaders of the business world you must contribute to the global discourse and endeavors to define, promote and sustain genuine societal growth and advancement. You must find the answers to what doing so will mean for commerce and industry? How should our education system be changed in form and content? Should the fundamentals of governance, even of the democratic kind, change? How will GNH ‘markets’ function and be regulated? How should the financial and trading systems be restructured?

In this regard, the distinguished gathering may be pleased to hear that Bhutan is taking very seriously its role to facilitate the work of the international expert group to elaborate the contents of the new development paradigm. The recommendations of the group will be presented to the UNGA in two phases, ie, in 2013 and in 2014 to inform its deliberations on the post MDG or 2015 development agenda that will attempt to reorient society toward a sustainable, fulfilling and happier way of life.

Some 60 thought leaders and eminent scholars of the world have been appointed by His Majesty the King to the expert working group whose first meeting will take place in Thimphu at the beginning of the coming year. It has generally been accepted by this group that the new paradigm will be driven by the goal of enhancing the wellbeing of all life forms and human happiness. Its three main dimensions will comprise of ecological sustainability, fair distribution and efficient utilization of scarce resources. And as I reported earlier, this initiative is only part of the multiple endeavors being undertaken toward the same end at the community, national and international levels. These give us hope that humanity will redeem itself and that a truly prosperous, secure and happier future lies ahead.

Before I conclude, I would like to take the opportunity to share my happiness in the deepening ties between our two countries and our peoples who share common culture of deep reverence and love for their extraordinary Kings and devotion to the Dhamma. I express my confidence that our friendship and cooperation will grow from strength to strength in the years to come.

Finally, I wish to offer to the Thai Chamber of Commerce my very best wishes for a successful conference. May it enhance your will and wisdom as you strive to bring further peace, prosperity and happiness to all the people of your great country.

TASHI DELEK.

THANK YOU.

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