‘Happiness should be the purpose and end of development’

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Business Bhutan, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley, in an exclusive interview, shares his expectations with Business Bhutan Editor Tashi Dorji on the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development to be held on June 20-22 in Brazil.

  1. 1.      Bhutan will be calling upon the world to embrace a new development paradigm and move away from the Bretton Woods concept of GDP at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil. Isn’t it an ambitious campaign?

A: Extremely ambitious but timely. It is extremely ambitious given that there is strong resistance from conventional economists and sections of society to resist any change. However, it is timely because the world needs to shift and move onto an alternative track. The world urgently needs to consider an alternative process of development and agree on a common vision of human society.

  1. 2.      What are your expectations from the Summit?

A:  There are great expectations and I personally have great hopes that the Rio+20 will enable the human society to undertake an honest review of the achievements since the pledges made 20 year ago but given the way in which negotiations have been taking place in new York in particular on the text of the outcome document, I fear that the outcome of the summit will fall far short of anyone’s expectations.

Nevertheless, it will be a very important event and it will have a major impact in influencing the future course of the human society particularly in respect of sustainable development.

  1. 3.      You have maintained that the world can have a new development paradigm in two years. You have also expressed Bhutan’s interest to host a global gathering to adopt the new paradigm in summer of 2014. What makes you so sure that it can be done by the summer of 2014?

A: I cannot be sure. And whether such an event takes place or not will depend on the kind of support that Bhutan receives on this offer.

  1. 4.      So it all depends on Rio+20 Summit?

A: Yes.

  1. 5.      When Bretton Woods gave GDP to the World in 1944, global institutions like the World Bank and the IMF were created to manage the system. You have said that a new paradigm would mean ‘redesigning and refashioning’ institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. How can it be done?

A: It will not be easy. And it will require an acceptance of the truth that the notion of limitless growth on a finite world to be measured on a quarterly basis against the purely material indicators is what has caused the world to arrive at such a situation we are today when everything around us is collapsing. This includes, among others, the disintegration of our social system of our communities and families, the collapse of the ecosystem and the failure of our financial systems. So it will take an honest reflection of this. And the world needs to agree that we need to adopt this approach. And in this regard Bhutan is offering a proposal for a new economic paradigm that aims at human happiness and wellbeing of all life forms on earth through a sustainable, holistic and inclusive approach. It will require the collaboration and cooperation, among others, of the Bretton Woods institutions in the sense ie the IMF, World Bank and so on. 

  1. 6.      Bhutan’s proposal for the new paradigm sometimes appears too good to be true. You are saying that at times of a global depression, there is a possibility of not laying off employees but making them work for shorter hours. How can it be done?

A: This is being done in some of the communities, in certain companies and certainly in Japan in the aftermath of the depression. It’s being done by adopting shorter working hours, not laying off employees, distributing the existing jobs among people and sharing available jobs. This might mean taking lesser pay.

  1. 7.      How can GNH ensure that there is a cordial marriage between GDP and social wellbeing without compromising on either?

A: GNH as a development paradigm does not shun GDP altogether. It simply suggests that GDP as an indicator should be given the role that it was intended to play by the person who, in fact, conceived it – Simon Kuznets – who said that it is simply a measure of goods and services exchanged in a marketplace in a given time in a given country. So in the GNH paradigm, GDP becomes only one of the many indicators to be used to promote and measure human wellbeing and happiness.

  1. 8.      Bhutan has developed parameters to measure GNH. But many say that it was doable because Bhutan is a small country and the same task would be much more difficult for big countries like India, Brazil or the US. On top of it, having common indicators to measure progress for countries at different stages of development would be much more complex. Please comment?

A: I fully agree. But the truth is that in the end, whether we live in rich countries or poor countries, industrialized countries or least developed countries, we are all human beings. And as human beings, our ultimate desire, regardless of what level of development we may have attained, is happiness. That is the ultimate goal we seek. Therefore that should be the purpose and the end of development.