Remember the brief flicker of media interest in replacing the Gross National Product measurement with something called Gross National Happiness? It didn’t seem to catch on, which is fortunate, because the poster child for GNH is Bhutan:
Mainstream economists and almost all national bureaucracies around the world use measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP) to measure and track economic activity. These measurements are evidence-based. Hard data is aggregated and analyzed to come up with a picture of a national economy that is accurate and reliable. Based on such data, sound economic and development policies can be formulated. Not so for the Kingdom of Bhutan — a country ruled with an iron fist by its northern-based Buddhist Drukpa monarchy and elite with a transparent façade of democracy designed to obscure the true state of affairs in that country.
Having engaged in a massive ethnic cleansing campaign against its Lhotsampa minority of Nepalese origin from the mid 1980′s to the early 1990′s, Bhutan’s leadership prefers to use the amorphous and malleable measure of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to claim that their citizens — at least the ones that were not forcibly evicted from the country — are among the “happiest” in the world. Being a wholly subjective measure that utilizes no quantifiable data, GNH has been creatively utilized as a propaganda tool by the Drukpa leadership to project an image of Bhutan as a country of smiling Buddha’s. Little do most outside observers know the dark underbelly of this seemingly innocuous portrayal. It willfully ignores the history of ethnic cleansing and institutionalized racial intolerance against Lhotsampas inside Bhutan that continue unabated to this day.
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With its record of ethnic cleansing and intolerance, it is morbidly amusing to hear propaganda that Bhutan is some sort of mythic “last Shangri-La,” a land of harmony and peace. Nothing could be more removed from the truth. The charade of ushering in a constitutional monarchy in the last few years and the ascension of the charismatic 31-year-old Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk has led to a fresh burst of official Bhutanese propaganda expounding the unique nature of their happy people and of Gross National Happiness in general.