Modernizing Bhutan questions where happiness lies

Fri Dec 18, 2009 7:45am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Alistair Scrutton

THIMPHU (Reuters) - It is a sign of the times for Bhutan that a $9 million McKinsey consultancy report to find ways to accelerate Bhutan's economic growth has sparked soul-searching among this isolated and mostly conservative people.

For this is a nation famed for being guided by Gross National Happiness, an economic measurement that takes into account indicators ignored by conventional GDP, from recreational time, to forest cover and emotions like anger and envy.

Unnoticed by much of the outside world, Bhutan's new democracy is aiming at a breakneck economic expansion in the next decade of 9 percent a year that would put it on par with the growth ambitions of its huge neighbors India and China.

The question for many in Bhutan is how its "don't worry, be happy" philosophy is compatible with boosting tourism fourfold, building new roads and massive hydroelectric power projects - some being planned with the help of a multinational consultancy.

But Bhutan's new democracy is now facing the reality of ensuring its younger, and more wired, generation, have more jobs, better incomes and good schools.

Underlying this lie worries that if Bhutan does not get it right economically, its new democracy will falter. Its leaders look warily at nearby Nepal, which has suffered protests and economic stagnation chaos since a new democracy emerged in 2006.

"The biggest challenge that worries me is democracy itself," Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley told Reuters in an interview. "In this region and beyond there are so many democracies failing."

"It is not simply to accelerate growth," he added. "I have emphasized that this whole thing again must be put within the context of gross national happiness.   Continued...

<p>A Buddhist lama stands on a rock as he watches the site of a hydroelectric power plant near River Punatsangchhu in Kamichu in Wangdue district of Bhutan November 17, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi</p>