Reposting a column written by my late father for FINEX (November 2010)
By Jose Ma J Fernandez
The prospect a more balanced and fair playing field has renewed interest in investment in new businesses or the expansion of existing enterprises. Once again, the country is attracting many of the big players and investors, whereas in the not to distant past, we were operating beneath the radar…unseen and unloved! Of course, the prospect of more jobs that will provide much needed work and opportunities is always a pleasant one.
There is always the other side of the coin, so to speak. One can expect the usual chorus complaints against pell-mell development that does not take the welfare of people, cultures, environment & habitats, and the happiness of all involved into consideration. That is why there is now talk of adopting the measure of growth called Gross National Happiness – a concept started by King Jigme of Bhutan in 1972, wherein he opened his previously pastoral and pristine highland country to modern development – subject to certain conditions. The problem has always been how to reduce those factors that contribute to welfare and happiness to mathematical terms, so that they can be measured in the same way GNP is used to measure output and factors of production. Somehow, with the help of some friends, they have managed to do so and continue to use GNH as the cornerstone of their growth programs.
Measuring growth according to this unique model suggests that not all economic growth or output is desirable. Invoking a revised form of ecological and welfare economics, each project or program is measured against important – to the Bhutanese and those who use GNH – parameters. For example, instead of automatically approving a mining venture, the proposed project must show that it uses ecologically sound principles for extracting the minerals from the ground, that the land is restored to pretty much the same condition it was in before extraction began, that no dangerous or harmful by-products or inputs are expelled willy-nilly into the environment — most notably water systems or into habitats that sustain flourishing flora, fauna, and humans – or that the people’s right to live and work peacefully in a particular place is not unduly disturbed.
Very often, the entry of a business in an area is welcomed by the authorities who tend to look only at the obvious benefits to be gained from the investment. They choose to blissfully ignore the health and well-being of their constituents, the political integrity of the populace who suddenly lose their voice or vote in the matter, among other things. This is why many a proposed venture encounters rough sailing from militant farmers, labor groups, Church supporters, and even residents in the area.
Maybe there is something to be learned from adopting a form of the GNH measure of growth, one that takes the whole man and the whole of society into the equation, and not merely the bottom line of a company or the pocketbooks of a few.