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Finding the happy medium

Even as the second day of the ongoing meeting of the international working group (IEWG) in Thimphu saw discussions get more focused on what should be included into the new development paradigm, a lot of questions were raised along the way.

One was whether the experts and academics could ever come to a consensus within the next two days on the new paradigm that will shape and influence public policy. People familiar with such meetings say it is difficult but not impossible.

Another concern, which emerged is how the paradigm would be sold so that there is mass acceptance, because it is essentially asking for a conversion in the way people live their lives.  How do you make it attractive for the paradigm shift to take place, for the great transition to happen?

But there was a bit the lay Bhutanese observer attending the meeting could learn and take away, amid some mind boggling viewpoints that were coming from another level altogether.

If one of the problems with the existing GDP paradigm is that it is too focused on growth, and lacks the ability to address inequality, which leads to unhappiness, then what kind of policy interventions are needed to instead invest in people and increase social spending?  Where is the money for this going to come from?

There were also views against using phrases like maximising happiness because, in some countries, people are okay with a bit of unhappiness in their lives.  They were also strongly against either the government or the UN prescribing to them how to lead a happy life.

Some felt that a meeting of such importance was not well represented.  There was no representation of the black people or indigenous communities, who might have very differing views on the issues being discussed and deliberated.

For some Bhutanese though, the concern was how Bhutan itself is slowly morphing into just another consumer, despite all the lofty ideals of GNH that materialism alone does not contribute to wellbeing.

What was more than enough yesterday is no longer enough today.  Suddenly there is a need for more clothes, more variety of food, and more money, more of everything.  Some experts say that this is largely a result of the onslaught of the global economy that basically has one message, which is to buy and consume.  For a long time, isolation helped keep things in balance, but that is now rapidly changing.

If the new paradigm does get somewhere, everyone will be looking to see whether it first works in Bhutan.  The paradigm shift then must start here.

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