Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Be Happy

           Listening to Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez explain the rational of the DOT "It's More Fun in the Philippines" campaign, I was reminded of our own generation's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" slogan.  I couldn't agree more with Secretary Jimenez that the attraction of the Philippines, more than the natural and physical endowments, is the Filipino people.  It is more fun in the Philippines because it is more fun to be with Filipinos.  With very few exceptions, we Filipinos are fun to be with.  We exude cheerfulness, optimism, hope and friendliness. We are not far from the Bhutanese, who are the happiest people on this planet.

          Last April 2, 2012, which coincided with Easter Monday on which Christians all over the world are still bursting with joy because the Lord has risen indeed, the United Nations implemented Resolution 65/309 unanimously adopted by the General Assembly in July 2011, placing "happiness" on the global agenda.  As reported by Timothy Ryback in the International Herald Tribune on March 29, 2012, Resolution 65/309 empowered the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on happiness as part of the 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York during the week of April 2, 2012.  The list of speakers was very impressive:  His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opened the meeting via a prerecorded video missive.  The Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz, one of the most perceptive scholars on the development process of emerging markets, spoke on "happiness indicators."  The Bhutanese prime minister represented King Jigme Khesar Namgyei, the reigning Dragon King of the Bhutanese House of Wangchuck.

          For the 32-year-old Dragon King, this historical event represented the realization of the dream of his grandfather who initiated a move 40 years ago to establish Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternate to Gross National Product (GNP) as a measure of national progress.  I, myself, have no quarrel with GNP or Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  These are aggregate measures of either the total income earned by Filipinos in their home country and abroad (GNP) or the total production of both Filipinos and foreigners within the domestic economy. A significant increase (say 7 to 10% annually) of these measures is the only way to generate sufficient resources to help the very poor to improve their lot. The experiences of the vast majority of countries that have significantly reduced, if not eradicated poverty, show that rapid growth in GNP or GDP is a condition sine qua non for inclusive growth, i.e. growth that benefits also the poor.  High GNP growth is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for reducing poverty.  In addition to growth, pro-poor policies must be implemented, such as rural and agricultural development, improving the quality or basic education for the poor, giving them access to credit, etc.

          But we do agree with the Bhutanese that there are not a few countries that have reached the highest level of economic development but which manifest also high levels of unhappiness as can be measured by the high rates of suicide, of mental illnesses, psychological disorders,  of drug addiction, of marriage breakups, etc.   In 2004, a conference was held in Bhutan which has led to the publication of a 750-page tome defining GNH and levering it onto the global agenda.  There were other GNH conferences in Thailand, Canada, the Netherlands and Brazil.  Inputs from these conferences were used by President Nicolas Sarcozy of France to commission Stiglitz, another Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen and French economist Jean Paul Fitoussi to conduct a study of the economic performance and social progress that included diverse GNH indicators, ranging from walking to reading to the frequency of love making.

          It may take some time before the concept of GNH can be fully operationalized in the same way that national income accounting--in which Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets pioneered in the last century--has been operationalized.  As the King of Bhutan said in the preface to the GNH handbook in 2004, "I believe that while Gross National Happiness is inherently Bhutanese, its ideas may have a positive relevance to any nation, peoples or communities--wherever they may be. There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent,...if we do not accept that in the end we are people, all alike, sharing the earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of the planet and its players." 

          As Christians we may not fully agree that other sentient beings have an equal role and stake as human beings in the state of the planet and its players.  We believe that God made all the other creatures on this planet to serve man, the only creature that God made only for his own sake.  The truths about human happiness on which we agree, however, not only with Buddhists but with all the other major faiths, outnumber our disagreements.  We can, for example, suggest to the Bhutanese and others interested in operationalizing GNH a major truth in which we believe:  that one of the strongest indicators of human happiness is the frequency with which we spend time with members of our family, especially with the spouse and children.  Asians can generally agree that a major source of unhappiness in some countries of the West is the  breakup of marriages and the  disintegration of the family as the most fundamental unit of society. We can tell the whole world that it is more fun to be in the Philippines because our families are still generally bright and cheerful homes, even among the poorest of the poor.  For comments, my email is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.