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Money, Policy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Is America Choosing the Right Thing?


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This is a paper that I did for Comp II

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Money, Policy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Is America Choosing the Right Thing?

  1. 1. Money, Policy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Is America Choosing the Right Thing? Law making is a huge part of life in most civilized countries. It is difficult to survive in acountry where laws do not exist, because they are necessary to make sure that the populationruns as smoothly as possible. The country of Bhutan has put into effect a policy for law makingcalled Gross National Happiness. It is a policy that changed how they made laws. I want todiscuss the Gross National Happiness Policy in more detail, how it could go too far, and howBhutan stops this from happening; then I want to take a look at America and Gross DomesticProduct, standard of living, and how America can learn from Bhutan. Ultimately, I think thatAmerica can learn from Bhutan in many ways. By taking parts of the Gross National Happinesspolicy and making it work for us, we can improve our own government. Bhutan is a small country located between India and China. It has a population of about970,000 and the capital of this small country is Thimpu. Gross National Happiness wasintroduced to Bhutan in the year 1972 when King JigmeSingyeWangchuck became ―concernedabout the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth‖(Revkin) so he came up with a system called Gross National Happiness. According to The Geography of Bliss, ―with Gross National Happiness the official policyof the government of Bhutan, every decision, every ruling, is supposedly viewed through thisprism.‖ (Weiner 78) So how exactly does the Gross National Happiness policy work? Well eachlaw that needs to be passed is sent through a screening tool. This screening tool measures 26different factors about each piece of legislation. The legislation is ranked on a scale of one tofour on each category. If the score is a one the legislation will impact Bhutan in a negative way,if given a two the legislation’s effect on Bhutan is not known, if the legislation is given a three itwill not affect Bhutan at all, and if the piece of legislation is given a four it will help Bhutan in a
  2. 2. positive way. The score of one to four is given on all factors that include things such ascorruption, gender equality, information, learning, and health. If the score on any factor is lessthan a two, the people in control of Bhutan will try to make alternate suggestions. (NationalHappiness Tool) Gross National Happiness is a great sounding idea, but if you look at it from a smallerpoint of view, could it be misconstrued? In the book Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do,Michael Sandel, professor at Harvard talks about a cabin boy, and when the greatest happinessprinciple can go wrong. While stranded on a boat in the middle of an ocean, three people decidedto take the life of a cabin boy, after they were found they were arrested and tried for murder, ―thestrongest argument for the defense is that, given the dire circumstances, it was necessary to killone person in order to save three. Had no one been killed and eaten, all four would likely havedied. Parker, weakened and ill, was the logical candidate, since he would soon have diedanyway. And unlike Dudley and Stephens, he had no dependents. His death deprived no one ofsupport and left no grieving wife or children,‖ (Sandel 32) As concerned citizens, one has to wonder how much would have been suffered becauseof this. Sandel goes on to further explain the consequences of such an act. In any lawfulargument you can’t just stop at the ―what happened?‖, you have to look past at the ―what if‖scenarios. Sandel explains that, ―first, it can be asked whether the benefits of killing the cabinboy, taken as a whole, really did outweigh the cost.‖ (Sandel 32) This is true, on the surfacebecause three lives were spared instead of none, it looks nice and gift wrapped, killing the cabinboy was the right thing to do, but if you look deeper you will see that this is not the case. Furtheryou can see that, ―allowing such a killing might have bad consequences for society as a whole—weakening the norm against murder,‖ (Sandel 32) if people see that people get away with a
  3. 3. murder because they needed it for a greater amount of people to survive it would put less valueon your life, and more value on your life as a part of a group. Bhutan, though, doesn’t seem to have this problem. How can they make a Gross NationalHappiness policy, without someone trying to twist and conform this into a way to do what theywant in life. According to a study done, Bhutan has a low homicide rate, killing only 4.4 peopleper 100,000 by homicide (Cole and Gramajo) As mentioned in an article about Gross NationalHappiness, is the subtle challenge of the change in meaning to the original Gross NationalHappiness Policy, ―As was argued earlier the concept has been a reflection of a particularcultural consciousness rather than an academic construct. This was the concept’s strength in thepast, when all policy-makers were products of the traditional Bhutanese system with a strongconsciousness of this identity. It may, however, rapidly become a weakness, once civil servantswith primarily western education begin to lose this intuitive link to the indigenous set of values,‖(Priesner 45) This is an important statement, because like everything policies, change when theyare given to new people. The biggest struggle Bhutan has in keeping Gross National Happiness the way it is, ischanging governments and people in it. This says a lot about keeping killing rates down, becauseit is all about who has a certain set of rules. Not everyone will take what you say for exactly whatit means, some people will exaggerate it to mean that you can kill just because it will benefitmore than one person, and some will think rationally and use their best moral judgment whenthinking about things like murder or stealing. It is up to the leaders of Bhutan to make sure theyare carrying out the original goals of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Laws, and make surethat they don’t abuse those laws or let other citizens of Bhutan abuse these laws. Like Sandelhighlighted, not only must you think about the consequences for that person, you have to think
  4. 4. about the consequences (good or bad) that it makes for society, and I think that is what GrossNational Happiness is all about. Now, let’s take a trip to the United States, where Gross Domestic Product seems to reignsupreme. A countries, ―gross domestic product, or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for thewell-being of a nation,‖ (Revkin) In America, are you happy is usually associated with howmuch money one has. This can’t be the only thing that determines happiness though because,―recent research into happiness, or subjective well-being, reveals that money does indeed buyhappiness. Up to a point. The point, though, is surprisingly low: about fifteen thousand dollars ayear. After that, the link between economic growth and happiness evaporates. Americans are onaverage three times wealthier than they were half a century ago, yet we are no happier.‖ (Weiner76) If money doesn’t buy us happiness, why is America such a Gross Domestic Product lovingcountry? Wouldn’t it make more sense for our laws to take in to consideration the overallhappiness of our country versus what would make the people with the most money the happiest?The way we measure our standard of living is a big role player in why gross domestic producttakes such a major role. In order to find out who is living above, around, or under standard ofliving, we use Average GDP per Capita, it ―tells us how big each person’s share of GDP wouldbe if we were to divide the total into equal portions.‖ (Ledger 5) It doesn’t take intoconsideration a lot of things such as unpaid work or the distribution of wealth but it is a startingplace to find what our standard of living is. By looking at this, I consider this an invalid way todetermine the happiness of a country or what the standard of living in a country is. Average GDPhas a lot of gaps in it, so the next question to ask is how can America become more like Bhutan
  5. 5. in our search for happiness and law. As Americans, do we want money to rule our laws or do wewant our own happiness to do so? Bhutan decided that they did not want to follow the path of other countries around them,in letting Gross Domestic Product rule their laws and their happiness. Is it possible for the UnitedStates to do the same thing? Revkin thinks that we can, ―Around the world, a growing number ofeconomists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to developmeasurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care,free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other noneconomic factors.‖(Revkin) This is a good start to making laws and policies that not only consider you are happybecause of your money, or laws that benefit they happy with money over the people who don’thave the money. If the laws of a state are meant to make the people that are happy with money,more happy, it would in turn make those who are unhappy and without money more unhappy. As a nation, I think it is our duty to take a good look at our laws, like Bhutan did, anddiscover if there are ways that we can make our country happier. I believe the only thing we cando is take the first step, and there is an organization trying to do this. ―In the spring of 2009, theGross National Happiness American Project was born. The concept of Gross National Happinessdates back to the birth of the United States when the framers of the Declaration of Independenceguaranteed the American people a government that protects our ―unalienable Rights,‖ amongwhich are ―life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.‖‖ (About GNHUSA) The framers of ourconstitution meant for the laws to have at least some form or shape of creating Gross NationalHappiness. The problem in America is that the people with the least amount of money (thathappen to be the majority) aren’t thought of enough while the laws are made. If Gross NationalHappiness is something that Americans want, we first much change the rules that the people with
  6. 6. the most money get the laws they want first (or we must elect better people who will do this forus.) In conclusion, I think we should take a step back and think about what as a country wewant to do. Do we want to continue to make laws that benefit the wealthy minority, more thanthey do the lower to middle class majority? Or do we want to reform our laws and make themmore democratic; by saying does this really provide the most people the most happiness? Wehave taken an in depth look at Bhutan and how they changed their country to promote betterlegislation making, and then we took a look at the United States where money buys happinesseven if it really doesn’t. No one ever said being truly happy was easy, but I think if we take agood look at our laws we can start to make a truly happy America.
  7. 7. Works Cited“About GNHUSA." Gross National Happiness USA.Web. 10 Apr. 2012Cole, Julio H., and Andrés M. Gramajo. "Homicide Rates in a Cross-Section of Countries: Evidence and Interpretations." Population and Development Review 35.4 (2009): 749-76. Print."Gross National Happiness Policy Screening Tool." Gross National Happiness Commission.Web. 27 Mar. 2012."How To Measure "Standard of Living"" The Ledger (2003): 5-8. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.Web. 9 Apr. 2012.Priesner, Steven. "Gross National Happiness – Bhutan’s Vision of Development and Its Challenges." Gross National Happiness: A Set of Discussion Papers (1999): 24-52. Print.Revkin, Andrew C. "A New Measure of Well-Being from a Happy Little Kingdom." The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2005. Web. 27 Mar. 2012.Sandel, Michael J. "The Greatest Happiness Principle/Utilitarianism." Justice: Whats the Right Thing to Do? London: Penguin, 2010. 31-56. Print.Weiner, Eric. "Bhutan: Happiness Is a Policy." The Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World. New York: Twelve, 2008. 76-78. Print.