‘GNH model building is for academics, not leaders’

Picture courtesy : The Bhutanese

Dr David L Luechauer has caused quite a stir in Bhutan with his open criticism of GNH. He taught with the Gaeddu College of Business Studies as a lecturer for a year but had to cut short his two year stint due to his wife’s health concerns. He is teaching at the Krannert School of Management in the USA under Purdue University a global top 50 program. Apart from an extensive academic background Dr David advises major business companies in USA. He talks to The Bhutanese in an in-depth interview.

Picture courtesy : The Bhutanese

How can our leaders make GNH a better model?

I am not sure they can nor am I sure that it is their job to improve the model. Model building is for academics not leaders.   I would argue that leaders should stop worrying so much about whether Bhutan pursues and measures GNH, GNP, or GDP and should focus instead on building the basic infrastructure of the country, putting in place the laws, processes and programs that will force the country and the people to become more self-sufficient and self-reliant and making sure that the foundations of democracy are in place and secure.  In my most contrarian moments, I sometimes wish or think that Bhutan should return to being a monarchy and that the King should follow the model Jack Welch used to save General Electric.  Bhutan needs to get into the game before telling others how to play the game and right now, Bhutan isn’t even in the stadium.

In your article you say that the Brazil GNH conference was a failure of sorts and that Bhutan and GNH’s 15 minutes fame is up. Can you please elaborate?

I was just quoting what I had read reported on a variety of websites which lamented the fact that what emerged from Brazil was a document much toned down from that which was discussed at the United Nations.  As for 15 minutes of fame, the clock is ticking.  Unless Bhutan could really show that is has something to offer the world beyond platitudes and pronouncements.   Bhutan must show that it possesses substantive working models of excellence in education, commerce, health, personal well being, etc. that are directly attributable to the pursuit and practice of GNH.  Bhutan simply does not have such levels of excellence to show the world.  Hence, to the extent that people, outside a few economists, academics, and environmentalist, who had much interest in Bhutan will soon lose whatever interest they may have had in the country except for being a tourist destination.  As I said, Bhutan would have been better to have flown under the radar and not touted GNH until it was ready or could document that it had better schools, hospitals, businesses, products, and overall social living conditions than more developed nations.

Your article also says, “Brazil’s GNH conference is only a failure if Bhutan doesn’t learn the simple lesson that both charity and development begin at home.” What did you mean? 

I think international aid and international support will be contingent upon other world leaders and people of other nations first seeing that Bhutan is pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.  Right now, the consensus among those who care is that the Bhutanese leaders and people must learn the difference between a handout and a hand up.  We heard this a lot from those in the medical field who were visiting Bhutan and trying to effect change in Bhutanese medical practices.  It’s hard to describe without sounding mean spirited but the attitude many expatriates experience when dealing with Bhutanese and Lisa Napoli documents this fairly well in her book, is “I’m so poor -give me, give me” or “get me out of here.”  It’s like a cultural neurosis of looking and waiting for a savior instead of realizing that the answers lie within and at home.  It’s time the Bhutanese people understand they must roll up their sleeves and get down to some very hard work at building an economy.  It was common knowledge that the least hardworking faculty at GCBS was the Bhutanese faculty!  It is strange but whenever we had visitors and we had some very prominent visitors to the college, the Bhutanese faculty were rarely if ever present.

 GNH has heavy international intellectual backing with people like professor Jeffrey Sach, Joseph Stiglitz etc endorsing GNH. Surely they know something?

Obviously brilliant men with a very clear leftist liberal agenda.  You want me to trot out the list of equally famous, equally brilliant right wing economists with their own agenda who would oppose GNH as measure?  It is a philosophy, it has its supporters and detractors, show me a philosophy that does not have brilliant minds on both sides of the issue.  I will say this, I’d like to see either one of them come and live and teach under the exact same conditions as the faculty at GCBS and see if they are still supporters of GNH.

What are the flaws that you see in the current GNH philosophy? 

Honestly, I have no particular “quibble” with GNH as a philosophy.  My concerns lie in the area of operationalization, Bhutan taking the “lead” in advocating GNH when so much basic work needs to be done home and for the people of Bhutan, and the deleterious effect the pursuit of this model particularly the “happiness” component  is and will continue to have on the people of Bhutan.

From a philosophical standpoint, if I had to state two major concerns they would simply be.  First, there is no consensus on the key variable “happiness.” what it means or how to measure it.  Second, it seems to be propelling Bhutan toward socialism at a time when even countries like China are moving toward a more free market capitalistic orientation.

The main pitch of Bhutan’s message to the international community is to supplant GDP with GNH and in doing so avoid the dangers of unchecked modernization like climate change, conflict over resources, breakdown of social values etc. What is wrong with that?

The underlying assumption that GNH is needed to do this and your own phrasing of the question, assuming that modernization is currently unchecked.  Why do you say unchecked?  The last time I looked, many nations of the world were passing and enforcing laws on everything from human rights and environmental protection to consumer/product safety codes.  Your question, as is so often the case in the GNH literature, shows no real understanding that a country could measure GDP or GNP and still practice as much or more GNH related principles than Bhutan currently demonstrates.  However, at the end of the day, I think politicians of either persuasion put too much emphasis on either GNP or GNH.  The real issue is not what we measure but how we behave.

I teach leaders and aspiring leaders around the world, they run everything from small entrepreneurial ventures to fortune 500 companies.  Except for the few who have either a background or an inclination toward economics, they never talk about GNP, GDP, and GNH.  They are much more concerned with accounting, financial and managerial principles than economic models.  If you think GDP drives decision-making in company you are being naïve.  GDP or GNP is an economic number reported every few months in the media.  It is a point of information to which some may or may not pay attention.  Conversely, the business students and leaders I know and work with check the global markets every day and many check those markets numerous times a day. So, you tell me which is more important to decision making in the USA – the GNP numbers or the DOW Jones Average, which is more important in Tokyo their GNP numbers or the Nikkei Index.  Those other numbers drive policies and behaviors not the GNP numbers.

Courtesy : The Bhutanese


  1. Bhutan thinks that if handful of rulers and king are happy that is gross national happiness.wakeup from ur dream Bhutan.Stop talking about your fake gross national happiness .how a country is happy when half of it’s population is in exile.

  2. Dr. David is absolutely right. How can a country landlocked and dependent on India and other donors for survival claim GNH whereas even the basic infrastructure like health care, adequate schooling and pure drinking water are absent in the country? Bhutanese king travels to New Delhi at the beginning of every budget year to beg for money from India. It’s a real shame that you preach a philosophy which has no meaning to a poor and ordinary Bhutanese who has to walk on foot for miles or take help of mules for days to carry most basic human needs. GNH is but bull shit and it’s propaganda should be halted immediately. Bhutanese rulers should concentrate on developing basic developmental infrastructure rather than waste time, energy and millions on this propaganda.

  3. It is not Gross National Happiness(GNH), rather People in Power Happiness(PPH). How can a monk be happy by walking bear foot for hundreds of miles, how can a 10-12 year old child be happy to walk 1-2 hours for school, how can a fellow Bhutanese pretend to be happy while remembering their neighbors and relatives in exile?

    Any answer?

  4. Excellent reasoning and understanding, Dr. David. JT is more interested to find a place to himself rather than upgrading the precarious economic situation in Bhutan. I find his lectures encompassed by his huge self-made happiness on his face very shallow. I still wonder why a few people with some sensible brains still buy his words!!