Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Jeffrey Sachs' idea of happiness presumably doesn't extend to refugees or smokers


Jeffrey Sachs, that doyen of slightly pink economists, has been on about happiness and how we shouldn't be using GNP or GDP as our guide. I have two issues with this argument of his - the first is about where he chooses as the guide to 'gross national happiness':

Dozens of experts recently gathered in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to take stock of the country’s record. I was co-host with Bhutan’s prime minister, Jigme Thinley, a leader in sustainable development and a great champion of the concept of “GNH.” We assembled in the wake of a declaration in July by the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to examine how national policies can promote happiness in their societies.

Yep folks that's Bhutan that Jeffrey Sachs is promoting. And its a fine place so long as you're not from the country's Nepalese minority:

By the 1980s, Bhutan's minority population of Nepali-speaking people, most of which live in the south, had grown to represent around 45 percent of Bhutan’s 600,000 people, causing then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to start a "one nation, one people" policy to evict, deport and strip many of their Bhutanese citizenship.

The campaign ended with the expulsion of more than 100,000 Nepali-speaking people through beatings, torture and murder committed by the Royal Bhutan Army that lasted until the late 1990s, human rights groups and evictees say.

Most of those evicted are now living inside refugee camps in Nepal. For nearly two decades, refugees have lived in huts made from bamboo and plastic. They receive rations, but many are malnourished. Despite repeated appeals for repatriation, these refugees have been denied.

That's right, Mr Sachs - Bhutan is an avowedly racist country.  Where of course, they lock up smokers:

A monk in Bhutan has become the first person jailed under the country's draconian anti-smoking law after a court handed him a three-year prison sentence for smuggling tobacco worth $2.50.

Sonam Tshering was arrested in January carrying 48 packets of chewing tobacco worth 120 Bhutanese ngultrums, which he said he had bought in India before travelling back home to the Himalayan kingdom.

Which of course brings us to advertising and Mr Sachs' ignorance:

Mass advertising is contributing to many other consumer addictions that imply large public-health costs, including excessive TV watching, gambling, drug use, cigarette smoking, and alcoholism.

That's right, dear reader. We are coerced by evil "mass advertisers" into all these sins, we have no choice as their pernicious corporate messages drip into our sub-conscience meaning that when we see the fat-laden food, or the invite to the lottery, or the TV switch, we act as if automatons reaching out and ruining our lives. Mr Sachs, this is utter tripe barely worthy of response and is a conflation - nay, a perfect storm, of New Puritan obsessions.

Advertising simply doesn't do that. As a marketing professional I would love the secret, magical little ingredient that these promoters of sin have available (at least in Mr Sachs' distorted world). it doesn't exist. People smoke, drink and eat calorie-laden snacks because they like them - this consumption makes them happy. When Mr Sachs' pals in Bhutan locked up that monk for having a little chewing tobacco for his personal use, in what precise way did that enhance the nations gross national happiness?

The world Mr Sachs wishes to promote is a judging, controlling, directed world where nanny knows best and where it's OK to take away my pleasures because others might abuse those pleasures. Where it's right to remove free speech from commercial organisations. One that models itself on an obsessive dictatorship in the Himalayas.


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