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Rade, Development, and the Broken Promise of Interdependence: A Buddhist Reflection on the Possibility… Hershock, Peter D. 2003-12

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Peter D. Hershock*
The profound promise implied in expanding and deepening
community is often invoked and celebrated in discussions of
increasing global interdependence. Growing interdependence
implies ever-widening circles of concern. It also implies at
least tacitly questioning the acceptance of independence for
some and dependence for (many) others. Such implications, I
think, are entirely laudable.
From a Buddhist perspective, as well as from that of much of
contemporary science, interdependence can be affirmed as
the deep nature of all things. Yet, there are Buddhist
teachings that the cycles of conditions leading to suffering or
trouble (samsara) are without beginning, as well as teachings
that all beings have Buddha-nature or the capacity for
enlightenment (nirvana). Affirming that all things arise
interdependently is not to affirm that they do so in a
necessarily liberating way. Interdependence, we can say, has
no essential self-nature. It can mean increasing wealth,
skillful means, and happiness. It can also mean deepening
poverty, trouble, and suffering. Realizing the promise of
expanded and deepened community in the context of
increasing economic, social, political, and cultural
globalization pivots on keenly discerning existing and
emerging patterns of interdependence and orienting them in a
liberating (nirvanic) rather than a troubling (samsaric)
direction. Ultimately, the promises of community and of
deepening interdependence turn on karma - that is, on the
specific experiential force of intentions and values.
* Coordinator, Summer and Outreach Programs at the Asian Studies
Development Program, East West Center, Hawaii.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
It is the good fortune - the good karma - of Bhutan that it is
positioned to exercise a unique degree of self-awareness and
discernment in exploring strategies for integrating into global
developmental processes in a sustainable and equitable
manner. Bhutan's stated intention of keeping the value of
happiness central to the development process is, I believe, a
suitable counter to the values and karma that prevail in most
development strategies and ideals. Given present day realities
of unprecedented, accelerating changes and paradigmatic
shifts in economic, political, and social practices, any
successful strategy for integration into global development
processes must be creative in nature. It must, in other words,
consist of an ongoing improvisation that is at once virtuosic
and virtuous and that brings both greater resolution and
resolve into the development process.
Here, I want to contribute to this effort by considering the
broad landscape of development and trade concepts and
practices and their implications for the trajectory of
innovations needed to insure that development processes and
greater economic interdependence are, indeed, liberating. I
will begin by reflecting on the context of present day patterns
of development, raising some issues related to history and
scale in assessing the effects of increasing global
interdependence. In brief, I will be suggesting that present
day patterns and scales of globalization have both generated
and been generated by the extremely rapid and practically
irreversible commodification of subsistence needs - a
commodification that (paraphrasing Ivan Illich) has the effect
of institutionalizing entirely new classes of the poor. Beyond a
critical threshold and unless redirected - that is, informed by
radically different values - present day patterns of
interdependence will continue bringing about the conversion
of communities that have been faring well into aggregates of
individuals in need of welfare. Unchecked, the promise of
globally extended, deep community will be broken.
This account turns on the insight that present day patterns of
economic interdependence and global trade are systematically
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translating diversity - understood in terms of the Buddhist
concept of emptiness - into mere variety. In particular, they
are bringing about a stunning collapse of locally focused
ecologies of production and trade. This has the effect of
affording remarkable ranges of consumer choice through
reliable, efficient, and institutionally secured market
operations. But these market operations also significantly
isolate producers and consumers and replace local-to-local
exchanges with globally mediated transfers. In effect, global
interdependence is presently inflected in such a way as to
erode both personal and communal resources for direct
mutual contribution - depleting the very resources needed to
differ in ways that meaningfully make a difference.
Development of this sort is finally impoverishing.
Given such a global context, I will offer some tentative
inferences about how Bhutan might approach clearly and
consistently framing its efforts to operationalize the
development goal of heightened Gross National Happiness.
Gift Exchange, Contribution and Trade: The Roots of
Economic Interdependence
As an initial move toward fleshing out these insights, I want
to think through some of the continuities among gift giving,
contribution, and trade. Although this will involve appealing
to an admittedly vague and almost mythological past, it will
be useful in setting a context for investigating how economic
interdependence has come to be directed in the way that it
Gift giving has had a long and honored place in
anthropological studies of social practices. Most such studies
have concentrated on relatively explicit levels of exchange and
offering, but there is a sense in which gift giving can be
considered the original and abiding nexus of all human
sociality. Perhaps the most apparent expression of the
centrality of gift exchange to human sociality is its persistent
association   with   intimate    partnership.    Even    in    today's
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postmodern societies where brides and grooms are
themselves no longer thought of as gifts exchanged between
families, and where formal dowries no longer factor into
finalizing marital arrangements, marriages remain among the
most extravagant occasions for gift giving. More generally, it
is customarily assumed that formally initiating a lasting
intimate or romantic bond will include some offering or
exchange of gifts. Such practices and rituals can, of course,
be seen cynically, particularly where gift-giving and gift-
receiving practices exhibit gender asymmetry or are
apparently and heavily influenced by consumer advertising.
What eludes cynical or politically correct bracketing, however,
is the fact that the most meaningful of human relationships
are customarily christened through the exchange of gifts.
Of course, human sociality is not limited to intimate unions,
and the exchange of gifts is by no means always intensely
personal. Traditional hospitality customs worldwide involve
hosts and guests in paired offerings. Especially in Asia, initial
business meetings are formally structured around gift
exchange. Worldwide, heads of state ritually exchange
symbolic gifts upon meeting. Neither are human sociality and
the giving of gifts restricted to human-to-human encounters.
Particularly among indigenous or first peoples, human-to-
nature connections are customarily mediated through the
offering of gifts, and religious rituals (for example, initiation
rites or ancestral worship) establishing human-to-divine
connections often center on making offerings. In sum, gift
exchange is associated with establishing and affirming
community - the realization of lasting and meaningful
relationships that are both rich in content and enriching.
The functional meaning of gift exchange as the enriching
nexus of human sociality is nicely captured in the etymology
of the English word contribution and its links to such
associated terms as attribute, tributary, tribute, and tribe.
The root noun to which all these can be traced is the Latin
tribus, which literally means a place-centered grouping of
people. The verbal root is the Latin tribuere, meaning giving or
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distributing. Keeping both the noun and verb roots in mind,
contribution can be understood as a process of bringing
together and fusing the horizons of place-centered groups of
people through gift giving.
Intuitions of this process arguably underlie (and, because of
infelicitous metaphysical assumptions, languish within) much
of modern Western social theory. For example, in Hobbes'
theory of societal origins, the giving of gifts is read and
represented in highly schematized fashion as a contractual
relationship rooted in rational self-interest and directed
toward establishing regulated or customary institutions for
mutual benefit. Societies are taken to consist of aggregates of
competing and fundamentally self-interested individuals who
pool their various strengths with the belief that through
combined numbers, each one's own interests will be met as
surely and readily as possible. For Hobbes - and as affirmed
in much of contemporary international relations theory -
should the returns on cooperation and community diminish
sufficiently, a reversion to directly self-interested competition
naturally results. Thus, although partially occluded by his
(empirically groundless) presupposition that individuals preexist the (social, natural, and cosmic) relationships in which
they are embedded from birth, Hobbes correctly saw that
social life is founded upon consistently practiced (and often
ritually enhanced) give and take. Far from being accidental or
forced associations, communities arise as a function of
mutually sustained contributory processes.
Unburdened by the assumption that individual existence
precedes relationality, Buddhist social narratives allow that
while societies may be constituted historically as mere
aggregates of individuals, this is so only when
interdependence has been severely deflected in keeping with
the prevalence of self-interest and exclusive claims to truth.
When not so deflected - as during the reign of a "wheel
turning king" - societies obtain as qualitatively distinctive
patterns of relationship directed explicitly toward liberating,
mutual contribution. As a dynamic process, sociality can be
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directed well or ill, truly or errantly, toward liberation
(nirvana) or toward further suffering and trouble (samsara).
Truly liberating sociality means realizing consciously
sustained and enriching interdependence. It is not
competition, but contribution that choreographs the
emergence of community.
Perhaps the most pointed statement of the cardinal role of
contribution in liberating sociality is the Chan Buddhist
affirmation that, "awakening is just the perfection of offering."
In Chan, as in much of (at least pre-modern) Chinese
Buddhism, psychological events or experiences associated
with awakening or enlightenment were effectively displaced by
considerations of the relational meaning of buddha-nature,
emptiness, and skillful means. Focusing on the liberating
relationships realized by the historical Buddha and other
bodhisattvas, Chinese Buddhists - and particularly the
lineage of Chan Buddhist masters from Huineng through
Mazu, Baizhang, Huangbo and Linji - came to understand
enlightenment in terms of attentive and relational mastery.
Enlightenment means always and everywhere realizing
consummate appreciative and contributory virtuosity.
The Chan tradition insisted that this understanding of
awakening could be traced in an unbroken lineage back to
the Buddha himself. And, in fact, there are many precedents
for a relational understanding of awakening to be found in
even the earliest strata of the Pali Canon - those texts
generally regarded as historically primary. Indeed, for the
purposes of shedding light on the linkages among sociality,
gift exchanges, trade, and the karma of now predominating
patterns of globalization, many of these early texts are
particularly useful. Consider, for example, the Buddha's
somewhat lyrical description of his first insight into the
interdependence of all things as like coming upon a city long
forgotten and overgrown by dense jungle.
For those familiar with the history of Buddhism and its early
valorization of forest dwelling reclusion, there is a certain
incongruity     in     this     striking     image.     The     Buddha's
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
enlightenment occurred in a rural setting as he sat in
meditation under a banyan tree. There, he realized the
interdependence or irreducibly relational nature of all things.
It was this realization that the Buddha later described as a
city lost and forgotten. His qualification of the city - that is,
the content of his insight - as "lost and forgotten" can
reasonably be explained as an expression of humility. It made
clear that the Buddha's enlightening realization was neither
original nor independently arisen, but rather a recovered,
shared heritage. But why use a city as a metaphor for
We have no direct answer to this from the Buddha himself.
However, the metaphor is rich with possibilities. To begin
with, in a truly vibrant city, no one lives long (if at all) under
the illusion of being wholly independent. Urban life is a
continuous reminder of the extent to which we are not self-
sufficient. We rely constantly on the contributions of others,
just as they rely on ours. Moreover, cities both make possible
and are made possible by degrees of specialization, education,
and cultural refinement far exceeding - especially in 6th
century BCE India - anything possible in traditional rural or
village life. Cities have from earliest times been attractors and
amplifiers of excellence, and have practically commanded
reflection on the extent to which our lives emerge out of
ongoing patterns of mutual contributions and shared
negotiations of meaning. Whether this holds true at all scales
of urbanization, under all modes of production, and without
severe ironic effects is, of course, open to critical debate.
Significantly, in the Sutta Nipata and other very early
collections of the Buddha's teachings, those who have fared
long and well on the Middle Way are not described as aloof
from community life. On the contrary, they are described as
leading lives of public wisdom, enjoying harmonious and calm
relationships, joyful, purified of negative qualities of thought,
speech and action, and clear of purpose. Equally interesting,
early Buddhist teachings and their popular translations did
not   represent   the   ideal   Buddhist   world   as   an   Arcadian
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paradise or as a sensuously austere domain. It is a world
teeming with people, animals, and plants of every sort - a
world that is explicitly worldly, with all manner of good food,
music, architecture, and activity. In later Mahayana
traditions, narratives about Buddha-realms in which all
things do the work of enlightenment feature lush descriptions
of both natural and human structures that are practically
psychedelic in detail and sensuous presence. It is as if the
"lost and forgotten city" representing the culminating insight
of the Buddha's six-year quest had been restored to its former
vibrancy and brilliance.
Of course, interdependence is not necessarily enlightening or
liberating. Cities are not always ideal places. They can and,
all too often, do go wrong. In the Cakkavatti-Sihandha Sutta,
the Buddha relates a story chronicling how, over eight
"generations," an ideal and highly urbanized society slides
into intensifying trouble and suffering and finally dissolves
into a social miasma in which generational strife is rampant,
social customs and rituals are ridiculed, violence has
escalated to a point that killing sprees become horrifically
common and random, and in which crude addictions and
abusive relationships are almost universally celebrated.
The turn toward social collapse takes place when a new ruler
of the kingdom elects to exercise his authority based on his
own understanding of affairs, neglecting precedents for
regularly and thoroughly consulting with his ministers and
advisors. As a consequence, he does not properly respond to
mounting evidence of poverty in the capital city and, for the
first time in dozens of generations, a theft is committed. In a
series of well-intended follies, his attempts to control the
behavior of the people only drive matters spiraling ever
further out of control. This movement is reversed only when a
few people retreat into the countryside, refusing to adopt
prevailing behavioral norms, and eventually band together in
shared practices aimed at coursing freely on the four
immeasurable relational headings (brahma-vihara) of loving-
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kindness, compassion, joy in the good fortune of others, and
The account given by the Buddha of the conditions leading to
poverty is both remarkably simple and profound. Poverty
arises when people are not able to work in and contribute to
their community in a meaningful way. Far from being a
function of few possessions or not having the means to get
what is wanted or needed, poverty is a function of having too
little to offer that is of value to others. It occurs when either a
person or an entire population is effectively blocked from
contributing directly to the welfare of others. As expressed in
the narrative climax, the ultimate antidote to poverty (and the
kinds of social malaise for which it is a crucial condition)
cannot consist of either state welfare or legal and
technological controls. These eventually only exacerbate the
root conditions of poverty. Instead, poverty alleviation entails
fostering increased capacities for giving appropriately to
others. Ending poverty is a process of realizing appreciative
and contributory virtuosity.
Several forceful insights are embedded in this account and its
framing narrative. Poverty is a function of contributory
impasse and implies a failure to appreciate - that is, to
sympathetically understand and add value to - our ongoing
patterns of interdependence. Both felt community and its
objective expression in abiding social institutions are
compromised when interdependence devolves into patterns of
dependence and independence, and they disintegrate with the
breakdown of robust patterns of mutual contribution.
Resisting or reversing such devolution and disintegration
cannot hinge on simply meeting individual (or even collective)
needs or wants; success finally hinges on how these are
addressed - that is, on the values underlying our strategies
for redressing the erosion of relational capacity and effective
offering. Successfully alleviating poverty is a function of
realizing and sustaining patterns of interdependence that
enhance the capabilities of both individuals and communities
for freely contributing to one another's welfare. True poverty
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alleviation at once results from and results in bodhisattva
Together, these insights suggest at least superficial
compatibility between Buddhist understandings of awakening
and social prosperity, and currently predominant growth-
oriented, free-market models of development. There is, for
example, substantial resonance between the Buddhist focus
on alleviating poverty by enhancing contributory virtuosity
and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's definition of "development
as freedom" or increased relational capacity. The basis for
this resonance, I would argue, is the crucial role played by
trade in poverty alleviation and development. At the same
time, however, trade - as it has come to be practiced at global
scale - works against the expanded and enhanced diversity
that is at the root of a fully Buddhist approach to poverty
In contemporary, idiomatic English, trade tends to be most
strongly associated with exchanges of goods, services, or
ideas for the purpose of economic gain. But we also speak of
"trading places" (taking each other's positions), "trading
security for adventure" (changing the global, narrative
character of our situation), and considering "trade-offs"
(collateral effects of a present course of action on future
possibilities). These broader connotations reflect the origins of
the English word "trade" as a derivative of "tread" or
"treading," the Middle English and Middle German roots of
which referred to the making of a track, path, or course.
Footpaths and tracks are neither natural features nor the
results of random wandering. Rather, they develop as a
function of steady traffic along preferred routes connecting
separate localities that have been drawn into some kind of
meaningful relationship. The localities might be two villages
or family compounds, or they might be a human settlement
and a particularly productive hunting or foraging ground.
Though the furious pace of contemporary construction and
real  estate  speculation  tends  to  obscure  the  fact,   tracks,
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paths, and roadways at once arise through and facilitate
meaningful interchange. Thus, as evidenced in its linguistic
roots, trade is inseparable from trade routes and most
broadly originates in activities that expand and deepen
community - activities that overlap, if they are not continuous
with, contribution and gift exchange.
To the extent that this is so, there are Buddhist precedents
for affirming the positive, even liberating, possibilities of
trade. But given the teachings of emptiness and the absence
of fixed or essential natures, it would be incorrect - just as it
is with regard to interdependence - to affirm that trade is
always and inevitably "good." Indeed, these teachings enjoin
careful and diligent awareness of the great variability in what
trade means. As an outcome of what processes has trade
come to be configured and practiced as it is now? What
genealogy of intentions and values underlies this
configuration and these practices? What opportunities do
they open? To what relational heading(s) do they commit us?
In a word, what karma is associated with (especially global)
trade, as it has come to be?
The Commodity Explosion and Eroding Productive
Diversity: The Current Karma of Trade
It is part of a Buddhist understanding of trade that it not only
promotes more extensive patterns of interdependence, but
also directs or orients these patterns in keeping with
particular, sustained intentions and values. Trade is
karmically significant. Because of this, snapshot
understandings of trade are potentially (if not necessarily)
misleading. Short-term perspectives afford insufficient insight
into the axes of intention and value on which trade practices
have turned in coming to be, precisely as they have come to
be. Reasonably deep historical perspectives are thus
indispensable in assessing trade's karmic implications,
especially the kinds of trade now taking place at truly global
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
In keeping with the teaching of karma, we might begin (at
least partially) evaluating the kind of trade now being carried
out by especially developed nations and multinational
corporations through considering the dramatic implications of
their root motive: increasing wealth through expanding
market share and accelerating profit. Given relatively free
reign, to what kinds of situational dynamics - what patterns
of relational tension and release - do market-domination and
profit-seeking lead? Patterns of relationship aimed at
amassing wealth - rather than, for instance, alleviating
poverty - are not likely conducive to equitably enhancing
relational or contributory capacity. On the contrary, they will
tend to institutionalize slopes of advantage inclined as steeply
as possible in the direction of corporate profit. Moreover,
market-domination - a primary means to this end - is
similarly likely to streamline and concentrate production
practices in such a way as to promote both efficiency and a
breakdown of self-sustaining, local production regimes.
As demonstrated, for example, in the era of European colonial
expansion and in the early 20th century emergence of massive
industrial monopolies in the U.S., the natural outcome of this
process of controlling the topography of advantage (and trade)
is a remarkable concentration of power in very few hands.
And this is by no means a now defunct historical trend.
Globally, the kind of economic interdependence characteristic
of the waves of market integration taking place over the past
quarter century has likewise led to a widening gap between
rich and poor, with roughly 80% of global resources and
wealth being controlled by and benefiting less than 20% of
the world's population. At least at the levels of national,
regional, and global economies for which there is significant
comparative data, currently prevailing patterns of trade
promote developmental inequality.
There has been a tendency to view the rise of developmental
inequality as a function of already developed nations taking
too little responsibility for ratcheting up the developmental
cycle elsewhere and, perhaps, even taking severe advantage of
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
less developed economies. In other words, the tendency has
been to call into question the intentions of the developed
world and of the multinational corporations to whom
disproportionate profit flows through rapidly integrated
markets and global patterns of trade. Indeed, there may be
cases where such major players in steering the process of
growing global interdependence can rightly be charged with
unduly selfish strategies and even morally deficient motives.
But because of the wide array of such players and the
complexity of national or corporate intentions, this provides
very little critical leverage, despite its rhetorical appeal. An
intentional analysis also, for quite apparent reasons, is not
readily conducive to generating deep and critical historical
perspective. The intentions of even close associates are
difficult to ascertain at times, much less those of actors
greatly distant in time or temperament. Moreover, charges of
deficient motives can be dismissed as an inversion of the "ad
hominem" argument: they indict those presently benefiting
most greatly from prevalent patterns of globalization, rather
than the system of values informing and orienting such
To rephrase this in Buddhist conceptual terms, the karma of
presently prevailing patterns of global trade may be deflected
in accordance with self-centered or equity-denying intentions
held by major economic players: the most highly developed
nations and increasingly powerful multinational corporations.
But karma is - as stated earlier - always a function of both
intentions and values. Focusing exclusively on the former can
produce a critical blind spot - a range of potentially crucial
phenomena left entirely out of consideration, especially when
the karma in question is not individual, but collective or
I have argued with respect to technology that such a critical
blind spot arises through a confusion of technologies with the
tools to which they give rise, and an inappropriate tendency
to evaluate technologies in terms of how well these tools serve
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us as individuals.1 In consequence, technologies are
effectively exempted from critical attention - that is, the
values that technologies embody and render ambient
throughout societies deploying them are critically occluded by
the individual uses to which tools are put. And because these
tools are designed and redesigned with the overarching
mandate of increasing utility and user-friendliness, this leads
to blindly endorsing continued technological development and
deployment in a particularly vicious form of critical
circularity. The effects of technology on the character and
direction of relationships (personal, communal, national,
international, and global) are functionally ignored.
Similarly, it is particularly dangerous to fail in assessing the
values underlying global patterns of trade through assuming
their "value-neutrality" and focusing instead on how trade
patterns are used by various actors. Indeed, while many
economists ostensibly view trade as a technology, they
actually treat it as a tool used by individual entrepreneurs,
corporations, countries, or regional associations (the EU or
ASEAN, for example). Trade is thus assumed to be properly
and adequately assessed in terms of how well it meets the
individual needs and interests of those engaging in trade. .
Many economists then stress the fact that although global
trade does tend to bring about increased inequality, it also
makes both the rich and the poor richer. From this, they
conclude that while the benefits may be greater for some than
others, current patterns of global trade are good for each and
every one of the world's people. What they cannot conclude,
at the risk of committing the fallacy of composition, is that
what is good for each and every one of us, must be good for
all of us. The effects on a whole may be something entirely
other than the sum of effects on all its parts.
1 Peter D. Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel: A Buddhist Response to
the Information Age, State University of New York Press: Albany, NY
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
Like technologies, presently prevailing patterns of global trade
are not value neutral and cannot be accurately or adequately
assessed by measuring (even in statistical aggregates) their
impact on individuals as such. Neither can their ill effect of
fostering developmental inequality be traced solely back to
unjust motives in how they are used. Rather, contemporary
patterns of trade can only be critically evaluated by seeing
how the constellation of values structuring global trade affect
how we relate, as individuals, as countries, and as members
of expanding global communities. At the center of this
constellation, I would argue, are the related values of control
and choice that structure the operation of markets.
Global trade presently apportions unequal benefits to the
already developed and advantaged, and disproportionately
exports the costs of economic growth to those least able to
bear these costs.2 On one hand, this means that the present
system of trade fosters a growing "capacity gap" that results
in the vast majority of the world's population being in a
relatively poorer and poorer position both to contribute to
others and to be contributed to by them. Although they may
be better off over time in absolute terms, in relative terms
they will always be worse off. On the other hand, by bearing
the cost burden - for example, in terms of environmental
degradation - of benefits they do not receive, it is practically
assured that their capability for responding to the challenges
of their own situation will prove increasingly inadequate. As it
is currently configured, global trade will never bring about
true poverty alleviation because poverty is its primary byproduct.
This admittedly iconoclastic claim is not in any way a claim
about the intentions of those who have initiated and
sustained the kinds of global trade we now experience in
2 See, for example: Alternatives to Economic Globalization, A Report of
the International Forum on Globalization, Berrett-Koehler
Publishers: San Francisco, 2002; David C. Korten, When
Corporations Rule the World, Kumarian Press: Bloomfield, CT, 2002.
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everyday ways. Neither is it a claim - like that central to
Marxist critiques of global capital - that rests upon an
assumed historical necessity or developmental teleology.
Rather, it is simply a claim about the history of how things
have come to be, as they have come to be. It is a claim about
how large-scale patterns of relationship are systematically
oriented toward the demise of productive diversity through
growing trade focused on increasing wealth through market
domination and accelerating profit, making use of
technologies biased toward the strategic value of control to
promote market freedoms centered on choice. Like the efforts
of the hapless king in the Cakkavatti Sihanda Sutta who tries
to restore social order and prosperity through the increasing
exercise of control, the intentions of those promoting more
extensive global trade may be quite positive. But the values
embedded in their strategies for poverty alleviation - contrary
to their explicit intentions - are sending things spiraling
further and further away from their ostensive goal.
A Brief Narrative History of Global Trade and the Demise
of Productive Diversity
Present global scales of trading activities and the technologies
of exchange that are associated with them are exerting
historically unprecedented influence on the quality and
direction of relationships realized through trade. Prior to the
emergence of comprehensive monetary economies, trade
pivoted on bartering activity. That is, it turned on directly
negotiating comparative values for the goods or services being
traded. Trades could be completed only if and when all
parties involved felt that fair values - often highly contextual
rather than standardized or absolute - had been placed upon
the goods or services involved. Within and among small-scale,
subsistence economies, trade is an activity - heavily
conditioned by local circumstances - through which distinct
communities meaningfully and with considerable immediacy
contribute to one another's welfare. In such contexts, trade
promotes both productive specialization and diversity.
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
Trade begins undergoing important transformations as
technological, bureaucratic, and political institutions make
possible and come to depend upon large-scale accumulations
and transfers of goods. Relatively amorphous local-to-local
patterns of trade linking small-scale subsistence economies
give way to geographically extensive patterns of periphery-to-
center trade. Here, the economic terrain is more or less
steeply sloped from subsistence dominant village economies
toward rapidly growing urban centers with large populations
engaged in highly specialized activities. Already at this stage,
the face-to-face trade of subsistence goods (especially
foodstuffs) begins being replaced by something akin to the
modern system of commodity marketing. As money enters the
trade process, a level of abstraction is added to the process of
negotiation. Currency values come to be established for
commonly traded goods and services, which then no longer
need be directly compared and evaluated. Qualitative modes
of evaluation give way to essentially quantitative modes, and
vernacular patterns of goods exchange begin giving way to
serial transfers.
The interdependence of urban and rural communities and of
individuals within them begins already at this stage to be
markedly occluded. Indeed, the roots of modern economic
interdependence can be traced historically to state-building
processes emerging out of periphery-to-center trade dating at
least into the first millennium BCE. But for the most part,
local-to-local exchanges of goods and services based on face-
to-face negotiation remain dominant and continue as such
well into modern times. As long as the vast majority of the
world's population remained rural - until the late 19th or early
20th century in all but the most highly developed industrial
nations - subsistence needs continued to be met almost
entirely locally. Production ecologies - porously bounded
domains of interlocked producers contributing to one
another's welfare in a sustainable fashion - remained small in
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
With the increasing sophistication of transportation
technologies and infrastructure, lines of transmission for
more durable goods quite early became long even by
contemporary standards. For example, as early as the second
century BCE, the tributary system fueling the imperial
Chinese economy covered an area of perhaps 2,000 miles in
diameter. By the 4th century BCE, well-traveled land and sea
trade routes linked African, European, South Asian,
Southeast Asian, and East Asian societies. Still, because of
the low capacities and speeds at which transportation took
place, trade at great distances tended to be in durable
material goods of high unit value like salt, spices, cooking
oils, gems, precious metals, and silk, but also included what
would now be termed intellectual property (e.g., maps, books,
musical forms, and religious teachings). Thus, until at least
the mid-19th century, most of the meat, dairy products and
vegetables required by the population of cities like Paris were
produced within surrounding suburban areas, if not within
the city itself. The urban "footprint" remained rather small,
with specific dimensions effectively set by the quality of a
city's local "metabolic" support system - the quality of its
nearby environment. In effect, cities were bio-regionally
This changes from the 16th to 19th centuries through the
steady convergence, particularly in the European West and
the Americas, of cumulative technological innovations
enabling much greater speed and control in transportation,
industrial and agricultural production, and communication.
The 19th century invention of the clipper ship can be seen as
a key turning point in this process, after which transoceanic
3 An interesting discussion of the relationship between bioregional
urbanization processes and capital flows can be found in David
Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, Blackwell:
Oxford, 1996 (p.410ff..)
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
trade and the global colonization of subsistence economies
and markets shifted into apparently irreversible high gear.4
The history of global capitalism and competitive market-
driven production is, from the late 19th century onward, a
history of rapidly growing production monocultures that
effectively disrupt local ecologies of production and
consumption. Dominance shifts from local-to-local exchanges
rooted in meaningful negotiations of value and need to local-
global-local transfer currents, the velocity of which come to be
subject to relatively overt control through price manipulation
rather than as a naturally variable function of subsistence
needs and values.
In the present era of global markets, trade is only incidentally
a vernacular activity that directly links members of nearby
communities through local-to-local exchanges for meeting
basic needs. The benefits of this are very well advertised -
both literally and figuratively. Especially in the most
developed countries, supermarkets carry fresh fruits and
vegetables grown all over the planet. In even the least
developed countries under WTO governance, readily available
grains and other staples are no longer likely to have been
locally produced. Agriculture has given way to agribusiness.
And the same is true for virtually every other consumer need
from clothing, shelter, and entertainment to health care and
The contemporary shopping mall - virtually identical across
most of the planet - is at the center of the new "global village."
It is a curiously structured village in which producers and
consumers are not neighbors and never see one another face-
to-face. Yet, it is a village in which niche manufacturing and
marketing are able to provide a practically flawless semblance
of direct and sustained attention to personal needs and
desires. It is a village in which markets guarantee that the
4 For an extended discussion of this process, see: James Beniger,
The Control Revolution, Technological and Econimic Origins of the
Information Age, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1986.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
choices available to consumers are practically unlimited, with
a remarkably similar range of goods and services (albeit at
remarkably disparate prices and qualities) available both to
the very wealthy and the very poor. Although there are clearly
many inequalities in the village, the overall degree of security
it affords with respect to basic needs is, in absolute terms,
quite high. The new global village may not be perfect, but to a
degree that is often amazing, it works.
Such are the familiar benefits of global markets and
unrestricted trade liberalization. As an economic system, it is
remarkably well suited to meeting individual needs and
wants, benefiting some more than others, but clearly
benefiting all.
From Personal Contributions within Shared Patterns of
Welfare to Individually-Biased Patterns of Consumption
under Mass-Production Regimes
As the idiom goes, however, we don't get anything for nothing.
The system has its costs. The technologically triggered
efficiencies that made possible the remarkable geographic
expansion of markets from especially the 18th century onward
also had a powerful effect on the content of those markets.
Global trade ceased being limited to highly durable goods,
typically of high unit cost. Trade in luxuries - for example, in
silks, spices, and precious metals and stones - continued to
be important. But the overall ambit of global trade spread to
include ever-greater kinds and quantities of non-luxury
goods. The economic logic is not particularly complicated.
Expanding markets require expanding consumer bases - an
expansion that can be driven only so far by falling prices
associated with efficiencies in production and transportation.
Sustained market growth is only possible if the range of goods
traded undergoes similar growth. Trade expansion can only
be stably realized through increasing trade density.
As the range of goods transferred into a local economy nears
the   point  of natural  saturation,   it  is   possible   to  sustain
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
market growth through advertising that systematically
extends the spectrum of goods perceived as necessary and/or
desirable, and through the emergence of industries that
commodify an increasingly broad array of services. The global
corporate outlay for advertising now exceeds by a
considerable margin that expended worldwide on all levels of
public education. Tellingly, the greatest increases in
advertising expenditures appear in so-called developing
markets. In the decade ending in 1996, for example,
advertising expenditures in China grew by more than 1,000%;
in Indonesia by 600%; in Malaysia and Thailand by 300%;
and in India, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines by
more than 200% (UNDP, 1998). Such expenditures are not
based on wishful thinking, but on results: the realization of
maximally broad and dense markets wherever and as
profitably as possible. The power of advertising to extend
market reach and density is perhaps nowhere so evident as in
such poor countries as Ethiopia and Nepal where populations
living on less than $l/day, over just a five-year period from
1993-1998, were induced to increase spending on such
imported consumer goods as cosmetics, cameras, and soft
drinks by 400-500%.
Recommending such expanded and dense markets are
reliability, standardized products and product compatibility,
convenience, and heightened possibilities for exercising
freedom of choice. But increasingly dense, globally mediated
provision of goods and services can have an effect on local
economies that is not unlike what happens when virulent
alien species are introduced into a sensitive ecosystem:
indigenous species - that is, local modes of production and
patterns of exchange - are eventually choked out or granted
limited continued existence in specialized preserves or cottage
industries. Importantly, this does not mean local populations
become indigent. The monetary medium of global transfers of
goods and services guarantees that wage-earning employment
invariably is fostered by expanding markets. In fact, the
transition  from  barter to  cash  is  crucial  to  marketization
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
processes.5 In advanced market economies, employment
tends to be high and relatively inclusive, at first available and
then necessary not only for adult men, but also for women
and previously marginalized minority populations.
The picture just sketched is often tinted in fairly rosy hues.
Greater employment opportunities for all, but especially
women and minorities, and greater access to the goods and
services offered by the market - these are typically celebrated
as signs of successful development. Futures that traditionally
have been somewhat narrow in prospect are manifestly
widened. Choices multiply. And there is certainly no
reasonable argument against this in principle: the
professional opportunities now open to women and
minorities, for example, mark a real, significant, and entirely
welcome enhancement of their possibilities for social
contribution. But focusing on the positive effects on
individual members of communities or individual classes is,
again, to dangerously restrict our ability to evaluate how such
changes affect qualities of relationship more broadly. If the
poor are invariably worse off in relative terms, it follows that
they are in some significant degree relationally disadvantaged
by present patterns of global trade.
The range of relationships that might be considered in this
regard is practically unlimited. For present purposes,
however, consider the relationships centered on employment
or labor. Focusing on the upper end of the scale of
opportunities opened by global trade tends to gloss over the
phenomenological realities of average employment in the
service of greatly expanded, efficient, and dense markets.
Most jobs in such markets no longer afford workers the
opportunity to carry through with a complete production
process   or   service.   The   rationalization   of  industries   and
5 A wonderfully concise and powerful fictional account of this
process and its motivations are given in the early chapters of John
Nichols' novel, The Magic Journey, Ballantine Books: New York,
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
workplaces to the end of maximum efficiency practically
guarantees that workers will not participate in or consider
themselves responsible for the full production (or service)
cycle. Quite literally, they do piece-work. As anyone who has
done it well understands, piece-work does not promote
worker pride unless it is related to overall quantity of work
accomplished. More work equals more pay. But more is not
necessarily better. Indeed, under most circumstances, piecework is not conducive to workers actively increasing product
quality, but at best to maintaining a minimum level of quality
while maximizing output quantity.
This is quite different from what prevails in subsistence
economies, where one person or family may be involved in
and responsible for the entire set of processes required to
build a dwelling or provide regular meals and clothing, and
where trade involves face-to-face negotiations of the value of
goods to be traded. Specialization greatly reduces
inefficiencies, especially those that result from productive
redundancy. Indeed, mainstream economists from Adam
Smith (18th century) to the present day have been adamant in
praising the transition from craft to commodity. But by
translating the entire production cycle into discrete units, the
synoptic perspective needed to envision paradigmatic
revisions of the entire process is typically restricted to just
one or a handful of workers who are particularly suited to
and hired for such work. This can yield very high quality
results. But it does not promote creative development on the
part of those workers whose responsibilities and imaginations
are confined to the narrowest possible scope compatible with
overall production efficiency.
For workers who remain in a given company or industry for
an extended period, there is some opportunity for personal
growth and contributory maturation. But personal growth
and maturation in the work world, as elsewhere, rest on
shared commitments. And unfortunately, the market drive
toward greater efficiencies and lower costs tends to work
against such  commitment  -   a  phenomenon  now  painfully
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
evident in the post-bubble economy of Japan. There is a
striking and significant trend in the more advanced
economies for workers to undergo several major career
changes over the course of their working life, and for the work
histories of the majority of workers in lower-wage jobs to
reflect an increasingly random approach to employment. Far
from supporting a coherent narrative of professional
development and personal maturation, scanning average
work histories is much like randomly channel surfing a cable-
supported television. For most workers, jobs are strictly a
means to an end - most often: access to a greater range of
choices for personal consumption.
As market economies have matured, some significant counter
trends have emerged based on a recognition of the profitable
nature of distributed creativity and responsibility, with many
leading analysts now touting the importance of "flexible
specialization" and "network accountability." But these efforts
to fine-tune the system do not restore the "old growth" or
indigenous patterns of production in which work concretely
and meaningfully results in goods or services directly
exchanged in face-to-face realizations of shared welfare. In
spite of the economic imperative for innovation in terms of
both product design and marketing and work unit size and
organization, global trade remains a composite of what are
individually almost meaningless moments or links in a chain
of production and marketing. It is not just that "old growth"
production ecologies are replaced by more efficient systems.
Their replacement signifies a loss of overall local productive
diversity and the depletion of the personal and community
resources required for responding to changing circumstances
and meaningfully meeting local needs. People lose the
positions from which they were able to contribute directly to
their own and others' welfare - a loss of capacities for
innovation, for shared improvisation, for on-site learning, and
for appreciating (literally adding value to) their situation.
For many, this statement will seem overstated, if not simply
false. Even if it is allowed that most people are employed in
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
jobs that they do not like, performing tasks that have neither
intrinsic nor perceived value and meaning, and would avidly
look forward to a future that would not include work at all
were such a future practically conceivable, many of us will
still be inclined to insist on the creative possibilities our lives
include that were not open to our parents or grandparents.
But such a reading rests, I think, on an insufficiently robust
understanding of creativity and on inadequately
distinguishing between freedoms of choice and contributing
freely. The kind of trade now dominant in the world
functionally pivots on acts of consumption. Although workers
engaged at any given point of the production and marketing
process can intellectually or in abstract terms see their efforts
as important, the signal and culminating event economically
is the act of consumption. Inescapably, the most basic,
concrete meaning of trade - in spite of its roots in the
realization of extended community through gift exchange -
now reduces to a transfer of possession.
This is not primarily a function of deficiencies on the part of
workers or consumers, but rather a dynamic necessity of
present-day markets. Because of the demands for expanded
and increasingly dense markets, global scale trade
compresses the utility of consumed goods or services to the
smallest unit measure possible. Through the advertised
inculcation of desire and through the constriction of the
popular imagination, conditions are realized such that
individual acts of consumption only fleetingly answer needs.
The classic example of this is, of course, the institution of
fashion (the history of which long predates the contemporary
market, but at vastly restricted scales), which sets strict
temporal, spatial, and cultural limits on product usefulness.
But the phenomenon is quite general, and it is finally such
compressions of utility that "open" the space required for
multiplying choices. As a consequence of this, most goods,
once acquired, are used very briefly, if at all. Even goods used
frequently are seldom used to the point of being functionally
worn out. Obsolescence - real or perceived - is crucial to
growing markets. As markets become increasingly extensive
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
and dense, consumers begin to function as producers of
waste. Or, more graphically stated, they begin to serve as
organs of elimination by means of which the residue of profit-
making - whether material or experiential - is summarily
As long as there are more (and better) goods on the market,
and as long as employment remains sufficiently high to
support their continued consumption, there is a general
tendency to turn away from the implications of practically
collapsing consumption and waste. There are those who
would convince the general public that there are, for example,
simple environmental limits to growth. Planetary resources
will one day run out or become scarce enough to throw a
wrench in the works of the market. The cumulative
environmental ramifications of waste will render the planet
inhospitable if not uninhabitable. But such proclamations
are, for most, unpersuasive. The broad public expects
technological advances to afford new capacities for exercising
control over the production and waste management processes
control intense and extensive enough to insure
opportunities for unlimited growth.
But when the exercise of control (technologically mediated or
otherwise) crosses the threshold of its own utility, it begins
reproducing the conditions of its own necessity. In short, it
brings about conditions in which there are not only
increasing capacities for exercising control, but increasing
need to do so as well.6 The experienced consequences of this
are dire: living in a maximally controlled environment - a
euphemism, finally, for prison. Technologies biased toward
control and economies biased toward the proliferation of
wants go quite well together. But karmically, the continued
interdependent growth of control-biased technologies and
global markets does not lead, as might be assumed, to finally
6 For more on the ironic effects of technologies biased toward the
value of control, see Peter D. Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel: A
Buddhist Response to the Information Age, SUNY Press, 1999.
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
solving thorny problems of supply and demand, resource
allocation, and poverty alleviation. Rather, it rests on the
continuous production of new wants and new problems. As
made evident in the classic representation of samsara as a
wheel, karma plays out in a cyclic (or at least spiral) manner.
The intentions and values associated with "getting what we
want" are karmically linked to finding ourselves "left
wanting." When trade is predominantly carried out as a local-
global-local transfer of goods that undermines local ecologies
of production and that compromises both personal and
communal resources for contributory virtuosity, trouble and
suffering both sustain and are sustained by "good business."
The more we rely upon the market to bring us what we want
or lack, the more we will find ourselves wanting or lacking. In
other words, we will find ourselves less capable of meeting
our own needs, of seeing to our own welfare, and acting in
our own fullest interests. As local ecologies of production are
translated into marketplaces for the practically infinite array
of goods and services made available through geographically
fluid production monocultures and fully liberalized global
trade, capacities for relating freely are converted into ironic
compulsions to exercise ever-expanding freedoms of choice.
Such translation and conversion processes are especially
powerful in the attention economy that began consolidating
over the past quarter century in post-industrial societies and
that is now a global phenomenon. In this still emergent
economy, it is no longer material goods, services, or
information/knowledge that are the most basic resource
commodities, but attention itself. Lasting goods and services
are no longer the focus of production, but rather the
production of inherently fleeting meanings. In such an
economy, "value-added" signifies attention captured. As
attention is systematically exported from local contexts
(family and community, for example), primarily through
intensive mass media consumption, it is no longer available
for appreciating and contributing to one's immediate
situation. And, in much the same way that the conversion of
capital to money allows its maximally fluid distribution, the
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
attention economy effectively converts awareness from a
qualitatively complex relationship to a minimally structured -
that is, minimally committed - energy source. As the attention
economy grows, personal and community capabilities for
sustained appreciative and contributory virtuosity diminish.7
World Health Organization projections of an epidemic
increase of depression in developed and developing economies
(already rated as the most important factor of morbidity and
lowered life quality of women in the developed world) is a
particularly chilling commentary on the correlation of
prevailing development processes, their social ramifications,
and the erosion of meaning-making capability.
Again, however, it is important to note that such effects are
not a matter of historical necessity. They are the experienced
consequences of intentions and (especially) values that have
shaped and continue shaping currently prevailing patterns of
economic growth and interdependence. Crucially, the key
conditions for these karmic consequences coming to fruition
as they have pivot on issues of scale and what has been
termed "downward causation" - the tendency of higher order
systems for which history makes a difference to affect the
nature of sub-systems comprised within them.8 These
conditions are, in short, both karmic consequences and
opportunities. And as I will try drawing out in the following
two sections, they constitute the signal factors by means of
which the  liberating  promise  of the  Buddhist teaching  of
7 See Part Three of Reinventing the Wheel for a sustained discussion
of the transformations of awareness that attend the conversion to an
attention economy through the global, technology mediated
colonization of consciousness. For a concise treatment of the role of
media, see Peter D. Hershock, "Media, Attention, and the
Colonization of Consciousness: A Buddhist Perspective," in Reason
and Insight, edited by Robin Wang and Timothy Shanahan,
Wadsworth/Thomson Publishing: Belmont, CA, 2003.
8 For a wide range of papers exploring the concept of downward
causation, see Downward Causation: Minds, Bodies, and Matter,
edited by P.B. Andersen et. al., Aarhus University Press, 2000.
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
impermanence might be operationalized: no situation, no
matter how complex or conflicted, is intractable.
Some General Implications
The Buddha's metaphorical representation of insight into the
interdependence of all things as a "lost and forgotten city"
suggests that urbanization, specialization, institutional
growth and development can be seen as processes capable of
dissolving commitments to narrow self-sufficiency and
independent existence. Indeed they can be seen as conducive
to establishing patterns of mutually enriching relationships,
infusing daily life with ready opportunities for increasingly
refined practices of (what would ideally be mindfully) shared
welfare. Yet this is not a necessary result of urbanization and
development, or of the transformation of practices for meeting
subsistence needs that they entail and institutionalize. As
evidenced in the cautionary tale embedded in the Cakkavatti
Sihanda Sutta, these processes can be inflected in profoundly
troubling ways, with socially disastrous results. In the
simplest Buddhist terms, whether these processes are finally
constraining and coercive or expansive and liberating
depends on whether they are directed in alignment with
ignorance, habit formations, and craving desires, or they are
directed in alignment with wisdom, attentive mastery, and
moral clarity. Development, in the broadest, Buddhist sense,
should consist of movement toward realizing patterns of
relationship that serve to bring increased productive diversity
- that is, patterns of mutual contribution that appreciate or
add value to an irreducibly shared situation. Trade is then
consonant with and is deepened through cultivating wisdom,
attentive mastery, and moral clarity.
Present-day patterns of trade and development do not meet
this requirement. On the contrary, they work against the
constellation of conditions that might sponsor a concerted
turn in that direction, systematically converting local
resources for contributory virtuosity and relating freely into
increasingly dense arrays of consumption-fueled freedoms of
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
choice. Beyond a certain threshold, markets can only grow by
problematizing present circumstances and delivering
appropriate consumer product solutions. Granted the scale of
contemporary trade and development regimes, but also the
unprecedented rapidity with which these regimes and their
technological infrastructures undergo significant change, it is
hard to imagine what it would mean to turn the prevailing
tide and begin restoring local ecologies of production. At the
very least, the global institutions that now mediate the
meeting of basic subsistence needs cannot be changed
fundamentally overnight. Indeed, we could not reasonably
hope that they would: any cataclysmic changes in these
institutions could occur only at the cost of tremendous
suffering to the billions now dependent upon them.
Yet, a key entailment of seeing all things as impermanent,
troubled, and without any abiding, essential self is that no
situation can be seen as intractable. There is always
opportunity for meaningful response and - in keeping with
the teaching of karma - a change in the direction of our
situation and the relationships constituting it. What can and
should be done, then, to alter our karma with respect to trade
and development to realize their liberating potential?
Three initial observations can be made, I think.
First, there is no generic, one-size-fits-all solution, no
universal way to resolve the predicaments in which we find
ourselves. Appropriate resolutions must be improvised, in
context, in real-time. Secondly, the scale and complexity of
our situation, as it has come to be, make evident the need for
a paradigm shift from focusing on factual problems that can
be solved finally, at least within objectively determinate
parameters, to realizing our immersion in predicaments that
can only be resolved by grappling with contending goods,
norms, and meanings, through establishing harmonizing and
yet open-ended commitments to appropriate values and
associated courses of action. Finally, resolving key trade and
development predicaments - key conflicts with respect to both
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
ordinal and strategic values - cannot be carried out alone.
Both the aim and measure of this work lie in relational
quality - in enhanced and mutually enriching diversity.
These observations can be seen as consonant with the
traditional Buddhist attribution of limitless resources for
relational attunement (upaya) to fully realized bodhisattvas.
As such, they suggest that the path of liberating trade and
development is a particular manifestation of the path of
realizing the emptiness of all things - that is, realizing the
potential of all beings for mutual relevance or meaningful
difference. It is a path that can be taken up anywhere and
traveled without end. Truly liberating trade and development
will promote opening ourselves to one another in that utterly
proximate way needed to truly make a difference for one
another. Only in this way is it possible for each and every one
of us to realize that the very place in which we find ourselves
is a place of immeasurable meanings and value - the ultimate
alleviation of poverty.
But What About Bhutan?
At some risk, let me attempt linking these general (and,
admittedly, hyperbolic) reflections to the task of
operationalizing Gross National Happiness.
GNH has been described as built on four interlinked
processes: the preservation and promotion of culture;
environmental conservation; good governance; and socioeconomic development. These very processes, however, have
been claimed (or could easily be claimed) as foundational by
many developed and developing countries, as well as by many
multinational corporations and such intergovernmental
organizations as the World Trade Organization or World Bank
- for all of which the ultimate (and purely quantitative)
measures of development remain rooted in rising GDP, per
capita income, and levels of consumption. And although
appeals are increasingly made to such "alternatives" as the
Human    Development   Index,    these    alternative    measures
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
generally only supplement rather than supplant or even set
proper limits to traditional quantitative models for assessing
economic development.
If measuring national development in terms of GNH is to be
truly distinctive, happiness must factor significantly - and not
merely incidentally or consequentially - into the development
equation. That is, happiness cannot be simply an unplanned
collateral benefit or even a focal outcome of economic
processes - a pleasant, but entirely contingent by-product of
existing economic imperatives, values, and practices. Instead,
happiness must factor crucially and critically into resolving
the sorts of predicaments and suffering sponsored by
prevailing scales and directions of global interdependence. It
must, that is, have sufficient traction to uniquely effect and
orient development, exerting appropriate "downward
causation" on relevant economic and social processes. Short
of this, Gross National Happiness degenerates into what
Stefan Priesner has described as "mere magniloquence."
The early Buddhist tradition is unparalleled for the
thoroughness and clarity with which it lays bare the
constellation of conditions sponsoring unhappiness, trouble,
and suffering (dukkha), as well as the means of dissolving
that constellation and thus realizing nibbana (nirvana). The
tradition is, however, notably muted when it comes to
discussing happiness. When happiness (sukkha) is explicitly
invoked, it is almost invariably in the context of rehearsing
what might be termed a conceptual genealogy of awakening
or liberation. In the Majjhima Nikaya, for example, it is said
that: "with mindfulness comes wisdom; with wisdom comes
tireless energy; with tireless energy comes joy; with joy comes
a tranquil body; with a tranquil body comes happiness
(sukkha); with happiness comes attentive mastery (samadhi);
with attentive mastery comes equanimity," as well as the
other immeasurable relational headings (brahmavihara or
appamannd) of compassion, appreciative joy, and loving-
kindness (MN 118.29ff). These interactive vectors are not
considered   to   be   subjective   feelings   -   emotions   as   now
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
commonly understood - but rather as relational qualities that
"suffuse" the entire world. Happiness marks a phase or
modality of relational enhancement and refinement that is
inseparable from public, social transformation oriented
toward enlightened and enlightening liberation. In particular,
it emerges in the context of sustaining bodily tranquility and
establishing attentive mastery (samadhi).
Granted this characterization, happiness will have
demonstrated effective economic traction when trade and
development reduce overall stress and bring about enhanced
capacities for concentrated and yet flexible awareness, in the
context of realizing the kinds of mature emotional capabilities
associated with sustaining meaningfully enriched and
liberating relationships. In terms of the analysis given earlier,
such trade and development practices and institutions would
serve to counter the commodification of attention and the
contraction of awareness that lie at the roots of the global
colonization of consciousness. They would challenge the
predominance of choice and control as values structuring the
operation of markets and practically mitigate both the erosion
of productive diversity and the inequitable patterns of
economic growth to which they lead. Finally, they would
conserve and enhance local resources for meaning-making,
working against the consumption of commodified meaning,
particularly as institutionalized in global mass media news
and entertainment. If appropriately sustained, they would
lead to the emergence of post-market economies rooted in a
paradigmatic value shift from individual freedoms of choice to
relating freely and from consumption-driven to contribution-
enhancing patterns of growth.9
9 There is a significant body of Buddhist literature that addresses
the problematic ontological commitments underlying the act of
choosing, most notably perhaps, the Chan works associated with the
lineage from Huineng through Mazu, Baizhang, Huangbo, and Linji.
Here, the tendency toward "picking and choosing" is forcefully
depicted as rooted in a denial of the emptiness of all things and a
failure to practically realize the meaning of non-duality. To be bereft
of possibilities for enhancing our way of life is, indeed,  a horrific
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
What might this mean concretely for Bhutan? Let me briefly
address just four, representative and interconnected issue
areas: meeting subsistence needs; technology transfer;
cultural conservation; and the role of governance.
No economy can be considered healthy if it fails to provide
basic subsistence needs in an equitable and just manner.
These needs include, at the very least, food, clothing, shelter,
health care, and education. As Bhutan opens itself to global
economic forces, it may not remain feasible to address all of
these needs through traditional local-to-local patterns of
trade, or in ways that conserve and promote robust,
associated local production ecologies. For example, it may not
prove feasible to significantly improve health care provision
without importing medicines and treatment techniques and
technologies. A reasonable aim, however, is to target key
subsistence needs as foci for strenuously conserving and
developing local resources and production ecologies.
Education is arguably the central candidate for such
treatment. For instance, education practices in Bhutan might
be revised in such a way as to foster improvisational ability,
emotional maturity and refinement, stress reduction, and
attentive mastery - all necessary to offset the predominant
effects of prevailing patterns of global interdependence. These
might be more or less explicitly Buddhist in nature, but
should clearly reflect indigenous, Bhutanese values and
practices. Improvisational ability, in particular, will be crucial
in the adaptive work needed to truly conserve - and not
merely preserve - Bhutanese culture and Bhutan's overall
capability for contributing effectively to global social,
economic, and political processes.
As a very small country, with a comparably small national
economy, it is sheer folly to believe that Bhutan could ever
develop or sustain competitive advantage in manufacturing or
prospect. But being in a position to choose is not equivalent to being
positioned to contribute to and enrich our irreducibly shared
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
other industrial modes of production. If, indeed, there is a
commitment to conserving local production ecologies,
technology transfer must be carefully orchestrated to insure
that imported technologies (and the strategic values they
embody) are appropriate complements to existing Bhutanese
production practices and values. For instance, there is a
wealth of new building materials and technologies flooding
onto the global market. In most cases, the transfer of these
materials and technologies has been accompanied by
practically wholesale conversion to imported building design
protocols - often with both aesthetically and practically
disastrous results. Care should be taken to introduce only
those materials and technologies that can contribute to the
evolution of already existing Bhutanese design sensibilities -
that is, to extend the values and practices that already obtain
in Bhutan and have historically proven their appropriateness
to the Bhutanese setting.10 Moreover, the pace of technology
transfer should, to whatever degree possible, be indexed to
the availability of relevant Bhutanese expertise. Excessive
reliance on foreign experts practically guarantees eventual
dissonance between imported means and indigenous aims.
Of particular importance will be policies related to
communications and information technologies, and their role
in effecting the export of attention from local concerns. The
recent, official introduction of television to Bhutan marks a
decisive move - understandable, and yet not without marked
risks for the erosion of Bhutanese cultural and contributory
resources. The case for developing Bhutanese competitive
advantage in media production is no better than that in
relation to manufacturing and industrial production. Neither
can it be assumed possible to stem what is likely to be a flood
of global media products into Bhutan. It is, however, possible
to establish policies restricting direct advertising - a key
component in the generation of desires for consumer choice
10 The work of Susan Murcott and her Institute for Sustainable
Living can be referenced as exemplars in technological transfers and
innovations oriented toward enhancing local contributory resources.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
in market-oriented economies. It is also possible, with
broadcast media, to establish policies requiring, for instance,
that a certain percentage of daily airtime be devoted to locally
relevant program content. As a counterbalance to the
potentially overwhelming extent and density of cultural
products arriving through global media, policies might be
established to fund the creative advancement of Bhutanese
artists, performers, writers, and commentators, making use of
taxes pegged to audience size for imported program content.
Unavoidably, many new artists will engage in creative
hybridization. What is crucial is that this process enhances
and extends Bhutanese culture. The aim is not to preserve
Bhutanese culture (in effect rendering it incapable of natural
reproduction), but rather to conserve it - a process that
implies creative adaptation as well as sustained continuity.
Related to these three issue areas is a broader policy
implication regarding the institutional structure of integrating
global and Bhutanese economies. Although large nation
states can reasonably anticipate some advantages, for
example, to membership in the World Trade Organization,
Bhutan would appear to have much more to lose than to gain
in such arrangements. Much more is promised by Bhutan
remaining in a position to levy appropriate tariffs and import
taxes than by adopting an "open-market" approach to
development. Indeed, the flood of consumer products and its
attendant ideology of freedom through choice would very
quickly erode what real possibilities remain for Bhutan to
leapfrog the phase of post-modern market economics in
achieving truly equitable and just trade and development.
These last remarks suggest an importance role for governance
in both orienting and driving the operationalization of GNH.
Much of the development literature in the West - particularly
that originating in the US - asserts a strong correlation
between development and democratization. And, as
customarily defined, both processes indeed embody shared
and strong commitments the preeminence of choice as both
an ordinal and strategic value. Some commentators, however,
 Trade, Development, and the Broken Promise of
have identified reasons to qualify the implied causal
relationship. Amy Chua, for example, has discussed the
ironic consequences of importing democratic patterns of
governance into countries with market-favored minorities.11
Others have noted that authoritarian states been successful
in generating rapid development - Singapore, for instance -
and that many democratic states have undergone
developmental regression. Yet others have claimed that the
only clear correlation is between overall development and the
degree to which leadership and governance practices are
committed to securing basic human welfare. In short, the
meaning of any substantial correlation between
democratization and development is open to contest.
What can be recommended in the case of Bhutan, I think, is
careful and responsive adaptation to changing circumstances,
as they come to be - not, in other words, any prescriptive shift
in governance practices. At present, an appropriate balance
seems to obtain between a democratization of the processes
by means of which problems and predicaments associated
with development are identified and understood, and a
sustained and substantial role for the king in establishing
appropriate national values, commitments and resolves.
Although perspectives will differ, it is my own conviction that
the loyalties, trust, and consideration that obtain between the
Bhutanese people and the Bhutanese royalty - so aptly
epitomized in the commitment to granting highest priority to
Gross National Happiness - demonstrates a unique and
deeply shared virtue.
By way of conclusion, allow me to invoke the frame narrative
of the Cakkavatti Sihanda Sutta. In this narrative, the
Buddha instructs a gathering of students to practice
mindfulness in all aspects of the present as it has come to be,
keeping close to their own preserves, to the ranges of their
11 In Amy Chua, World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market
Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, Doubleday:
New York, 2003.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
ancestors. In this way, he affirms, illusory thoughts and
desires will find no foothold. He then adds that it is only by
cultivating wholesome states that this virtue will deepen and
develop. In operationalizing happiness as a key value for
effecting and orienting socio-economic development, Bhutan
can ultimately do no better than to heed this injunction:
mindfully discerning the present, global situation, as it has
come to be, responding through and in endless cultivation of
wisdom, attentive master, and moral clarity.


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