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How Should Happiness Guide Policy? Why Gross National Happiness is not opposed to Democracy Hirata, Johannes between 2005-06 and 2005-08

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 How Should Happiness Guide Policy? Why Gross National
Happiness is not opposed to Democracy
Johannes Hirata*
1 Introduction**
Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a political program
carries with it the ambition to make a difference to real policy
decisions. Whatever the precise understanding of GNH, it was
always intended to be more than a purely theoretical concept
and to make a direct difference to policy making and, what is
more, to actual development paths. Yet, whatever policy
recommendations we derive from our reflections on GNH, the
question arises as to how these recommendations may
legitimately find their way into reality. Certainly nobody
suggests to forcefully impose any policy recommendations
against universal public resistance, however sensible the
policy in question might be.
In the context of GNH, two problems in particular arise. First
is the question of whether a happiness-based policy in
particular   and  policy  recommendations  in general  do  not
* Institute for Business Ethics, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
and Ibmec Business School, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
** I appreciate precious literature recommendations and valuable
comments on a first draft by Dorothea Baur as well as helpful
suggestions by Dieter Thomet. I gratefully acknowledge financial
support by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the
hospitality of the Centre for Bhutan Studies (Thimphu, Bhutan) and
of the Ibmec Business School (Sao Paulo, Brazil).Institute for
Business Ethics, University of St. Gallen/Switzerland and Ibmec
Business School, Sao Paulo/Brazil.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
conflict with democratic principles. Second is the question of
whether the claims GNH makes on each individual's personal
attitudes and behaviour are not illusory and/or illegitimate. I
will treat these two questions in turn in this essay and will try
to show that neither is the case.
2 Does a happiness-based policy conflict with democratic
For good reasons, debates about policy interventions, however
controversial they may be, nowadays take place under the
premise of democracy. The literature that does not subscribe
to this premise is outdated or marginal and cannot hope to
get any substantive public approval. This seems to apply also
to Bhutan where a democratic spirit and democratic practices
have a long history (Galay 2001) and where the draft
constitution contains an explicit commitment to fundamental
democratic principles in its very first two clauses.1 At the
same time, democracy is a very general idea that can be
specified in many different ways. However, to the degree the
name speaks for itself (from its Greek origin, "rule by the
people") it means that political decisions, institutions etc.
must ultimately originate from, and be justified in terms of,
the will ofthe people.
With such a conception, it may appear at first sight that the
formulation of policy recommendations by social scientists
would be (ethically) illegitimate and (factually) ineffective.
After all, those elected into power are supposed to execute the
electorate's mandate and not to implement policy
recommendations that some more or less brilliant scientist
has been able to convince them of. And since people naturally
know what is good for them—and what will make them
happy—democracy would simply demand that political
representation mirror people's preferences and that economic
activity take place on free markets (since these would
maximize total happiness). Against happiness policies in
particular it might be argued that they have anti-liberal
tendencies because they are illegitimately interested in
people's private lives.
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
Many writers on GNH would disagree (cf. the contributions in
Ura & Galay 2004). They might argue, for example, that those
elected into political offices should be inspired and
conscientious leaders, not only mirrors of the median voter's
preferences,2 and that completely free markets often have a
negative overall effect on people's happiness.
Whatever the precise stance and the underlying arguments, it
seems clear that one needs a somewhat more refined concept
of democracy before such arguments can be settled. While the
space, and the author's competence, do not permit a
comprehensive elaboration of such a concept on these pages,
a convincing concept of deliberative democracy as developed
by political philosophers shall be briefly presented and
defended here.
2.1 Deliberative democracy
Deliberative democracy can be roughly characterized as "a
system that combines accountability with a measure of
reflection and reason-giving" (Sunstern 2002:123). In other
words, its most distinctive feature as a concept of democracy
is that it bases democracy on reflective deliberation. In
contrast, other views of democracy, such as that of the social
choice theory, starts from the—allegedly value-free—premise
that people's tastes, opinions, preferences etc. are not to be
questioned and that the good social choice mechanism is the
one that produces the most consistent aggregation of
preferences that satisfies some common sensical conditions of
justice, in whatever way these preferences have been formed.3
Deliberative democracy demands that choices must be made
after a process of deliberation in which people exchange and
justify their respective reasons for their preferences. Such a
process makes it possible, without of course guaranteeing,
that the preferences people will ultimately state (by vote,
protest, acquiescence, or active affirmation) are better
reflected and more sensitive to other people's moral rights
and interests. Deliberative democracy should not be
understood    as    a    procedure    leading    to,    or    requiring,
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
consensus. It is rather the very process of reflecting and
justifying competing interests that should be considered an
intrinsic procedural benefit of deliberative democracy.
It may of course be argued that, since consensus is not
required nor expected, deliberative democracy would boil
down to the same thing as an aggregation of unreflected
preferences to the degree that the participants of such
deliberations fail to be impressed by the arguments of others.
While this is perhaps technically correct, the premise that
people will never change their stated preferences upon
reflection and consideration of others' moral rights and
interests would be problematic. First because, as an empirical
matter, people do regularly adjust their stated preferences
upon reflection and after being exposed to opposing (or indeed
supporting) arguments (cf. e.g., Sunstein 2002). Second and
more important, assuming purely self-interested citizens who
will never change their mind (that is, who never change their
mind for moral reasons, as opposed to strategic ones) would
be quite absurd for a number of reasons, the most important
being that any discourse on good decision procedures—
including social choice theory itself—would become quite
pointless and self-contradictory under this premise. There is
little virtue to be expected from even the imaginably best
decision procedures that are not complemented by any sense
of morality on the side of the citizens. I will have to say more
about this below.
Another critique that has been directed at this model of
democracy is that extensive deliberation is too costly as that
it would ever be possible or desirable to submit each single
decision to public deliberation. Apart from decisions
restricted to a tiny community, the large majority of decisions
will always be taken without much or any public deliberation.
At most, a small subset of the (potentially) affected population
will be able to participate. Due to this "constraint of
deliberative economy" (Dryzek 2001:652), opponents argue,
deliberative democracy is an unfeasible model for actual
decision making. Ultimately, only more efficient authoritarian
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
models of democratic decision making would be viable
Fortunately, we do not have to choose between these two
alternatives only (universal and permanent deliberation vs.
authoritarianism). The critique just presented should be
understood as a critique against a caricature of deliberative
democracy, not against its spirit. Well understood, the
criterion of deliberative democracy should not be whether
each single decision is preceded by actual public deliberation,
but rather whether deliberation can take place as and when
the need arises and whether decisions anticipate, and are
responsive to, contestation. Authority, in this conception, is
not in itself antagonistic towards democracy. To the contrary,
"democratic authority" (Warren 1996:47) must be a
constitutive element of any conception of deliberative
democracy that does not ignore people's right to freedom from
constant involvement in public deliberation. In particular,
"democratic authority can exist when an institutionalized
possibility of challenge allows individuals to suspend
judgment" (ibid.)
In this conception, then, policy makers or, more generally, all
those that have been entrusted by society with decision
making powers are not simply legitimized by fair procedures
(of election, appointment etc.) to do whatever they deem right
once they are in office. Rather, even when they have taken an
office in a legitimate process, they should continue to remain
under the scrutiny of the public and be under an obligation to
justify their decisions. Paradoxically, it is precisely this
continuous potential challenge that confers democratic
authority: the very possibility to challenge judgments and
decisions of officeholders—and the experience that they are in
principle responsive to such challenge—lays the basis for a
trust of the citizens in officeholders that allows the citizens to
partially suspend their judgments on specific decisions
(Warren 1996:57). It is not that citizens surrender their
judgment to officeholders between elections, which would be
pretty much the end of deliberative democracy. It is only that
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
they suspend their judgment on individual decisions, but
their trust (or its absence) in decision makers is of course in
its turn a judgment, as is their decision when to realize the
possibility of challenging authority. It is these judgments that
permit citizens to partially suspend judgment on specific
issues (ibid.). Thus, authority is not antagonistic towards
deliberative democracy, but, to the contrary, a constituent
element of it.
2.2 Policy recommendations and deliberative democracy
Before this background we can now see how policy
recommendations are after all reconcilable with deliberative
democracy. The important thing to understand is that there is
a place for policy recommendations within this concept of
deliberative democracy, not in addition to it. In other words,
expert policy recommendations must not bypass the
democratic procedures that legitimise political decisions, they
must become an input to the same. This implies that
decisions based on policy recommendations must be open to
contestation by the public, as all other decisions must be.
Of course the roles of different actors would be differentiated
in deliberative democracy. While all actors would be equally
legitimate participants of the public discourse and would
therefore be entitled to advocate or challenge specific
decisions, some actors would have special privileges and
responsibilities. To begin with, legitimately elected
officeholders (including those appointed by elected
authorities, such as ministers or judges) would have certain
privileges that derive from the simple fact that they have been
entrusted with decision making on behalf of the electorate.
Again, this does not mean that, once elected, they are entitled
to do whatever is just not illegal, but it does mean that they
are entitled to take decisions without the need to seek explicit
approval for every single decision, provided that they give a
chance of challenge to potential opponents. Furthermore,
special powers of decision or of influence should be
accompanied by special responsibilities. Thus, a researcher
who has extensively studied a particular societal issue will
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
rather easily make her voice heard in the media or by
counselling politicians directly, and there would be nothing
illegitimate about her giving advice to politicians on what she
personally believes would be the best policy—as long as the
public has a chance of challenging her advice. Similarly,
newspaper editorial writers with considerable influence on
public opinion have an obligation to particular prudence in
their published judgments, but the exertion of their influence
is not as such undemocratic or otherwise illegitimate as long
as a proper degree of media independence and plurality is
In short, what deliberative democracy requires is that any
policy recommendation or, more generally speaking, any
constructive political opinion is an input into, and not a
substitute of, the democratic process, and that any decision
taken by officeholders (which will almost inevitably be based
on one or another policy recommendation) will in principle be
responsive to public challenge.
This characterization of the institutional preconditions for the
reconciliation of democratic principles and policy
recommendations also indicates the limits to form and
content of policy recommendations that may be submitted to
the democratic process. First of all, policy recommendations
whose aim, or incidental effect, is to seriously undermine
deliberative democracy would not be admissible in the same
way as an unconstitutional political party would not be
admissible in a multi-party democracy. "Not admissible" is of
course meant in the sense of not being morally admissible
rather than in the sense of being illegal. As long as such
undemocratic policy recommendations are covered by the
right to freedom of expression, they should not be suppressed
by legal sanctions. Being not morally admissible should
rather imply that such policy recommendations stand no
chance of being seriously considered in a functioning
deliberative democracy.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Second, when a particular policy recommendation is
advanced, it should be justified by giving reasons why the
society should want to adopt that particular policy, rather
than by purely mechanical arguments based on alleged
natural social laws. For example, it would be problematic to
recommend a particular measure, even if it concerns the
extension of democratic participation rights, based simply on
statistical evidence that such a measure tends to increase
citizens' happiness (as in Frey & Stutzer 2002). Such a
justification reflects a view of citizens as happiness functions
and of policy makers as social engineers that have to fulfill
some independent objectives. It fails to address the reasons
the citizenry may or may not have to make the recommended
cause their own (cf. Thoma 2003:155). One does not need to
deny the existence of causal effects of certain policies on
people's wellbeing to demand that such policies always need
to be justified also and ultimately in terms of the specific,
contextual reasons people should have to advocate such
policies in public deliberation.
In addition to (i) the institutional preconditions and (ii) the
formal and substantive criteria of admissible policy
recommendations, the reconciliation of        policy
recommendations with deliberative democracy—indeed,
deliberative democracy itself—requires (iii) an ethical
predisposition—or simply: morality—on the side of the
participants of public deliberation, including citizens, experts,
multipliers and legitimate officeholders. While any democratic
constitution of society must be able to withstand
undemocratic and immoral attitudes of a minority, it cannot
be built upon the assumption of the complete absence of
morality. I shall try to explain what this implies for policy
recommendations in general and for GNH related proposals in
2.3 The imputation of morality
Saying that deliberative democracy requires morality does of
course not mean that citizens must always do the good and
never the bad, or that they must be always motivated by pure
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
benevolence. It does not, in other words, mean that citizens
must be saints. It just means that they respect others' moral
rights for other than strategic reasons, i.e., to judge and act
from the moral point of view. Morality, in this sense, simply
means that I do not (ab)use the other only as a means in my
strategic calculus, but that I care also about him or her as a
vulnerable human being. The criterion is not whether I
protect another person's specific interest at any cost to
myself, but whether I sincerely care about that person's
interest and allow it to become, in principle, a reason for me
to act against my immediate interests. What is necessary in
deliberative democracy, therefore, is a general readiness to
critically revise one's private preferences and/or to act against
them in the light of others' justified interests.
Such a conception of democracy is not for the first time
proposed here, but it may attract criticism from two sides.
First, it may be criticized that it is unrealistic to expect that a
significant portion of the citizenry is willing or able to take
this moral point of view. Whatever the exact arguments of
such a criticism, it will be either misdirected or simply wrong.
It would be misdirected if it was meant to criticize the view
that people would generally sacrifice their own interest for
those of another. After all, morality in the sense just
described does not at all imply that the pursuit of one's own
interests would in any way be illegitimate as such or that one
should sacrifice one's wellbeing for that of others. All it says is
that the pursuit of one's interests must be conditional upon
its respecting the moral rights of others. In other words, the
pursuit of one's interests is prima facie legitimate and only
needs to be justified, and possibly revised, when others'
legitimate interests are compromised. The criticism would be
wrong if it was claimed that, as a matter of fact, people have
no moral sense. This should be clear once the implications of
such a claim are understood. The widespread absence of any
morality would mean, e.g., that we could only communicate
and interact strategically and would have to suspend any
trust. The very business of science—defending theories and
hypothesis by reasoned argument—would become pointless
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
in such a world—in fact, the very justification of the view that
morality does not exist would become a performative
contradiction, i.e., it would be an exercise of communicative
(as opposed to strategic) rationality that is denying its own
existence. The absurdity of such a claim has been nicely
caricatured by Amartya Sen (1983:p.96): "Where is the
railway station?> he asks me. <There>, I say, pointing at the
post office, <and would you please post this letter for me on
the way?> <Yes>, he says, determined to open the envelope and
check whether it contains something valuable." We certainly
do not live in a world without morality. It would of course be
futile to attempt to ascertain the exact degree of the
prevalence of morality. Yet, in the absence of such estimates,
we will certainly fare better being optimistic about human
morality than pessimistic, preferring to impute rather a little
too much morality than too little.
Second, it may be criticized that it is illegitimate to require
that people change their preferences. This criticism may be
expected to follow from the standard dogma in economic
theory that preferences are sacrosanct and not to be
criticized. As long as negative externalities are internalized
through the price mechanism, the argument goes, nobody's
preferences should be questioned since "a taste for poetry is
no better than a taste for pushpins" (Frank 1997:1844, citing
Bentham). This critique, too, is mistaken on several accounts.
First, the very view that people have given preferences is
highly implausible and problematic. Rather, human beings
appear to be constructing their preferences themselves all the
time, albeit not from scratch and within limits (Hirata
2003:108). This implies that there usually exists no "genuine"
preference from which an individual is manipulated away
through outside influence. Rather, the construction of
preferences will unavoidably be influenced by communication
and interaction, and as long as the person is the master of
her judgments, there should be no reason to fear that she is
unduly manipulated.
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
Second, it is not only that outside influences are not
necessarily manipulative. People in fact actively seek outside
orientation for the sake of rightly choosing their preferences.
Most people want to live well and responsibly without having
a complete and ready-made conception of either the good life
or of legitimacy. Asking themselves how they want to live, who
they want to be, and what their values should be, they often
welcome the open-ended deliberation with others even if their
preferences are challenged in the process. As a reflected
economist once said, "life is at bottom an exploration in the
field of values, an attempt to discover values, rather than on
the basis of knowledge of them to produce and enjoy them to
the greatest possible extent. We strive to 'know ourselves,' to
find out our real wants, more than to get what we want"
(Knight 1964:1).
Third, declaring the questioning of others' preferences
illegitimate would mean doing away with the idea of ethics, of
responsibility, rights, and duties altogether. The mere fact
that a person compensates others for the damage he inflicts
on them (i.e., the idea of paying for negative externalities)
does not in itself legitimize the underlying preferences. As
Brian Barry (1991:264) vividly argues in an analogous
We will all agree that doing harm is in general not cancelled
out by doing good, and conversely that doing some good does
not license one to do harm provided it does not exceed the
amount of good. For example, ifyou paid for the realignments
of a dangerous highway intersection and saved an average of
two lives a year, that would not mean that you could shoot
one motorist per year and simply reckon on coming out
ahead, (quoted in Neumayer 1999:40)
The same case can be made for most negative externalities. A
rich person may have no difficulties to compensate, say, a
community of indigenous forest dwellers for their resettlement
in a different location in order to build a weekend residence
for   himself.   Yet,   considering   the   alternatives,   one   might
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
question whether he should not want to put his fortune to a
different use and content himself with a less "unsettling"
weekend destination. Indeed, "the way people allocate money
is not always optimal from a social point of view" (Thinley
1999:20). Similarly, we do not only condemn sadistic
practices but also the desire for such practices, and it is for
the same reason that the law prescribes harsher punishment
for homicide when it was committed with "malice
aforethought" (murder) than when it was committed out of
recklessness or negligence (manslaughter). The point I want
to make is that preferences are not morally irrelevant and
that we are right to demand justification for questionable
When it is recognized that moral demands can (realistically)
and may (ethically) be made on citizens, there should be no
reason to exempt policy recommendations from making moral
demands. In fact, any policy recommendations that does not
exclusively address purely opportunistic interests of the
addressees—i.e., practically all serious policy
recommendations—will automatically make some moral
demands. After all, policy recommendations need to be
justified by reference to some social benefit, not to the private
advantage that politicians, or indeed voters, may expect to
reap ("we recommend to abolish eco-taxes in order to make
more profitable use of defenseless future generations'
assets"). Even the public choice school that portrays policy
makers as purely self-interested agents does not seem to go
that far in its own policy recommendations.
Happiness-based policy recommendations potentially address
people's private ethos (i.e., prudence and morality) much
more explicitly than policy recommendations based on other
research, and Gross National Happiness in particular takes
persons' attitudes explicitly into the equation, as a key
passage from Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thrnley's Millenium Meeting
address emphasizes:
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
The knowledge of the self is important to attain individual
liberty and freedom, to gain happiness. ... I attach a slightly
different meaning to concepts like freedom and liberty than is
customarily done. We can gain freedom fundamentally
through the destruction of delusion, aggression and desire. ...
Happiness depends on gaining freedom, to a certain degree,
from this particular kind of self-concern [of 'paying excessive
attention to our selves, our concerns, needs and likes'].
(Thinley 1999:17-18)
Yet, criticizing this as a weakness ofthe GNH approach would
again be misguided. As I have just argued, every policy
recommendation will rightly make some demands on the
addressees' ethos—so why not extend the audience to all
citizens, rather than restricting them to policy makers?
Indeed, it seems rather inconsistent that most policy
recommendations—and their underlying theories—do not
articulate any moral exigencies demanded from citizens. To
be sure, moral demands alone will hardly make any
difference, and there exists a danger in overestimating
people's receptiveness for moral demands, especially when
not backed by "institutional backrests" (Ulrich
2001/1997:319) that reduce the private costs of socially
responsible behavior. Yet, just as policy makers are usually
called upon to design good rules of the game (by appealing to
their responsibility, not to their private advantage), so should
ordinary citizens be called upon to act virtuously within these
rules, and be it only for consistency (i.e., not arbitrarily
excluding citizens from moral demands). Many citizens may
in fact be eager to understand what virtuous action would
exactly mean in the context of the recommended rules of the
game, and explicitly addressing these concerns would enrich,
rather than patronize or manipulate, public debate.5
Complementing recommendations for better rules of the game
by explicitly addressing the role of people's private ethos
should therefore be no reason for embarrassment, but rather
a natural feature of any comprehensive political program or
policy recommendation.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
3. How exactly may happiness be expected to influence
In light of the conception of deliberative democracy outlined
above, one should not expect a simple "application" of GNH to
societies that bypasses the democratic decision making
process. Yet, the question of how GNH ideas may be expected
to be transmitted into real-world decision making shall not be
evaded here with a formal reference to the democratic
decision making process. While deliberative democracy is a
rather formal concept, it should be part of the theorist's job to
point out how this form might be filled with substance in
different contexts or scenarios. While I shall not go very deep
into this issue at this point,6 I will highlight four specific ways
on different levels in which the concern with happiness, in
particular as understood in GNH, may be expected to make a
difference to development.
3.1 Institutional level: provisions to reduce the frame-of-reference
Both empirical evidence and theoretical reasoning strongly
support the notion that poverty is relative and that, as a
corollary, wellbeing depends on some social frame of
reference. In particular, I suggest that this frame-of-reference
effect is driven by at least three distinct social dynamics:
(1) Positional competition (Hirsch 1976) leads people to spend
money on a positional arms race for status or otherwise for a
high position in a socio-economic hierarchy that alone can
provide a valuable ("oligarchic") privilege. Since the total
supply of positional goods cannot be augmented by
productivity gains, however, such competition is, from a
social welfare point of view, a zero-sum game, and
expenditures made for positional goods are thus social losses.
(2) Secondary inflation makes a given functioning (Sen
1985:10) more costly in terms of goods, just as primary (i.e.,
monetary) inflation makes a given good more costly in terms
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
of money units. For example, the deterioration of public
transport in Los Angeles brought about by the surge in the
number of private cars now practically obliges families to
posses a car to function normally in society. Doing one's
grocery shopping, e.g., was once a matter of paying for a bus
ride, but now involves the much higher cost of owning and
operating a car.
(3) Adaptive aspirations have the effect of reducing the
satisfaction a person derives from a given functioning because
exposure to superior goods lead to rising aspirations. For
example, a state of the art personal computer from five years
ago would not at all satisfy consumers today because they
have come to expect better functionality. Similarly, our
ancestors would not have considered themselves unhappy for
not having a hot morning shower, but once we got used to it
we take it for granted and do not derive any positive
satisfaction from this comfort.
All these effects may be tackled to some degree by smart rules
of the game, and in fact are already being partially addressed
(Frank 1999, Layard 2005). Positional competition, e.g., may
be slowed down by limiting the hours people work; secondary
inflation might be addressed by long-term policies (e.g., urban
planning) that expose the secular choices societies confront
rather than relying on piecemeal decisions of individuals
(Hirsch 1976, Mishan 1979/1967, Schelling 1974); and
adaptive aspirations can be addressed by limiting exposure to
superior consumption goods (by reducing income inequality
or by banning advertising towards children below the age of
twelve, as Sweden has done).
3.2 Individual level: educational effect of knowing about cognitive
Apart from the just outlined social dynamics which occur
even if, or precisely when, individuals decide rationally,
happiness may be compromised by irrational behavior.
Psychological research has gathered firm evidence that people
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
frequently commit cognitive fallacies when it comes to
predicting happiness. For example, they often fail to
anticipate that, and how rapidly, they will adjust to better
performing computers or hot showers (Frederick &
Loewenstein 1999). They overestimate the effect of a given
change in their living conditions for the simple fact that their
attention is drawn to them ("focusing illusion"; Schkade &
Kahneman 1998). They also tend to overestimate their taste
for diversity when anticipating future choices (Read &
Loewenstein 1995). Publicly debating happiness may raise
people's awareness of these effects, and once people know
about these cognitive fallacies they may be expected to make
more prudent decisions, just as knowledge about nutritional
features of different foods has been making a difference to
people's diets.
3.3 Societal level: giving weight to (inter-) subjective arguments
Prevalent discourses tend to selectively establish legitimizing
justifications. Our modern time's veneration of, some would
say obsession with, objectivity, for example, obliges people to
justify their judgments and decisions by reference to some
objective arguments. What is more, people find it prudent in
terms of their own interest—not only just with respect to
others' interests—to base decisions on objective rather than
subjective criteria. For example, a majority of respondents in
an experiment said that they would be more satisfied earning
US$33,000 when their equally qualified colleagues earn
US$30,000 than earning US$35,000 when their colleagues
earn US$38,000,. At the same time, however, 84% (of another
group of respondents) said they would choose the latter
scenario (Tversky & Griffin 1991:114). Apparently, people do
not consider their resulting subjective satisfaction to be a
legitimate reason to act upon, perhaps because "the market
culture teaches us that money is the source of well-being,
[and people,] lacking privileged knowledge of the causes of
their feelings, ... accept conventional answers" (Lane 2000:70)
Here, publicly and seriously debating happiness might help
do away with the stigma of subjective arguments so that
reasons are evaluated on their inherent merit and not on
 How Should Happiness Guide GNH Policy?
insignificant formal criteria such as whether they are
objective or subjective.
3.4 Conceptual level: acknowledge role of personal attitudes for
Modern social sciences, with the partial exception of
psychology, have come to restrict their domain of interest to
living conditions, the rules of the game and social, economic,
and political systems, as opposed to the inner life of the
subjects that, after all, constitute such systems. This is also
true for development theories and has been accompanied in
most Western societies by an almost exclusive concern in
public debates with citizens' (negative) rights and freedoms at
the exclusion of obligations and behavior-orientating norms.
Development is seen basically as a matter of building an
agreeable world around people who are assumed to be
equipped with all those competencies and attitudes it takes to
become thriving and well-adjusted citizens once favorable
living conditions are established. As Scitovsky (1992/1976:4)
noted, "we are accustomed to blaming the system or the
economy and have gotten out of the habit of seeking the
cause of our troubles in ourselves."
Unfortunately, however, the conditions of life are not always
agreeable. While there are certainly many aspects of today's
"systems" that need to be rectified, people's attitudes,
characters, inner strength etc. are also a vital component of
development. In fact, people's inner life plays two constitutive
roles in development. On the one hand, a certain moral
posture (commitment to basic moral principles, a conception
of the good etc.) is a requirement for any societal "system" to
function well (Rawls 1999/1971, Hirsch 1976, Giannetti
2002). On the other hand, some inner strength and positive
attitudes are what allows people to live fulfilling lives even
under not so agreeable living conditions. If public debates
were centered around happiness rather than economic
conditions, one might expect that people's inner life would be
taken into the equation of development. In this sense, GNH-
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
inspired theories appear to be more complete than
mainstream development approaches that are exclusively
concerned with the living conditions, and not at all with living.
4. Conclusion
Happiness-inspired policy recommendations, I have argued
here, are neither illegitimate nor illusory, provided that they
are submitted as justified suggestions to the democratic
decision making process. As all other policy
recommendations, they have to prove themselves in the
public discursive contest of arguments. One argument that
might turn out to become a particularly convincing feature of
GNH is its inclusion of the inner life into the domain of
interest. While people's inner life is perhaps no direct field of
policy intervention, it would be an inconsistency and a gross
omission to conceptualize and debate development without
taking the role of personal attitudes, ethos, and values into
There are a number of specific ways in which the shift in
public debate from economic conditions to happiness may
affect a society's development path, i.e., policies as well as
people's private lives. I have here defended the view that the
specific path of good development must be negotiated in a
given society under the premise of deliberative democracy,
and that such negotiation makes, and should make, some
moral demands on the negotiators—the citizens. In other
words, good development needs both, appropriate rules of the
game and citizens who care about others' moral rights. By
addressing both sides of the equation, GNH brings us a big
step further towards a more comprehensive conception of
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1 The draft constitution as published on 26 March 2005 begins thus
(after the preamble): "Article 1. Kingdom of Bhutan. 1. Bhutan is a
Sovereign Kingdom and the Sovereign power belongs to the people of
Bhutan. 2. The form of Government shall be that of a Democratic
Constitutional Monarchy. Any other form of Government shall be
unconstitutional and is prohibited."
2 The "median voter theorem" is based on the scenario of a binary
decision (for or against a specific proposal) and says that the
preferences of the median voter—i.e., the voter who has as many
voters to his right as to his left in the distribution of approval
intensities—will prevail as long as decisions reflect majorities.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
3 Cf. the voluminous literature sparked by "Arrow's impossibility
theorem" (Arrow 1951).
4 Furthermore, the very concept of externalities requires some moral
concept of legitimate preferences. For example, I may find that
factory noise is an illegitimate nuisance but that the noise of playing
children should not be disliked in the same way.
5 Moreover, many collective action problems seem to depend
precisely on the public articulation of behavioral norms as a
precondition for universal understanding. If a municipality puts up
glass disposal containers for recycling purposes, for example, there
would be little use if this measure was not complemented by a
publicly justified articulation of the citizen duty to cooperate with
glass recycling. The failure to communicate this expectation may
undermine people's confidence in general cooperation which in turn
may stifle a latent readiness to cooperate on the side of each single
6 A more elaborate discussion of this question can be found, in
German language, in Hirata (2005 [in print]) and, in English
language, in Hirata (2006 [forthcoming]).


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