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GNH would direct government institutions to develop their own unique standards of happiness because a universal or objective assessment of mental health, time use, or cultural preservation would be impossible to conjure.This would consequently have disastrous effects in the world’s most oppressive regimes.One thing is quite clear: the concept of Gross National Happiness did not prevent discriminatory policies and the escalation of ethnic tensions into mass displacement.In fact, the Bhutanese obsession with GNH, and in particular the imperative of cultural protection, provided a convenient ideological justification for the deportation of Nepali-speaking people.When these measures, taken in the name of protecting the country’s cultural heritage, were met with opposition, 100,000 members of the Lhotshampa population were systematically and forcibly expelled to Nepal throughout the 1990s in a great display of intolerance and moral dearth.Today the government under Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay continues to maintain that the refugees are not Bhutanese and simultaneously asserts that their abjection is a product of an easily navigable border instead of a monarchal effort to maintain a traditional cultural identity.Most perplexing of all, perhaps, is the fact that Bhutan’s GNH reportedly rose throughout the Lhotshampa’s exodus, suggesting a cynical utilitarian calculus: Through cultural authoritarianism and the removal of the most unhappy and oppressed minority groups within Bhutan, the median GNH purportedly increased.Apparently the “Dragon King” had discovered the formula to happiness after all.

Moreover, it illustrates the danger of allowing political institutions to assess national happiness in order to gauge success; such evaluations inevitably bear some level of subjectivity.Instead, conservative elites have used GNH to promote a political trajectory narrowly focused on the maintenance of antiquated agrarian lifestyles and social norms.The consequences of this are very problematic: instead of addressing income inequality, government corruption, or socio-economic freedom — including the unyielding discrimination and subjugation of the LGBTQ community — the Bhutanese political system is marred by tawdry appeals to GNH as an unequivocal solution to all the country’s issues.Moreover, the country is experiencing the effects of high income inequality — the top 20 percent hold eight times the wealth of the bottom 20 percent — and a weak education system that exacerbates such inequality further.However, the incessant discourse centered on GNH and the need to preserve Bhutanese culture has inhibited constructive discussions about practical policy changes.

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