His Excellency, Lyoncho Karma Tobgye, Minister of Happiness in the Kingdom of Bhutan, asked to meet me because of my reputation for telling the truth while avoiding or inventing facts, which is the opposite of most journalists. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
RIGHT: Artwork by Henry Martin. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
L. Karma Tobgye: Welcome to Bhutan, Ms. Weir. As you may know, Bhutan invented Gross National Happiness. However, we have a low GDP, which lowers our GDH. Since it’s my job to raise that level, I would like to find out what makes the United States so wealthy. Can you explain?
Barb Weir: What made you choose the U.S.? It’s by no means the wealthiest per capita.
L. Karma Tobgye: We noticed that your country also has enormous debt and very little savings compared to the others. You therefore appear to spend more money on frivolous things. This indicates that you actually feel wealthy compared to other countries. This is what interests us. After all, happiness is a state of mind.
Barb Weir: What makes you think we spend our money recklessly?
L. Karma Tobgye: I can cite several examples. First, your people spend more money on guns than any other country. Obviously that’s quite frivolous.
Barb Weir: How so?
L. Karma Tobgye: Guns are expensive but rarely fired in self defense, which is nevertheless the reason your people buy them. Then there is the ammunition, gun clubs, NRA membership, etc. People can easily spend more than $100,000 in a lifetime, and yet it’s extremely rare that anyone gets shot in self defense, which is the intended purpose. It’s much more likely that the owner will shoot someone by accident or in an act of aggression over a lifetime of gun ownership. That’s a breathtaking waste of money, and we would be interested to know what accounts for it.
Barb Weir: OK, I see your point. What other examples do you have?
L. Karma Tobgye: There’s also health care. You spend almost twice as much per capita as any other nation. Countries with a much higher GDP don’t even come close. More of your health care goes for profit than in any other nation, and the same is true for administration, if you count all the HMOs and insurance companies. Even the wealthiest nations don’t feel they can afford that. You obviously feel you have money to burn.
Barb Weir: You may have discovered something. Anything else?
L. Karma Tobgye: I haven’t even mentioned your political campaigns. The money you spend on political candidates is possibly more than the rest of the world combined, and yet your policies hardly change. That’s not even counting the money you spend to decide the outcome of elections outside your country. Now that’s what I call a wealthy state of mind.
Barb Weir: That’s an interesting interpretation. I suppose you have other data.
L. Karma Tobgye: A wealth of data, if you’ll pardon the expression. You spend an enormous amount on your military – almost as much as the rest of the world combined – and yet it doesn’t seem to improve your security or economy or even your happiness. You don’t seem to need as much money for public education or the welfare of your citizens, which obviously means that your people can afford whatever they need without public expenditure. The list goes on. How do you manage this?
Barb Weir: Your Excellency, if you want your people to spend money on frivolous things, they need to be terrified of what might happen to them. Americans, for example, are afraid of attack by countries like North Korea, Iraq and Iran, which is why they spend so much on their military.
L. Karma Tobgye: So I should tell our people that China or India might attack Bhutan?
Barb Weir: No, no. It should be a country that is much smaller than your own and would be crazy to start such a fight. In your case, you might want to try San Marino or Andorra. It also helps if your people are afraid of their neighbors or people that look different. Then they’ll buy more guns. You also need greedy corporations that spend a lot of money to buy your public officials and convince your population that corporate profits are more important than controlling the cost of health care, and that they are being robbed by the poor rather than the rich.
L. Karma Tobgye: Fear of neighbors? Perhaps we were too hasty in expelling the ethnic Nepalese. Amazing, Ms. Weir. I had no idea that fear could contribute to happiness. Thank you for this breakthrough in understanding.
Barb Weir: No, thank you, Excellency.