Theory and practice of two alternative development concepts. Growth versus quality of life

Academic Paper, 2018

20 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Buen Vivir
2.1. Context of emergence
2.2. Content of Buen Vivir within the Ecuadorian Constitution
2.3. Planned implementation
2.4. Actual implementation: Yasum-ITT-Initiative

3. Gross National Happiness
3.1. Context of emergence
3.2. Content and Measurement
3.3. Planned implementation
3.4. Actual implementation: Driglam Namzha

4. Comparison
4.1. Similarities
4.2. Differences

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The entire world is mainly organized around capitalist principles promoted by the global north. In this sense development is understood as a process of material progress and eco­nomic growth - a state which most countries of the global south still have to reach being geared to western ‘developed' countries (Walsh 2010: 15). Especially dominant neo-liberal thinking defines development as only possible if state intervention is reduced so that the invisible hand of the market sets its prices and wages. A main tool to measure the devel­opment of a country as well as the well-being of its society is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Based on quantifiable economic transactions recorded in a given period of time it measures an increase in consumption as an increase in standard of living. Thereby the indi­cator ignores qualitative aspects such as irresponsible logging of forests, CO2 emissions or produced waste (Tidemann 2011: 138). It is no longer deniable that these issues tremen­dously matter to the well-being of humans as negative outcomes of global warming obvi­ously affect people all over the world. Nevertheless, growth and progress measured in monetary indicators are still crucial aspects for well-known development theories and de­termine the contemporary discourse on development. However, there is another movement arising that questions the unaltered root of development in economic growth by decon­structing development to expose colonialism that underlies the old theories (Villalba 2012: 1428). This movement often referred to as post-development or degrowth tends to frame new theories focusing on multiple immaterial aspects next to economic ones that influence a sustainable form of development and support contentment of people. Nonetheless, the shift to new social and sustainable forms of development is made slowly and in different forms. This term paper presents two alternative development concepts originating from different cultural contexts and social positions, both aiming at generating another view on development including a conscious handling of the environment, social equality and a hap­py life in fullness. Conducting a comparative analysis of the two alternative development concepts - Buen Vivir (Ecuador) and Gross National Happiness (Bhutan) - I tend to identi­fy core aspects of both concepts and expound the countries' strategies of implementation as well as their success and failures in doing so in order to eventually make a statement about the concepts' potentials and limits.

From the beginning of this millennium mainly South-American, indigenous intellectuals1, began publishing articles on the concept of Buen Vivir. Since its inclusion into the Ecuado­rian and Bolivian constitution a broader international discourse arose amongst scholars who debated its potential to represent a new thinking of development and sustainability, considering it mostly in a positive way.2 At the latest through the Yasuni-ITT-initiative it gained global attention. Extensive literature is available on Gross National Happiness (GNH) at the website of the Center of Bhutan Studies as research on Gross National Hap­piness (GNH) has mostly been conducted within this framework by Asian as well as West­ern authors. One of the most prominent scholars is Dasho Karma Ura, current president of the Research Centers, who was significantly involved in the elaboration of the GNH In- dex.3 Research from independent foreign scholars has been highly regularized, which is why only few contributions exist taking different perspectives (Penjore 2013:153). None­theless, with growing popularity of the concept more critical and diverse literature occurs.4

Based on the existing literature the analysis of this term paper will start with enlarging on the concept of Buen Vivir. Therefore its meaning as well as its context of emergence should be explained going into its origins in the Andean cosmology as well as into its emergence as an Ecuadorian development concept known in an international context. Fur­thermore the planned implementation of the concept is covered through evaluating online published governmental documents. Ecuador's implementation strategies should be exem­plified by the Yasuni-ITT-Initiative. Using the same structure in a second step the Bhutan­ese concept of Gross National Happiness is explained. After going into its context of emergence and its roots in the Buddhist culture, the main principals of the concept are pre­sented. Papers on GNH published by the Bhutanese government help getting information on planned implementation strategies mentioned subsequently. In addition an analysis of the code of ethics, called Driglam Namzha, serves as an example for policy outcomes of GNH in Bhutan. In a third step the two concepts are compared referring to identified simi­larities and differences. Finishing this comparison the initially asked question on the con­cepts' potential and limits is answered.

2. Buen Vivir

“Good Living is the style of life that enables happiness and the permanency of cultural and en­vironmental diversity; it is harmony, equality, equity and solidarity. It is not the quest for opu­lence or infinite economic growth.” (Falcon! 2013: 14)

This official definition of the Spanish term Buen Vivir (English: good living) from the Ec­uadorian government written down in the Plan Nacional para el Buen Vivir 2013-2017, describes a concept of harmonious, egalitarian, solidary living while at the same time no­tions of economic growth are explicitly criticized. However, in its broader context of origin Buen Vivir is not a clearly defined term, but dynamic and dependent on the context it is applied in (Altmann 2013: 108; Unceta 2014: 125f). Therefore this chapter evaluates its original meaning within the Andean cosmovision as well as its adoption from the Ecuado­rian government and its impacts on public policies.

2.1. Context of emergence

The term Buen Vivir emerged for the first time within the intellectual discourse in Latin America in line with a research project of the Instituto Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Sociales between 2000 and 2002. The indigenous anthropologist Carlos Viteri Gualinga showed that there is neither a word for development existing in indigenous languages nor an explicit perception of development within the communities in Amazonia, but rather a holistic view on objectives of human efforts (Villalba 2013: 1429). The latter are about searching for and creating material and spiritual conditions to construct and preserve Buen Vivir, which is defined as harmonious life (Viteri 2002: 2). The Spanish wording Buen Vivir used as the translation of the Quechua term Sumak Kawsay is inasmuch delusive as it is not possible to build an antipode to Sumak Kawsay in the sense of bad living. Buen Vivir rather is about harmony and perfection of the biotic community that permits living in fullness based on mutual respect and reciprocity (Yampara 2010: n.p.). To better under­stand this concept one should look at its ancestral, Andean roots in an animistic ontology (Fatheur 2011: 17; Schmid 2014: 15). Following a biocentric rather than an anthropocen­tric posture with a utilitarian view on nature, Andean communities belief in the intercon­nectedness and mutual dependency of all life and thereby recognize intrinsic values in en­vironment (Gudynas 2011: 443). These ideas of Buen Vivir have been - along with great participation and commitment of citizens and indigenous organizations - incorporated in the new Ecuadorian Constitution. The latter was approved in 2008 within the framework of a political process of left progression as a reaction to dominating western capitalist princi­ples of living better dismantling neo-liberal policies (Acosta 2009: 219; Walsh 2010: 15, 20). This so called ‘citizen revolution' tends to construct a sustainable, organized and dy­namic version of economic, political, environmental and social systems, decolonize think­ing and thereby achieve a shift in the notion of development (Walsh 2010: 16). Therefore, the major aim of the President Rafael Correa's government is to create a link between so­cialism and Buen Vivir to strengthen society, labour and life in all its variations (Senplades 2013: 24)

2.2. Content of Buen Vivir within the Ecuadorian Constitution

The new Ecuadorian Government developed a concept of Good Living combining it with proposals of the Andean and Amazonian peoples to define the purpose of public policy and create an economic and political alternative to its neo-liberal past (Altmann 2013: 109). In its constitution Ecuador defines norms and values that have great impact on the living to­gether within a society. These are not based on principles of competition but on solidarity, complementarity and reciprocity (Schmid 2014: 10-15). Taking on a holistic perspective good living is not only determined by material wealth but also amongst others by knowledge, experiences, social and cultural approval, ethic and spiritual values with re­spect to society and environment or the responsibility for future generations (Acosta 2009: 219-221). Precisely six basic dimensions can be identified that structure the conception of good living within the Ecuadorian constitution: diversifying production and economic se­curity, universal access to superior goods, social equity, social participation, cultural diver­sity and sustainability (Senplades 2013: 25). However, the most pioneering aspect of the concept is the recognition of genuine rights of the nature, called Pachamama - the Quech­ua word for mother earth. Pachamama as legal entity is guaranteed a healthy, sustainably environment by demanding respect of nature “[...] as well as limiting human activity to those that fall within the biophysical limits of local ecosystems and taking responsibility for the well-being of future generations” (Senplades 2013: 23). In addition, citizens them­selves are also guaranteed the right of a living in a healthy environment. The principle of a solidary economy refers to a democratization of accesses to economic resources, redistri­bution of wealth and humanly norms for labour (Acosta 2009: 221f). Step by step these principals should lead to a transformation of the neo-liberal production system, change the way citizens think and finally get closer to a status of good living.

2.3. Planned implementation

As a roadmap to realize these ideas and principles a National Plan of Buen Vivir, devel­oped by the National Secretariat of Planning and Development, defines different imple- mentation strategies by formulating twelve objectives, whereof only a few are discussed in this paragraph.

The objective to foster social and territorial equity, cohesion, inclusion and equality in di­versity should be achieved through policy strategies such as guaranteeing equality in ac­cess to health-care, social security and education services even for people affected by ex­clusion or discrimination. Furthermore policy strategies tent to overcome social and territo­rial inequalities between rural and urban settings and eradicate all forms of discrimination and violence. These aspects will be met amongst others by reducing the Gini coefficient to 0.44, reducing poverty measured by income to 20%, increasing the attendance rate of high schools and reducing illiteracy (Senplades 2013: 55f). Another objective focuses on im­proving people's quality of life by reforming the National Health System incorporating ancestral and alternative medicine, promoting habits of eating nutritious, healthful foods and encouraging devoting free time to physical, sports and other activities that improve people's physical, intellectual and social conditions. Access to adequate, safe, dignified housing is assured as well as to safe water and basic sanitation services. In addition, the preservation and protection of the cultural and natural heritage and the citizenry against risks of natural origin is guaranteed (Senplades 2013: 62). The objective to strengthen na­tional identity as well as diverse identities, pluri-nationality and interculturality should be achieved through promoting cultural creation in all forms, languages and expressions and guaranteeing the exercise of people's right to communicate freely, interculturally, diversely and participatory but also through promoting intercultural understanding, cultural policy and the building of solidary social relations among diverse people. Therefore the genera­tional transmission of native languages should increase as well as the population self­identifying as indigenous who speak their native language. Moreover, audiovisual works and independent cinematographic works produced in Ecuador should be supported (Sen- plades 2013: 65). Guaranteeing the rights of Nature and promoting environmental sustain­ability as another objective evoked international debates about a new approach of envi­ronmental protection. It should be achieved by ensuring full enforcement of Nature's rights, managing water heritage sustainably, promoting conscious consumption patterns with a criterion on sufficiency within the planet's limits as well as promoting the greater involvement of renewable energies and preventing environmental pollution in extraction. These aspects will be achieved through increasing the proportion of mainland territory un­der environmental conservation, the biocapacity, the cumulative area of forest restoration and the percentage of households who sort their wastes (Senplades 2013: 70f). The last objective I want to present here is about consolidating the social and solidary economic system, sustainably. It should be achieved through reinforcing a progressive, efficient taxa­tion by increasing tax contributions to 16%, through consolidating the state's role driving production and regulating the market and through investing public resources to generate sustained economic growth and structural transformation (Senplades 2013: 74).

2.4. Actual implementation: Yasum-ITT-Initiative

“One of the pillars of our sovereignty is to defend Ecuador's natural resources.” (Senplades 2013: 15). Guaranteeing the right to enjoy a healthy environment as well as defining ex­plicitly genuine rights for mother earth is one core aspect of the National Plan of Buen Vi- vir. In order to exemplify the actual political impact of Buen Vivir on Ecuadorian policies, this chapter focuses on one empirical case referring to environmental protection.

The Yasum-ITT5 -Initiative tried to implement the above-mentioned defense of resources and thereby sticking to the new constitution's ban of oil extraction in protected areas. It has initially been put forward by Ecuadorian civil society actors and later taken over by the government of Rafael Correa (Pellegrini et al. 2014: 1). The initiative sought to prevent the drilling of oil lying under the core of Yasuni National Park and thereby leaving at least 850 million barrels of heavy crude oil locked (Finer et al. 2010: 63). In return Ecuador seeks financial compensation from the international community that is concerned about the threats of climate change. These should cover approximately half of the earnings the coun­try would have obtained by extracting crude oil. The aim to protect a biodiverse national park of global importance attracted much attention on national and international level as the area has been recognized as UNESCO natural heritage in 1979 (Finer et al. 2010: 64f). Alongside conserving the unique biodiversity and avoiding the release of CO2 emissions, it is also about protecting the living environment Yasuni National Park presents for different indigenous groups such as Waorani, Quechua, Tageri and Taromenane (Larrea and Warnas 2009: 221). To enforce the initiative an international administrated fund with UN participa­tion should be created, whose money is exclusively invested in natural conservation, re­newable energies and social development. Thereby the Yasum-ITT-Initiative would simul­taneously mitigate global warming, protects biodiversity and indigenous cultures and re­duces poverty (Larrea and Warnas 2009: 219f). Unfortunately in 2013 the initiative has been declared as unsuccessful and until today been frozen by President Rafael Correa, who blamed the international community for the lack of progress in the fund collection (Pelle­grini et al. 2014: 3). This step shows that Ecuador remains highly financially dependent on petroleum exports whose revenues are important to finance a large share of its state budget - especially as public investments in ambitious social policies such as education, health or energy have grown significantly since incorporating Buen Vivir into the country's consti­tution (Pellegrini et al. 2014: 4). However, the initiative can be rated positively to such a degree as the possibility exists to perform sovereignty upon the resource oil (Davidov 2012: 15) and it has the potential to become a new model to promote effective global col­laboration in conserving protected areas (Pellegrini et al. 2014: 7). On the other hand the failure of the initiative contributes to a legitimization of further extractive activities by the Ecuadorian government and the overriding of minority rights in favor of short-term majori­ty interests (Pellergini et al. 2014: 8).

3. Gross National Happiness

“‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.'”

(Jigme Singye Wangchuk 1972, qtd. in Allison 2012: 180)

This statement of the fourth Bhutanese King challenges notions of development all over the world. Measuring the full spectrum of human well-being the tiny South Asian country in the Himalayas is treading an alternative path of development articulated through the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). In the following its content and meaning considering the country's context as well as methods of measurement and implementation strategies are analyzed.

3.1. Context of emergence

Druk Yul - Land of the Thunder Dragon Bhutan is called in Dzongkha, its national lan­guage. The landlocked country with a population of 740.000 equates the size of Switzer­land and is geographically trapped between the two giants, India and China (Schmidt 2017: 1). Entitling Bhutan as “A World Apart” Priesner (2004: 25) refers to the country's stand­ard of living until the 1950s or 1960s, when the vast majority of the population spent their lives as subsistence farmers, engaged in countertrade. While more than 70% of Bhutan's population still is engaged in the agricultural sector, the country has passed an impression­istic development over the last 50 years - building 3000 km of roads, establishing to some extent electricity and modern telecommunication facilities, offering improved educational and health services at no charge for the population, recording a significant rise of per capita income, a dramatic increase of life expectancy as well as of the literacy rate and perform­ing a peaceful democratization process by turning the country's absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy (Priesner 2004: 25f; Schmidt 2017: 1). Arising out of this histori­cal, social and political context the concept of GNH, furthermore, is based on Buddhist values, which emphasize the transitory nature of material goods (Tidemann 2011: 135). The primary purpose of Mahayana Buddhism, Bhutan's state religion, is to spread happi­ness and compassion to everyone (Givel 2015: 14). This spiritual background should help balancing the growing pressures of modern capitalism with Bhutan's ancient traditions and culture. Wellbeing or happiness in the sense of Mahayana Buddhism, and therefore also of GNH, includes “[...] current satisfaction with ones' entire life or a satisfaction with a ful­filling life [...] based on meeting human needs, environmental protection, cultural protec­tion, and democratic or good governance including the protection of political and civil rights” (Givel 2015: 22). These aspects have been defined as the four pillars of GNH.


1 e.g.: Mario Torrez 2001, Carlos Viteri Gualinga 2002, Alberto Acosta 2009, Simón Yampara 2011

2 e.g. Eduardo Gudynas 2011, Phillip Altmann 2013, Koldo Unceta 2014

3 e.g. Karma Ura et al. 2012

4 e.g. Stefan Priesner 2004, Jeremy Brooks 2013, Michel Givel 2015, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Luca Tasciotti

5 Abbreviation for the name of the oil deposit Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tipuntini (Larrea and Warnas 2009: 221).

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Theory and practice of two alternative development concepts. Growth versus quality of life
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Silvana Vialova (Author), 2018, Theory and practice of two alternative development concepts. Growth versus quality of life, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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