Letter from the Publisher
by Vanessa Johnson
Posted on December 26, 2005
One of the many things I love about El Paso is UTEP's architecture. The campus appears as a mirage, a fantastical Himalayan kingdom in an unlikely desert. This architecture comes from Bhutan, a small monarchy squeezed between India and China.
Bhutan is fascinating and attractive in many ways. It is, however, one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world. Perhaps to defend its poverty to outsiders, or perhaps to genuinely foster an alternative economic system, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 developed an indicator that is called Gross National Happiness (GNH), as opposed to the more conventional Gross National Product (GNP).
According to the royal government, "Gross national happiness comprises four pillars: economic self-reliance, environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good governance. These four goals are mutually linked, complementary, and consistent. They embody national values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions." The Buddhist idea of "jimba," or public service, is a key component of all four pillars.
One could argue that good governance is still sorely lacking in Bhutan, with intense governmental control and little transparency. This indicator has been widely mocked and criticized, with charges that it is used as a cover for repressive and racist policies. For the cynics/realists among us, it is clear that these principles have not done much for Bhutan's economy in any traditional sense.
But if one dissects the elements of the king's vision, they do not seem far off from values that many espouse in our own country. What fascinated me about this idea when I first read of it was how it was dismissed as anti-globalization tripe. But if one firmly believes in market principles as a guiding force for prosperity, the natural question is whether all other principles are secondary. Can they ever coexist? Can they even be mutually reinforcing? For example, is environmental preservation always at the expense of the market? Does our culture, environment, and history need first to be turned into commodities, or economic drivers, in order to be preserved?
I often find myself defensive about El Paso's economy to outsiders. Yet there is much evidence that we are a very happy community, on account of intangibles that can be judged separately from economic issues. We value close families. We have a beautiful climate. Some of these things can be commoditized; others shouldn't be. While the arts, for example, can be an economic driver, that should not be their first or only purpose. Art exists for art's sake, for aesthetic and not market value.
I hope that 2006 brings economic growth and prosperity to our city. I believe the infusion of outside capital is generally positive and that we should try to avoid any protectionist impulses. However, I also want to see the growth occur according to ethics that are universal. I would venture that for most El Pasoans, development should not come at the cost of our mountains or air. Our downtown should be vibrant but should also preserve its unique character, architecture, and landmarks. As growth occurs, it should be in line with our city's values, culture, and history. One doesn't have to be Buddhist or Bhutanese to see that this city is already more highly developed by some measures than many other places.
We wish a safe and joyful holiday season to all our readers. Enjoy this issue.
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