Happiness by Will or by Writ?
Few people know of a country by the name of Bhutan. Even fewer can point to it on the map. And I dare say that even fewer know what kind of over-riding principle the top-down, command economy by which it is managed.
Happiness. Gross National Happiness.
Or rather, the relative happiness conjured up in the minds of people like Jigmi Thinley, the Home & Cultural Affairs Minister.
Last year the BBC visited the landlocked Himalayan region, paying a visit to a country that only recently legalized the use of TV broadcasting and Internet service.
Throughout the segment, viewers learn that residents of this country live in a Hollywood-esque feudal culture, but not by choice. Rather, they are omnipotently regulated by an absolute monarch and many other pillars of Statism, such as legislators who have seen fit to ban tobacco, some street advertising, and even plastic bags.
All this in the name of preserving the traditional culture of short, brutish lives. Purportedly happy lives.
Not unlike their socialist neighbors, much of the legal economy in Bhutan is managed by 5-year plans. Under the rallying cry of stemming the tide of "commercialism" brought on by — presumably — unhappy Western culture, stringent visa requirements prevent many foreigners from even visiting this bastion of happiness.
Natives are legally required to wear Buddhist clothing known as gho and kira and strict regulations prevent many employment opportunities to those not of Bhutanese descent. Thus, few outsiders get to experience this happy lifestyle first hand.
Yet despite these regressive, illiberal policies — despite the fact that some policies of happiness keep many residents poorer, longer — the minister believes that without these safeguards in place, the traditional culture would not exist today.
In addition to blaming TV for an increase in rioting and crime, the minister also complains that children now watch TV instead of completing homework or socializing with others.
Ignoring whether or not parents exist in this society (it is never stated), problems in crime and rioting arguably stem from a lack of protecting private property rights in a culture of subsistence. Neither the institutions nor business law was allowed to grow or mature during this time of broadcast deregulation.
And who is to say that those rioting and violating property aren't happy?
Half a World Away
At a time when the chieftains of Shangri-La were experimenting with prescribed happiness, Chris Gardner was on the other side of the Pacific, eating in soup kitchens and sleeping in a new abode every night.
This past December, actor Will Smith portrayed him in The Pursuit of Happyness, a modern-day rags-to-riches story. For the better part of his life, Gardner lived in destitution and indebtedness, dreaming of a better, happier life — all he needed was a direction. And as a salesman of medical equipment in the Bay Area, he was barely able to provide for his wife and son.
However, one day while walking through the financial district of San Francisco, his inspiration for a better life climaxed during a chance encounter with a stock broker parking a red Ferrari.
So enamored by what he saw — happy people all around — that he became driven and motivated to become a stock broker himself.
And despite all of the hardships he would later endure fulfilling this pursuit, because the labor market was more liberal, individuals could ultimately make their own decisions and pursue happiness to their own ends. Thus as superficial as Gardner may have been, he was the sole master of his destiny. He was free to choose.
As a result, not only did his own standard of living increase, but so did that of his family. In fact, he succeeded in becoming a successful stock broker and now works hands on with philanthropies and charities to help the unemployed, at-risk, and unhappy denizens of the world.
Of course, with the freedom to succeed, there comes the freedom to fail. He could have foundered by all financial measures, but pursuing happiness was still an option he controlled.
Tradition or Tyranny?
At the end of the BBC broadcast, Jigmi Thinley wondered why no other countries use this happiness policy for planning an economy. Unfortunately, the joke's on him, because every regulation, law, mandate, edict, and dictum is based on this faux need to manage and control social happiness by fiat.
The philosophical differences between these two worlds were illustrated in the movie. Moments after telling his son Christopher that he would not grow up to become an athlete, Gardner retracts and tells him never to let anyone tell him he can't be someone, not even Gardner himself.
Happiness by choice, not by command.
 According to the State Department, independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Visitors are required to book travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. Furthermore, visitors have to buy packaged deals through a central system. The minimum daily tariff is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and cannot be negotiated. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available. See also Potemkin village.
 Liberalism hasn't stopped traditional Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Russian, and many other distinctive cultural groups from maintaining many of their unique traditions in Western countries. With freedom of association comes the ability to mix and mingle as you see fit.
 One of the many problems of deregulating some but not all of an economy is the distortions, twists, and kinks caused in areas that are still micromanaged. Several pillars of a free market include the freedom of contract, freedom of association, defense of property, and prosecuting trespassers/violators.
 Other organizations Gardner sponsors include The Cara Program and the Glide United Methodist Church, the same one that sheltered him during the early '80s. He also helped fund "a $50 million dollar project in San Francisco that created low-income housing and opportunities for employment in the area of the city where he once was homeless."