Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unhappy Pencils

Quite a few years ago I became aware of Bhutan and their use of “Gross National Happiness” as a measure of national status, almost in some sort of opposition to “Gross Domestic Product”. This isn’t a blog on economics and politics, but I’ve always been sceptical about the link between wealth and happiness, and these days I think it’s reasonably well accepted in mainstream economic theory that once you get past a certain basic level, wealth and happiness are not really all that directly linked. Various measures like the “Human Development Index” and “Happy Life Years” have been developed to try and quantify some of these sorts of things. Per capita GDP might have increased by 50% over the last X number of years, but people aren’t 50% happier, they are generally about as happy or unhappy as they have always been. Anyway, this isn’t the place for serious economic debate, but…..

Living far far away in a corner of our round world, I often use that wonderful organisation, the postal service, and I recently noticed something interesting. Pencils and Bhutan do not mix! The International Post Guide (Oct 2004) notes that Bhutan has an import restriction on “Pencils, lead and propelling”. (Propelling pencil is the customs term for mechanical pencils). This would seem to imply that “pencils = unhappiness” in Bhutan, or at least “foreign pencils = unhappiness”. Maybe mechanical pencils are the root of all evil, or something like that? Maybe they are protecting some traditional domestic Bhutanese Himalayan pencil making industry. Who knows?!?

A little more digging also revealed that their neighbour, India, has the same import restriction, whereas Afghanistan restricts “Pencils, propelling” but not ordinary lead pencils, and Romania has some restrictions on “Propelling pencils” unless they are gifts. The rest of the world does not seem to take such a dim view of mechanical pencils and allows them free passage to spread their good or bad words around the globe. Though most countries will probably whack you for sales tax, import tax, carbon tax, form-filling out tax, bio-security tax, tax-tax, and any other tax they can dream up!

4 comments:

r.e.wolf said...

Strange that the regulations are so granular. And pencils just seem an odd thing to be concerned about restricting. Really makes me curious about what they DO have for pencils there...


(PS: My blog has relocated.)

Aarlene said...

Perhaps 'propelling' is too close to 'propellant' which is forbidden in just about every postal system.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the indian state of Assam, right next to Bhutan. I dont know about Bhutan's restrictions, but being that the Indian economy was a Soviet-inspired command style economy - restrictions of imports was a big part of the economic regime. Thus we indian foks had to use really poor quality pencils made in India by nationalised companies. I never had a chance to try a good pencil or a good quality fountain pen or a quality ballpoint pen till I migrated to the uSA in the early '90s.

kiwi-d said...

Thanks for your comments.
"Anonymous" - I believe that the Bhutanese economy is closely linked to the Indian economy, so I guess its just a spill over effect as per your comment