Making Mongolia the ‘perfect’ country

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I recently saw a short film called “The Perfect Country” produced by The School of Life, a London-based organization dedicated to "developing emotional intelligence", and it got me thinking about the ideal Mongolia. The video is narrated by the founder of The School of Life, British philosopher Alain de Botton. “This is a film about the perfect country. It doesn’t yet exist and it may never, but thinking about it is no idle daydream. Sketching utopias is a way to address current problems and understand how to solve them,” de Botton says at the start of the film. “Focusing on the ideal version of something helps us more clearly define what we feel is wrong with what we have. Utopias bring our plans for reform into focus.” The film's vision of the perfect country isn’t perfect; it places certain restrictions on creativity, innovation, and the level of success an individual can attain. But the main point that it drove forward was that countries should work to serve their people, and not abstract political or economic goals. “Realizing the potential of every worker is pretty much the national priority,” de Botton says, but I want to say that realizing the potential of every person, rather than the worker, should be a nation's priority. So often we see countries, including Mongolia, lose sight of their main objective of improving the living conditions of the people by fussing too much over goals for GDP growth and politics, over financial issues that end up doing more harm than good. A clear example of these misplaced objectives is when Mongolia’s GDP grew by 17.5 percent in 2011 but people’s livelihoods didn’t improve. GDP growth is a huge indicator of economic conditions, but it is not the sole indicator. The reason why 2011's GDP growth was a hollow achievement is because it was mainly driven by one particular project: the Oyu Tolgoi project. It failed to be inclusive of crucial social sectors such as education and health, it caused the inflation rate to increase by more than 15 percent that year, and it caused a depreciation of the local currency. Another example of misplaced goals is the squabble over the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine, the world’s largest untapped coal reserve. The Tavan Tolgoi project is a potential game changer for the Mongolian economy. Decisions regarding the project have to be made with care, but the endless dispute about the fate of the mine has done more harm than good to the people of Mongolia. We are still no closer to a solution to the Tavan Tolgoi mining development issue than we were four years ago. Its initial public offering has been delayed several times, to the point where nobody is really sure whether it will ever become public. The state distributed 10 percent of the ownership of state owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (which owns Tavan Tolgoi) to the public and bought some shares back just before the election. The Tavan Tolgoi issue is a mess. So far, the mine has done society more harm than good, and it’s still not certain whether the Mongolian people will reap benefits from the mine’s vast coal reserves. The national priority, therefore, should not revolve around economic achievements, which are only indicators of a country’s potential. The people should define what the nation's ultimate goal is, and it is not a better GDP but a better life. Right now, the MNT exchange rate is plummeting, with one USD equivalent to over 2,100 MNT (the highest exchange rate ever recorded), and one CNY costs 315 MNT. Economists say that when the exchange rate of a country rises, it balances itself out by making the country’s exports cheaper and, thereby, more attractive. But what does this mean for the people of Mongolia? It means that people will have to work harder to earn a decent living, and that they will have plenty of work to do to get there. Reaching a certain economic target is not a good way to evaluate the success of a country. For me, and in the film by The School of Life - which emphasizes living wisely and well, the success of a country is determined by how happy and satisfied the people of a country are. So, how happy are Mongolians today?

Khash-Erdene Bayarsaikhan