My Conversation with Bruno Maçães

Here is the audio and transcript, here is the opening summary:

Political scientist Bruno Maçães has built a career out of crossing the globe teaching, advising, writing, and talking to people. His recent book, born out of a six-month journey across Eurasia, is one of Tyler’s favorites.

So how does it feel to face Tyler’s rat-a-tat curiosity about your life’s work? For Bruno, the experience was “like you are a politician under attack and your portfolio is the whole of physical and metaphysical reality.”

Read on to discover how well Bruno defended that expansive portfolio, including what’s missing from liberalism, Obama’s conceptual foreign policy mistake, what economists are most wrong about, how to fall in love with Djibouti, stagnation in Europe, the diversity of Central Asia, Hitchcock’s perfect movie, China as an ever-growing global force, the book everyone under 25 should read, the creativity of Washington, D.C versus Silicon Valley, and more.

Here is one bit:

MAÇÃES: This raises deep philosophical questions and political questions. If you want Turkey to become like Europe, then you have to project European power across Turkey. If Europe no longer has that ability, then you shouldn’t be surprised that Turkey looks elsewhere.

It’s very simple. I think I say in the book that in order to be loved, you also have to be feared. This idea that you find in Europe now, that without projecting any kind of power, other countries will be attracted to the European model, that’s a form of utopianism. I just cannot see that happen.

COWEN: So Europe lacks the spirit of adventure.

MAÇÃES: That is certainly the case. I think you see that. One of the areas where the spirit of adventure today is more relevant and important is technology. You see in Europe the idea that technology’s against us, and we should resist this rather than embrace it. A very negative spirit, which I think is a good example of how adventure has disappeared from the European psyche.


COWEN: Russia. Why is Russia as a world power currently underrated?

MAÇÃES: The most impressive thing about Russia is, in fact, something that you might not think at first: the power of organization. We have this image of Russia as a failed state in many respects.

But in order to keep that empire, in order to keep it together throughout the centuries, in order to develop it to some extent, in order to bring together so many ethnicities, so many religions . . . it’s fair to say that Russia has done a better job of integrating its Muslim population, which is close to 15 percent, than any other country, I would argue — certainly any other major country.

The power of the Russian state, the ability to organize, to dispose, to connect, is one of the great political stories of mankind — to see how the Russian state was able to grow and to extend itself. And that’s still there.

Original and highly recommended.  Again, here is Bruno’s book The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order.


>Russia has done a better job of integrating its Muslim population

Oh, for sure. Chechnya was just wonderful for everybody.

That gave me immediate pause as well. Not just once but twice in Chechnya. If he means "better job" as in the use of armor and heavy artillery and an uneasy segregation and suspicion between every other non-muslim ethnic group throughout Russia then sure....

Which is more impressive, the Norwegians spending a few years trying to get the Tamils to stop hating the government and stop the suicide bombing campaign, with little success, or the Chinese assisting the government and killing the terrorist chief and destroying the organization in two weeks?

How is Chechnya a counterexample unless you are willing to put up with low to moderate insurgencies for years?

Chechens are a tiny minority of Russian Muslims and are regarded as trouble because they are chechens not muslim. Tatars are highly integrated, many high Moscow officials were brought in from Kazan.

Chechnya is definitely a shiny counter example -- and the one most readily available western outsiders -- but it is probably a small part of the wider story of Muslims in Russia.

Or perhaps a small example to the others.

Chumbawamba signed to EMI in Europe in 1997,[11] a move that was viewed as controversial by many of their followers. They had been involved with a compilation LP called Fuck EMI in 1989, and had criticised the label in many of their earlier songs. The anarcho-punk band Oi Polloi (with whom Chumbawamba had previously toured and worked with on the 'Punk Aid' Smash the Poll Tax EP ) released an 'anti-Chumbawamba' EP, Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records (Ruptured Ambitions 1998). Chumbawamba argued that EMI had severed the link with weapons manufacturer Thorn a few years previously, and that experience had taught them that, in a capitalist environment, almost every record company operates on capitalist principles; "Our previous record label One Little Indian didn't have the evil symbolic significance of EMI however they were completely motivated by profit." They added that this move brought with it the opportunity to make the band financially viable as well as to communicate their message to a wider audience .

Russia also off-loaded nuclear of the former Soviet Union's Muslim population into separate countries.

Stupid Swype. Somehow "much" became "nuclear."

Another complicating factor: first the Russian Empire, which considered the Turkic and otherwise Muslim subjects it conquered to be inferior, and then the Soviet Union applied heavy pressure to assimilate and homogenize their non-Russian populations for well over a century (the USSR gave up on this for the most part after Stalin). The methods applied from the mid-19th Century, including the Circassian deportations/killings/genocide (however you want to style it), through the Stalinist era and its radical anti-religious approach would be considered abhorrent by modern standards and values, both from an individual rights perspective and the touted values of diversity/pluralism/multiculturalism.

If I'm not mistaken, Tyler has repeated a few times that "we wanted flying cars and we got twitter." Are we then somewhat justified in being skeptical of the view that technology is the arena for the spirit of adventure?

Russia is neither multi-national nor multi-religious. It is a predominantly Russian state with minorities, and no discrete minority encompasses more than 2% of the total population. It has minority confessions, but it's religiously observant population is predominantly Orthodox Christian. You had a secularist kulturkampf against that confession after 1917; you had that sort of thing in France and Spain as well. In Russia as it is currently constituted, you've not had the sort of confessional cleavage that you have in Germany or Britain or the Ukraine.

Russia is geographically enormous, but the bulk of it's land area is sparsely populated low-yield trashland. East of the Urals, there's a ribbon of settlement along the Chinese and Mongolian border. The rest is taiga, tundra, and Arctic waste that contains less than 4% of Russia's population. Same deal for a bloc of northern territory east of the Urals. Russia was able to acquire it readily for the same reason the British acquired northern Canada: it was sparsely populated with disconnected aboriginal tribes who did not have the tools to fight back

"In Russia live Russians. Any minority, from anywhere, if it wants to live in Russia, to work and eat in Russia, should speak Russian, and should respect the Russian laws. If they prefer Sharia Law, and live the life of Muslims then we advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need Muslim minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination’. We will not tolerate disrespect of our Russian culture. We had better learn from the suicides of America, England, Holland and France, if we are to survive as a nation. The Muslims are taking over those countries and they will not take over Russia. The Russian customs and traditions are not compatible with the lack of culture or the primitive ways of Sharia Law and Muslims. When this honorable legislative body thinks of creating new laws, it should have in mind the Russian national interest first, observing that the Muslim minorities are not Russians."

Vladimir Putin speech to Russian Duma, February 2013

No evidence exists documenting that President Putin gave any such speech, however. The Speeches and Transcripts section of the official Russian presidential web site recorded no Putin speech of that nature on 4 February 2013 (or any other date up to April 2013, when this item first appeared), nor did a record or mention of anything like this speech appear elsewhere on that site or in any news accounts (Russian or foreign) published since then.

This is a rather good example of pontificating VAGUE VERBIAGE Phillip Tetlock keeps talking about. This guy's facade would crumble once offered to bet.

>The power of the Russian state, the ability to organize, to dispose, to >connect, is one of the great political stories of mankind

Is the Holocaust also one of the great logistical stories of mankind? What a book-smarts clown.

Good interview, but I still view the hypotheses of Macaes and all neo-Mackinderism as descriptive rather than predictive.

Thank you. A few weeks ago I bought Mr. Maçães book on your recommendation and found it stunning. I couldnt put it down. I am now on my second reading, something I almost never do.

That said, I find his remark about Russian muslim minorities puzzling, as that did not seem to be more of a casual observation in The Dawn of Eurasia. Even then, he made more of his discovery of an intact Jewish town in Azerbaijan.

Havent listed to the audio yet.

I haven't read the book, just the interview. I find this idea that China is a "model" that competes against the West to be puzzling. Having lived in China for 1y, what I saw there is that the parts that work (i.e., private companies and parts of public infra) are simply modeled after the West. There's nothing new. You go to Starbucks in the morning, take the subway to downtown, go to your office (albeit, wearing a mask) and get pizza for dinner. How is that "inspirational model" any different than what countries get from the West? If anything, living in China showed me that the real China is still an incredibly backwards and authoritarian country, which no one really likes (especially the chinese people). Is that what he thinks other countries will try to emulate? Having 2 countries in one? One part capitalist, one part Maoist?


Does China have a better intuitive understanding of the value of cultural capital than the west?

One thing I have noticed is that we have difficulty comparing sudden change to the slow and steady kind that racks up over decades.

We could understand the fall of communism a lot more easily than we can understand the evolutions after. We see the iPhone introduction a lot more easily than how ten iterations (and iterated apps) change our society.

I'm not sure, perhaps no one is, how to place sudden Chinese progress as an event or as a history. Certainly much of it is catch-up growth, the transition (in my lifetime) from Mao suits and bicycles to normal clothes and cars. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Smartphones with culture-specific and regime-specific apps.

I would say that most people assume that momentum will carry forward and China will move seamlessly from catching up to inventing a new technological world. Maybe I would too, just because when you have a billion people and a lot of good universities, you can't avoid discovering things.

But at the same time it seems that literally anything could happen. Insert your science fiction.

So he's a believer in hard power (as opposed to soft power)?

Unfortunately, my post was deleted. Maybe there are some things the Koch-Soros-controlled elitist media does nit want us, peasants, to know.

"This idea that you find in Europe now, that without projecting any kind of power, other countries will be attracted to the European model, that’s a form of utopianism."

I guess Mr. Maçães does not consider as a display of power what happened with Greece. A very serious Varoufakis describes the situation as "imposition".

The ongoing development of Brexit negotiations is also not considered as a display of power by Mr. Maçães. Does he considers the NO to Ms. May plan is just a bargaining tactic?

"You see in Europe the idea that technology’s against us, and we should resist this rather than embrace it."

Sadly, he does not provides any quantitative proof to back his assertion. A way to make sense of Mr. Maçães assertion is to assume technology = Google. If we check the emerging technologies list of Ray Kurzweil (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics), it gets more difficult to find the the opposition to technology beyond GMOs in agriculture? I'd love to see the numbers that back the opposition to robots in Europe.

Actually, when it comes to industrial robotics, the U.S. is behind a number of other countries, including Germany and Switzerland.

As noted by one of the items Prof. Cowen felt worth linking to here. This is a quote from Dan Wang - 'What happens when we stop the flow of knowledge up the stack? I think that the weakness of the US industrial robotics sector is instructive. The US has little position in making high-end precision manufacturing equipment. When it comes to factory automation systems, machine tools, robot arms, and other types of production machinery, the most advanced suppliers are in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland. I think the reason that the US has little position can be tied directly to the departure of firms from so many segments of manufacturing. How do engineers work on the design of automation systems if they don’t have exposure to industrial processes?'

But then, I have problems grasping this current American idea of 'tech' - back in the 70, the visions of high tech most certainly included robotic manufacturing, but actually implementing that vision seems irrelevant in the U.S.

I really didn't like the line that Silicon Valley is slowing down. Intel and AMD are still duking it out, the current fight set at 7 or 10 nanometers, and hitting 64 cores. In the last few years solid state memory has murdered rotating disks for all active storage, disk increasingly relegated like tape to archival purposes. The cost of fully functional computing nodes continues to plummet, with systems on a chip falling below a buck.

That doesn't touch how Nvidia exploded out of Gaming into AI and supercomputing. Nor does it include software eating the world.


Your examples are mostly in the realm of natural evolution rather than new dynamic growth.

Software was the big revolution in the valley, and there's still a tremendous amount of innovation there, but the rate has definitely slowed down. Ask anyone in the Valley.

"Obama’s conceptual foreign policy mistake"

It turns out that the mistake was to believe that there is a moral arc to the universe.

Isn't it strange that the data driven people like Hans Rosling and Steven Pinker are much more optimistic about that?

(If you think you disagree with me, take the gapminder test before you comment.)

Tyler Cowen hosts the most politically incorrect podcast in America.

Hardly the most.

Not even close, although it may be the most politically incorrect podcast you can still admit listening to in polite company.

"So it’s a world where borders are becoming very diffuse, where perhaps countries are becoming a bit footloose, like multinationals. A country like Russia or like China, in some respects, doesn’t stop at the borders anymore. It has stakes. It has participations in other countries."

Stephenson's "Diamond Age" once again comes to mind.

No things to comment on in particular, but I have to say that this is probably the best "conversation with Tyler" I have read. This Maçães (whom I didn't know) is impressive.

I recommend following Bruno on Twitter.

I would say toward the bottom of "Conversations" and not Tyler's fault.

I certainly find any one sentence of his to be more insightful than entire posts written by the average MR reader including you.

Excellent, thanks for posting the interview. I read Eurasia on your recommendation and sent additional copies to my colleagues. Interesting material.

Macaes said at the beginning: "Russia certainly doesn’t seem to present an alternative. China does. I saw that in the travels that are part of this book, how all over the world, people are getting more and more attracted to the Chinese model for reasons we can discuss. Essentially, it projects an image of state capacity, of efficiency, of getting things done."

China also projects authoritarianism. Which people are "getting more and more attracted to the Chinese model"? Couldn't Tyler have asked this obvious question?

The amount you and Bruno think a person can actually know or understand about politics, humanity, or the future is completely ridiculous

The level of old fashioned Romanticism in his thought is rather astounding; it's all about the spirit of adventure, the grey old staidness of the Old World, the zeitgeist.

Essentially he is arguing, the Europeans will not succeed in the longer term, not because of demographics or structural failures of the European project, or intelligible base economic forces of any sort that makes sense, but because of some kind of "dynamism" that he believes he sees along the Eurasian rim and a kind of fatalism and complacency that he sees in Europe and the US.

Unless you believe that this has strongly effected power and development up until now (e.g. some iteration of an argument in which Europe obtained power and development through a dynamic, Faustian spirit), then to remain consistent you should probably heavily discount his predictions.

Let's say if you for instance, prefer models that hinge the rise of Europe (and its industrial revolution) on the structure of its specific institutions and economic forces, not some mysterious spooky "spiritual" quality of cultural geist.

To add a further comment, it also feels rather like Macaes knows his audience here; self consciously cosmopolitan and traveled, self consciously erudite, pro-Other, anti-Self, skeptical of democracy, libertarian and keen to believe that China and even Russia offer model which will preserves libertarian freedoms, and so they need not worry too much about national loyalty . Knows his audience and offers a sales pitch that consciously ticks its boxes.

A very interesting conversation. A pity you did not spend longer discussing Portugal’s economy and culture, specifically vis-a-vis Europe in general. Especially given that you (Tyler) have been in the country before (I know because you had dinner at a friend of mine’s place!)

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