In this episode, I talk with Richard Hanania about political polarization, what we could have done better in Afghanistan, how to manage great power conflict, and a whole lot more. You can find Richard’s work at https://richardhanania.substack.com/
William Jarvis 0:42
how are you? Doing? Great. Richard, thank you so much for taking the time to come on today. Do you mind giving us a brief bio and some of the big ideas you’re interested in?
Richard Hanania 0:51
Sure. So the bio, I mean, it’s sort of boring. Actually. That is it’s interesting. Let me let me take that back. Because it’s boring. The CV version is boring. Because I went to college, I went to law school at the University of Chicago, I went to college at University of Colorado, I dropped out of high school, I have a GED. I went to law school, the University of Chicago, I got a PhD in Political Science at UCLA did a two year fellow two year fellowship, my focus was on international relations at Columbia, until about until 2020, actually, and then I started my think tank called the Center for the Study of partisanship and ideology, which is interested in social science, things like you know, good data practice replication crisis. But we’ve recently taken a focus. We’ve taken a sort of moved in the direction of more progress studies, the functioning of benches, to institutions, public policy, things like that. And then, the same time besides my big tank, I mean, I write my own things I’ve read read a book called Public Choice Theory and the illusion of grand strategy on American foreign policy. I have a sub stack I read about boldness and the origins of boldness, and I are you comes from civil rights law, and it’s deeply embedded in American law. And also on you know, I’m on Twitter, and I’m on substack, like I said, and I read about still foreign policy in American politics, mostly. That’s about it.
Will Jarvis 2:14
Awesome, awesome. Well, I’m gonna go off the outline off the outline. And so I apologize for this. But I’m curious, you’ve had a transformation from you know, you worked in academia into kind of more of a public intellectual role, I would say, you know, how has that transition been? Is there been anything that was kind of surprising to you, like, in interacting with the public more than, like, just with academics?
Richard Hanania 2:34
You know, it’s yeah, it’s funny. So I mean, my I was, I thought, you know, the reason I went and got a PhD after I got my GED was I was interested in the world of ideas. And so I thought, you know, I want to write articles and books and explore important big questions. So I said, I’ll get a PhD in political science right now, that’s not the way to do it.
William Jarvis 2:56
For people that have a PhD on the podcast, like, I’ve heard this several times.
Richard Hanania 3:02
So I did that. And then I, you know, the Columbia fellowship, I was sort of ahead, my, you know, one foot out the door, I thought maybe somebody would hire me at a think tank. So my background was in foreign policy. I did actually work for defense priorities for a while, which is a Euro most foreign policy think tanks are interventionist, and I was more anti interventionist on American foreign policy. So they’re really the real choices were like, you know, Cato defense priorities, a few places like that. There’s, there’s more than there used to be. But I thought maybe I would do that. So I started dipping my toe, I started doing stuff for defense priorities, did a report for Cato. I dipped my toes in the water, I started tweeting a little bit, still being careful still trying to you know, keep my options open. I started writing things on my sub stack, and then they took off like, you know, beyond, and that would not even on my not in my direct my area of so called expertise for policy. But on American politics, I had a few subjects that really, really went viral. My Twitter started taking off. And I said, okay, I’m good at this. I don’t really I don’t, I don’t even need, you know, I don’t need academia, I don’t even need the think tank crowd. I don’t really need institutions at all. I can say whatever I want. And you know, there’s a lot of people out there who will appreciate it. And yeah, it hasn’t been it hasn’t been that long. That was that was really late. 2020. That’s awesome. Now I’m here, early 2022.
William Jarvis 4:23
I love that. I love that. So you’ve kind of exited, you know, institutions, and you’ve went to create your own, you know, the Center for, excuse me, for partisanship, focusing on partisanship, but also progress studies as well making governments more effective. Can you tell me a little bit about what do kind of academics, what do people know that read the literature about partisanship that, you know, lay people would just find surprising, or like counterintuitive?
Richard Hanania 4:48
Yeah, I mean, kind of intuitive. It’s hard for me. I mean, I’m in. I’m in. I’m on Twitter a lot and I’m talking to people, people who know a lot about politics. I don’t know like how normal people think about politics now, but I think it’d be understanding. But I suspect sort of that there’s not tons that’s counterintuitive now, because I think the sort of the political science you has filtered down, like, I think like five years ago, six, seven years ago, when Trump came on the scene, there was a lot of economic based explanations of Trumpism, it was like these people lost their jobs, if you just, you know, raise the minimum wage, this thing went up Trump, you know, whatever, people will have these sort of, you know, like, sort of, you know, they’re, they’re not Marxist explanation. There’s kind of Marxist, they’re, they’re, they’re based on the idea that there’s, you know, there’s like false consciousness and people just fall right, or economic motives, and maybe they’re able to be fooled. But basically, that’s what’s going on. Yeah, materialist conception of how voters behave. You know, even though that wasn’t just the public that was like, you know, that was the elites. Now it was a lot of people, you’d see normal things like that. And I think, you know, the conversation has gotten smarter. I mean, that people don’t say that much about that anymore. I mean, we have a lot of data showing that economics, political science knew this in the late 1970s and 80s, that economic circumstances are not a very good predictor of your politics. And, you know, Brian Kaplan, who many of your readers talks about this false self interested voter hypothesis for a book called The myth of the rational voter. So, you know, the smart people, smart people knew this. But you know, a lot of other smart people, you know, people in journalism, or people or political pundits, did it. And they seem to actually know that now. So I think that we’re getting a more accurate understanding of sort of partisanship and quote, unquote, ideology, you know, what people would be surprised by? Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it really, I need data on like, what people actually think all I know, is what, like academics think and I know what journalists think. And, you know, I look at data, it’s I know what people people think. But not, you know, maybe it’s a maybe it’s a testament to the state of our discourse, that it’s not so obvious that there’s things that people are getting wrong, at least on that.
William Jarvis 6:57
Yeah, that’s very encouraging. Do you have a sense on how much genetics matter for people’s, you know, ideologies? Like, is it generally something we’re kind of born with? Maybe we have, like some kind of pharma forger dynamic going on where, you know, people have one preference one way or the other? And then maybe we’re like, molded on the margins to one thing? Or the other? What’s your thought on that?
Richard Hanania 7:17
Yeah. So I mean, when you do that, when you look at the behavioral genetic studies, I mean, it’s basically, you know, it’s the same lesson you get with all behavioral genetic studies, which is that genetics matters a lot. You know, it’s like 50% of the variation, or more, depending on what you’re measuring. Now, the finding was that ideology that, you know, ideology followed that they follow that pattern of, like, 50% or so genetic variation, and, and then, but then party identification. Traditionally, this was the finding was more correlated with a home environment. But ideology and party are becoming much, much more strongly correlated over time in America. So there are a lot of people who are liberals who call themselves Republicans and people are conservative, and much more. So I, you know, it’s I think it’s just all it can be seen as more, you know, correlated within the human genetics, it’s all together people’s natural inclinations, or putting them into one tribe or the other now, you know, it’s like, it’s important to understand here that, you know, study public opinion, it changes very quickly. So intent when he hears Moses, or Trump can say something, or Obama can say something as the Democratic, you know, black Americans, should, we had a huge shift on gay marriage, in the aftermath of Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage or on 2013 2014. Around that time. And so, you know, that can obviously be that obviously cannot be genetic, but it is, it is picking something up, you know, so like, what so like, you know, people can change fast, and they’re that they’re that sort of malleable, like, why is why are the twin studies showing that, you know, people’s, you know, biology is making conservatives or liberals, you know, I suspect it’s something along, it’s something along the lines up, there’s physiological reactions that people have to the parties, you know, you know, this is one of those areas where we might have gone backwards in our scientific knowledge. Because, you know, there were 120 years ago, you felt you know, this, stuff gets dismissed. It’s fair analogy. Now, you could look at someone’s, you know, cranium, and you could tell something about their personality, right, that we’re not supposed to not believe that there’s more recent studies that do show that ironically, I saw one study out of the University of Delaware, it’s you can look at a man’s face and tell how racist he is, like, there was some correlate, and it’s like, iron. Such academic is like super, you know, anti racist, like they stereotype of biological features. But, you know, I’m not saying that’s not that’s not true. I think there is something to something to this kind of research. So yeah, I mean, the exact mechanisms, you know, are the, you know, it’s, you know, that’s short answer is genetics, very important. And then the exact mechanisms are, you know, interesting, and, you know, I think yet to be fully explored.
William Jarvis 9:49
Gotcha, gotcha. It sounds like it’s quite complicated. I’m curious, you know, this is kind of a left hand turn a bit but partisanship in the US, do you see like some path way to de escalation because to me, it just seems like it’s just gonna get crazier and crazier and crazier. There’s, there’s nothing we’re really going to
Richard Hanania 10:06
be able to do about that. Yeah. So. So how old are you? Well,
William Jarvis 10:09
I am 27. Okay,
Richard Hanania 10:11
so I’m a little bit I’m a little bit older than, you know, mid 30s, it actually matters a lot, because I can remember a lot that basically that you don’t remember. And people Yeah, obviously can remember even more. And, you know, there’s now there’s enough historical eras that I’ve lived through. And also, I read about historical eras. And there’s nothing like living through it, that you see something that you don’t get just from reading a book. So the 90s are much clearer to me than the 80s I didn’t, I was too young in the 80s 90s. You know, I can, I can remember. And, you know, the, you know, what’s what strikes me is that is like, you know, you watch like, The Late Show now, or you watch like a pro athlete go off. And Paul, like, you know, like, it’s just their liberal. I mean, it’s just a very fast. Yes, absolutely. And, like, you know, it’s weird to think back at the time where, like, sports stars, like, didn’t speak about politics, actors, you know, did but much, much less. It wasn’t the center of, you know, the Grammys, or, or whatever I was talking to somebody from Korea, told me that I’m gonna go do that are actors like insufferable? Like, you know, schools in Korea? Like, you know, if they tried to talk about politics, people would be like, Why is this actor talking about politics? Like, they know, and, you know, this is this is this was probably America with, you know, athletes where they were at with athletes in the 1990s, although we always had well, it’s had a tradition of actors, you know, speaking up going back to like, the 60s, right, at least, maybe before that. And so I guess the point is, you know, you get a politics, you know, I’m old enough to remember politics, and even, you know, you could remember 1015 years ago, you know, more extreme or time or politics was less central to the culture. And, you know, so So I guess they escalate up, yes. How do we get off this? You know, escalatory ladder? The question is, you know, how we got here? And I think social media, you know, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a conventional story, but I think there’s something, there’s something to that. I think there’s actually a difference, also another story, which is that the access to information, basically, you know, because a lot of ways, you know, the voters are becoming better informed, because if you were a liberal who voted for George W. Bush over core in 2000, you there was something you didn’t know, I mean, you were you were not acting like you were not acting in a way that was utterly consistent. Same with all the people who were, there were a lot of people who were Democrats, so you pull them on their social views, or their views on immigration 20 years ago, you know, you’re like, you know, they have nothing in common with the elites of the Democratic Party. So people are actually sort of, you know, I think they’re becoming better informed. There’s policy entrepreneurs, were going out there and be like, Yo, you’re a Democrat, well, they believe X, Y, and Z and be like, Oh, my God, you know, I don’t believe in X, Y, and Z. During the Republicans. So, you know, part of it is like, the story is like, social media are bipartisan, it’s like, we’re better informed. And we have much less in common. And we, you know, I think there’s, there’s like a dark sort of story. There’s like, a dark story here, where it’s like, oh, the things you supposedly wanted informed citizenry that like, cares about politics, like, gets you people hating each other. And so, you know, that part is there, that part is still gonna be there. I think, you know, but But who knows, I mean, we’re so the other social media, I mean, the technology is new, and we’re adjusting to it. And like, it’s not just our politics, it’s our society. So, you know, like, you know, Twitter is like a thing for like, Generation X. And then like, you know, I don’t, you know, or, you know, older millennials, and then like, you know, there’s a tick tock, which I think people my age don’t, don’t really use that much. And then but people that are younger, they’re all on it. And, you know, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s hard to see where this is gonna go. I think it’s very, you know, it’s harder to predict it, maybe maybe more than ever. Tick tock doesn’t seem as conducive to, like political polarization and stuff than Twitter. I mean, the people who do like to take that away, I mean, they just look ridiculous that it has a whole frivolous feel, to the whole thing where like the, you know, I guess the 280 characters is like, perfect for like, fu you racist or something. Tik Tok is like, what have you made a video like that? Like, who wants to watch that? They want to watch that, right? So maybe we’ll move to Yeah, well, maybe we’ll move to a place where, you know, we’re not as political. But you know, that’s just tick tock like, who knows what what social media people be using, you know, 1020 years down the line?
William Jarvis 14:05
Gotcha. Gotcha. So, I really like the social media story. I’m curious, do you think any of it has to do with, with growth with lower growth, you know, if there’s lower economic growth, you know, it’s harder to do horse trading in a democracy. And it’s harder to split the pie in ways where everyone wins. And so the battles become, like, more more difficult, more vivid, because you will have a winner and a loser it’s more than zero sum.
Richard Hanania 14:27
Yeah, there’s so this was a Chris Caldwell argued that for this guy in his book, I don’t really buy it. I think, you know, as far as if you look at government as sort of splitting money to people, I mean, government, it’s not getting smaller. I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, as big as big as or bigger than ever and no, I reject me and I reject the sort of the, the economic, you know, connection there. I mean, you look at like something like, you know, Eastern Europe, for example, very strong economic growth, very sort of sharp right turn in their, in their politics. So know that there’s something I mean, there is some, you know, there is some, you know, there is something going on with the economy, right, you know, you know, they’re like, the economy is such a broad thing that, like, economics does not involve, in fact, politics. Like, that can’t be right. But like, these stories were like, you know, things are bad. So they’re so people are less happy. So they fight, I don’t see a lot of direct evidence for that model of the world. You know, economic that even our, during the Trump era, I mean, the economy for the lower classes was actually a pretty good, man, you know, we hated each other as much as ever. So yeah, I, you know, I focus more on the immediate path paths, the, you know, the social media and the means of communication rather than the objective economic factors.
William Jarvis 15:46
Gotcha, gotcha. Well, in talking about governments, you know, are there any quick wins to make, like the American government more efficient, I was at Oak Ridge recently, you know, where they did a lot of the Manhattan project work. And I was just struck by the fact that the same organization that built the first bomb in four years, is now the Department of Energy, which is like, just completely ineffective, like, Are there any, like quick wins to like, try and like fix some of these things? Or is it just like, really slow grind to try and reform his institutions? Or is that even possible?
Richard Hanania 16:15
Yeah, I think you’re I mean, I think you’re in a better, you know, you’re probably you probably know more about this than I do. Yeah, I mean, what’s the I mean, one, you know, there’s what can what can you do to make me depends, depends on sort of what your goals are, right? I mean, they’re the easiest way to do stuff is sort of, if you were, if I was gonna advise, like, you know, effective altruists, people, I’m sure many of us your audience, I’d say, you know, there’s, there’s nine people on the Supreme Court, you need five of them. I mean, probably focusing, you’re probably like doing deep psychological dive into, like, what motivates these people and what their sources of information, I would probably the best way to get quick fixes to make the government better. If people do like, you know, little Supreme Court lawyers do this, like in their arguments, they say, oh, I want to appeal to the Sweet vote. But you know, I think, you know, like a propaganda campaign that’s gonna get justice Cavanaugh or Roberts or something, I think it’s probably like a good way to influence our politics in a certain direction. Yeah, you know, I don’t know. I mean, I think that, you know, the, you know, it’s just hard. It’s just such a, it’s such a broad question. It’s hard to say, I mean, there was Cass Sunstein, during the Obama administration, he tried to introduce cost benefit analysis into, you know, into government programs and regulations, like in like, you think like, wait, what were they doing? They were not doing cost benefit before they were just doing stuff? Like, who knows? Like, we’re not checking if it makes sense, or, or does it? And I don’t think that actually went anywhere. But you know, if that was possible, you know, that’d be great. The problem is, nobody does that. And they haven’t done cost benefit analysis ever. Because there’s apparently not an incentive to do so. So how you fix that? You know, I don’t know.
William Jarvis 17:50
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. Going off this, you know, we failed to build a functioning state Afghanistan, you know, was there any, do we have any chance to begin with it? Was there a path to success there? Or was it just like a fool’s errand all along?
Richard Hanania 18:04
I mean, there, you know, I think, you know, depends on what the sacrifices you’re you’re willing to make? I mean, the question is, was it? You know, we have, you know, we could we could, I mean, I don’t want to I’m not saying I advocate this, and I would never advocate this, we could have killed every single person that Afghanistan, if we wanted to use enough coercion, we could have got them to do you know, what we wanted? We have, you know, we could have had a draft and, you know, I was part of it, while we were writing the sacrifice, if you’re gonna send millions of Americans to go fight for the Afghanistan Government? The you know, the question is, could we have done a given, you know, are sort of within the range of like, what our human rights norms are, and our values and like, what the country was willing to sacrifice? And I’m of the opinion that no, you know, and the, you know, the other thing is, you know, the other thing, the other thing that we absolutely, like, could not compromise on was we wanted it to be a democracy, you know, you can maybe do stability, it’s hard enough, it’s hard enough to, you know, just do stability, to do democracy. And, you know, the kinds that you get to the Newsha what the US was doing, I mean, like, sexual harassment training for, like, Afghan police officer, I mean, it’s like, it’s like, you don’t even have like, control of like, the streets. Like, it’s amazing. Like, it’s just the thing that like, you know, they care about here, that are sort of the cultural stuff they were doing over there. And, you know, if they didn’t do that stuff, and they just focused on the war effort, you know, maybe, you know, I don’t know, but no, it was hard. I mean, look at the the entire you know, we’d like to pretend like there’s a process of state building that is that we have insight to and we just have like best practices and we have bullet points and you know, we can give these people a standard you look at these, you know, these things, counterinsurgency doctrines. Nicholas, oh, you have to talk to the villagers. And then you have to like show you understand them and show cultural respect and then provide a well, and it’s like, it’s like, maybe that’ll lead to a state. But you know, there’s a good bit of good. There was a show called I forget who it was, but there was like GoPro cameras on American soldiers in Afghanistan. So it’s, it’s called under fire taking fire, something like that. And is a TV show, you could buy it off YouTube for like $1 or two on episode. And they would go, and they’re like, you know, the soldiers are driving or you could read about this, but it’s different to see the video. And they’re like, you know, let’s build a girls school. And so like, they’re going to build the Girls School. And like, you know, there’s just nothing, it’s just like a mud in the middle of it. And they’re taking like a bunch of stones and putting them on top like, okay, I guess that’s part of our mission. And like, they’re getting fired on on the way they’re like, Okay, once the school is built, are you gonna get the textbooks? Like, are you gonna do enrolled? Like, what’s the plan here? Like, if this building gets built, which are being fired at while you’re trying to do it? I mean, you know, you feel sorry for the soldiers. But you know, this is this is these are the orders that they’re, that they’re getting. And if you do build a school and the textbooks, and you have a functioning administration and a sexual harassment policy, like did you win the war, like, you know, what is going on? So it’s just so insane of what we were doing there? And so yeah, I guess the short answer is, you know, I really, I really doubt it, it’s mysterious, the Taliban, you know, whatever we said about them, they had the ability to motivate men with guns to go and control land and keep it Yeah, they did that before the US was there. They did that. Amazingly, while the US while fighting the US, they did that in regions of the country. And now they’ve done it, you know, afterwards, whatever they had, God is on their side, they would say, or whatever it is, they have a story, they can call it a Sia, you know, this is old, the Arabic term. You know, whatever it is, they had it, and whatever, we had no idea how to transfer that to a government that looked like ours. We just did not do that.
William Jarvis 21:28
Right? Well, and but my big question, I guess, is like, why are we just like, so unable to do that if we’ve got to get the smartest people in the world, best universities, yada, yada, yada, you name it smart people in the State Department. They’re just like, completely unable to make like, what are like elementary errors? It seems like anyone could tell you this is a bad idea. Is it just like a problem of incentives all the way down?
Richard Hanania 21:51
Yeah, I think so. You know, I think that the military has a lot of prestige. I think the military, you know, they have a sort of a culture that, you know, that they’re gonna, like, certain things, and they’re, you know, logistics and things like that. But you know, they have a very, can do attitude, you know, that have optimism, they don’t, they’re selected, I think on that basis, you know, sort of a political basis. You know, there’s a lot of, you know, getting in my book, I mean, there’s a lot of funding of think tanks of people who have a certain kind of bias towards American action abroad. And then you have these powerful and like, you know, we have no like real skin in the game in Afghanistan. I mean, we like, you know, soldiers sacrifice, and we spend a lot of money there. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what happens to the, you know, for the sake of us, and they try to convince you that it does, you know, haven for terrorism, blah, blah, okay, we’ve been gone for a while, like, how many Americans? Like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter, objectively. And so, you know, we were never going to care that much. And so what do we do we fall into bureaucratic habits, okay, get a build a sexual harassment handbook. That’s just what we’re used to doing, you know, call for, you know, ethnic and inclusion, I have democracy run elections, you know, it doesn’t correspond to anything that’s happening on the ground. I mean, the parliament, I mean, it’s just like these world drug dealers, and warlords, just like sitting there, and like, you know, you know, just be doing looting, you know, for days. I mean, it’s crazy. But yeah, we just were, you know, we just did the bureaucratic thing. So it was definitely, you know, it’s a, it’s a, you know, just demonstration of some pathologies in the system. It’s, you know, the Afghanistan war was like, so interesting, because it was such an extreme example of like, where the political mission and like the means to achieve that political mission, and like, the reality, were just so just, you know, there was such discrepancy there. And then we, and then you could look back, and you can look at all these reports, and you can look at Afghanistan papers, I had a threat, I reviewed a book on the Afghanistan papers by Craig Whitlock, for a recent magazine, you know, several months ago. But, you know, it’s the same people, you know, the same system and all foreign policy. So, you know, I suspect, you know, we probably don’t know what we’re doing and a lot of places.
William Jarvis 23:51
Right, right. Well, what can we do to make foreign policy better? Is they just, like, intervene last? Is that just the answer, just like, just try and do less on the margin? Yeah, I
Richard Hanania 24:00
think so. I mean, we’re not I mean, there’s, you know, I think we’re not we’re not good at it. I mean, and when I talk when I talk to people about this, you know, smart people, yeah, that’s the pushback I get, and this is maybe a common view. It’s not just smart people, but the fact that smart people says, say, it makes me take it a little more seriously. It’s, you know, you need sort of, you know, a hedge of mind, you need, like, global order, if it’s not the US, you know, you don’t be someone else. And, you know, I just I just don’t know, the brain. I don’t know if that premises is correct, you know, the war has declined a lot. And there’s two theories as to why I, you know, to grid, you know, theories. One is America, you know, post 1945, America has been measurement, and it’s basically done a good job, you know, for all its flaws. And, you know, we haven’t had a great power war and, you know, more or less, you know, carbon and, you know, despite the recent, you know, recent happenings you know, the other story is there’s you know, I guess every other theory is like something else happened rather than Marielle. Obviously, a lot happened in 1945. Right, the world to the world change, and, you know, nuclear weapons obviously also 1945 This is why that call As big as is so hard, right? And it was also, you know, 20 years later, you get 30 years to get the liberation of women in Western countries, right? And so it’s like, there’s like, you know, 10 things that are plausibly you have TV you have, right? You have TV becomes a thing, right? So you have so many things that are going on in the world. And, you know, and you know, so there’s that theory. And you know, I think, you know, to me, I don’t know, like America did it is like, you know, America, thanks to American hegemony is like one theory. And then there’s like, 20 other plausible theories to me. And so like, you know, I guess they’re all equally plausible. It’s like one in 20. It’s like America, that’s that’s kept. They just kept the peace. So it seems like, you know, 95% chance, it’s probably probably don’t need to be doing all this stuff. And then like, when you look at sort of the specifics of American foreign policy, it’s like, like, look at how many of the conflicts are just like, you know, America has been involved at all, you could always say it’s been worse, but like, the Middle East went up in flames. Okay. We overthrew they had a civil war, like direct Civil War bleeds into Syria, we aren’t the opposition. In Syria. You know, we, Libya, I mean, that we overthrew that government. They had a civil war for a decade after, you know, the, we didn’t, you know, we didn’t start the conflict in Yemen. But we know, we supported the Saudis in their Ukraine and Russia. I mean, people think that oh, well, it indicates like, you know, you needed to stand up to Russia. And it’s like, no, that people like John Mearsheimer, who said, you know, it’s not like John Mearsheimer, was in charge. So the people, you know, who wanted a strong American presence in Eastern Europe had been in charge. So I don’t know how they get to be in charge for, you know, the last 30 years and then say, well, you anti interventionist, you guys, you guys got it wrong. It’s like, you know, you guys are the ones who are empowered, and you let us here. So, you know, for all these reasons, you know, I’m skeptical of, sort of get the more militaristic parts of American foreign policy. And yeah, I would scale it back.
William Jarvis 26:43
Got it. Got it. And now, How worried should we be out about, you know, the near peer competitor, China at this point?
Richard Hanania 26:50
Yeah. I mean, so people that, you know, they have, they try to find these, you know, not just regular people, but like, you know, like international relations scholars, they have these, like, I was talking to somebody the other day, they have these, like, you know, sort of your heuristics. So they say, Do we want a unipolar world where, like, you know, the US or do we want bipolar world, China or multipolar world, and I am I’ve spoken like this too, and I, you know, I think that sort of obscures more than, you know, and then it that it helps sort of understanding, so you can imagine many different kinds of worlds, right? So like, like, you know, a unipolar world in the sense like a government with like, you know, a monopoly of force, that’s not going to happen, right? So like, you can imagine, that’s the best system. But if people are thinking unipolar world, that’s what they’re imagining, like, it’s the American government ruling over America, you’re not gonna get that, right. You know, other countries have nuclear weapons and armies, and you know, other things. And so, you know, you’re not gonna get that and, you know, so you’re gonna, so you know, there’s, there’s at least two dimensions you’re gonna get, you can think of a world where like, you know, you’d have polar versus bipolar and multiball, Fuller. And then you could think of a world with like, high tension and low tension. And I think the dimension of high tension versus low tension is more important, because first of all, you want to avoid nuclear war. If you look at, you know, the number of casualties in great power war wars, like World War One, World War Two versus like lesser wars. It’s like an automatic order of magnitude difference. And so you want to avoid fighting China, you want to avoid fighting Russia, you want to avoid directly fighting them. And like, if, if that means maybe they get like, they have more conflicts with their neighbors, those are generally tidy wars. And so like, even the US rules over Latin America, basically, we arrest you know, we were trying to extradite the president of I think it was Honduras, because of a drug deal. Like, like a war on drugs. Like we think that gives us the right to, like, you know, rest the leaders of other countries. So like, Yeah, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not, you know, I don’t think it’s good for Latin America. So, yeah, but so that’s just, you know, avoiding nuclear war, avoiding great power war, but then, like, you talked to other people, and there’s other stuff, too. There’s, you know, more and more stuff that’s closer to existential risk. AGI, I don’t know much about it, but smart people are very concerned with it. You know, ideally, you’d want somebody was telling you, you know, I was talking to somebody said, you want a unipolar world, because if it’s, if US and China are close, then like China is going to want to, you know, they’re gonna want to take risks, and that might that might get to AGI. And then I said, Well, maybe if the US is up here, and China’s down here, you know, maybe China says, you know, we need that we need that lately. And then I said, What’s more important, it’s like whether America and China hate each other, rather than one is a lot more powerful than the other we don’t worry about the US and Britain like having a rivalry and that leading to one develop AGI because they’re so desperate right? And we need more than we need more we probably this AGI thing is you know, as true as as, as important as these people say, we need more than just you know, not hating each other. We need some kind of probably active cooperation. Now it’s hard to it’s hard to compartment, compartmentalize the relationship. It’s hard to say, Well, China, we’re gonna talk about Hong Kong, and we’re going to talk about the week or so we’re talking about Cobra, but like, Let’s cooperate. I’ve got like, you know, they say China, you know, must have something to hide because they won’t let America investigate COVID I’m like, Are you insane? Like, do you think that like even if they were the most innocent people in the world do you think they would like make sense for them to let Like America come into their country, and like, look around, and then like, you know, judge them like, do you think America is seen by them as like a, you know, a, an unbiased source of like, you know, investigates it. So it’s so you know, it makes everything else harder. It’s hard to compartmentalize. And then you have like things like, well, you know, COVID things that could be worse than COVID. So, yeah, I mean, the unipolar but, you know, there’s these deterministic theories of international relations theory, like John Mearsheimer, who I just said, was right about Eastern Europe, he has this kind of deterministic theory, the balance of power is fundamental, it’ll determine how well we get along or not, we’re destined to not get along with China, we don’t we get along fine with Britain, just because they’re so weak, I guess, if they were strong, you know, we’d be fighting the war of a control over. You know, I tend not to believe that, you know, I don’t buy into this theories. So to be there’s just a lot of good reasons, to sort of tamp down the, you know, Hostos, international issues, and whether, you know, one country is much, much stronger than the other or not, if the tensions are not high, it doesn’t matter nearly as much. And so that’s yeah, that’s how I That’s how so that’s sort of the outlines of how I see it.
William Jarvis 31:01
Gotcha. So it’s something like, maybe we should just like, not worry about Taiwan, kind of, you know, like, that’s their problem, you know, kind of let Ukraine, like, there’s problem that we should be more biased in that direction than like, you know, it’s our duty to protect Taiwan, Ukraine, etc. Yeah.
Richard Hanania 31:16
Yeah. I mean, like, you know, it’s a bit like, these are not like, against Taiwan, the semiconductor thing is a little bit complicated, a little bit that people talk about that I am not an expert at that. But you know, you know, like, if that’s really if we’re all we’re just a pet, but you know, you could beg us to take somebody could buy the semiconductors from China, right? So you’re, you’re you’re just, you’re, you’re dependent on China instead of Taiwan, and maybe you shouldn’t be dependent on any one country anyway, should be finding other ways to diversify a little bit no matter what. Yeah, it would, it would be something like that. And, you know, people think that sounds heartless now, the Ukraine, I mean, the Ukraine thing. I mean, the Russia aggression in Ukraine did not, you know, start in earnest until 2014. Right, it was after the US backed overthrow of the government. So it’s like, you know, is that things work out better for Ukraine, because of American support? It’s very, you know, I think it’s very hard to argue that I think it’s, you know, it’s hard to make these arguments, because they’re so emotional. It’s just like, Russia is bad. Ukraine is good, like, how could we not stand with Ukraine, we should have been standing with Ukraine more. And it’s like, you know, Ukraine isn’t a bit, but we did stand with Ukraine, like, we were on Russia’s borders, like working on bringing them into, into NATO, like, you know, you know, reforming their government, like, you know, deeply embedded in their government, and, you know, not ruling out bringing them into NATO officially. So, like, we were there and, you know, bad things happen to them. So, yeah, I don’t think it worked, even worked out for the people of Taiwan, you know, it’s in theory, you know, in theory, it could, it could be different. I mean, the China Taiwan thing might be different. But in the end, you know, China versus Taiwan of war, if, if that’s all it was, it’s not an existential risk to receive, and it’s not even like a, you know, multiple orders of magnitude risk of death, these countries probably submit, actually, if the US is out out of the, out of the picture, these countries submit the way in Latin America, you know, submits to submits to American fresh, which is not the best thing in the world, but not the worst thing in the world, not a destructive war that kills a lot of people and not, you know, there’s peace and stability. So, yeah, that they would be it would be something like, you know, my model, you know, have something like, you know, a respect or respect for sort of, like, you know, regions of power. So, the, you know, which we have, which we have in Latin America, in which you know, it’s not the end of the world if we give it to a few other countries.
William Jarvis 33:36
got it got it that makes sense to kind of give each country some some leeway around themselves. So it’s yours, we’re not gonna mess with it. I’m curious, do you think it’s possible for us to give like Putin, like, de escalation, like off ramp? Is there anything we could do to, like, ensure to him like, look, we’re gonna, like, we’re not gonna do anything, just like, let’s all just like calm this down? Or is it? Does it just keep escalating?
Richard Hanania 33:56
Yeah, I mean, you know, when I hear people talk about this, it’s sort of hard, because you’re speculating on the psychology of one man ran his political situation, and it’s hard to do. Now, all I can do is put anyone else can do a sort of, you know, just look at Putin as a man look at a situation, look at sort of Russian politics from the outside, and sort of just make some try to make some educated guesses on how they’re thinking and sort of what their incentives are. So, I mean, the way I see it, I think that the, you know, it’s, you can talk about what’s politically feasible for the American government to do and, like, you know, what could be the ideal situation, right. So, you know, there has, I think, Russia, I don’t see a way that they don’t, that they pull up without accepted without getting something. This was really bad. This was really bad for them. And, you know, and, you know, and I think that, you know, they were going to keep and I think that, you know, they’ve got the Korean government collapse, they weren’t taking it. I mean, they would have they would have taken that as Like plenty, right? That yeah, that I see a little reason to doubt that like, why right view? Right. Like, that’s, that’s, that’s what you would do sometimes governments do collapse and a lot of people like a lot of people like the American, you know, American Alice didn’t think Ukraine with last right. So you know, that was probably you know the thing and then like, now they must have a realization that that’s impossible. And so it’s Plan B while the Plan B is, you know, it has to hold on to its gains, I think, which are going to Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. And they don’t have all of the Netskope. Lots they have, you know, they have most of the populations of these of these two regions. And they I think, I think, you know, what the, the way they’re thinking, and this is sort of stupid, because, you know, and objectively doesn’t matter. Like, if you have the, like, they have like the, you know, the capital of each place, they have variable, the other large city, like there’s a few other, you know, a few other medium sized cities and towns they can grab, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t objectively matter. Right, right. But the governor, the so called governments, self declared governments of these areas, they consider these things that the old province, the entire province that used to be like united under Ukraine control, they consider that their government, right. And so I think they feel like they need that. So like, you know, I just said, it doesn’t matter. You know, try to give them that you could, you could give them that and like, declare, you know, like, if you wish, I could just rewrite American for a policy, you know, I would just put put on like a stamp. And like, say, he’s like, the greatest man in history, I think it’s like, you could like, you know, you could like, psychologically try to satisfy him, right? He’s not doing things that are in the objective, long term financial interests of Russia, right. That’s not his model. His model is, you know, sort of glory, you know, land. People think, yes, like, very simplified. And it’s like, you know, okay, give him this worthless lad. That doesn’t matter. And people, you know, why does it have title for the next thing? Like, no, maybe he’ll be satisfied. Like, he doesn’t have the indication that he’s just he’s been in power for 20 years, he hasn’t been like hitting the like knocking or trying to knock off country? Country, right? There’s an indication that he can’t be satiated, right? He can be a piece. Right? And so I, you know, you give him these, you know, these areas that don’t matter that are going to be held for Ukraine to get back anyway, if they if they tried, yes, the Ukraine goal is to get back the stuff that Russia has been occupying since 2014. Yeah, that’s gonna, that’s hard to do. If they do do it, I mean, it’s gonna be, you know, there’s a risk of nuclear and there’s a risk of nuclear escalation here. If they if they do, it’s gonna have to be horrific, you know, consequences are gonna have to do with a Russian occupied cities, what Russia tried to do to the Ukrainian cities. And so like, if you can give them you know, so like, you know, if you can, you know, I think it’s hard for you couldn’t take them back anyway. But if you could give some kind of, you know, symbolic glory to Putin and Russia, you know, you could do that. Now, this is the, you know, this is like, the best way to this is like the cheapest, most low cost and like an objective cost, easiest, best way to end the war. It’s also literally the hardest thing politically to do, like, make Putin feel good about himself. Like compliment Putin, like, say nice things about him. Like this is like literally the hardest to do with our politics. And so I guess you can sort you can sort of see that the love is here, you can see why this is difficult. It’s sort of it’s sort of zero sum. I think people think in terms of Russia did a bad thing. Russia has to suffer. Maybe that’s adaptive at a certain level. It’s hard. It’s hard trying to work when you’re you’re in that headspace, though.
William Jarvis 38:20
Got it? Yeah, definitely. i It really is. I’m curious, a bit of a left hand turn here. But effective altruists should effective offers on the margin. think more about governance.
Richard Hanania 38:33
Um, you know, I’m not, you know, I just, I mean, I’ve read Scott Alexander, but I’m not a guy who, like reads a lot of effective altruists stuff or a lot of Effective Altruism people. So you know, I don’t know the balance of how often they think about government. I see. You know, there’s the big tank by Alec Stapp and Caleb wet while watching him walk near with me. Is this funny? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so there’s something going on there. You know, Tyler Cowen, I think is sort of adjacent to Effective Altruism talks about you know, state capacity libertarianism. So, as far as I see there, is there are people thinking of governance, should they you know, should the community as a whole thing more or less? Yeah, I’m not sure.
William Jarvis 39:13
Got it. Got it. Richard, are you done for a round of overrated or underrated?
Richard Hanania 39:18
Oh, well, yeah, not bad. But that would be that would be really cool, actually. So yeah,
William Jarvis 39:22
awesome. Awesome. So I’ll throw out a turn. Just give me overrated, underrated, properly rated, perhaps, and maybe why. So here we go. The likelihood of a nuclear exchange in the next century overrated or underrated?
Richard Hanania 39:37
I think, you know, I think in the next five years or so, probably underrated. I, we just talked about the difficulties of the Russia Ukraine conflict, and I try to game out what’s going to happen, it seems like it’s very, very hard. Next 100 years. I don’t know how I don’t know how to read them because I don’t know what people think. I think people think that we’re probably I think people tend to think that It’s more likely than, you know, it’s somewhat at least somewhat likely. And, you know, my mind my, my, you know, 100 years do people even think in terms of 100 years? I don’t know. But, uh, you know, I think there are before the Russia, Ukraine, where I, you know, I had reasons for I was a little bit more optimistic about this in the sense that I thought there’s probably less than less of a chance of this happening in the next year, 50 100 years and a lot of smart people. Because I think, you know, we, you know, it just seems like, there’s, you know, there’s just, there’s such a discrepancy between, like, what these weapons can do and what countries you know, can’t necessarily are necessarily fighting over, like, you look at like, the actual like, Taiwan, like matters. I mean, it’s it has like, the the semiconductors at least, yeah, every other conflict in the world is just like worthless land. It doesn’t matter, there’s oil, you know, there’s oil, like it’s in the Middle East, but you know, it’s like, you know, oil, it’s not like, you know, it’s not like the center of the global economy now, like, the biggest countries aren’t the wealthiest because of because of rent, rent, natural resource rents. And so like, you know, there’s, there’s a kind of thing where, like, it’s like, the smarter countries are in charge, there’s sort of a Darwin Darwinian process for like, you know, America and China are not run by like, the craziest, literally, the craziest people in the world. And so, you know, I think if we get past this Russia Ukraine thing, you know, I probably will, you know, I think smart people probably overrate the chances of a nuclear war in the next 100 years.
William Jarvis 41:25
Gotcha. Do you think the Russians are just more more willing to use like tactical weapons of this type, and then we are
Richard Hanania 41:34
perhaps I don’t know, if they’re more willing than we are, I think there’s the situation that they’re in back in a corner kind of thing. Like, if we were like, if we had, you know, we have to like analogize situation, if we had like a power supporting Mexico, and like, they were selling like parts of the US and like, they want to potentially potentially bring you know them into their bring Mexico into their defensive alliance? Like, would we be more or less are likely that Russia like, like, who knows, but we’re not at that situation, right? Russia is in that situation, if the war goes poorly, and they, you know, their their conventional advantage is, you know, not all people thought it was it, you know, they end up maybe in a worse position than when they started were like, at worse than the terms of just like less land, there’ll be worse than like, terms are gonna be like, so they’re just thinking simplistically terms of land, and, you know, to be more a little more terrible protecting the Russian speakers and in eastern Ukraine, you know, if it comes down to they’re in a worse position after all of this. Yeah, I think the nuclear option could look, you know, more more, you know, it could be you could say the temptation, there certainly
William Jarvis 42:30
makes sense. Left wing bias and academia, overrated or underrated.
Richard Hanania 42:35
It’s probably underrated as a force but overrated in its real world importance. So it’s, yeah, it’s, you know, very biased. I mean, the people still, like, you know, I’d ironically share these charts of like, the book receipts going like this, and Republicans are in office, and it’s going like this. I mean, it’s just the, the, just the surveys of academics, the experts think that the Republicans hate democracy, it’s like, you know, you don’t have to be a genius to see this is like, this is sort of stupid. And so it, you know, that’s not like it when people think of academic bias, they think of like space, safe spaces. microaggressions, like he’s, you know, objectively ridiculous, you know, these clearly, transparently ridiculous things. They don’t think as much in terms of just like, okay, they’re making charts and graphs and doing like, seemingly sophisticated looking statistics that are just like them, like regressing their opinions on like, you know, other people’s opinions. I mean, it’s really, it’s just like, the research projects are often very stupid. So it’s probably underrated. The extent to which the bias is there. It’s overrated, because we treat it like the most important thing. Well, so what am I focus is civil rights law. Now, government has suppressed free speech in the workplace for a very, very long time. Harassment law, basically, there’s no, there’s no clarity, basically, you know, if you say something that someone can interpret racist, and sexist, your boss can be on a lot of trouble. Your boss, therefore has an HR department to make sure that you don’t say anything that can violate, you know, so called civil rights, you know, this, this has been American work life for the last, you know, whatever. But, you know, corporate mid level corporate executives do not write op eds in the New York Times and have some snacks and stuff. They’re just going to work and trying to live, right, while the people who, you know, write about, you know, public events, you know, make, you know, shape our narrative are people on university campuses are like, Oh, my God, wait, I can’t say these things. I used to say, it becomes the biggest thing in the world. Right. And so, yeah, I think the I think that, you know, the, you know, we’ve have a lot of, you know, repression of speech in a lot of different ways in this country and, you know, academics, you know, I just don’t think, you know, it’s not, it’s not it’s not special, it’s getting a little it’s getting more extreme certainly, how much do academics matter if you’ve ever like looked at a you know, if you ever like know, a policy area? Well, you don’t like the academic literature, how academics think about it versus like, the people think tanks are people closer to policy. You see, there’s often a very wide discrepancy like the idea that Russia, you know, that the US NATO expansion, you know, provoked, provoked Russia into this conflict is it is a very mainstream view and I or at least it was like until the Russian maybe they’ve been caught up in like the politics of media emotions, but it wasn’t mainstream view, you know until whatever a couple months ago and then you know, not really a main mainstream view on Capitol Hill there was a headline though, like, the wash policy of the Rand Paul like blames, you know, blames NATO expansion for like a you know, like he was contradicted by experts. Like they put that in there. You know, they always say that, like when they when they don’t like what someone is saying. And so, yeah, you know, the academics, you know, that they think, you know, matters, but they like in a lot of places, they
don’t matter. As much as they, as they often think. It’s really good.
William Jarvis 45:43
It’s really good. Chinese state capacity, is it overrated or underrated?
Richard Hanania 45:49
Oh, it’s it’s underrated. I mean, the COVID that, like the I think they’re crazy to still be on zero COVID. But the zero COVID lasted this long is incredible. And you know, maybe maybe they weren’t, maybe they were, you know, maybe they were exaggerating the numbers. But look, I mean, people were pretty early in the pandemic, you know, the corporations were opening up, people were walking journalists were walking around China, they were saying, and it’s not like they’re chill about COVID. Like, if there were outbreaks, like, I don’t think they would be letting Western journalists you know, walk around in life get back to normal. They were they were getting by now. Maybe they’re too, you know, crazy about COVID. So, you know, there’s a question of like, why is decision making versus the capacity to do stuff? The capacity to do stuff seems very, very impressive. And then you look at, like, you know, the infrastructure building, I think there was a quote, There was a statistic from like, Bill Gates, I think that was about 10 years ago, but he said something like, you know, three years, China used more cement than the US used in the last 100 or something like that. And so and there was actually I saw something like, some like fact checker that quotes like there for subcultural or whatever reason are more likely to use cement and building buildings, and we are okay. Okay. So it’s not perfect. It’s not a perfect comparison. But, you know, anyway, you look at it, I mean, the, you know, the building capacity of the ability to build infrastructure, you know, high quality infrastructure, like even science, like, you know, the high quality, you know, the number of patents think things like that, which is probably more people capacity than that state capacity. But I think that a wide variety, variety of measures. I mean, it’s impressive, though, the Hong Kong, I mean, the Hong Kong and the weaker thing. I mean, people don’t like to think about this as a matter of state capacity. But, you know, they had terrorist attacks and shinjang. They had, you know, they had a huge protest movement, or Hong Kong protests central portion of the public coming out, and, and they put it down. I mean, they solved the problem. I mean, whatever you think morally, so that has to come to us for something as far as the capacity.
William Jarvis 47:37
Definitely, definitely. Yes. It’s very impressive. Well, Richard, I have I have one class question for you. And this is for my own curiosity. How would you describe yourself politically, if you had to, like Labour’s label yourself? Where do you think you’d come down?
Richard Hanania 47:50
Um, you know, I, you know, I’m pretty much I guess I could say, good break me down. I mean, I’m pro market, anti interventionist, maybe even sort of like liberal International, cooperative, cooperative on foreign policy stuff. I’m sort of a reactionary in my cultural sort of sensibilities. And then I, you know, I, it usually manifests itself in Liberty, you know, libertarianism as far as state policy goes, but you know, you know, sometimes my, my, my aesthetic preferences will overcome the libertarian instincts. So I guess, you know, I guess I’m not, I mean, a non interventionist conservative is probably, you know, you know, an anti war for conservative, maybe libertarian, I guess, is probably, you know, the closest as far as, you know, normal categories, people think I’ve
William Jarvis 48:37
got it. Got it. I love that. I love that. Well, Richard, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, where can we find you? Where should we send people?
Richard Hanania 48:45
So just my Twitter and my substack. So it’s very, I started them, like not thinking about branding myself just thinking about, you know, me saying things. So that’s Richard Hackman. Yeah. That’s substack.com. And then Richard, my name is just Richard Hannon. Yeah, on Twitter and follow along there. Oh, by the way, I have a podcast to CSPI podcast. There’s a CSPI mailing list, which is also at substack. So people should check this out a lot of great stuff there.
William Jarvis 49:09
Awesome. Thank you, Richard. Thank you.
Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.
Join the discussion