We have hit peak podcast!

Back in the 2000s, when blogging was a thing, I was at a party and someone mentioned offhand that I had a blog. Someone else blurted out, “Oh, me too!” We left it at that. But a friend asked me why I didn’t let on that my blog got hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, or that millions of people had read me over the years. The point is that there were people who had blogs, and other people who had blogs.

I was reminded of that by this piece in Have We Hit Peak Podcast?. I first heard about podcasting in the middle of the 2000s. I started listening to podcasts around 2008 or so, on my old iPod shuffle. It wasn’t until 2016 that I actually started contributing to my own podcast (on genetics and evolution).

About ten months later we started the Browncast. I’ve now done 67 podcasts for The Insight. I’ve been on the majority of the 50+ podcasts for the Browncast.

So let me quote from The New York Times piece:

But six episodes in, when neither Casper mattresses nor MeUndies had come knocking, the friends quit. Today, Ms. Mandriota says the same D.I.Y. spirit that made having a podcast “alluring” is precisely what doomed the project. “You can talk about the trees outside as much as you want, but if you’re not going to serve listeners and do it in a way that’s engaging, your chances of going viral are low,” she said, calling her show “the most makeshift podcast, with mediocre advice.”

An advice podcast from randoms? On the Browncast you can listen to Shadi Hamid, one of the world’s “top 50 thinkers”, or a conversation with an Indian American getting an arranged marriage. You can listen to discussions about the internecine conflicts in American conservative politics, or a first-person recollection of partition.

The reason there are 50+ episodes of the Browncast is that we have something to say. It’s “peak podcast” for those who don’t have something to say.


Browncast Episode 56: Urbane Cowboys in the conservative wars

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

On this episode, I talk to Josiah Neeley and Doug McCoullough. Hosts of the center-Right Urbane Cowboys podcast, they have had Reihan Salam, Avik Roy, Ramesh Ponnuru, and myself, as guests. They do the “brown representation” well, in other words.

Most we talk about the French-Amhari wars. All of us stake somewhat different positions on this conflict within modern conservatism and try to hash out a path to the future.f


Brown power now!

The brain and the brawn!

A comment below set me off because it’s so dumb. In the 1980s brown Americans were so marginal that my parents were excited when they saw a little Indian boy in a cereal commercial.

What can brown do for you?

Today the man behind the skirt is <<<Saikat Chakrabarti>>>, a Communistic fellow of bhadralok, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley pedigree who is driving the Democratic party to the Left through one set of bicep curls at a time. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is run by one Faiz Shakir, a Pakistan American. One of the four co-chairs is Ro Khanna. Meanwhile, a woman whose mother is an Iyer is now second in the polls in New Hampshire. A woman named Neer Tanden is President of Center for American Progress, the node of establishment liberal political activism. Another woman named Pramila Jayapal is co-chair of the House Progressive Caucasus.

Who is kidding who here? Browns are now elite paratroopers on the Left. The special forces wielding language in the open and money behind the scenes. They’re using the master’s tools to tear down the master’s house. I hope they fail, but their power is what it is. Don’t be a dumbass. There’s a brown fist coming at us. We best be ready.


The ubiquity of the rentier state

Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History is one of my favorite books (though if you are looking for economic history, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium is underrated/underread).

Maddison’s work is cited in this piece,
No, Mughals didn’t loot India. They made us rich: They remained as Indians, not colonists
. Overall, I found it to be specious and sophistic in the details.

The specious part is the attempt to assert that India was rich during the Mughal period. The sophistic part was the interleaving of anecdata and observation to buttress the quantitative point, made with an appeal Maddison’s data set.

The reality is that it is likely that Maddison was wrong, and more importantly, the Mughal state was highly extractive:

There is more here. It is not my place to judge economic history, it’s not my specialty (though on the whole, I don’t dissent from the judgment of “Pseudoerasmus” on most things in his wheelhouse). And I still value Maddison’s magisterial work. And so should you.

The reason is simple: contrary to what Rana Safvi would have you believe, the vast majority of pre-modern people and societies were poor, with very marginal differences in per capita wealth in a modern sense. I am convinced by various arguments that large polities, such as the Roman Empire, can obtain some gains in efficiency through economies of scale, as well as reducing costs of production through imposing peace. But these differences were marginal compared to anything we moderns might believe to be worth notice.

To see what I mean, I’ve plotted some of Maddison’s data below:

According to Maddison, there was a decline in per capita wealth from the Mughal period to the early British period: from 550 to 533 dollars. First, this is hardly much at all. Second, it is clear that Maddison’s estimate here is very coarse, and we shouldn’t put that much stock in it.

But the bigger picture that I’m alluding too is clear when you look at all of Maddison’s data. 2,000 years ago Italy was the richest region of the world on a per capita basis (though since Madison is comparing a province of the Roman Empire to all of China, I think this is somewhat misleading). But Italy seems to have been only about twice as rich on a per capita basis as the poorest areas of the world. By 1500 the British Isles was already wealthier than India on a per capita basis, but it was only 1.3 times as wealthy.

When pre-modern observers, as quoted in the piece above, mention the wealth and riches of a polity, what they truly mean are the goods of the people of power. In 1500 France and the British Isles were at the same per capita wealth level. But the monarchy of France was much wealthier and more powerful than the monarchy of England. There were two reasons:

  • The French monarch had a larger population from which they could extract taxes.
  • The French monarchy engaged in a higher base rate of extraction from its subjects than the English monarchy.

According to economic historians, one way that the British closed the gap in later centuries was much better management of and recourse to public debt. The British “punched above their weight” in terms of mobilization of resources for this reason (eventually Britain surpassed France in population and per capita wealth).

But that’s neither here nor there. Observations of the wealth of the Mughals by European observers is mostly a function of the reality that the domains under Mughal control were extensive, and the Mughal  Empire had a much larger population than any European state. Its wealth was not due to intensive production of economic vitality, as much as extensive exploitation of productivity. Similarly, the domains of the Chinese Emperors of the contemporary period allowed for lavish wealth, but that was due to the massive population increase in their territories in the centuries of peace.(part of this was due to the introduction of maize into lands where it was more suitable than rice or wheat).

Of course, there are differences between various political arrangements. Even before seeing the data on extraction levels above, I suspected that the Mughals were not necessarily encouraging economic flourishing in an atypical manner. The reason here is historical and ideological. Though the average per capita wealth of China across history did not vary a great deal, there were ideological variations which resulted in different levels of poverty and uncertainty. The orthodox Confucian Chinese view was rather libertarian and physiocratic. It emphasized low taxes on the farmers so as to encourage freeholding and rural prosperity. Though this was not always executed, it was the ideal. The pre-modern Chinese state as actually relatively “light.”

One can think of a major exception here: the Yuan dynasty. That of the Mongols. Unlike the Manchus, the Mongols did not assimilate to Chinese norms. They engaged in massive extraction, pure rent-seeking, and brought in “middle-men minorities” (Central Asian Muslims often) to do much of the dirty work.

On the whole, I believe that the Mongol influence on economic growth was predominantly negative in Eurasia during their period of dominance, because the steppe nomad ethos was extractive and predatory toward the ancient agrarian civilizations of Eurasia. The Pax Mongolica likely introduced some efficiencies through trade and the spread of ideas, but the local impact of Mongol rule in China, Persia, and Russia seems to have been one of predation and consumption, rather than fostering production.

The Mughals were in part descended from Mongols. And as Timurids they were patrons of culture but also adhered to the steppe ethos of extraction and predation. Rana Safvi emphasizes that the Mughals became more Indian genealogically over time. This is true. And the Mughals also relied on Rajputs to administer their domain. But anyone who has read about the Mughal state apparatus knows that like the Mongols in Yuan China they relied extensively on West and Central Asian first-generation immigrants (the preference for non-natives even within these ethnicities is a clear tell that it was important they not be too attached to India, and mirrors “Mameluke” regimes further west). While Turks and Afghans were the military elite, the civilian class was saturated with Persians.

The ethno-religious distance between the ruled and rulers to me would set a prior expectation that there would be an emphasis on extraction and extensive rent-seeking. Muslims, like Ibn Battuta, had long seen India as a land of riches and a place where young adventurers could make a fortune. In the pre-modern world, unfortunately, this often involved some sort of rent-seeking activity, rather than productive entrepreneurship.

And yet were the Mughals qualitatively different from what came before an what has come after? To be honest, I don’t think so. One of the major problems with South Asia is that it is a world of “communities,” and communities look after their own. Han Chinese bureaucrats culturally identified with the peasants that they ruled. Even the connotation of “peasant” in Chinese is far less pejorative than in Europe, which had a blood nobility. In South Asia, the ruling elite has often by logical necessity been different from those the ruled because no one group identity has been a majority. This is often true even locally, while Hindu zamindars ruling in eastern Bengal over Muslim peasants, or Muslim potentates in the Deccan over Hindu peasants.

Note: Chill on the bullshit comments. I’ll be deleting them if you manifest stupidity or ignorance.


Why I like to ask about caste

Last week I was at a conference where a British academic asked an American academic “how much money do you make?” It was really strange to me because in American society you don’t ask this question. It’s not polite. And I immediately explained to the British academic that you just don’t ask this question.

But, it illustrates what really matters in America. “How much money do you make?” gets to the heart of the American ethos. We don’t talk about it in public, but on some level, it’s the ultimate thing that matters. Americans really really care about money.

What you can’t talk about, is what really matters. So when Zach invited a bunch of people to the Whatsapp group (which I don’t check that frequently), I decided to just ask someone’s caste. Of course, that is “not done.” But that’s because of the fact that most people on some level care. A lot. That’s how you could have a group where most people are on the same page about the problems and deficits of caste privilege, but everyone turns out to be not lower caste.

On Aziz Ansari’s new special there’s a thing about how white people are “woke” on Instagram. Similarly, you see the Chatterjee’s, Iyers, and Tripathis outdoing each other on how awful caste privilege is on Twitter.


Browncast Episode 55: 17 years in the blogosphere

More innocent times

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

On this episode, I talk to my old friend Aziz Poonawalla. Aziz and I have been in the “blogosphere” for 17 years, and we talk about its rise and fall, and our thoughts about the Twitter world. Aziz and I also differ on a lot of issues. He is a liberal observant Muslim (Bohra Ismaili), and I am a conservative atheist. So we end up the conversation talking about politics, and Aziz’s roots in the Dean campaign of 2003.


AOC’s brain has gone and done it now!

I call Saikat Chakrabarti “AOC’s brain.” I think it is likely that he is responsible for her tweet’s that mention prescriptivism:

Chakrabarti went to Harvard, studied computer science, then Wall Street, before becoming a founding engineer of Stripe. Stripe is valued north of $20,000,000,000 right now, so his paper wealth is likely putting him in the 0.1% or more (unless he cashed out early, which would mean he’s more liquid, though less wealthy).

In addition to his far-Left politics, professional and financial successes, he seems to lift judging by the photos. So good for him!

Today he got in trouble for wearing a t-shirt with a photo of Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was a radical nationalist, but complex otherwise. Today he is being reduced to his alignment with the Axis-powers a meeting with Hitler (after all, in the West, all that matters is your meeting with Hitler during World War II, not what was going on in far off Asia).

The weird thing is if Chakrabarti wore a Che Guevera t-shirt I don’t think it would be a major issue. But to me, that would be worse, because Che acted with brutality in favor of international Communism of his own free will. Bose’s alliance with the Axis-powers was clearly driven mostly by pragmatic concerns. An analogy here might be Finland’s alliance with Nazi Germany, so as to fend off absorption into the Soviet Union.

Of course, the online Left has never been much for subtly. Do unto them, as they would do unto you. I hope Chakrabarti gets what he deserves, but I doubt he will. Blue-checks take care of their own kind…


Browncast Episode 54: Sojourn in India as a international Parsi

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

On this episode, we talk with Iona Italia about he experiences a returning Parsi (she was raised in Europe) to the Indian subcontinent. She is the host of Two for Tea podcast, an editor of Areo Magazine, and a contributor to Letter Wiki.