Arthur C. Brooks (1964) is a North American economist and president of the renowned Conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. He is also the author of very successful books like Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism and Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It. He speaks fluent Catalan because he lived in Barcelona when he was young, when he was a musician and played the trombone in the city orchestra. His wife is Catalan. Called by the Diplocat, he is now back in the city where he lived for three years to give a talk on Trump and populism at Barcelona’s Contemporary Culture Centre (CCCB) and also to meet president Puigdemont.
— There are people who consider Catalan independentists populists. What you think?
— It depends what they mean with the word. In the United States, populism is a xenophobia and anti-free trade, but populism can also be a good thing; if you want a strong people, less poverty, and expansive society and not just profits for the elites, social solidarity, all of this is also populism. Populism has a negative and destructive connotation, and when someone wants to attack you, they call you a populist.
— There are people who want to make a new country here.
— So I have heard. I have heard the news, I read VilaWeb too.
— So what advice would you give if you could make a country from scratch?
— It is very difficult to make a country from scratch, since the people already belong to a society and have certain expectations. I will not get into politics, that is your affair, but self-determination is something that is very important for the Americans, which is why the Americans show sympathy for movements like yours.
— Much more than the Europeans.
— Certainly, because the Europeans are centralists. Americans are anti-centralists and have a radical and deep federal system. No matter how much autonomy is had, for instance by the Basque Country, it is nothing like the autonomy of Texas. Texas has much more. Switzerland and the United States are much more federal systems, but here in Spain the system is super centralist. It is inconceivable for us to have a system without autonomous governors, with states with differences between them, where here you can smoke marijuana and there you can’t. The Catalan case is unheard of in the United States. But when you explain it they say it’s obvious, normal referendum, decide, not because they are independentists, but because they are in favour of deciding. It is curious, but now the Americans believe that Catalonia has an opportunity. An independent Catalonia could be the Hong Kong of Europe and show a declining continent how to grow economically. Europe is in a bad state, also demographically. The Americans look at the data and we see that Europe is like Disneyland, full of castles, churches and ancient stones. An independent Catalonia could be an example of vitality and economic dynamism, but it won’t happen with socialism, it’s impossible, that is what we think, but we might be wrong. But with a new state of free trade, of opportunities, and economically viable … It very often happens that the struggle for independence takes the people far to the left, very far to the left.
— Here we have independentists in Convergència. I mean PDECat.
— That’s true, but also in ERC, which is left-wing, and Esquerra Republicana is Bernie Sanders.
— Have you changed your opinion over the relationship between Spain and Catalonia since you lived here?
— When I was here in 1992, this wasn’t such an important subject. My wife is also Catalan.
— Catalan of Canary mother and Catalan father, very interesting. I had to learn both languages, Catalan and Spanish. What a drag. [He laughs.] And I experienced the so surprising fact for us of having to change language constantly in the same conversation, but now I do it! Well. But my wife’s family doesn’t really take up a political position. They are neither independentists nor unionists; but I have looked at it, and Catalonia has an opportunity, I believe it has the chance to be an example. An example that does not exist anywhere else in Europe. Europe has the western cultural heritage, something fantastic that has saved the world. Look I work a lot with the Dalai Llma.
— With the Dalai Lama?
— Yes. We have made a film together. We have written together for the New York Times, and the Dalai Lama also says so: western capitalism has worked miracles. And he says so, he who defines himself a Marxist. And where did western capitalism start? In the USA? No. It started in Europe, and originally in Spain, where it was very powerful. The cradle is here. We have to revitalise European and western culture, from where? From Belgium? No. From Russia? No. From Catalonia? Why not? Why not from Catalonia? This is why I say liberalism is very important. Catalonia has a culture of liberalism, of trade, of work and enterprise. If Catalonia loses its liberalism … Liberalism and social democracy make a balance and not much can be lost from either side. My point of view is that if this happened, the chance would be missed to be a positive example for the world.