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April 2, 2014

«Money should provoke knowledge»


Tages Anzeiger (Zürich) by Phillippe Zweifel - Swiss-Angolan investor Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais is co-founder of a Utopian festival at Monte Verità, which takes place this year for the second time from 10 April. He talks to us about patronage.

The 47-year-old Swiss-Angolan set up Primavera Locarnese and continues to support it. Bastos is an entrepreneur and investor, and his company, Quantum Global, specialises in asset and private wealth management and financial advice. It also manages $3 billion of the Angolan sovereign wealth fund. Like other patrons who have become very wealthy in a short period of time, Bastos has faced harsh criticism. For example, according to Handelszeitung, his success in Angola is down to his friendship with the president’s son. Bastos denies this.
Primavera Locarnese, which is intended to tie in with the reformist tradition of the Monte Verità, is taking place for the second time from 10 to 15 April. The festival’s theme this year is ‘Utopias and Demons’, and will feature guests such as Nobel prizewinner Herta Müller, writers Péter Nadas and Jonas Lüscher, and publisher Klaus Wagenbach.

Philippe Zweifel spoke to Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais

The Utopians of Monte Verità were anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist. Why have you decided to get involved?
You have to look at it in a broader context. I’m very interested in artificial intelligence and I’m a firm believer that humans will increasingly be replaced by machines if we don’t take action to counter this now. The thinking promoted these days is based mainly on probabilities rather than intuition. That runs counter to my way of thinking and I consider it dangerous.

Why is that? 

Because machines are superior to us in terms of rationality. There’s no point trying to emulate them. Instead we need to strengthen creative processes, especially in young people, who don’t know a world without the internet and who, for example, accept book and music recommendations on Amazon that are generated by algorithms. By getting involved in the Utopian festival, I want to show that there are other ways beyond the logic of Google and Facebook.

Sounds like an ambitious plan. 

For me, Monte Verità is not about revolution. I want to build a bridge between intellectuals and young people. The programme is therefore aimed at both groups. So, for example, besides a Nobel prizewinner, we have a rapper.

Do you have an influence on the programme?
No. But as is the case with my business investments, it’s important to me that the basic focus and vision of the festival are right.

A patron puts up money without directly getting anything back, contrary to an investor. Why did you decide to do this?
It’s probably a kind of compensation. As a teenager, I wanted to become a musician. There was nothing I enjoyed more than music. I even thought about a career as a bass player in a band, notwithstanding all the uncertainty and precariousness that a life like that entails.

What happened? 

My father suggested I spend one year as a musician before studying something ‘proper’. He meant engineering, medicine, law or business administration. I agreed, with the secret intention of going back to music after a few exams. But I ended up enjoying business studies more than I expected.

Isn’t patronage a bit like selling indulgences?
Because you’re ashamed of your own wealth? I’m not. Why should I be ashamed of my talent?

What is your talent? 

I find it easy to spot investment opportunities. When I close my eyes, I can see them very clearly. I have studied the economy, I understand it and operate within it.

Are you happy with the system?
No, I accept it as it is, but I think it is causing us to run towards a wall.

What’s wrong? 

One of the main problems are the huge corporates. Because of their financial weight, they have an influence not only at an economic, but also at a political level. However, their sheer size means that efficiency and flexibility are lost and organic growth is difficult. The only way they can grow is through acquisitions. Eventually they get too big and die – bringing others down with them. Our banks have already undergone a fitness test; in other countries, this is still to be done. The same applies to certain energy companies, for example. ‘Too big to fail’ is what they say. But the saying should actually be ‘Too big is going to fail’. When companies reach a certain size, they need a change in management ideology. There needs to be less aggressiveness and more social responsibility.

You yourself manage CHF 8 billion. 

I’m aware that this is a lot of money, and that the power and responsibility this involves demand one to exercise ethical considerations and integrity.

Is there a critical limit when managing money?

Yes, but everyone has to decide for themselves where that is. I’m not far off my own limit because once you reach a certain size, business becomes increasingly political and you have to make more and more compromises.

Would you be able to just stop and do something else?
Yes, definitely. Success is important to me, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to money. I could imagine working in research.

Do you get used to making money?
Yes, but it also has its downsides.

Such as what, for example?
You no longer have time to do things for yourself. Not only in terms of business, but also in your private life. As you become wealthier, your life becomes more comfortable, but also more complicated. Particularly if you have to travel to different countries, like I do. Who does the shopping? Who sorts out the heating? Who does the cleaning? You have to employ people for everything. I’d happily give that up.

Bill Gates is trying to persuade billionaires to donate 50% of their wealth to charitable foundations.

I have a different philosophy. My commitments are not about monetary contributions, but rather promoting intellectual engagement – ‘smart money’ that ideally sparks a realisation or new way of thinking in people. I believe that is more collaborative and more authentic. What’s more, I’m fascinated by the development stage of a project. It was the same with music: I enjoyed the jam sessions more than the rehearsed performances.

Could you imagine being a musician again?

Yes, why not? I used to have long hair – that can grow back. I recently bought a double bass. Maybe that’s a sign…

Originally published on April 2, 2014 in the Tages Anzeiger (Zürich) in German