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Interview with Jack Lew and George Osborne; Interview with Ribal al-Assad; Interview with Jon Meacham; Interview with Angus Deaton. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 20, 2015 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:23] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION" Thanks for watching. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have a great show for you today starting with the American Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, and his counterpart, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, on another way to battle ISIS -- cut off its cash.

The economic fight against terror, also the end of the era of zero at the Federal Reserve. And what a British conservative thinks of Donald Trump.

Also, there is no solution to ISIS without solving Syria. Bashar al- Assad's first cousin will tell me how he thinks his blood relative will finally be defeated.

And where does Jeb Bush come from? John Meacham will tell us how the Bush family has had such striking success in American high politics. Until now.

Then a Noble Prize winner will tell us how his research into American debt rates might explain Donald Trump's appeal.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is out of control.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take.

Radical Islamic terrorism. Apparently the phrase, if you can actually say it, has mystical powers. At Tuesday's Republican debate, the candidates once more took pains to point out that they would speak the dreaded words that President Obama and Hillary Clinton dare not.

Here's Ted Cruz in his opening statement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name.


ZAKARIA: As it turns out, the first time I described the enemy as radical Islam was in a column I wrote just days after September 11th, 2001. I used the exact phrase, radical Islamic terrorism, in another column later that month 14 years ago. So having established my credentials I can honestly say it gives one absolutely nothing in the way of an answer or strategy to deal with terror attacks. In fact, Obama has often spoken about the problems of extremism in Islam.

Here he is in his 2014 speech to the U.N. General Assembly which focused significantly on that topic.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for the world, especially in Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL.

Today it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery.


ZAKARIA: In his speech after the San Bernardino shootings, Obama again made some of these points, leading the late-night comics Seth Meyers to offer this quip.


SETH MYERS, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: So he used the words radical Islam in terrorism. He just didn't use them in the right order which would be a problem if it was a spell and he was Harry Potter, but he's not so it isn't.


ZAKARIA: Obama and Clinton have chosen not to specifically directly describe the enemy as radical Islam out of deference to the many Muslim countries and leaders who feel it gives the terrorists legitimacy. President George W. Bush was similarly careful in his rhetoric.

The best proof that calling radical Islam by its name provides no solutions is that the Republican candidates had none at Tuesday's debate. After all the huffing and puffing, the most aggressive among them proposed more bombing, no fly-zones and arming the Kurds. These are modest additions to Obama's current strategy, each with its own problems. More bombing has proved hard because there are many innocent civilians in ISIS strongholds. No fly zones would require about 200 American aircraft and would do

almost nothing to stop the violence which is all conducted on land and some of it via helicopters flying low enough that they are not covered by a no fly zone. Arming the Kurds directly would enrage the Iraqi and Turkish governments, both allies.

These are judgment calls, not no brainers. Most important, however, fighting this terrorist group is not the same as fighting radical Islam.

[10:05:04] Strangely, after the GOP candidates boldly and actually correctly described the enemy as an ideology, which is much broader than one group, they spoke almost entirely about fighting that one group.

Even if ISIS were defeated tomorrow, would that stop the next lone wolf jihadi in New York or Paris or London?

The enemy is in fact radical Islam, an ideology that has spread over the last four decades for a variety of reasons and now infects alienated young men and women across the Muslim world. The fight must at its core be against the ideology itself, and that can only be done by Muslims. They alone can purge their faith of this extremism.

After a slow start, there are now several important efforts under way, more than people realize. The West can help by encouraging these forces of reform, allying with them and partnering in efforts to modernize these societies. But that is much less satisfying than hurling invectives, calling for bans on Muslims and advocating carpet bombing.

For more, go to and read my "Washington Post" column this week, and let's get started.

On Thursday there was an extraordinary gathering across town at the United Nations, the United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was the chair of a U.N. Security Council of his counterparts from around the world. It was the first time ever that the Security Council's finance ministers met. They were there to come up with a plan to fight ISIS economically, to cut off its funding.

Joining me now for an exclusive interview are Secretary Lew and his counterpart, the British Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne.

Explain why this is so important. It sounds grand and, you know, everyone is against ISIS, but what will it specifically do that will be effective now?

JACOB LEW, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Fareed, yesterday's meeting was historic both because it was the first time finance ministers met, but it also is to consider a resolution jointly sponsored by the United States and Russia to bring the world together to make a very strong statement that we're not going to allow ISIL to continue to fund itself the way it has been. We're going to work together to shut down formal and informal means of financing as best we can. And it gave us more tools to do that. And we have made progress. We are working hard as the United States

to make sure that the oil revenue is slowed down by striking at their oil infrastructure, but there's also an informal --

ZAKARIA: Trump keeps saying we should be bombing their oil fields, I assume the answer to that is we are.

LEW: We are bombing their oil infrastructure in a way that is making it very difficult for them to look forward to the kind of oil sales that they've had in the past. Let me give you an example. We've targeted the tanker trucks that move oil in the country and we've taken 400 of those tanker trucks out in the last month and month and a half. We're going at the infrastructure around their oil refineries.

But that's not the only source ISIL has. ISIL is sophisticated in terms of its financing. It started out conquering territory, seizing banks and then spending the money in the banks. It then on to develop an oil revenue stream.

We have to make sure that we move right ISIS as a world community to make sure that they do not have that kind of access, and that means going at cross-border sales, formal and informal, and stopping the flow of money into ISIL-controlled territory.

ZAKARIA: George, what is the hardest part of this? Is it that the Islamic State, ISIS, is a -- you know, is a kind of a band of thugs, in any case operate through the cash economy and things like that? Or is it that, you know, it's difficult to get countries like Turkey, places like Dubai to actually cooperate? You know, is that part of -- you know, of the issue?

GEORGE OSBORNE, CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER OF THE UK: Well, first of all, I thought Jack did a great job in getting the finance ministers sitting around that Security Council table for the first time since the United Nations was created. There's often a table where you see the divisions in the world played out. There's complete unity. And I think that sends a very important message not just to the terrorists that they can't divide us, but also to the middle men, the traders, you know, that there really is no place to hide in the international community.

When you come to ISIS, Daesh, it's of course a very unusual terrorist organization because it physically controls a lot of territory. It's one of our big challenges, one of the reasons it's absolutely got to be defeated. And part of its revenues come from a kind of extortion version of a state.

[10:10:02] It extracts revenues and taxes essentially from the people it is suppressing, but it also exports oil and other materials, and we are both militarily, British forces, U.S. forces and others, going after those external trading roots and the oil fields and the like. But we've also got to cut off the financing and now you've got a United Nations resolution that brought forward by the United States and Russia, endorsed by every other country. That's a very, very powerful message to anyone thinking of getting involved in this business or any financial institution thinking of supporting it. That is going to be something we don't want to do.

ZAKARIA: It's not like you can just shut down the electronic transfers of cash?

LEW: We've done that. We've shut the formal banking system off from ISIS. What we need to do now is be effective and only the world community together can do that.

One of the things this resolution does is exactly what George said. If you're a middle man you're not dealing with ISIL. ISIL sells something to you, you sell it to someone else, then it goes somewhere for commercial sale. Every point in that process you're subject to sanctions, if you're indirect or direct. That's going to raise the price of participating directly or indirectly but it's all about execution. We've now got to work individually and collectively to make sure that the promises made in the resolution are kept.

And one of the things about ISIL, their strength is their weakness. The fact that they control a lot of territory and a lot of people means that they have a constant need to replenish their money. If we can diminish their ability to do that, then they have to make hard choices and they get weaker, not stronger. So this is not an on/off switch where you stop the last dollar that goes. Every bit of progress we make put pressure on them.

ZAKARIA: We will be right back. I will ask Jack Lew and George Osborne about zero interest rates and I will also ask George Osborne as a conservative what he thinks of the Donald.


[10:15:33] ZAKARIA: We are back now with the American secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, and his British counterpart, George Osborne, who has one of the world's greatest titles, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Jack, the Federal Reserve finally raised interest rates. The theory behind that is that the American economy is recovering nicely and smartly. Even though, you know, there are a lot of people who think they shouldn't have, your predecessor Larry Summers says -- they should have kept rates at zero for about another year.

I know you're going to tell me the Federal Reserve is independent. My question to you is, is the American economy strong enough to withstand rate rises?

LEW: Well, Fareed, you're totally correct. I'm going to tell you the Federal Reserve is independent. But what I can tell you about the American economy is that here we have seven, eight years after the worst recession since the Great Depression and our economy is glowing in a strong way. We've seen more than 13.5 million new jobs created, we've seen the unemployment rate drop from 10 percent to roughly 5 percent. We're seeing strong consumer demand, record levels of auto sales and improvements in the housing market.

So I think we have a lot to feel good about in terms of the way the U.S. economy is moving. It's not all the way where we need to go. We certainly need to make sure that the benefits of growth are more broadly shared and that wages and workers are feeling the benefit. But frankly, the U.S. economy is doing quite well. We have a lot of international headwinds and not withstanding that we're staying in a very good place.

I'll leave monitoring policy to the Fed. My job is to wake up every morning making sure that we're doing as well as we can and having the U.S. economy perform and that's what I'm going to do for the next year.

ZAKARIA: So the U.S. economy is the second fastest growing, large economy, rich economy in the world. The fastest growing economy among the OECD is Britain. When you look at the crisis, it seems like the United States and Britain did a lot of very similar things. They reacted early, very, very quickly and aggressively with monetary policy, reduced interest rates, reform and recap of the banking sector, you know, rescued the banks. There's a difference on the stimulus. The United States had a stimulus, the UK didn't so much. The austerity was not as great as people made it out to be.

Is this the right formula? Is this why you're growing so fast as well, George?

OSBORNE: Well, look, it's an interesting fact that the British and American economies have grown by exactly the same amount since 2010 when I took this job. And I think we both have tried to address the problems in our systems, to clear our financial systems. We were of course two of the country's most affected by the great recession. But also I think trying to stimulate job creation, make our economies competitive and dynamic.

And, you know, I'm a great admirer of what Jack and the U.S. administration have done. And of course we are now shouldering the burden of a lot of the world's growth as these two growing economies. The euro zone sadly remains weak, although a little stronger than it was. There are some big challenges in some of the emerging economies.

And look, I think let's take the decision by the Fed -- I may be a bit more than Jack is. I wouldn't be able to comment on the British Bank of England because that's independent, but I thought the Federal Reserve executed this maneuver very professionally. I think it was well-signaled. It did not cause a great deal of turbulence or trauma in the market. And it's quite a significant moment after so many years of rates at the floor to be starting to raise them.

But I think, you know, Janet Yelled, who I've got a huge amount of admiration for, has been very clear that, you know, she's going to be data driven and that committee is going to be data driven going forward. And so, you know, it's an important step in the road to recovery.

ZAKARIA: They won't raise them too far too fast?

OSBORNE: That's what they're communicating. They're saying we're going to look at the data. You know, the rate cycles aren't going to be as high as it would have been in previous cycles. Mark Carney, our governor of the Bank of England, is saying something similar in the U.K.

I would take this all as, you know, part of recovery, you know, getting back to something approaching the more sort of normal monetary policy that we would have seen in previous decades, is itself a step that our economies are getting back to strength.

LEW: If we can get the rest of the world to use all of the three levers of policy, fiscal policy, monetary policy and the kinds of reforms that George is talking about, the global economy would be doing better.

[10:20:03] ZAKARIA: All right. We now have to get to dessert.

George Osborne, you're not just a treasury -- you know, not just Chancellor of the Exchequer, you are a leading strategist for the Conservative Party. Many people see you as being the architect of its victories.

What do you make of Donald Trump? You described his ideas as nonsense at the House of Parliament but what do you make of it? Why is it catching on?

OSBORNE: Well, look, I think in all our political systems there is space for sort of populism and people who come up with easy answers. We've been through a tough time as a country and so has the United States. We've been through this very deep recession, the global problems are very complex, and that lends itself to people who come up with simplistic answers. But, you know, the thing about democracies, particularly old and established democracies like our two countries, is the people of America and the people of Britain are actually pretty smart. And they -- when they're actually forced to choose their leaders, in the case of the United States, their commander-in-chief, I think they look pretty closely who is on offer.

And so I'm not going to get into picking candidates, but I'd say in the United States you've got some good candidates but you've got some better ones, too.


ZAKARIA: Trump keeps saying we're losing. We're losing to the Chinese. We're losing to the Japanese, which is a weird throwback to the 1980s, but never mind. We're losing, you know, to Mexico. His whole appeal, you know, as he projects it is I will help us win. Are we losing?

LEW: You know, Fareed, I have to say that three years into my current role, I have seen the attitudes around the world shift dramatically. Three years ago we were at the end of a period when people were asking how could the United States have gotten the world into a financial crises? And now the question I hear is, how do we do as well as the United States? How do we get to be as resilient? How do we bounce back? And it gets to the American people. It gets to our system. It gets

to the fact that we don't stay down. We innovate. We move forward. And the kind of policies we've taken have made a real difference. I think if you look around the world, even as this weekend Congress finishes its work, we're doing some unfinished business. Like IMF total reforms. Something that sounds esoteric to many people. What it stands for around the world is American leadership. What I've heard over the last three years is the world wants America to stand up. And things like approving quota reform mean we're going to stay very strong in the world stage for some time to come.

ZAKARIA: Jack Lew, George Osborne, pleasure to have you on.

Next on GPS, war on fighting ISIS. I will talk to an al-Assad, not Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, but Ribal, his first cousin. It is an inside look at what is going on in Syria and what it will take to bring the Assad regime to an end, when we come back.


[10:26:34] ZAKARIA: I've long said that if the world community truly wants to tackle ISIS it has to find a solution in Syria. The first part of the Syrian solution is deciding what to do about the Assad regime which has controlled the country for 45 years.

Joining me now is a member of that family but he's not here to defend it. Ribal al-Assad is President Bashar al-Assad's first cousin. Their fathers were brothers. Ribal now runs the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria.

You left Syria a long ago. Your father fell out with Hafez al-Assad. So you have a regime under the Assad regime, and we all agree it's a bad regime. It's been five years of war.


ZAKARIA: What is striking to me is there have been very few defections from that regime. For a regime that has been this battered, the fact that there have been so few defections tells me that the Alawites, the minority that he represents have rallied around him completely but also key minority -- other minorities, Christians, Armenians, also maybe some key Sunnis because the generals in the Syrian Army, as you know, are often Sunni. In other words, he has more support than we realize.

AL-ASSAD: Of course. Not only the generals, Fareed, but you know, the army, the 90 percent of the soldiers are also from the Sunni. And so we have to understand that Syria, as I always repeat, it's a beautiful mosaic of people, and we were not able to give assurances to this minority to show them that there is an alternative, a viable alternative that could take, you know, the regime and that could move forward, if we keep their interest also that they have.

And this is what we have been missing for so long. We have not looked into trying to bring together a democratic opposition that share our values which is democracy and freedom but also it's to have security that's bringing together -- doing a conference, for example, calling for all groups that should come in and commit to our values of human rights, democracy, and committing to equality of all citizens and the rule of law, regardless of sect, religion, ethnic group and gender. And that would have automatically excluded the Islamist in Syria.


ZAKARIA: But here's the problem. And so you're right, right now the opposition seems to be mainly Islamists where it's -- al Qaeda, al- Nusra, maybe not even any of those groups. Islamist --you know, kind of followers of political Islam.

Here's why I think that that is true, which is for 30 years the Assad regime has battled these Islamists. You go back to the 1980s and the Assad regime was brutally suppressing Islamists and I don't want to get into this in great deal but your father was commanding general and is accused of being one of the people who put down a rebellion in Hama which killed maybe 10,000, 15,000 people.

My point is simply this battle between the Assad regime and Islamist has been going on for a long time. It didn't start two years ago.

AL-ASSAD: Well, this is where I would like you to read actually the latest declassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which --

ZAKARIA: I have seen it. There are people who'd say your father was not centrally involved. There are others who do.

AL-ASSAD: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: My point is that the regime massacred Islamists in the 1980s by the thousands.

AL-ASSAD: But that official report and the numbers that he put up, first it doesn't name my father or his unit. Second, it puts the number at 2,000 and four hundred of them were members of the -- the fighting force of Islamic Brotherhood.

[10:30:02] ZAKARIA: Right. Which is all I'm saying is this has been going on for 30 or 40 years.

AL-ASSAD: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: This is not, you know, two or three years ago because the United States didn't help the moderates. It's - This has been going on for 30 years.

AL-ASSAD: Of course.

ZAKARIA: Perhaps because the regime is a minority Allawite, regime, perhaps because these Islamists fear it or dislike it. But for whatever reason, they've been fighting for a long time.


ZAKARIA: So, forget about what you wish would happen. What is likely going to happen in Syria?

AL-ASSAD: I think it is possible. We have to try, first of all, to secure and assure those minorities and the peaceful majorities of Sunnis that there is a viable alternative, that there is a viable democratic alternative when those people - they were looking West, they were looking at the United States and Western countries. And this is the democracy that they wanted because they know very well that this is the only thing that would keep Syria safe. So, we have to find the right people that have links and are respected by the military, by the Baath Party, by the minorities and by the peaceful majority of Sunnis and who will assure them that they will keep, you know, these institutions intact, the regime's institutions intact, and will, of course, will fight with the United States, with Russia, with the Western world, the Islamic - the threat of Islamic extremism.

ZAKARIA: Your father was involved in Syrian politics. He's one of Hafez al-Assad's closest aids.


ZAKARIA: Does he think that Bashar al-Assad will voluntarily leave power?

AL-ASSAD: I think if there's a situation where the people of Syria, where the majority of people of Syria find an alternative, a viable alternative that would as I say, and repeat again, that would assure that they will not be affected, that there is a genuine transition, peaceful transition to democracy, he will have to lead.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you. Thank you.

AL-ASSAD: Very much, Fareed. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS", we will talk about another political dynasty, this one closer to home and very democratic. The Bush family. Many members of the family have found great success on the American political stage, so what is holding back Jeb Bush? I will talk to Jon Meacham who recently published a terrific biography of George Bush Senior.



ZAKARIA: Many pundits believe that by this time in the 2016 election cycle Jeb Bush would have vanquished virtually all of his competitors. He hasn't done that, not even close. Indeed, the latest polls show his support to be way below Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio, stuck in the single percentage points. So what happened to this man who ought to have politics in his blood? To answer this, I asked Jon Meacham to join me. He's the author of a new biography called "Destiny and Power, the American Odyssey of George H.W. Bush." I started by trying to grasp just how the Bushes became the preeminent American political dynasty of our times.

Jon Meacham, pleasure to have you on. JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR: Thank you, sir.

ZAKARIA: So, you talk about how the Bush family has sort of almost uniquely become in modern times this great American political dynasty, and you say something very interesting in the book, that perhaps they have been able to be this great dynasty, because not so much because they are enduring and unchanging, but because they change so much. So, you point out that Prescott Bush, New England Republican at a time when New England was incredibly important, but then the son, George H.W. Bush goes to Texas.

MEACHAM: Right. They are powerful because they adapt, not because they endure. And the Bushes we know about, the Bushes we talk about are those who break away from the existing mold. George Bush, as you say, goes to Texas. George W. Bush remains in Texas, which was while the family moved to Washington. Jeb Bush set to ...

ZAKARIA: George W. Bush becomes a born again ...


ZAKARIA: ... sort of Methodist, so he moves with the current of Christianity ...


ZAKARIA: ... to a more evangelical type of Christianity.

MEACHAM: Right. And remains very much a Texan at a time when his father was always a hybrid of the two. And Jeb Bush went to Florida and set himself up.

ZAKARIA: And married a Hispanic.

MEACHAM: And married a Hispanic.

ZAKARIA: So, they mirror the changes in American society.

MEACHAM: They really do. And you do your look at you know, the seaside compound at Kennebunkport and you think they're, you know, these sort of buttoned down folks. They're very emotional. They're very -- it's a real family. They don't sit around and talk about how do we get the electoral votes in Michigan.

ZAKARIA: The key decision, at least, that you described was the going to Texas which I was interested in. So, George H.W. Bush, his father is a senator, as you say, he was a Wall Street finance guy, he's offered a job at Brown Brothers Harriman, which is one of the blues to blueish Wall Street firms. He says no, I've got to go and do something in Texas. Do you think he understood that he needed to go where the demography of the country was going? What was it?

MEACHAM: I think it was less demography and more difference. He said to me very - when emphasizing the world different, if I had gone to Wall Street, it wouldn't have been different enough. I would have been in my father's shadow. I would have been in my grandfather Walker's shadow, G.H. Walker, and I would have been a big man in the lynx club. And you can sort of see, you and I know a lot of guys likes this, what his life would have been like in 1948 on Wall Street. He would have lived in Connecticut, he would have subscribed to "The New Yorker." He would have ridden the train in, he would have played tennis at the River Club, he would have played golf every Sunday after church. He would have raised money for House candidates coming through. He might have dabbled in New England politics. But even if he had done well in New England politics, think about this. A New Englander -- a New England Republican was never going to become president of the United States. By going to Texas he made both his presidency possible and that of his son.

ZAKARIA: And when he does all of this, is he also and is the family also adapting to the changing Republican Party? You point out something that I had actually forgotten, when he ran for the Senate in 1964, he ran as a Goldwater Republican ...

MEACHAM: Oh, yeah.

ZAKARIA: Not as a moderate.

MEACHAM: And in fact, he said labels are for cans. One of the interesting things about what we're seeing now in 2016, is it is a chapter in a long story. George H.W. Bush was never a favorite of the Republican base as the party grew more conservative after 1964. He begins to move to the center where he is more comfortable. When he goes to Congress in 1966 -- you'll love this as a political scientist - 53 percent of the time he voted with Lyndon Johnson when he was a member of Congress the first two years.


The second two years, Nixon is president, the number soars to 55 percent. He called them as he saw them. And that was his ambient political reality, was a Washington where you can agree with the president in the morning, disagree in the afternoon, but you didn't demonize him. And the irony, of course, is that the world we have now took shape in his own presidency with the revolt of Newt Gingrich and the House Republicans.

ZAKARIA: What do you think is going through Jeb Bush's mind right now? With this weight of extraordinary family history? The grandfather was senator, father was president, brother who was president. There's nothing like it.

MEACHAM: There's nothing like it. And, you know, I think he loves his father. Almost every Bush cried at some point in my interviews with them about him. And he about them. I think he's more like his father than his brother. I think the base of the party, which was trending ever rightward as early as 1964 and which -- let's remember, George H.W. Bush is a remarkable man, but he only won three elections on his own, two for the House and the presidency of the United States. And he had to really convince the base that he was with them. I think that Jeb would do better tactically if he had a little bit more of W. in him.

ZAKARIA: Meaning?

MEACHAM: Meaning the ability to relate. Whatever you want to say about George W., you knew where he stood and what he thought. In this book, President Bush 41 says he's uncomfortable with the axis of evil rhetoric. And when I took that to 43, he said well, my rhetoric did get hot a lot of the time but they understood me in midland. You know, they don't understand Jeb in midland yet. And so, I think that the more he can embody that kind of tactical wisdom, I think the better off he'll be.

ZAKARIA: John Meacham, always a pleasure.

MEACHAM: Thank you, Fareed. I appreciate it.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS" from an also ran to the frontrunner. What does Donald Trump have to do with an alarming study about the death rates of middle aged white people in America? Find out when we come back.



ZAKARIA: It's not often that a Nobel Prize winning economist publishes breaking research that everyone can understand. But the latest paper from this year's laureate Angus Deaton says that despite all of the health advances the world has seen over the last decades, despite all the people living longer lives, there is one group, and just in America, that is seeing alarming death rates. And that group is middle-aged white Americans. They are, as he puts it, killing themselves in record numbers. It's a fascinating and disturbing study and it might help explain a portion of the Trump phenomenon.

As a "Washington Post" article this week pointed out, the people found to be dying at an alarming rate are the same kind of people who, quote, "are largely responsible for Donald Trump's lead in the race," unquote. I will ask Professor Deaton, a Princeton professor, about that shortly, but first I wanted to understand the study's basic findings.

So here we have this picture of broadly improving life expectancy in the rich world, pretty much across the board, and you found this one anomaly.


ZAKARIA: And what is it - you know, what explains it, I guess, would be the simplest question?

DEATON: Well, explain it is the $64,000 question and that we don't really know the answer to. But, you know, there's lots of possibilities. I mean and one is that these people who are in their 40s and 50s now -- and it is only that group. We're not talking about life expectancy as a whole. We're talking about mortality rates in middle age for white, non-Hispanic Americans.

ZAKARIA: And why is it going down? First, what's interesting about it is a lot of it is suicides and things like that?

DEATON: Right. People seem to be killing themselves more slowly or quickly, so the rise in suicides is certainly a part of this, but so is accidental poisonings, which is the term the CDC uses to mean accidental drug overdoses, drugs, prescription drugs or illegal drugs. So, we're talking about things like oxycodone, oxycontin or heroin and also cirrhosis of the liver. So, it's this if people were doing away with themselves either deliberately and quickly or slowly with alcohol and drugs of various sorts.

ZAKARIA: And when you paint a picture like this, you know, I think of Russia when, you know, dysfunctional society is where everything is going wrong. And what you're describing is middle aged white Americans.

DEATON: White, non-Hispanic Americans. The Hispanics are doing just fine, and the blacks are doing even better. I mean black mortality rates are still higher than white mortality rates in middle age, but they've been falling quite rapidly.

ZAKARIA: Right. In other words, they are doing better every year, whereas here is the arrows, the chart is moving the opposite direction.

DEATON: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: And so, let's come back to the causes. What do you think is going on? You had a quote that was in the "New York Times." Where you said "white Americans, middle-aged white Americans, seem to have lost the narrative of their lives." What did you mean?

DEATON: Well, that's a direct quote from my colleague in anthropology Carolyn Ross (ph) who thinks in those terms, but it's a wonderful quote, I think, and it gives you a really good idea. I mean I think these are people, it's much worse among people who only have a high school education or less. If you go back 20, 30, 40 years when they were joining the labor force, you could get a good job as a high school graduate in a factory. You could get some on the job training. You could think about bettering yourself over your life as you moved up the hierarchy and now ...

ZAKARIA: And you had a place in society. There was dignity in what you did, you could support your family, you were a member of a church. All of that.

DEATON: All of that. Even member of a church has gone down, and these people - the factory is now in Cambodia or in Vietnam. There's nothing left in most towns. Their children are probably moving out, I mean if they have any smarts at all and they're sort of left washed up, so they're not as well off as their parents were. A lot of their expectations of their life were dashed, and their life has in some sense fallen apart. So, you could imagine that leading to a world of despair and a world in which people are susceptible to these substance abuse addiction issues and so on that they were not before.

ZAKARIA: I feel like you are also providing a key that unlocks some of the mysteries of American politics, I mean the anger, the rage that you see, whether it's the Tea Party, whether it's the Trump voter. You know, this sense - and so much of it directed, interestingly, against the Cambodian factory, the Chinese goods coming in. This feels like it's very much part of what you're describing.

DEATON: Well, that would make sense. That we have very little direct evidence, of course. I mean you don't - when you look at a death certificate when someone dies of suicide, it doesn't say whether they are a Tea Party, whether they were planning to vote for Mr. Trump. So, you know, these things are very suggestive, but it's hard to get hard evidence on them. So, you know, as we go forward with this, we're going to look at a lot more geography than we have and so on. But that makes perfect sense to me that these people have been -- there's very little for them either from the Democrats or traditional Republicans. And, you know, the despair in their lives has not really been well addressed by a traditional party.

ZAKARIA: Angus Deaton, the next time we'll have to get you on to talk about what work of yours won the Nobel Prize in economics. It's the whole different thing.

DEATON: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Hanukkah just ended, Christmas is coming. Is Santa the star of Christmas for you, or is it Jesus Christ? And how about for the rest of your country? Just how religious or secular is the nation where you live? A surprising new study when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Beijing issued its second ever air pollution red alert this week. Residents took to wearing masks or simply staying indoors, and some even purchased canisters of fresh air from Canada to cope with the crises. It brings me to my question of the week, what city has the world's most polluted air? Beijing, Mexico City, Shanghai, or New Delhi? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

I know many of you listen to our show's audio podcast. And I want to tell you, CNN has a new podcast page at There you can find easy ways to get and share our show as well as all the other podcasts from CNN.

This week's book of the week is "A Shameless Plug." If you are thinking of gifts, I wanted to remind you that I wrote a book this year in defense of a liberal education. It explains why I think an English or a history graduate just as much as an engineer can be creative and innovative. Give it to your friends, to all of them, in fact.

The correct answer to our "GPS" challenge question was D. New Delhi has the highest concentrations of the kind of pollution that poses the greatest health risks, according to the World Health Organization. Agreements may have been reached in Paris this month that aim to improve air quality, but it will take drastic action before citizens of these cities can breathe easy.

Before you go, time for the last look. 90 percent of Americans will celebrate Christmas this week. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of the people who do, do so as a religious celebration, not simply a cultural holiday. Does that surprise you? If so, you are not alone. Around the world people tend to overestimate the number of nonreligious people in their country, according to the 2015 Ipsos-MORI "Perils of Perception" report. And level of religious belief was not the only major misperception in the roughly 30 countries surveyed. Globally, people tended to overestimate the proportion of wealth that the wealthiest one percent own. Great Britain is the most inaccurate guessing that the wealthiest one percent own 59 percent of the country's wealth, whereas the actual number is 23 percent. Great Britain was followed by other developed countries like France, Australia and Belgium. People generally overestimate the percentage of immigrants in their country. Argentines guessed 30 percent of their population is made up of immigrants, when in fact it is five percent. In the United States people guessed 33 percent when the actual percentage of immigrants is 14 percent.

Across the study, people overestimated the average age of their citizens. In Brazil, for example, people estimated the average age to be 56 when it's actually 31. Overall, the country that was deemed to be the most ignorant was Mexico, followed by India. South Korea was the most accurate. The United States actually came in fifth. As people go to the polls around the world in the coming year, let's hope their votes are based more on reality and less on perceptions. We here at GPS send our best wishes to all who are celebrating this month.


Merry Christmas, Season's greetings and happy New Year!