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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Tina Brown Discusses the Upcoming Women in the World Forum; Michael Lewis Talks about His New Podcast. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired April 7, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] 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'll start today's show at the U.S.-Mexican border. President Trump has gone back and forth on what he wants to do with it. David Frum and I have some diver's advice for him on getting immigration right.
Also, NATO turns 70 this week and faces threats from both Russia and some would say America. I'll talk to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about how he intends to encounter these challenges.
And Jacinda Ardern's response to the massacre in Christchurch has been widely praised. Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership of Britain through Brexit has been widely panned.
Do women have a distinct and different leadership style? I'll ask the great Tina Brown.
But first here's my take. President Trump's threat to close the U.S.- Mexico border confused even his allies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will close the damn border. We're going to give them a one-year warning and if the drugs don't stop or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs and if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border. I don't think we'll ever have to close the border. I may shut it down at some point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: But on the broader issue of legal immigration, Trump seems to be shifting his position. In his 2019 State of the Union address, the president declared.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever but they have to come in legally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Immigration hard liners did not take this well, but the president has since reasserted the idea. The day after the State of the Union Trump told reporters, I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in. And "Politico" reported this week that Jared Kushner is quietly developing a proposal to increase legal immigration into the United States.
If this is Trump's new and improved immigration policy, the president might find his way to a powerful compromise. Real crackdowns on illegal immigration coupled with reform and maybe actual increases in legal immigration. It also happens to be a smart policy idea.
A new essay in the journal "International Security" points out that by 2050, the United States is projected to be the only major world power with an increase in its population. The authors tied this fact to more dynamic economic growth and also America's continued ability and willingness to play a major military and political role worldwide.
The data on other major powers is striking. U.N. projections show that by 2050, China and Russia will have a 20 percent drop in people of working age. Germany's working age population will drop by 17 percent. Japan's by 29 percent. This will likely translate into slower growth, less economic vitality and greater passivity on the world stage.
America's working age numbers are set to rise by 12 percent in the same period. In fact, only three other major developed country will see increases in their working age cohort, Australia, Canada and Britain. But all four countries enjoy this boost only because of immigration.
China on track to be the greatest economic, political and technology competitor to the United States, faces a demographic challenge that is even more dire than has been previously anticipated. In 2018, China's birthrate fell to its lowest level since 1961, a year of widespread famine. It appears that the communist regime's efforts to reverse the nation's long-standing one child policy have simply not worked.
Amid all the noise about immigration, it's easy to forget the big picture. Immigration means a more robust economy. It usually means younger workers, which translates into greater dynamism and more innovation. Remember, most Noble Prizes are awarded to scientists for work they did when they were young. Most companies are founded by people when they are young.
If you look over the last two decades, many of America's crucial competitive advantages have been copied by the world to the point that other nations often do it newer and better. Think of well-regulated market economics, technological investments, infrastructure, mass education.
[10:05:08] So what does America have left to truly distinguish itself? Well, over the last half century, the U.S. has handled immigration better than most other countries. It takes in people from everywhere, assimilates them better, integrates them into the fabric of society, and is able to maintain an environment in which the new immigrants feel as invested as the old.
This will probably be America's core competitive advantage in this century.
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
I wanted to talk more about immigration with the ever sharp David Frum who wrote on the topic from "The Atlantic." It is the cover story of the current issue. I don't agree with all of the article but that doesn't stop me from admiring it and its author. David joins me now.
Welcome back to the show.
DAVID FRUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Thank you so much, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Before we get to the article and the conclusions you come to, I want to ask you about the situation at the border right now. The asylum seekers, help us understand, you know, the big picture. How should we think about asylum seekers in today's world in the United States?
FRUM: Well, the laws about asylum grew up after World War II with an eye to people who were fleeing Nazi and communist persecution. These were treaties between nations and then laws within nations that said if you were the victim or the target of persecution by your state, you should get refuge in another country.
But that system has evolved over the years to cover people who are not being persecuted as individuals and who are not persecuted necessarily at all who are victims of poverty or of crime. The people coming from Central America are fleeing disorder in their country. If that's grounds for asylum, there are hundreds of millions, if not billions of asylum seekers.
One of the things that Americans need to keep in mind is the disorder in Central America that initially drove some of the asylum seeking is down by between half and 75 percent since 2013. Thanks in part to the aid that President Trump wants to cut off. This is very much a pull because of the dynamism of the American economy, people looking for work and who can blame them for that? But it's not anything like what the authors of those treaties back after World War II had in mind.
ZAKARIA: So explain perhaps the most controversial line in your cover story where you say if liberals insist that only fascist enforced borders, I'm paraphrasing, then voters will elect fascist to do just that, enforce borders. Explain what you mean by that idea.
FRUM: Well, one of the drivers of this story is we have seen a rise of authoritarian populism. A party is the rulers across the developed world. You talk about this a lot. In Hungary and in Poland, the rise of authoritarian populist parties in France and Germany. There's a government in Italy that I think can be characterized that way. And a lot of these feelings drove the Brexit move in the United Kingdom, and of course helped to elect President Donald Trump.
Now immigration is not the only cause of these movements. It's not the only source of their strength. But its often the trigger. And in reaction to them, I think it has driven people who wants to support liberal democratic institutions to take positions much more extreme on immigration that they themselves would have taken a decade ago. And we see that very much in the present democratic race. Defending borders is a job that voters want done and it's a job that should be able to count on normal politicians to do for them. But if the normal politicians won't, they'll turn to demagogues because demagogues become demagogues and becomes successful by talking about things that people care about that no one else will address.
ZAKARIA: And then let's get to the part of your article, which I think I disagree with, you say that the United States should fairly dramatically reduce legal immigration.
FRUM: Yes. You know, I think one of the things that we need to accept and your introduction, your take at the beginning of this, is a good example. Immigration is not a binary question, it's yes or no:. it is how much and who. 70 percent of the legal immigrants that come to this country, and you and I are both legal immigrants, talking seriously about this issue, a job that Americans won't do apparently.
FRUM: Seventy percent almost of the legal immigrants to the United States are coming because they are the relatives of somebody already here. Only about a 30 percent of the immigrants are coming because the United States economy needs them. So first is the question of who you take and second how many. And you need immigration at a minimum to keep your population stable and you want to be able to recruit talent from around the planet.
[10:10:01] But you could do those things with the numbers that prevailed in the 1980s with legal numbers who are about half and while enforcing effectively laws against illegal immigration and while admitting genuine asylum seekers but not allowing economic immigrants to rebrand themselves as asylum seekers.
ZAKARIA: But let me ask you. I just wonder, you've probably seen the Kevin Hassett chart which he did before he started to work for Donald Trump in the White House where he points out that the United States' ratio of new immigrants to existing population is very low. It's the third lowest in the industrialized world, way lower than countries like Germany, Canada, and what that suggestions to me is that look, we're in a new world where these older Western industrialized countries need young workers.
They need fresh blood. And we are going to have to take more immigrants and there are going to be tensions and there is going to be a difficulty and we have to figure out how to assimilate them better. But just looking back to the stability of the 1950s and saying that's -- you know, that's -- if we don't let immigrants in, we won't have any of these problems doesn't seem the solution.
FRUM: Well, this points to the complexity and often the tragedy of this issue. You're not wrong about anything you say, but paradoxically, the economies that need immigrants the most are often societies that can accommodate and adjust to them least well. Kevin Hassett is right that relative to the stock of population, the
flow of immigration today is less than it was, say, at the late 19th century but back then because Americans were having so many children of their own, even through the peak immigration years from 1880 to 1914, while the United States was taking more immigrants relative to population than it is now, the ratio of foreign-born people in the population was dropping because Americans were having lots of children of their own.
The United States in 2027 will exceed the peak of foreign-born people that it had in 1890 and will go on rising under currently policy forever. So the answer isn't to stop it and the answer certainly isn't to say there is some other time we can take a time travel machine and return to, but what we do need to do is develop policies that work for where we are now.
ZAKARIA: Always interesting to hear from you, David Frum. Thank you so much.
FRUM: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, NATO at 70, under pressure from the East and some say from the West, from Putin and Trump. I'll talk to the Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[10:16:37] JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: For your enduring support, I thank you today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: On Wednesday, Jens Stoltenberg became the first ever NATO secretary-general to address a joint meeting of Congress. In the four prior years, only four people had addressed such meetings -- the Pope, Narendra Modi, Emmanuel Macron and Shinzo Abe. The honor was granted to Stoltenberg on the occasion of NATO's 70th anniversary and it comes after a period of withering criticism off the alliance from Donald Trump.
From the campaign trail, Trump called NATO obsolete as president. He's complained that European members don't contribute enough to the cause, and further, according to the "New York Times" President Trump privately said to aides on multiple occasions that he wanted to pull America out of it.
Joining me now, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Welcome, sir.
STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about a report that was presented by Douglas Lute in which after surveying the leaders of NATO countries across Europe, he came to the conclusion, and this is part of a study, he came to the conclusion that the single greatest challenge to NATO is the sense that the president of the United States is not committed to the alliance.
STOLTENBERG: Well, President Trump has stated again and again that he is a strong supporter of NATO. He did that when I met him this week in the White House. He did that in the State of the Union speech, and he did that when he met all the other NATO leaders at the NATO summit in Brussels last July, and this commitment to NATO is underpinned by actions because opposite to what many people believe, the United States is not reducing their presence in Europe but actually the United States is increasing their military presence in Europe with more troops, with more exercises, with more preposition to equipment.
So the United States is committed to NATO in words and in deeds, and this is good for Europe but it's also good for United States because a strong NATO is also good for United States, and through NATO, the United States gets more friends and more allies than any other power and that's important for the United States.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about the response to your speech and to the anniversary from Russia. They said that the NATO has had a record post-Cold War of continuous failure. It cited Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and then the spokeswoman of the Russian foreign minister said we would like to wish the alliance inner peace and less nervousness. We hope it avoids focusing on obsessions and phobias.
Do you think that there is a danger that NATO is obsessing about Russia?
STOLTENBERG: No, because NATO is pursuing what we call a dual track approach to Russia. We have to be united, we have to be strong. We need deterrents and events to send a clear message to any potential adversary that if one ally is attacked, then the whole alliance will respond. This is based on the NATO's core idea of all for one and one for all. Then at the same time, we don't think there is any contradiction between deterrence, defense and dialogue.
[10:20:03] Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay. And we need to talk to Russia and we do talk to Russia partly to try to improve our relationship with Russia but also to manage a difficult relationship to avoid incidents, accidents, miscalculations that can create really dangerous situations spiral out of control, and therefore we talk to Russia also on these issues. And lastly, we need to talk to Russia on arms control because Russia is violating the INF treaty, deploying new missiles in Europe in violation of a cornerstone arms control treaty.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about the other threat to NATO and people talk about President Trump's lack of commitment to it. But across Europe there is a new breed of leader that is emerging populist leaders who are often not very committed to NATO, sometimes quite pro- Russian, sometimes against the European Union. How dangerous is that trend that we're seeing?
STOLTENBERG: NATO is the alliance of 29 allies. Different nations, different history, different geography, different political leaders, and yes, there are disagreements between NATO allies on several issues but we have had these disagreements in NATO before. The Suez Crisis in 1956 or the withdrawal of France from the military cooperation in NATO in 1966 or the Iraq war in 2003. Some allies strongly opposed that war, others were supporting it.
The strength of NATO is that despite all these differences, we have always been able to overcome them and unite around our core policy, to protect and defend each other. And I am confident that we will be able to do that again and yes, there are differences. As long as they remain unsolved, we need to make sure that NATO allies stand together on security and defense, and what we see now is that Europe and North America should do more together in NATO than they've done for many years.
So I welcome that -- the disagreements on trade, on climate, on all the issues unsolved, but as long as they remain unsolved, we actually are able to deliver strong NATO where NATO allies are doing more together.
ZAKARIA: Mr. Stoltenberg, pleasure to have you on, sir.
STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS I'll take you to a country that I used to point to as an oasis of stability in the Muslim world, a place where democracy and religion has co-existed peacefully but it's a country that appears to be changing in a troubling way, when we come back.
[10:26:40] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. The Muslim world is too often plagued by dual threats, extremism on the one hand, authoritarianism on the other. But the largest Muslim majority country in the world has long served as a rebuke to that narrative.
I'm talking about Indonesia. A country where Muslim piety, pluralism and democracy have co-existed for years, but things appear to be changing. A new politicized hard line version of Islam is gaining ground catalyzed in part by the growing influence of Saudi Arabia and its money. That hard line strain has already taken its toll on the upcoming national elections this month where the incumbent Joko Widodo faces a tough challenge.
A moderate when he was elected in 2014, Joko drew comparisons to President Obama as a relative unknown who inspired hope. He is not the first choice for many Islamist hard liners whose power has now ascended. There is no more revealing moment of their growing power than the largest protest in Indonesian history.
As the journalist Margaret Scott writes in the "New York Review of Books," the unrest happened during the 2016 campaign for reelection of Jakarta's governor whose nickname is Ahok. He is by descent Chinese, a small ethnic minority in Indonesia. Its largest ethnicity is Javanese. Ahok is also a Christian. In a 2016 speech he said that the Quran does not require Muslims to vote for Muslim candidates. A report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict details how
a diver's network of Islamist groups pounced on this statement. They rallied their followers against Ahok accusing him of ridiculing their religion and demanding his arrest on charges of blasphemy. According to recently published researchers, preachers told their congregants support for Ahok would bar their entry into heaven. Organizers stoked resentment against the ethnic Chinese, many of whom belong to Indonesia's business class.
The movement reached its apex in December of 2016 when more than 700,000 Indonesians flooded the streets of Jakarta. Ahok was put on trial days later. It was a stunning moment in which the government against its democratic principles likely capitulated to growing religious intolerance.
So who was behind this massive display? One of the main organizers, Bachtiar Nasir, a camera ready, Saudi-educated activist with more than a million Instagram followers. He represents the new guard of conservative Islam in Indonesia. He and his allies promote a puritanical version of Islam known as Salafism which is spread through the Muslim world with the help of Saudi money.
Through schools and the media, the goal is to transform Indonesian society for generations to come. In April 2017, Ahok lost the elections. In May he was convicted of blasphemy and handed a two-year prison sentence.
As Scott notes, no matter what happens in the upcoming election, the protests transformed politics. Last year Joko picked as his running mate a conservative cleric who had played a critical role in the protest against Ahok, the former governor. But the protests also changed the public. Before the agitation 42 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe only Muslims should hold political office.
That's bad enough. Last year, well after the protests died down, it was more than 54 percent, according to the forthcoming research Scott cites.
What all of this shows is that religion is emerging as a new faultline of identity politics in Indonesia, says Peter Mumford of the Eurasia Group. Indonesia has long been a moderate model in a chaotic, authoritarian and dysfunctional Muslim world. These trends threaten all of that.
Next on "GPS," what would a world run by women look like? Better than our current world, run mostly by men? It's a provocative question that the great editor Tina Brown has been thinking about. I'll talk to her when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDEN: Mr. Speaker, As-salamu alaykum. Peace be upon you and peace be upon all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: That was New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, addressing parliament in the wake of last month's massacre in Christchurch. Her actions in the aftermath of the tragedy were widely praised in many quarters. Under her leadership, new gun control legislation was drafted within days. Ardern donned a hijab. She vowed never to speak the name of the murderer, at the same time saying, of the victims, many of them immigrants, "They are us."
My next guest says, in a recent New York Times op-ed that Ardern's leadership and her actions are indicative of a fact of life. Quote, "Women have evolved to deal with the intractable perplexities of life and find means of peaceful co-existence, where men have traditionally found roads to conflict."
Tina Brown was the editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Daily Beast. She's the founder of Women in the World, which holds its tenth annual summit next week.
BROWN: Good to be here, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So let me ask you about an act of what many regard as, kind of, typically male leadership in your country of origin, Britain. The way in which Brexit has been handled, for a lot of people -- and this has come up in Parliament and commentaries on Parliament -- feels like a lot of schoolboys jostling for power and attention, and in fact many of the people, the key players in the Tory party, all went to the same college. In fact, all went to the same high schools. They're all Eton and Oxford, and this comes up a lot in British politics.
BROWN: Well, it should, frankly, because Brexit only came about because feckless upper-class men decided to settle their political tactical issues by holding a referendum without any -- any plan B. Then, when it actually happened -- and they were stunned when it did -- another bunch of upper-class men all just, sort of, fought over the spoils but completely messed it all up, leaving absolute chaos in their country. And Theresa May is -- you know, was never meant to be the leader of England. You know, she was just the last one standing on the what I think of as the glass cliff of Dover.
You know, she really was. She was just left there. And so she took control, and unfortunately has proved, alas, a very incompetent leader. But you can't really say she's the one to blame. They are.
ZAKARIA: You know, and May represents something I think you allude to in your article as well. She does comes out of a very conservative party and a tradition where you have to, sort of, as a woman, still act like a man. That's the, sort of, Margaret Thatcher/ Indira Ghandi style of leadership?
BROWN: Yes, it's very interesting. She is still of that generation which has been trying all the time to be appropriate and to seem as if she's a leader and be very reserved and very unwilling to, kind of, talk about herself as a woman. But, actually, what we're seeing now is this new generation of
leaders, of which I think Prime Minister Arden is such a wonderful example, who are, sort of, owning their difference as women and really showing that there is such a thing as woman's wisdom, which was always something somewhat belittled, really, in years gone by, because women were always seen as, sort of, lesser, and women were always the caregivers looking after the family, looking after the children. But of course, that's what gave them and has given them an ability to really delay gratification and to act like the grownups in the room.
I mean, I would say that Nancy Pelosi, mother and grandmother, is an absolute example of that kind of power, with her muscular mind and her feminine flair and her, sort of, maternal warmth. You know, she's able to simply rally her caucus by saying "Now, now, calm down; calm down." And she administers her committee time-out and treats and she, kind of, gets everybody -- like a brood of children, frankly.
ZAKARIA: You know, Frank Fukuyama wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs many years ago called "What If Women Rule the World." And he argued there was a lot of biological and evolutionary biology that suggested that women were less competitive, less, kind of, mindlessly status- oriented and more social, that, you know, many of these things that, as you say, described as womanly virtues were -- are actually rooted in science. And you -- you feel like that's borne out in reality now?
BROWN: Well, I think it can be. You know, obviously, let's not forget there are some horror women as well. Marine Le Pen is also, you know...
... a leader of a kind. So, you know, I mean, I wouldn't say that women were -- you know, that there weren't plenty of bad women leaders. But there is, I think, a moment now where we're all, kind of, tired of men circling the drain, you know, bully boy politics, strong men rising, crass behavior. I think it's a moment when we're seeing a longing for a different way of being, of which Jacinda Arden was an example.
I mean, you know, two years ago or a year ago, she was just the young woman leader who had a child in office. Now she's really become a global icon with this act of instantaneous leadership which was very, sort of, very much a woman's warmth that came forward.
ZAKARIA: What do you find -- you've now done 10 years of this great Women in the World conference. Are you finding that women are now more comfortable talking about these issues, wanting to have a different kind of leadership?
You know, what are some of the lessons you've learned?
BROWN: Well, it's very interesting because the women that we've had on our stage over the last 10 years -- I mean, we've had 4,000 or 5,000 women. And they are activists. They are peacemakers. They are politicians. They have this great strength and this practicality, each one of them, that has just always been so impressive, and a kind of willingness to perhaps because they don't have the conventional path to power to, sort of, break those molds and do something different.
I mean, we had on our stage last year an Australian sea captain who went off and rescued migrants in the Mediterranean Ocean. And we had -- you know, we've had Felicia Sanders, who was the mother of one of the children killed at -- by Dylann Roof, you know, in -- in that church. And she was so, kind of -- out of it, she brought this peaceful spirit of saying, "I want to use this experience to do things that are bringing people together, not breaking them apart."
So I think there really is a moment now for women. And you're seeing them winning elections. I mean, let's face it. We just saw our first female mayor of Chicago, who is also black, who is also gay, who has really, sort of, blown up that old political machine and she's won as mayor of Chicago, which is stunning. And the new president of Slovakia, who's a 45-year-old former lawyer. And many of these women have never really been in politics before.
It's as if there is a spirit abroad now since the election, you know, since Hillary's loss, since MeToo, where women are really being pushed out, finally, to own their own power in a different way. You know, it's like they were all trying to crowd themselves in that masculine NASA spacesuit, you know...
... and now they're bringing their own style to politics, and it's very exciting.
ZAKARIA: Tina Brown, pleasure to have you on.
BROWN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: The 10th annual Women in the World summit starts Wednesday.
Up next, Michael Lewis, the best-selling author, has a new way to get his brilliant thoughts into your brain, a podcast, and it's terrific. I'll talk to him about it when we come back.
ZAKARIA: America is under attack, not from a foreign power but from within. The institutions, norms and rules that have held up this country for more than two centuries are being assaulted on a daily basis.
In many cases, it is the people and institutions that help to ensure fairness in America that have been taking the most incoming fire, the referees, both the literal ones on the playing field and figurative ones like the courts.
That is the thesis of Michael Lewis's new podcast series called "Against the Rules."
Lewis is, of course, the mega-best-selling author of such books as "The Blind Side," "The Big Short" and "Liars' Poker."
LEWIS: Thanks for having me back, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So this all came to you because of your kids' sports?
LEWIS: So there were two -- it started with that. It started just watching the appalling ways in which the parents behaved -- treated the referees at my kids' sporting events. And it was just like the first thing -- the first point of curiosity was like why would anybody do this job?
But what really, kind of, lit a fire under the idea was the financial crisis. You look at the financial crisis, and it was clearly like a failure of the referee, and a refereeing failure all over the place. And that's where I started to, kind of, keep notes and -- and, sort of, address the big question, "Why, at the same time that lots of Americans have this sense that is unfairness in the world and things are rigged, is this character who's there to ensure fairness, kind of the neutral third party, under assault?" And he is, most everywhere you look.
ZAKARIA: And, you know, part of it seems to be the feeling that Americans have that that neutral third party isn't actually neutral, that the game is, sort of, stacked in some way?
LEWIS: So I think there are a few things going on. One is, in situations where there is real inequality, like, I don't know, consumer finance, where on one side you have big banks and on the other side you have, you know, lots of not organized consumers. It's very hard to referee that situation because the powerful players put their fingers on the scale. They interfere with the ref.
But there is this feeling in the air that, like, people can't be neutral, and it comes from a lot of different places, but just this notion that people are inherently biased. I mean, it comes out of social science. And the book I wrote, "The Undoing Project," about these two psychologists, Kahneman and Tversky -- they explored the way that, you know, when people are making judgments, they make systematic errors. All that work, I think, has filtered into the popular consciousness and people really don't believe that human beings can play this role in a fair way.
But it's -- but what's remarkable is the solution to the problems of unfairness is to strengthen the referee. It's to strengthen the neutral third party. But there are all these forces that are, sort of, alive in the land to undermine the authority of the -- the referee.
I mean, the -- you talk to judges, for example. There's an episode -- we have an episode on judges. And they say, "Look, judicial independence is under assault here in a way it's really never been before. This isn't the case of, like, a totalitarian dictator saying, "No, the courts aren't independent anymore; you'll you whatever the government says."
It's, sort of, the Twitter mob coming after a judge because they don't like a particular ruling, without any kind of contextualization of why the ruling was.
It's -- it's investigation into judges' personal lives in ways that just never happened before --in some cases maybe for the better, but the point being that, like, the forces that are out there that might attack or undermine judicial authority are getting all kinds of strength and they have new sources of strength. And there isn't any corresponding force to defend them.
ZAKARIA: In telling the story about judges, you went to a strange place, Uzbekistan. Explain what...
LEWIS: So I didn't go to Uzbekistan. The podcast went to...
ZAKARIA: That's right.
LEWIS: Right, I talked to -- so I wanted to just dramatize for an American audience just how valuable and how they should cherish this thing we have called judicial independence because it doesn't exist every place. And in cultures that haven't had it -- Uzbekistan has never had it. They've never had a situation where the judge could actually rule on the basis of the law. The judge was assigned a conclusion with the case and the conclusion was, if the prosecutor said that you were guilty, you were guilty. So no one ever acquitted.
So -- and it isn't so that, once you change the rules and say "Now you're independent," the judges just behave in an independent way that comes to them naturally. They have to learn the behavior.
So the -- if you lose it -- the point is that, if you lose this thing, the independence of the ref, the strength of the judge or the referee, it's very hard to get it back.
ZAKARIA: Is there a solution to the culture of skepticism and cynicism about the referee?
LEWIS: You know, it's a great question, like, what do you do about it?
One answer is there are places where technology will solve the problem. In sports, they solve the problem of the strike zone in baseball by essentially putting a pitch track machine out there that measures the strikes zone and forcing the umpire to conform to it.
So that's one solution, but it's not a satisfying one because, in most of these places, technology is not going to solve the problem.
ZAKARIA: Yeah, because technology can give you the objective answer with the instant replay, but there's a lot of life that is still a subjective call.
LEWIS: So then you're -- yes, then you're thrown back on this is a question of cultural norms, of social norms. You need, for example, a political leader who will sell the importance of government regulation and have people understand it. And if the positive case isn't made and understood, what you're going to have is, you know, all these little tragedies that result from an unfair system caused by the absence of a referee.
ZAKARIA: Michael Lewis, always a pleasure.
LEWIS: Thanks for having me.
ZAKARIA: We will be back.
ZAKARIA: We all know that America's tech giants often dominate conversation about the world's biggest companies. But we've learned something new about the competition this week, and it brings me to my question. What is the world's most profitable company, Apple, Alibaba, ExxonMobil or Saudi Aramco? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
My book of the week is Kimberly Clausing's "Open: The Progressive Case For Free Trade, Immigration and Global Capital."
I wish every Democratic candidate would read this book. It's a highly intelligent, fact-based defense of the virtues of an open competitive economy and society.
And now for the last look. Nine hundred million voters, 10 million election officials, 1 million polling stations -- this is the Indian general election, the world's largest exercise in democracy.
It will begin on Thursday, and in order to accommodate the gargantuan needs of the Indian electorate, it will take place in seven stages over six weeks. During that time, election workers will span out across the country carrying electronic voting machines to remote mountain villages and tiny waterlogged islands.
They will hike in the Himalayan mountains, take boats through the Sundarban mangroves and even ride elephants in unpaved forests, all to ensure that every voter has access.
You see, the law dictates there be a polling place within two kilometers of every Indian home. In 2009, a polling place was even set up in the Gir forest of Gujarat for a single voter. This will become one of history's most expensive elections. Estimates say candidates will spend a whooping $7 billion.
Now, India often falls short of its liberal and democratic principles, but every five years, the mammoth mechanics of its parliamentary election remind us just how much this country has invested in democracy.
The answer to my "GPS" challenge is D, Saudi Aramco. For the first time this week, the oil giant shone a light on its secretive finances, revealing a profit of over $111 billion last year. That is nearly double the next most profitable company in the world, Apple, which made a $59 billion profit.
The state-owned oil company released this financial information ahead of a bond sale. That money will partially finance Aramco's purchase of a huge stake in a chemical company currently controlled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, freeing up $70 billion in cash for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's ambitious economic diversification plan.
This deal will also help distance Aramco from the whims of the oil market. The prospectus revealed that in 2016, a year of low oil prices, the company's profits were only $13 billion. The prospectus also highlighted some of what the company sees as risks to its success, which ranged from the rise of renewable energy and changing environmental regulations to geopolitical events like public unrest or terrorist attacks.
[11:00:10] Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.