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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Discussion of Climate Change Effects; Examining the Need for Perfection in Engineering. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired August 19, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:17] 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.


ZAKARIA: Today on the show, tough talk on Turkey. President Trump's new tariffs have battered an already troubled economy. Will it work or will he throw Europe and the global economy into a new crisis? We'll talk about Trump's economic strategy and its costs.

Also, it's been a record-breaking summer, but not in a good way. Hottest heat waves. Biggest fires. Worst droughts. What does climate change have to do with it, and what can we do to stop it?

And President Trump says the U.S. economy is the greatest ever.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is maybe better than it's ever been.

ZAKARIA: That may be a stretch but unemployment is low and markets are doing well. So why haven't people's wages budged? We'll get to the bottom of the mystery.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. We're approaching the 10-year anniversary of the global financial collapse in September. And financial systems around the world appear healthier than anyone could have imagined.

Turkey today is a rare exception. But even Greece is doing well enough that on Monday, after eight long years, the country will finally emerge from its bailout program.

It certainly seems like the global financial crisis is a thing of the past, safely put behind us. And yet in a sense, that crisis never really ended. Steve Bannon made this point when I interviewed him a few months ago in Italy where populist forces had won the recent elections.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: The implosion of those world capital markets, right, has never really been sorted out, that the fuse that was lit then that eventually brought the Trump revolution is the same thing that's happened here in Italy.


ZAKARIA: Let's remember, in the first months after the panic on Wall Street, world trade and industrial production fell at least as fast as they did during the first months of the Great Depression. This according to a new book, "Crashed," by the economic historian Adam Tooze of Columbia University.

Global capital flows declined by a staggering 90 percent. The European and American financial systems were deeply intertwined and were both responsible for the crisis, Tooze explains, yet it was Washington that largely saved the day.

The Federal Reserve became a guarantor of last resorts, not just for floundering American banks, but also European banks. The Obama fiscal stimulus helped break the fall as well, along with automatic government spending like unemployment insurance.

The whole rescue worked. And it worked better than almost anyone could have hoped for. Contrary to many predictions by doomsayers and opponents, there was no run on the dollar or on American treasuries, no hyperinflation, no double dip recession in America, no crash in China. American banks stabilized and in fact prospered. Households began saving again. Growth returned, slowly but surely.

The governing elite in America certainly did not anticipate the crisis, though few elites have over the hundred years of capitalism, which has had booms and busts and bubbles. But once the crisis happened, many of them, particularly in America, acted quickly and intelligently. And as a result, another great depression was averted.

And here lies the unique feature of the crash of 2008. Unlike in 1929, it was not followed by a great depression. So it was not so much the crisis as the rescue, and its economic, political, and social consequences, that mattered most.

What happened? Well, on the left, the entire episode discredited the market-friendly policies of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton and Gerhart Schroeder, disheartening the center left and emboldening those who wanted much more government intervention in the economy in all kinds of ways.

On the right, it became a rallying cry against bailouts and the Fed, giving credence to an imaginary free market alternative to government intervention but of course never had to be tried.

Bannon is right, the crash brought together many forces that were around anyway. Stagnant wages, widening inequality, anger about immigration, above all a deep distrust of elites, and supercharged them. But the fact remains, no government handled the financial crisis better than that of the United States. And yet the backlash to the bailouts has produced the most consequential result here in America.

[10:05:04] So having led the world safely out of the financial crisis, the U.S. is now leading the world in a wave of nationalism, protectionism, and populism that just might send everything crashing down once again.

For more, go to and read my recent article in "The New York Times." And let's get started.

Nine days ago, the president of the United States announced, on Twitter of course, that he was increasing tariffs against Turkey. And a tit-for-tat followed. Thanks in part to the dust-up, Turkey's already troubled currency the lira has seemed to be in free fall at times. That raises big concerns about the stability of this nation of 80 million people.

Turkey is a member of NATO, the host of an important American air base, and it sits as an important buffer between Europe and the Middle East. So is an unstable Turkey what the world needs right now and are economics America's favorite new weapon?

Joining me now, Stephen Cook is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Rana Faroohar is a global business columnist for the "FT," and CNN's global economic analyst, and Stephen Moore was a top economic adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. He is a senior economics analyst for CNN.

Steve Cook, let me begin by asking you to help us understand what is happening in Turkey because this is -- this is one of closest alliances the United States has had geopolitically for about 60 years, and it feels like it's sort of over.

STEVEN COOK, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, in ways, the relationship between the United States and Turkey is coming to an end. The two countries have different strategic interests. They have different priorities, they have different goals. The Turks have developed their relations with the Russians. They've complicated America's fight against the Islamic State in Syria, and have actually helped the Iranians evade sanctions that are intended to arrest the development of Iran's nuclear program.

I think what you have in Turkey at the moment, though, is two separate crises. A lira crisis, an economic crisis, and a crisis in relations between the United States and Turkey that the two leaders, by their own actions, you mentioned President Trump's tweet, have connected. President Trump's tweet, which seemed gratuitous, has provided President Erdogan of Turkey an opportunity to blame the United States for Turkey's economic ills.

ZAKARIA: And just take us through where Erdogan is right now.

Steve, this is a guy who came in, people thought he was a reformer, he wanted to join the European Union. At this point he seems to have turned into an authoritarian. Is Turkey -- what is the trajectory for Turkey?

COOK: Well, Fareed, you wrote the book about illiberal democracies and I think 16 years after President Erdogan first came to power where there was a lot of hope that Turkey would join the European Union at least by now, Turkey is really an elected autocracy. It's hard to believe, a NATO member and an aspirant to join the European Union really is one of the most repressive countries in its immediate region. And its immediate region includes a number of very tough countries including places like Egypt, Iraq, Iran.

Turkey holds tens of thousands of political prisoners, has engaged in a widespread purge and crackdown on opponents, real and imagined. And President Erdogan has engineered a number of constitutional changes that have fundamentally altered Turkey's political system, in which all of the power flows to him.

ZAKARIA: Rana, let me ask you what the economic effects of this could be because, you know, Turkey is not that large an economy, was it 80 million people?


ZAKARIA: But a lot of the debt -- Turkey relies on short-term debt, a lot of that is held by European banks.


ZAKARIA: I know a lot of it is actually held by Greek banks.


FAROOHAR: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: So could you imagine -- I mean, if this free fall of the lira continues, essentially Turkey's debt is now doubling as of --


ZAKARIA: What does that mean and what's the danger?

FAROOHAR: So you pointed out the right things, first of all it's a pretty small economy. We're not talking about China but I'll get to that in a moment. You could see a domino effect. And this is really part a bigger problem which is that we've had 10 years of easing money in the West, low interest rates, investors looking for yield and a lot of money flowed into emerging markets. And there wasn't a lot of difference in terms of how people were perceiving risk.

That's all changing now. U.S. interest rates are going up. We're at the end of that period of easy money. And so that's going to make it harder for anyone who is weak, Turkey but a country like South Africa, for example, any number of Latin American countries, anybody that has to pay down their debt in dollars is going to have a problem. And so you may start to see a ripple effect in emerging markets.

[10:10:04] And I would also point out that China has got a big debt problem. And if these issues spread to China, and China is going to have figure out how to deal with its debt issues, that could be a big issue for the global economy.

ZAKARIA: Steve Moore, let me ask you about what Trump is doing, though. What's always struck me about American economic strategy, for the last -- really since the 1920s, the United States has tried to act to stabilize. So when other things, you know, were going haywire, the U.S. would step in and be the lender of last resort, the guarantor of last resort. It would, you know, cut interest rates, as Alan Greenspan did when the Russians defaulted.

This seems to be very unusual in that in the midst of an economic crisis with a NATO ally and with a country deeply intertwined with the Western economies, President Trump is actually exacerbating the economic crisis. He's creating more instability rather than creating stability. Surely this is not the way the grownup in the room should be behaving.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, let's start with the fact, Fareed, that right now the U.S. economy is really, truly kind of the envy of the world. We're growing faster than just about any other nation. I've always believed, and I think Donald Trump believes the same thing, that the best way that the United States can create prosperity, not just here at home but abroad, is to get our policies right at home, which at least for the first 18 months clearly has been the case.

ZAKARIA: But I'm asking you --

MOORE: And --


ZAKARIA: -- about exacerbating an international economic crisis, not about, you know, U.S. --

MOORE: Right, but what I'm -- you know, what I'm saying is, what's happening now is you're seeing a lot of capital from around the world that's coming to the United States. We've become a pretty attractive place to investment in with the reductions in tax rates, the reductions in regulations.

And, you know, if you look back, for example, in the 1980s, Fareed, what happened was that we sort of led by example. That when the United States moved towards more free market policies, the rest of the world did, and we had an economic boom. So I guess what I'm suggesting to you, and we don't know whether this will happen yet because it's early in the game, that as we continue to get policies right in the United States, this will spread around the world.

Now, you mentioned China. And China is certainly, you know, an area where there's a lot of uncertainty about what our policy is going to be with China. And incidentally, you know, what happens in China matters, you know, order, (INAUDIBLE), more in terms of the international economy than what happens in Turkey.

ZAKARIA: All right. We will come back and we will talk about China and what the danger of a Chinese-American trade war would look like.


[10:16:38] ZAKARIA: And we are back with Stephen Cook, Rana Faroohar, and Stephen Moore.

Steve Moore, this surely, as a free trader, as a free market person, you can't be happy to see Donald Trump talking so much about tariffs and levying so many tariffs, specifically urging certain businesses to be favored. I mean, this seems a very corporatist, mercantilist, protectionist approach to economics, not the free market, free trade stuff that you've been writing about for 25 years.

MOORE: Fareed, look, I think when you talk about a country that is protectionist and mercantilistic, you're talking about China. And, you know, look, for the last 25 or 30 years, the United States has tried to nurture China along with large and persistent trade deficit with them, hoping that this kind of march towards freedom and free markets would lead to a good outcome. And now we are in a situation where China is a richer country than they were, you know, clearly 25 years ago.

They're approaching the United States in terms of the size of their economy. And where I think Trump has it right -- by the way, you're right, Fareed, I don't like tariffs, I am a free trade guy. But China has not been playing by the rules. They are becoming more militaristic. They have been becoming more of a kind of cheater in terms of the trade rules and the protection of our intellectual property.

And I think Donald Trump has basically said, enough, we can't go on with this kind of relationship, and I tend to agree with him on that. I mean, China is stealing a lot of our intellectual property. And, you know, Fareed, more and more of what we produce in America is intellectual property.

And so Trump is basically now using a club against China to try to get them to, you know, live by the rules. And by the way, I think in the end of the day, even though it's a very risky strategy and it's precarious, I believe that at the end of the day China will come hat in hand and they will make some concessions to the United States which they need to do. And at the end of the day, we may actually end up with freer trade, with lower tariffs and lower trade barriers. But we're still early on in this game.

ZAKARIA: So Rana --


ZAKARIA: Play that out.


ZAKARIA: Because I certainly agree with Steve Moore that China is a trade cheat, as I've often said.


ZAKARIA: The question is, though, is the strategy right?

FAROOHAR: Well -- ZAKARIA: We've alienated the Europeans, we've alienated the

Canadians. Shouldn't we have brought them all on board and --


ZAKARIA: Kind of collective position against China?

FAROOHAR: In a -- you know, in a word, yes. And Stephen and I think agree on this point. A lot of the same complaints that we have about China, the Germans have, the Europeans have so absolutely, it would have been a great time to come together with the Europeans and say, enough is enough, already. You're going to have to play by the rules of the global game. That's not happening.

I think what's interesting is China is in a very, very tight position right now because rising interest rates in the U.S., a falling Chinese currency, is going to potentially create capital flight. But if the country moves to try and strengthen their currency, then they're going to see a slowdown. And they're already slowing down. So this is a very difficult political situation right now. And I think the Trump administration could have played the timing of all these pieces a lot better, and we absolutely should have had the Europeans on board in any kind of a trade issue.

ZAKARIA: Steve Cook --

MOORE: Can I just make one quick point about that? Which is I -- you know, again, we agree on this. And I think the kind of strategic mistake that Donald Trump I think has made with respect to, you know, confronting China, and by the way, I think the American people are kind of behind him on this, that China is a problem, but, you know, what is the lesson of history, Fareed?

[10:20:14] You know, you never want to fight a three- or four-front war at the same time. And so we do need to, you know, restore our trade relations with Europe and with Canada and with Mexico, with Japan so that we can kind of isolate China as the bad actor on the scene. That may still happen. I'm hopeful that we're going to see a new NAFTA. I am hopeful that we're going to see this European trade deal that Trump got the handshake deal with a few weeks ago, that that will lead to a situation then where we can concentrate on confronting China.

ZAKARIA: I hope he's listening to you about that, Steve.

Let me ask --


MOORE: We'll see.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask Steve Cook, before we leave the crisis at hand which is Turkey, to play it out for us. So, you know, Trump is asking for this pastor back. Erdogan has backed himself into a corner on that, he's a proud guy, he doesn't give in. Interest rates are going to have to rise in Turkey. The currency is falling. What's going to happen? Is Turkey going to cry uncle and release the

pastor? How do you see it moving forward?

COOK: Well, the Treasury Department is preparing new sanctions on Turkey right now. And President Erdogan is going to continue to try to hang tough for as long as he can, to buy time, to whip up nationalist sentiment, to make trading one's dollars and euros for a lira a nationalist virtue, to encourage people to destroy their iPhones.

This is his political play in order to buy himself some time and seek relief, whether it's from the Qataris who've come up with $15 billion, a small drop in the bucket of what Turkey actually needs. What concerns me most, though, is both something that you're suggesting, Fareed, and something that Stephen Moore is suggesting, is that there's something actually the United States can do, you know, either by getting it right at home or by the United States kind of being a stabilizer, yet President Erdogan has quite unorthodox economic views.

He believes that high interest rates actually cause inflation. His entire political success is based on the fact that it has low interest rates and extraordinary growth, making Turks feel wealthier than they are. But this has all been done on cheap money.

ZAKARIA: Cheap money sounds like the big fuel for a lot of these things, and it seems like cheap money is ending as interest rates rise in America and therefore everywhere else in the world.

Thank you all so much, fascinating conversation.

Next on GPS, I will try to unravel another mystery. If the U.S. economy is doing so well, why aren't people making more money? Find out when we come back.


[10:26:44] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. Here is a puzzle vexing smart people in America. If unemployment is down, as President Trump keeps reminding us, why aren't people earning more money? The equation should follow the simply law of supply and demand. If the pool of available workers shrinks, shouldn't the price they can command in the market rise?

Well, that is not happening. For America and many other wealthy countries, unemployment is down to levels not seen since before the financial crisis. Yet wages are growing only half as quickly as a decade ago. It's been a matter of heated debate fueling Twitter face- offs and no small number of Paul Krugman columns.

Now there is a compelling case made in a new report from the OECD which lays part of the blame on the rise of so-called superstar firms. Many, though not all, are tech companies, and wealth is concentrating among them. According to Mackenzie Global Insights, among public companies, just 10 percent of firms account for 80 percent of corporate profits. But it's more than profits that are concentrating at the top.

Productivity, traditionally an engine of wage growth, is concentrating in those big money makers as well, the OECD report says. And what's mainly driving that productivity is not people, but technology. For example, the Atlantic compares Detroit's big three in their heyday to Silicon Valley's big three today. In 1956, the automakers combined employed nearly 1 million people.

Today, Apple, Google, and Facebook employ about 230,000 people all over the world. Companies like Apple and Google have some of the biggest market capitalizations in the world, and their value lies not primarily in people but in intellectual property.

These are not just anecdotes. They're illustrations of a fundamental restructuring of the world economy from the post-war labor boom to the modern tech-fuelled boom. If the trend continues without a check, it will of course further exacerbate inequality, and that's where the U.S. is faring particularly poorly.

Among OECD countries tabulated in 2015, it had one of the largest shares of adults who qualify as low income. The only countries that beat it were Spain and Greece. That's right, Greece, the country hit hard by a massive debt crisis, had only a slightly higher proportion of low-income adults compared to the United States that year. Part of the problem is the U.S. lacks sufficient government programs helping vulnerable workers.

In 2015, the U.S. spent just 4 percent of its per capita GDP on various skill-building and placement programs for each unemployed person, putting it on the lower end of OECD countries. That lack of support may have compelled workers such as those who lost their jobs during the recession, to take low-skill, low-wage jobs out of desperation.

Is there a way forward? Sure. Look at Sweden. Granted, it's a very different country than the United States. But it spent nearly seven times as much as the United States on those skill-building and placement programs for each unemployed worker in 2015. And Sweden has a lower degree of inequality and more wage growth than the U.S.

The point is this. In much of the wealthy world, the superstars of our economy are edging out the rest in a zero-sum game for market share. But growth doesn't have to shower investors with profits and shut workers out, the FT's Rana Foroohar writes in a recent column. "If more countries actively work to build a new kind of workforce, everyone can win."

Next on "GPS," record heatwaves, devastating fires and the hottest La Nina year on record. That is the summer of 2018 in a nutshell. And scientists point to climate change. That story, when we come back.


ZAKARIA: This summer has seen record heatwaves in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa, leaving dozens dead in places like Canada, Korea and Japan, which hit its highest temperature ever, 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps more alarming meteorologically are the heatwaves being felt above the Arctic Circle this summer.

The northern Norwegian town of Bardufoss hit a record high of more than 92 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-July and was far from alone. Next door in Sweden, there were record high temperatures as well, but also raging wildfires. The Scandinavian country is said to average about three such fires a year. This year it saw around 50. And then of course the wildfires devastating the West Coast of North America, as I speak, including California's largest wildfire ever. And in British Columbia, more than 460 wildfires were sighted in one day.

Nathaniel Rich just published an extraordinary work on climate change in the New York Times magazine. His article, "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change," took up the entire magazine. Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She won a Pulitzer for her extraordinary work, a book called "The Sixth Extinction.

So, Nathaniel, what does it say to you that we are still having a debate in this country as to whether or not there is in fact climate change and whether it's manmade?

NATHANIEL RICH, JOURNALIST: Yeah, in that regard we've -- we've really gone backwards. There's really no conversation that we've -- we have today that wasn't being had verbatim by 1980, by senior scientists in the U.S. government and all around the world, by policymakers and people at the highest levels of the intelligence community. So it seems -- it has the feel of a kind of insanity.

ZAKARIA: Elizabeth, what does it mean that now the Trump administration is actively, in many ways, denying that it exists. They're actually going into the data and scrubbing it in various ways to make it seem less conclusive. I mean, what do the scientists you talk to say about all this?

ELIZABETH KOLBERT, THE NEW YORKER: I don't think it -- you know, it couldn't be much more dangerous, when you have a -- a global problem that we keep adding to every single day, and we're seeing very serious effects. It's surreal, really, to have people at the highest levels of the U.S. government pretending that this problem doesn't exist and pretending that we don't know the science, when, really, kids who go to -- anyone who takes a high school class in basic earth science understands how climate change works.

ZAKARIA: Nathaniel, your terrific article, which I really commend, is at some level a little dispiriting. Because it seems like you're saying we had our chance. In the '80s, there was -- as you say, there wasn't any of this denialism; people did understood the problem; Republican administrations took it seriously. But ultimately we weren't willing to pay the short-term price for the long-term gain. The problems seemed too distant, too far in the future.

But now it seems as though there is -- there are some hopeful signs; there is this new green revolution; there is solar energy and wind, all very small, I understand. But do you look at -- is your glass half full in any way or did that article leave you -- writing it leave you particularly dispirited? RICH: I'm on the dispirited side of the spectrum, but I'm not a total

pessimist, either. I think it's certainly depressing to see how close we came during that decade to a meaningful solution, or the possibility of one. And I think it's also dispiriting to see how a bunch of people who generally, in that period, understood the science clearly, had the same ideas about the need for a solution, still struggled to really rally support behind common-sense solutions.

And so that's depressing, certainly. But I also think -- and there's an impetus to start talking about this issue in a different way, not simply as a political issue or a scientific issue, but as a human issue, which is to say, a moral issue. And I think that's only just beginning to happen. But I think that's where the conversation needs to go in order to rally the kind of support that's necessary for major transformational changes in our economy.

ZAKARIA: Elizabeth, do you agree with that? Is Nathaniel right, that the only way you could do that is not by just appealing to self- interest, but by appealing to a broader interest, a, you know, human, a global interest, moral interest?

KOLBERT: I certainly think it is a moral issue. I certainly think that's a very powerful appeal. You know, this is about literally -- and I am not exaggerating -- this is about the future of everyone, every human, and every other creature Planet Earth. So the moral stakes, not to mention the practical stakes, couldn't be higher.

And one of the things that I often think about when I think about why are so many people still actively trying to prevent action on climate change, and what do they think when they, you know, look at their kids and their own grandkids and the kind of planet that they're leaving to them. And I -- I don't know. I really would like to ask some of the big funders of climate denialism how they look at -- how they -- how they face their grandkids.

RICH: And what gives me some optimism is that, if you look at any kind of major social issue where society has gone through a major transformation, so I think of, for instance, the Civil Rights era, or the recent developments in things like gay marriage or now the way we're talking about gun violence in the U.S., the questions become reframed in a much larger and more imperative moral context. And I think it gives me some hope that -- that hasn't really been attempted with this issue. And it seems to me inevitable that it will, as you have younger generations coming up who are not only looking for solutions but are demanding answers for how we've put them into the position, the desperate position that they're in.

ZAKARIA: On that somewhat hopeful note, I'm going to have to leave it. Thank you both for a fascinating conversation. And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: The perfect may be the enemy of the good, but it turns out we actually need perfection to live our modern lives. The iPhone in your pocket needs meticulously constructed transistors. That plane you might be taking to vacation needs precisely milled parts for its engines. And that GPS that tells you where to go -- it needs precise timing and communication among four or more satellites orbiting some 12,500 miles up in space.

But as the world turns toward all this perfection and precision, are we losing something? Can we still appreciate the beauty of the imperfect?

Simon Winchester has been thinking deeply about these issues. He is the author of, among many other books, of "The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World."

Simon Winchester, pleasure to have you on.


ZAKARIA: Why did precision become so important in the Industrial Revolution?

WINCHESTER: Well, it started, actually, on -- we know the birth date of precision, May the 4th, 1776. And someone wrote to me the other day and said, "You do know the significance of May the 4th is 'Star Wars' day?" "May the 4th be with you."


I mean, this is not my joke; it was their joke.


But May the 4th, 1776, James Watt invented the steam engine, couldn't make cylinders properly. A man called John Wilkinson, who was making cannons for the Royal Navy, knew how to make cylinder, and he said "I will make one for you."

And he created a cylinder -- enormous thing, about three foot in diameter -- and the piston that Watt had made fit inside it perfectly, such that no steam leaked out. And so, all of a sudden, right at the very beginning, you had a steam engine which was incredibly efficient. Because up to that point, they, sort of, chuffed and chuffed but lost all their power through all the leaking steam.

But once they were made precisely, well, James Watt then ordered 500 more of these. And with 500 hugely powerful steam engines being, as it were, released into the English market in the 1770s, that powered factories. It led to cities, Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, being created. It led to all sorts of social consequences. But it truly began the Industrial Revolution. And precision was key because it made things work properly.

ZAKARIA: What strikes me about this -- about the book is that we are now at an age where precision of the kind you need can actually not be made by human beings; it can only be made by robots.

WINCHESTER: I tell the story in the book of an A380 which was flown by Qantas with four Rolls Royce Trent engines, hugely powerful engines. One of them failed on the left-hand side of the plane, on the inboard engine. And it failed because a tiny tube, about the thickness of a drinking straw, was mis-machined by about a hundredth of a millimeter, by a human being in a factory in northern England.

And that mis-machining caused it, as it -- the plane -- took off from Singapore on its way down to Sydney, to fracture. Oil cascaded over the innards of the engine. Everything broke. Shrapnel flew everywhere. The plane became essentially uncontrollable. And nearly 459 people died but for the skill of the Qantas pilots, who managed to get it back to Singapore.

One wonders whether precision has now gotten so extraordinarily -- the tolerances are so tiny that whether, as you say, humans are capable and maybe everything should be given over to robots. But then we have to make the robots as well. So are we reaching a limit? And that's one of the points of the book.

ZAKARIA: And what does it mean when you have everything that is so precise and so sharp?

What I'm struck by is the rise of -- I think there was a book called "The Rise of the Analog," which talks about human beings falling in love again with the imperfect. I mean, a beautifully tailored suit will now often have a line which is actually quite imperfect, almost...

WINCHESTER: Deliberately so.

ZAKARIA: ... or deliberately, to emphasize that this is not machine- made.

WINCHESTER: To remind people. I mean, I -- so I mentioned my wife is Japanese, and I go to Japan and Korea a lot. And in those two countries, uniquely, they award to usually elderly people who have spent their lives working with wood or ceramics or lacquer-ware, the title of living national treasure, for which they get pensions and reverence and all the rest of it, to say to them, "Yes, we make precise things, Samsung and Canon and Nikon and all these companies that we're so famous for, but we have our feet still on the ground, because, as well as worshiping titanium, we worship bamboo as well and we worship, as you say, the analog, and hand-made watches, things with springs instead of quartz vibrating crystals.

So it is important, in my view, anyway, that while we -- yes, we're in love with; we accept that precision is hugely important, in imprecision -- after all, we're imprecise; nature is imprecise; there are no straight lines in nature -- that we should give equal weight to craftsmanship and the love of the imprecise.

ZAKARIA: But where do you think -- is it going -- is this a happy balance that we could -- we can achieve, where, for efficiency we all accept, you know, fiberglass and plastic, but we, you know, aesthetically prefer wood and bamboo?

WINCHESTER: Well, that's a very interesting question. And I think, in truly materialist societies, and which I think the Far East are the most materialist societies on this planet, so China, Japan and Korea -- they have got it all in perspective. But we, particularly in our race now with robotics, as you mentioned, and more ominously in a way, artificial intelligence, are heading down a path where we tend to ignore the beauty and the relevance of the imprecise and are saying, "No, precision is the answer to everything."

Well, I think it's not, and I think it's a good example; we should look east and remind ourselves that there are societies of great antiquity and wisdom who have said, "Precision's fine, but hold on, imprecision is wonderful, too."

ZAKARIA: Simon Winchester, pleasure to have you on.

WINCHESTER: It's lovely to be here, thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," some observers are wondering if a porky postage stamp could mean more Chinese children. I'll explain when we come back.


ZAKARIA: It's back to school time in many parts of America and the rest of the world. And it brings me to my question. What percentage of American students learn a foreign language at school? Is it 12 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent or 45 percent? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

My book of the week is "Uncivil Agreement" by Lilliana Mason. There are many books now explaining why Americans are so divided. This slender academic treatise strikes me as the most persuasive. It points out that our political identity has now been fused with our social identity. If you tell me who you voted for, I can tell you where you live, shop, eat and pray. That turns out to produce extreme polarization and gridlock.

Now for the last look. For decades in China, most couples were only allowed to have a single child. And even today, most families are limited to two. Well, this month an unusual publication has parents and pundits alike speculating that changes are afoot. A postage stamp released for the upcoming year of the pig, the stamp features a porcine family with three little piglets. It has Chinese couples wondering if humans might soon be allowed a third child as well -- and with good reason.

In 2016, China's post office released a Year of the Monkey stamp showing two baby baboons kissing their monkey mama just days after Chinese parents could officially have two babies of their own. And the South China Morning Post points out that when the one-child policy went into effect, that Year of the Monkey stamp featured just one solitary simian.

The same year the porky postal stamp was unveiled, the state-run People's Daily published a full-page column warning about China's low birth rate, which remains stubbornly below target. Local governments have begun experimenting with indirect ways to boost fertility, such as subsidies for newlyweds, but it seems Chinese leaders are realizing there's only one good way to actually raise birth rates: the old- fashioned way.

The correct answer is B. Only 19.7 percent of American students from kindergarten through high school are learning a foreign language, according to the American Councils for International Education. Foreign language classes are required to graduate in only 11 states, including New Jersey, which has the highest rate of foreign language enrollment, at 51 percent. As the Pew Research Center points out, even that is far less than the last-place European country, Belgium, where 64 percent of students take another language.

Across the European continent, the median of people taking a foreign language is a staggering 92 percent. And in these seven countries, a full 100 percent of students are learning a foreign language, compared to America's 19.7 percent. The European students are even helping their future colleagues from across the Atlantic. More than three- quarters of European elementary school students are already learning English.


(UNKNOWN): Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.


ZAKARIA: So those American kids will still be able to communicate with someone. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.