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Fareed Zakaria GPS
U.S. Intelligence Finds Saudi Prince Approved Khashoggi Killing; U.S. Launches Airstrikes On Iran-Backed Militias In Syria; Interview With Bill Gates About Solutions For Saving The Planet. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired February 28, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the show, Bill Gates. Having warned about pandemics, he is now warning about the next grave danger, climate change.
BILL GATES, CO-CHAIR, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: Climate change is this phenomenon that's growing so that by the end of the century it's horrific. I mean, it makes the pandemic we're in now look like nothing.
ZAKARIA: He has some big ideas about how to avert a disaster. I'll talk to him about those as well as COVID-19 and much else.
That plus the U.S. calling out Saudi Arabia's most powerful prince for his role in the killing of an American resident.
Also, the Biden administration goes on the offensive militarily with a strike against Iran-backed militias that have been attacking American forces. We'll explore.
ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. Congress began hearings this week on the security failures that led to the Capitol being invaded by an armed mob on January 6th. That's appropriate and useful. But my fear is these kinds of inquiries almost always end up adding more security procedures, putting up more barricades and making American government ever more imperial, armed and removed from its citizens.
I remember living in Washington briefly during the 1980s. It was easy to enter Congress and to walk amidst the grand rooms and imposing statues, occasionally even bumping into senators. Even the White House was relatively accessible as it had always been designed to be.
No more. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1998 Capitol shooting and of course 9/11, citizens who wished to go to the Capitol must go through a tightly controlled tour that begins in a vast underground visitor center where they are forced to watch a movie. Can't we watch the movie at home?
Over the same period ugly barricades were thrown up around the White House with parts of Pennsylvania Avenue blocked off. Since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, even more barricades went up around the White House.
In the wake of January 6th, it is surely going to get worse.
Look, I understand the need for security. But in a democracy, that has to be balanced against the need for openness and accessibility. Pierre L'Enfant, the architect of Washington, D.C. designed the city's broad avenues so that people could always see the country's great government buildings which he believed was symbols of democracy.
The country spent extravagantly building the Capitol, persevering in its construction even during the Civil War because it was a monument for its citizens, not an office building for politicians.
The situation is much worse abroad. America's diplomatic outposts used to be handsome buildings in the centers of cities where people could meet and events were held. I recall going to watch classic Hollywood movies sponsored by the U.S. Information Service at the stunning seaside consulate in Mumbai. But that architectural jewel has been sold off, as are many others. America's diplomats now often work in fortress-like buildings behind concrete glass walls, with multiple layers of security rarely encountering the people of the country they are in.
If you want to know why after 20 years and trillions of dollars, America is not well understood or loved in Iraq or Afghanistan, visit the U.S. embassies in those Capitols. The United States has more of an imperial apparatus than many actual empires did. For decades even when London ruled the world anyone could walk right up to 10 Downing Street, the home and office of the British prime minister. After a string of IRA bombings in the 1980s, the government installed simple Gates blocking off one small street.
Even the French, who, as we know, are partial to grandeur have a modest set of low, movable barriers around the Elysee Palace which houses the president.
The way American politics works today, you are rewarded only for advocating ever more security. So after 9/11, embassies and consulates around the world turned down hundreds of thousands of qualified visitors to America because the officials denying the visa application pay no political cost for doing so.
But had they let in one person accidentally who committed a terrorist attack, they would have been hauled in front of Congress and crucified. The same mentally explains the massive number of documents that are routinely classified as secret or top secret. As a friend who works in government explained to me, no one has ever been fired for classifying things as secret. The result, massive over classification which limits information sharing within government and of course with the public.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden recalls that he once got a top secret message that read, "Merry Christmas." This hypo-securitization is part of what the scholar Paul Light calls the thickening of government, the adding of layers and layers of hierarchy and more procedures which creates a more closed, bureaucratic and inflexible organization. He writes, "COVID-19 showed just how far Americans must go to find accountability in the federal hierarchy."
Health care heroes waiting for personal protective equipment faced 18 layers between the top of the Department of Health and Human Services and the PPE and the Strategic National Stockpile. Small businesses waiting for paycheck protection support faced 16 layers between the top of the Treasury Department and the small business administration's program office.
If you are trying to understand why America performs so poorly in situations like the pandemic and is also so distrusted by many of its citizens, this might be a crucial part of the answer. The U.S. government now represents a dinosaur, a large lumbering beast with much body and little brain, increasingly well protected but distant from ordinary people and unresponsive to the real challenges that confront the nation.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
On Friday, the world finally got to see the U.S. intelligence community's report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The report said Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation that killed the Saudi journalist who was an American resident. But the Biden administration did not sanction or otherwise punish Mohammed bin Salman, arguably the kingdom's most powerful man.
Why not? Joining me now is Meghan O'Sullivan, former deputy National Security adviser, who is the director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard. Nick Kristof is a columnist for "The New York Times" and was a friend of Khashoggi's, and Tarek Masoud is a professor of international relations at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Meghan, let me start with you. You have dealt with these very officials in many cases in the Middle East. How do you think this is being seen? How significant was the release of this report?
MEGHAN O'SULLIVAN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: Well, I do think that the release of this report was significant. First, it demonstrated that the Biden administration is going to adhere to the law in the way that the Trump administration didn't. As you know, this report was mandated by Congress to be released. But secondly, I think it's significant because it calls out the crown prince in a very explicit way that hadn't happened before.
Mohammed bin Salman in I think at 2019 60 minutes video he said, look, nobody in the U.S. government has blamed me explicitly or demonstrated that anyone close to me did anything wrong. This nails that -- you know, that it's clear that that is not the case. And this is a really -- it's remarkable public censure of the crown prince and of Saudi Arabia in particular and certainly it coupled with the very harsh words that President Biden has had for the Saudi kingdom in relation to this report is a break with the past.
ZAKARIA: Nick Kristof, I know you have been more critical. And I want to ask you because I really respect your judgment. I know your argument is, look, this guy was essentially guilty of murder, and we should have sanctioned him. But, I mean, he is de facto the head of state of major U.S. ally and, you know, Vladimir Putin is guilty of murder. We're not sanctioning him. What makes this case so special for you that you want to really cross that line.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. Well, for example, Tony Blinken said that our foreign policy has to be bigger than one person. I would note that MBS, his sins, are not just the murder of one journalist for "The Washington Post."
Look, he has created instability everywhere he goes. He kidnapped Lebanon's prime minister, helping Hezbollah. He instigated a feud with Qatar helping Iran. He started a war with Yemen creating the world's worst humanitarian crisis. He's, I'd say, damaged Saudi Arabia's brand.
So I think that there is a matter of values that if we impose sanctions on the people who carry out the murder, then we look weak when we don't impose similar sanctions on the person who ordered the murder. But I also think there is an issue here of our interests. And, you know, King Salman is in poor health. He's 85 years old. And MBS right now is on track to succeed him.
If MBS becomes the next king, we may be stuck with King Mohammed for the next 50 years. And I don't think that it's a done deal that he replaces his father. I think that if we impose certain sanctions, if we make it clear to the kingdom that there will be a real cost, that we perhaps can affect that decision. And I think that would be really important for long-term Saudi-U.S. relations no matter (INAUDIBLE).
ZAKARIA: Tarek Masoud, how is this playing in Saudi Arabia? And what do you think of Nick Kristof's argument that there is still an opportunity to influence -- to really play domestic politics in Saudi Arabia?
TAREK MASOUD, PROFESSOR, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: Thanks, Fareed. First of all, I think Mr. Kristof is exactly right in terms of his evaluation of Mohammed bin Salman as a statesman, his moral evaluation of Mohammed bin Salman. But I think he's not quite being fair to the Biden administration and he's not being quite realistic about politics in Saudi Arabia.
I think as Professor O'Sullivan said, what the Biden administration has done is not nothing. You know, it's not the Biden administration that sent the message to Mohammed bin Salman that he has impunity. It's the Trump administration that did that. And the Biden administration has actually started to pull back on the slack to the Trump administration gave to Mohammed bin Salman.
It's not just that they have now named Mohammed bin Salman as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But the Khashoggi ban that they've imposed on top Saudi officials is an unprecedented step. The U.S. overtures to the Houthis and Yemen. The noises that the United States has been making about the war in Yemen. I think these are all fairly significant things. But also, as I said, Mr. Kristof I think is not being totally realistic about Saudi Arabia.
The king of Saudi Arabia as was said is 85 years old and Mohammed bin Salman has spent the last five years gathering up all of the threads of power in that country in his hands. And you only need to read the book of Mr. Kristof's "New York Times" colleague to get a full sense of what Mohammed bin Salman is done. He's not just the crown prince. He's the deputy prime minister, he's the minister of defense. He's a chairman of the $400 billion public investment fund.
The Saudi soccer league is named after Mohamed bin Salman. And so the idea that the Americans could pressure the king of Saudi Arabia who I'm not sure has been coherent for many years into signing some memo that would then cause Mohamed bin Salman to slink off the scene I think is unrealistic.
ZAKARIA: All right. We are going to have to take a break here. When we come back, stay with us. We'll talk a little bit more about this. But also about the Biden administration's other big move in the Middle East. A strike on Syria-backed militias in Syria.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Nick Kristof, Tarek Masoud and Meghan O'Sullivan.
Nick, I want to give you a chance to respond to the previous discussion. We were talking about Mohammed bin Salman and whether he should be personally held accountable. And, you know, I think Tarek's point was if you try to play politics in Saudi Arabia, it is going to backfire. The guy is very powerful. He's consolidated power. This is a big slap on the wrist and more from the Biden administration.
I would add to that, as far as we can tell, he's pretty popular in Saudi Arabia because of the reforms, particularly with young people who are a huge part of the Saudi population. And again, I just want to ask you why you think, you know, trying to do something like this with MBS when we haven't done it with Putin who has murdered people, invaded Ukraine, Crimea, you feel like we have a -- you know, we can make this stick in a way?
KRISTOF: Yes. So Tarek made a couple of points. You know, one is that Biden has been tougher on Saudi Arabia than Trump was and, you know, that's absolutely true. That's a pretty low bar. And Biden himself has strongly implied that he was going to impose sanctions on MBS. So by his own standard, I think he fell short and looked weak.
And in terms of the question that you and Tarek both made about, you know, can we actually influence Saudi internal politics, you know, we don't know. I think that, you know, Saudi politics are incredibly opaque. There are some prominent Saudis who think that the deal is done.
Nothing can influence it. They may be right. There are others who say that no, there have been six crown princes in the last decade, that there is some chance of replacing him if there is pressure on King Salman. Like King Salman is not going to do this likely.
And so the stakes are so high. Saudi Arabia is so important that I think that it's worth doing this not -- not to indicate that we dictate who Saudi Arabia will choose as its next king, but to make clear that the country knows that if the next king is somebody who creates humanitarian crises abroad and kills journalists for American publications that that will have a huge impact on U.S.-Saudi relations and on Saudi Arabia's own defense posture.
ZAKARIA: All right. I got to get to other stuff going on.
Meghan, the U.S. forces took out a Syrian site that was said to be used by Iranian-backed militias. Give us a sense. Is this important? Was this the right thing to do?
O'SULLIVAN: I do think it was the right thing to do. And it was important from a number of different levels. First at the most basic level, it demonstrated that such attacks -- this was the first large scale attack on American and coalition forces in Iraq by Iranian- backed militias since Biden came into government.
So responding to that, noting that it's not going to go without a response is important. But it also sent a couple of very important messages by the Biden administration. First as we have all seen the Biden administration has come in with a very clear message that diplomacy is going to be first, that diplomacy is going to be the foreign policy tool of choice, and a lot of effort has gone into underscoring that message.
I think that is the right message, but it would be a problem if that message were misinterpreted to mean that military force is off the table. And this strike underscores military force is still an important part of America's tool kit.
Secondly, I would say this strike really emphasizes that this team, although they are many of the same faces from the Obama administration who worked on the Iranian deal, this team understands that it's not 2015 in dealing with Iran. If this had happened under the Obama administration, it may well have been that this attack on U.S. forces and coalition forces would have gone without a response because the Obama administration was so focused on getting a nuclear deal with Iran. The Biden administration is under no pretense that if it goes easy on
Iran and other domains it increases its chance of getting the deal. And in fact, I would say the message is quite the opposite, that the Biden administration understands. It's going to go hard against Iran and other arenas while it tries to bring diplomacy back to the table when it comes to the nuclear file.
ZAKARIA: Tarek, let me ask you about a broader subject. It's about -- it's the 10th anniversary of the Arab spring. And you've written powerfully on this. What do you think -- how should we think about the Arab world right now? You know, more stable, less stable? Where do things stand?
MASOUD: Well, I think, Fareed, that the Arab world right now is really torn between two competing projects. That democratic project that we all thrilled to during the Arab spring 10 years ago, it's alive and well and you see it playing out in places like Iraq, in places like Lebanon, in Algeria, in Sudan. And so there is still this momentum for greater accountability, more democracy, more political participation.
But what's new now, and this also brings us a little bit back to Mohammed bin Salman, is that the autocrats have a response to the Arab spring. And it's not just the increased repression that we see, but it's in fact this recognition that they need to respond to some of the demands that were driving young people into the streets in the first place.
And I think if you look at the reforms, for example, that Mohammed bin Salman has been championing in his country even as he has engaged in a lot of terrible things, you begin to understand that those reforms are in part driven by this need to ward off the specter of revolution, et cetera. So when we talk about balancing our values and our interests in Saudi Arabia, part of the problem is that these -- some of these autocrats are advancing values like women's liberation and greater personal freedom that we actually support.
ZAKARIA: Nick Kristof, let me ask you very quickly. We have about 30 seconds left. Yemen is the world's biggest humanitarian crisis. Do you believe that there is a prospect of it winding down or stabilizing? I don't know what the right word is.
KRISTOF: You know, I think it's shattered and it's going to be very difficult to glue together. I think that there is now some political will in Saudi Arabia and, you know, greater political will outside to try to do some kind of a deal. But it's harder. And there may be more aid headed in that direction, which will ease the hunger. But it's going to be really difficult to see a unitary government actually ruling the country again. And that ultimately is what we really need.
ZAKARIA: We're going to have to leave it at that. Thank you all. Really fascinating perspectives.
Next up, Bill Gates on the two biggest crises of our times, climate change and pandemics.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:27:00]
ZAKARIA: In my recent book, "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World," when describing the dangers to human kind, I touched on climate change, but explained that this is a vast topic that deserves its own books and warnings. Luckily for us, Bill Gates has written just that. It is titled "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster."
Welcome, Bill Gates.
GATES: Great to talk to you.
ZAKARIA: You warned about pandemics and you warned that we hadn't funded it enough and we hadn't taken enough precautions. And then it took a pandemic. And I think you'd probably agreed that at this point we would probably do what we need to.
What do you think it will take with regard to climate change? Because I'm struck by the fact that we have had many, many severe hurricanes now. We've had five million acres of land in the west burned to the ground. That's the state of Massachusetts. We've had this Texas power blackout.
Do you think it's that these are not severe enough crises or that people don't connect the crisis to climate change?
GATES: Well, the interest in climate change is definitely going up. And in fact, that's why I hadn't done a book. You know, I gave a TED talk about climate in 2010. That's actually five years before the pandemic talk. But it was in the last few years that I saw that the interest, particularly in the younger generation was going up. And I think some of those awful events explain that partly.
It is a very tricky problem because it just gets worse and worse every year. And it gets very, very bad near the equator and in certain natural ecosystems. So getting people to project from the bad things to, you know, Miami Beach is gone and people won't farm in Texas, that actually requires you to project ahead.
You know, most things like earthquakes, we have lots of them in various sizes. And, so, you get building codes and people are serious. Pandemics only come quite rarely. And climate change is this phenomenon that's growing so that by the end of the century it's horrific. I mean, it makes the pandemic or now looks like nothing. But the cognition to see it coming and take the steps now, this is a huge challenge.
Will that young generation force us to make this a priority every year for the next 30 years or not?
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about your own journey. Some people might say you took a while to get to this book, which is -- by which I mean Al Gore wrote "Earth in Balance" in 1992, "Inconvenient Truth" was I think 2006. And I'm wondering what took you so long in the sense that, did you feel like the science was ambiguous?
And that you really wanted to get it right, and only in the last five or seven years have you been convinced by the evidence -- or just take us through your journey.
GATES: Yeah. I'd say, up until the year 2000, I was obsessed with software. And although I had curiosity about many other things, my depth was all in software.
In the year 2000, Melinda and I fund the Gates Foundation, so I'm traveling to Africa and I'm no longer CEO, so I'm learning other things and I'm talking to farmers in Africa about how the climate is changing.
And so, before 2005, I did not fully understand it. It's a very polymathic subject, economics, you know, industrial activity, chemistry, physics.
But by 2010, I had my head around it enough that I did the TED talk, which was about innovating to zero. And I wouldn't change a word of that. I didn't jump in to any of the conferences because the interest level wasn't high enough. Particularly after the financial crisis, interest went down.
But then, when 2015 came along, I felt, gosh, we've got to get R&D and innovation on the agenda here. It can't just be using the tools we have and near-term reduction goals. Those are good, but those in no way paint the picture when you're trying to get every source to zero.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, when looking at Texas, what do you think we need to do to create greater resilience for the grid?
Because, until we get to the point where we're going to be able to replace things with -- with green technology and such, you are going to have these kind of extreme weather events. You are going to have power outages.
And it seems to me we need to be thinking about how do you make sure that critical infrastructure, hospitals, you know, are able to withstand these blackouts, which are not going to be a few hours and therefore you could put a diesel generator in. What is the -- what is the backup resilient capacity we need?
GATES: Yeah. Even though this particular Texas event, the problem, which is tragic, was not caused by the shutdown of renewables. It was caused by the shutdown of all their sources, primarily natural gas, because of a lack of weatherization.
The point about grid reliability is super-important. We will have more events like this because of climate change. That is, more cold fronts will be able to come down through the Midwest. And of course, you'll have very hot periods as well.
So there's three ways to make a grid reliable when you have lots of weather-dependent wind and solar on that grid. Say you're trying to get up to 80 percent. You need lots and lots of transmission. And Texas, because it's not
connected to other states, wasn't able to call on their extra capacity to save its citizens' lives.
So the amount of transmission we need to build in this country is gigantic. Second is, you want some form of energy storage. Grid storage is ridiculously expensive. It's much, much harder than electric batteries for cars. But there's lots of innovations that will provide some of that.
And then, third, you'll want some degree of weather-independent green energy, which only nuclear fission has a -- a chance of doing that at scale.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," Bill Gates on what a post-vaccine world will look like.
ZAKARIA: We've had two grim pandemic milestones in the past week. The world surpassed 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, and the U.S. surpassed half a million such deaths on Monday.
But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Back now with Bill Gates.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you next about the pandemic, Bill. So we now have vaccines. We are getting vaccinated. Tell me what you think life will look like in the Western world by July, August, September. Will we be back to normal?
And if not, where will we be?
GATES: By the fall, we'll be back to almost normal. That is, I would expect basically every school to be in session and, at some level of occupancy, restaurants and sports events to be taking place.
The big problem is that we're not doing enough to end the pandemic globally. That is, the vaccines are just going to the rich countries. And this has been a big focus of the Gates Foundation throughout the crisis, is to get additional factories like the big factories in India.
That is starting to happen with AstraZeneca already, and soon Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. And so the vaccines are a miracle. All five that have gone through Western regulators, the three I mentioned plus Pfizer and Moderna, are amazing vaccines. And even though we have a little bit of tuning, that you might have to take a third dose because of the variants, we will get on top of that.
So the fall will be almost normal, even though, because of the re- infection problem, we can't fully go back to normal until we help the entire world. Right now that could take all of 2022 unless we -- we do a better job.
ZAKARIA: When you look at the American government response to this, I want to ask you, you know, what conclusions or what reflections you have?
Because we clearly bungled the initial period and the testing, tracing and isolation. We never got that going. Then we had a chance with the vaccines to be able to do -- you know, we had time to learn and we had a chance to get the vaccine roll-out right. We were not able to do that. Then we had to deal with the variants. And we, kind of -- I think it's fair to say we bungled the variants well.
The one thing we got right was writing big checks to the private sector for the vaccines. But anything the government had to administer, it has handled badly. What do you make of that?
GATES: Well, leadership matters. And, sadly, the CDC, which, you know, trains for this kind of stuff, they fell short a tiny bit with the initial task. They weren't allowed to reach out and work with the private sector to get a website, you know, so that the testing -- everybody in the country would just say, "OK, I want a test," and that would be allocated properly and you'd never have more than a 24-hour delay.
Likewise for the vaccine, that should have been a CDC website that you get told, "OK, go here to get your vaccine." And it's making sure that communities with people of color are getting strong messages and, you know, really spending to make sure we're doing this in an equitable way.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that the Biden administration has made a substantial improvement on what has gone on before?
GATES: Yes. They -- they don't search the Web for the craziest person and put them on their task force.
They admit when things are going wrong. You know, just to deal with the basics, that the federal government, you know, has to care. It's hard to change. I mean, it's too bad in a way that the vaccine roll- out started under the, you know, sort of, denial administration, and now it's harder to get it back in place.
But the -- the supply and logistics will not be limiting within about three months here in the United States.
ZAKARIA: Do you think -- and this is a question about pandemics and global warming. Do you think that part of the complacency we have is there is this view -- Joshua Lederberg talked about it in a -- in a lecture he gave -- that human beings think that nature is benign, thinks kindly toward us; nature will take care of us.
And his point was, nature is just a bunch of physics and chemistry. And if we push too hard, you know, you could easily end up triggering chemical reactions that end life on earth.
GATES: Yeah. We're very lucky, you know, that the temperature on this planet and the lack of radiation, you know, even our magnetic field protects from certain things. It's -- the more you study it, the thing -- number of things that have to be right for life is mind-blowing.
And we're in -- you know, the weather situation has been pretty stable. The fact that we're the ones destabilizing it is deeply ironic, and the fact that we're having a hard time recognizing it is deeply ironic.
So, yes, we are spoiled, particularly those of us who live in the temperate zones and don't do outdoor farming. A farmer knows, "Hey, I'm going to have years" -- even before climate change "with crop failure." So, you know, lots of, you know, religions got started on praying for rain and things of that nature.
So at first, it's actually those outdoor farmers, subsistence farmers, who will have malnutrition, increased death. And they'll start to migrate away from the equator. Hundreds of millions of people won't be able to live and will seek better territory.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," Bill Gates on the $1.9 trillion Biden COVID relief package. Is it too big, too small or just right?
ZAKARIA: Back now with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
ZAKARIA: Can I ask you about the -- the economy, Bill?
Do you think that -- you know, the big debate taking place now is whether we need a -- a stimulus or a COVID relief plan as large as President Biden is proposing, $1.9 trillion?
There are people who say the output gap is not that big. There are others who say, "Look, most of this is going toward public health and relief for people who aren't allowed to work."
What do you think? Is it the right size?
GATES: Well, the government always has a hard time targeting exactly the people who are in need, and particularly if you are designing programs very quickly.
There is no doubt there's some number of people who really are still suffering. You know, say it's 15 percent out there. The other 85 percent had the benefit of last year's stimulus activities and, you know, actually, you know, the poverty rate is down; aggregate income levels are up. So it will be tricky, when you want to move fast, to be targeted. If
you add this stimulus to the next round, the Build Back Better, that makes at least a few commentators worry about inflationary pressure.
So I know there's a lot of good things in the stimulus bill, and the Build Back Better is going to have a lot of fantastic climate-related stuff in it. But I hope, you know, we can target it better. And we are definitely getting to levels that those inflationary worries aren't -- aren't crazy.
ZAKARIA: You said in another interview that you thought that the permanent ban on Donald Trump and Twitter should be re-thought. And I wanted to use that as a -- as a way to ask you about what would be the right solution?
You were -- you were thinking through in that -- in that response that there must be some way to make sure that, you know, lies and false conspiracy theories don't spread, while keeping -- you know, honoring the first amendment.
And I was wondering what you thought of this idea, which was that the algorithms that -- that are created by companies like Facebook and Twitter and all the social media companies are designed to keep you -- to keep us all hooked.
And so, you know, the more sensational, the more outrageous, the more dramatic get preference over the more boring, you know, so that Hillary Clinton running a child prostitution ring in a pizza parlor is going to get more clicks than Bill Gates has a new book about climate.
Do you think that the government should and can mandate that these algorithms be written in a way so that they don't just take you down these rabbit holes and that, you know, show you facts, show you information?
Is that an appropriate way to think about this?
GATES: Well, I'm not as expert on this as, say, malaria eradication or -- or climate change. But I think there's a difference between if somebody says "I want Donald Trump specifically to be," you know, "his messages to come to me," versus putting into somebody's feed similar kind of outrageous, you know, things that are corrosive about the election that, you know, then you're selecting in somebody who wasn't directly requested.
So, yes, those feed algorithms -- we are at a very immature stage of understanding how the government and companies should avoid those being magnification of conspiracy theories. I do think there's probably some solution there.
ZAKARIA: Finally, bill, I -- I asked you about what the fall would look like for most of us. There's also a big debate taking place, with all this money that has been showered by the federal government, that, you know, some people think we're going to see an explosion of economic growth in the United States in the fall. Others think it's going to be a much longer process because a lot of stuff isn't going to come back, business travel, theaters, things like that.
What do you think? Are we -- are we going to have a big boom in the fall?
GATES: Well, certainly, off of the base, the sectors like entertainment and tourism, as those come back, that will add. Now, you know, some sectors like furniture-buying and other things have been super strong.
And, of course, the stock market has had this income effect because of the interest rate situation.
To me, the most interesting question really isn't the next 12 months. It's the permanent change to the notion of, do I -- does a salesman have to, you know, go be physically in the office?
When world leaders meet, like, say, I'm talking to African heads of state, will they keep a block of time so we can have that quick 20- minute meeting more often, you know, instead of flying all the way there for the one-hour meeting every few years.
So the behavior change about only being in the office, say, a quarter of the time, or tele-health or better online education, those are the changes that I'm fascinated by, which are permanent changes to behavior that could change how you think about downtown commercial space dramatically.
ZAKARIA: And your gut is that these changes are here to stay?
GATES: Yes. I -- I think so. I think that, you know, if half the companies have their employees come in one week out of four, that the, you know, traffic patterns and the sharing of real estate between companies, that's a -- a very dramatic change, you know, with rents going down, traffic jams going down, you know, winners and losers, but overall, very positive.
ZAKARIA: Bill Gates, thanks so much for taking the time. It is a terrific book, everyone. You really should -- should go out and get it. And thanks again for joining us.
GATES: Thanks, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," four years ago, it would have cost you around $1,000 to buy a Bitcoin. Last week it was worth more than $57,000.
Sorry you didn't get in on the digital currency craze? So are some of the world's biggest governments. That story, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. If you're worried you're missing out on the Bitcoin craze, you're in good company. Governments across the globe have watched the digital currency take off and now they want a piece of the action. This week Jerome Powell said the Federal Reserve is seriously
considering creating a digital dollar that would exist alongside the traditional dollar.
The European Central Bank chief wants to do the same for the euro. In fact, a recent survey found 86 percent of central banks are exploring the idea.
To understand the idea, consider cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. These are decentralized systems created by private actors that theoretically work like cash.
You instantly purchase a Tesla by sending them Bitcoin. No credit cards or bank checks are needed. But this only works because Tesla has agreed to accept Bitcoin as payment. It isn't legal tender. No one has to accept it.
Central Bank digital currencies, on the other hand, would be legal tender. Imagine the government wants to send everyone a stimulus payment. Rather than taking weeks to transfer money to bank accounts, print checks and mail out debit cards, the government just sends the money directly to a digital wallet on your phone, which could then be used to buy groceries or pay rent.
This is already a reality in some parts of China. In pilot projects across several cities, the Chinese government has sent small amounts of digital money to people via lottery.
As of November, consumers had made 4 million transactions using the e- yuan, totaling $300 million worth of spending.
The main benefit of digital currencies, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the New York Times this week, would be...
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JANET YELLEN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Faster, safer and cheaper payments.
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ZAKARIA: Now, countries are approaching this idea cautiously because they worry about damaging their financial systems by undermining institutions like private banks.
But some governments also see an opportunity to disrupt the global financial system to their benefit. For example, a digital euro could help the E.U. chip away at the dollar's dominance in international trade. It's a long-held goal that has only become more pressing as the United States government has weaponized the dollar.
When the Trump administration-imposed sanctions on Iranian individuals and businesses, so-called secondary sanctions meant that European companies had to stop doing business with Iran or else they could be cut off from the U.S. financial system. European nations tried to set up a mechanism to skirt the sanctions, but it was a failure. Digital currencies could offer a better solution.
China and Russia would also like to challenge dollar supremacy, but they may have an additional darker motivation. As the Financial Times points out, libertarians have championed cryptocurrencies because they keep the government out of commerce. State-backed digital currencies can empower governments by providing detailed information about people's business dealings, who's transacting with whom, what they're buying and selling, where they're located. Information could be used to set economic policy or target money laundering.
In the hands of the Chinese Communist Party or the Kremlin, it could be used to crack down on ethnic minorities or political dissidents.
So digital currencies may end up following the same path the Internet has. In the early days, people thought of the Web as a decentralized, free and open global system that would empower individuals. And to be fair, it has fulfilled that promise in many parts of the world in many ways. But in other parts and in other ways, it has become yet another tool of authoritarian government control -- one more sobering and unintended consequence of the great information revolution.
Thank you to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.