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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Biden's Big Bid To Rebuild America; This Week, The World Health Organization Issued Its Controversial Report On The Origins Of COVID; Chancellor Merkel, As She Prepares To Step Down, Is Dealing With A Third COVID Spike In Germany. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired April 04, 2021 - 10:00   ET



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, President Biden's ambitious policy pushes have garnered comparisons to FDR and LBJ. Are those analogies apt? Where will this round of progressivism go?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 50 years people are going to look back and say this is the moment that America won the future.

ZAKARIA: I'll ask historian Jon Meacham and Niall Ferguson.

Also the World Health Organization's controversial report on the origins of COVID. The U.S. and 13 nations express concern about the paper complaining that the investigators lacked access to crucial information. I will talk to one of those investigators, the virus hunter, Peter Daszak.

And what in the world happened to Germany? In the first wave it controlled COVID remarkably well. Among the best in the West. Now Angela Merkel admits they have lost control. I will explore the fate of Miss Merkel and her nation.


ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. While Donald Trump claimed he wanted to make America great again, President Biden is attempting to actually do it. Trump's slogan got Americans thinking nostalgically about the 1950s and early 1960s when the U.S. dominated the world and its economy produced rising wages for workers and executives alike. A defining feature of those years was federal investment in infrastructure, scientific research and education.

By contrast, Washington in recent years has mostly spent money to fund private consumption by giving people tax cuts or transfer payments. Biden's infrastructure bill is the first major fiscal program in five decades to focus once again on investment. When you look at federal spending as a whole, it seems to have risen significantly over the last few decades. But the composition of that spending tells the real story.

Most of that increase is due to sharp rising in entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Core investment spending has actually dropped substantially. The U.S. used to spend as much as 3 percent of GDP on transport and water infrastructure. That number is now closer to 2 percent. The U.S. used to be the world's unquestioned leader in basic science and technology. China is now almost on par with it in spending.

Biden's plan harkens back to the New Deal. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration built or improved almost 1,000 airports, creating the backbone of the modern airline industry. Biden's plan will help create a modern electric vehicle system by funding a network of half a million chargers across the nation.

The 1936 Rural Electrification Act brought electricity to rural areas. Biden proposes doing the same with high-speed internet which he argues is the equivalent in today's economy. Now the New Deal was bigger relative to the size of the economy at the time, but it is really the only valid comparison with what the Biden administration is proposing. Where the spirit of the New Deal is sorely needed today is in the cost efficiency and transparency of these kind of projects.

America used to be able to build things with astonishing speed. The George Washington Bridge in Manhattan, at the time the world's longest suspension bridge, was built in four years ahead of schedule and under budget. By contrast, just adding two miles of new subway lines and three new stations in Manhattan, took, depending on when you start counting, between 10 and 100 years, and ended up costing $4.5 billion by the time it opened in 2017.

Building infrastructure in America is now insanely expensive. Another project in New York, an ongoing expansion of the Long Island railroad is the most expensive stretch of subway track on earth according to "The New York Times," coming in at seven times the world average. New York is particularly bad in a league of its own. But American infrastructure often cost several times more than it does in Europe, Paris, Rome and Madrid have managed to build subway extensions for less.


Yet those cities are hundreds of years older than any in the U.S., many of them have many unions and tons of regulations so none of the usual excuses will do. One recent study found that the cost of building U.S. interstate highways quadrupled from the 1960s to the 1990s, though the material and labor costs have barely budged after accounting for inflation. There are lots of reasons for this. Multiple authorities each with a veto, endless rules and reviews, and most likely corruption.

The NYU scholar Alon Levy did a detailed analysis of the country's crazy costs and concluded that fundamentally they were so high because Americans were unwilling or unable to look around the world and try to learn from other countries. American exceptionalism in this case had led to an exceptional uniquely bad system for building infrastructure. By contrast, the New Deal was surprisingly well run.

The Works Progress Administration employed three million people at its peak, more than any private company. In today's work force that would be about 10 million people. The entire enterprise was skillfully managed by Harry Hopkins, a social worker turned bureaucrat, who was one of Franklin Roosevelt's closest aides. The vast Tennessee Valley Authority spanning seven states and eventually comprising about 30 hydroelectric dams was devotedly led by David Lilienthal, a crusading royal.

Most of the funds appropriated for the New Deal were administered scrupulously by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, another confidant of FDR's. Each of these men developed a reputation for honesty, efficiency and reliability which in turn made people believe that government could do things and do them well.

For the Biden administration to truly be transformative, it needs to rival not only the ambition of the New Deal, but also its impressive execution.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week and let's get started.

Let's keep talking about Biden's infrastructure and jobs proposal which comes on the heel of his $2 trillion relief package. Is it fair to compare Biden to FDR?

Let me bring in historians Jon Meacham and Niall Ferguson. Jon Meacham won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Andrew Jackson called "American Lion," one of the 11 books he has written. He's an occasional adviser to President Biden. Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a columnist for "Bloomberg Opinion." His most recent book is "The Square and the Tower" and I'm sure he's written about 11 books.

Jon, let me ask you, to start with, place these series of two actions before even the first 100 days have happened in some historical context.

JON MEACHAM, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the -- obviously the FDR, the Great Society analogies spring to mind because it's a Democratic president confronting a moment where he sees a need and wants to meet it. I have a slightly I want to say more nuanced look at it but I do think there is an important point here which is that Biden, by my historical reading, is not trying to fundamentally go outside the American experience.

He's trying to act within a tradition that was largely bipartisan, sometimes inadvertently so. This is like FDR, but it's also like Dwight Eisenhower. And I think one of the things that has led to our current divisions and some of the reflexive criticism of the administration is the sense that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, these were Republican presidents who were sent to Washington by a conservative base that wanted, at least in their minds, they wanted government to shrink.

And it didn't particularly. There was still, as you were pointing out, there is still -- this largely the percentage of federal spending is part of GDP has been remarkably consistent or even risen under Republican presidents. And so my view is that before people reflectively criticize what the president is trying to do, take a step back and let's see what has worked in periods of great American prosperity and what's worked is that the public sector and the private sector have largely been conjoined as opposed to competitive.


ZAKARIA: Niall, do you think that this marks some kind of turning point? You know, the Reagan-Thatcher in a sense did mark a turning point of ushering in of more emphasis on the private sector and less on the public sector. Is this a turning point?

NIALL FERGUSON, SENIOR FELLOW, STANFORD'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: It might be a turning back point, Fareed. Actually it won't surprise you and your viewers by speaking in the kind of bipartisan spirit that Joe Biden's called for. In many ways, his administration got off to a very impressive start. Not only in terms of the legislation that it's passed or is going to pass in the case of the infrastructure bill, I think it's pretty likely to get most of what it says out, but also in the efficient way that it's gone about getting its officials appointed and confirmed, and in the way that it's managed its communications.

Team Biden is in stark contrast I think to the previous administration's fire and fury. And I think that's welcomed to most of us who were kind of craving some return to normality in American politics. But I think it's worth pointing out before we get into comparisons with FDR and LBJ that the Biden administration is much less politically strong at the outset than they were, and let's remind ourselves Franklin Roosevelt's party had 58 Senate seats, 318 House seats at the outset in 1933.

And as you know, the Senate is of course tied with the vice president having to break the tie and the House Democratic caucus is just 219 members. I mean, actually Lyndon Johnson, whom you said less about in your opening, was in an even stronger position, had won an absolutely massive landslide in '64 and 68 Senate seats and 295 House seats.

I think we must remind ourselves that the mandate is much less compelling, much less powerful. And we should also remind ourselves that the crisis is completely different from the Great Depression that Roosevelt inherited from Herbert Hoover. We're coming out of the pandemic, a much shorter duration crisis on the back of vaccinations already, and the vaccination program is one of the legacies that the Trump administration, that the Biden administration is very happy to take at least some credit for.

That's the thing that's going to drive a very rapid recovery, actually regardless of whether there is additional stimulus and infrastructure spending. And finally, let me add one more caveat, it's yours, Fareed. I completely agree with the point that you made at the outset. This is not the federal governments of the 1930s or indeed the 1950s which I think Jon Meacham is right to allude to. But this more Eisenhower than Roosevelt.

This federal government has become significantly less effective at delivering whatever it tries to deliver and this is a phenomenon that many people have commented on from Francis Fukuyama to Mark (INAUDIBLE). We have a much more bureaucratic regulatory or administrative state that is very good at satisfying the interest of the bureaucracy itself but quite terrible at delivering the goods.

And let's face it, if they perform as well as the public health bureaucracy did in the opening phase of the COVID pandemic last year, the people delivering infrastructure are going to do about as well as their Californian counterparts who of course have spent enormous sums of money and totally failed to deliver high-speed rail to California. So I worry a little bit that when we look at California, we kind of see how this is going to turn out. It's not going to be a 1930s or 1950s infrastructure bonanza.

ZAKARIA: Jon, let me pick up on one thing that Niall said in a very rich answer. Bipartisanship. It is true that when we think back to the old bipartisan era, as you know, we tend to forget that FDR -- you know, what bipartisanship often meant was the Democrats have huge majority, the Republican Party went along, Bob Michael was called, you know, Mr. Nice because he went -- he was the Republican minority leader in the '80s, because he went along with the Democrats.

What is the prospect for real bipartisanship in your view?

MEACHAM: Well, in Washington, I think it's vanishingly small. I think the political class is trapped by its base driven incentives and I think that the administration has been quite wise to begin to argue that the unity they seek is not necessarily unity in the political entertainment media complex as people have called it, but with the country. An enormous number of these items are really popular, if you go beyond Washington and certain cable news stations.


And so I think that is -- for a structurally polarized era, which is what we're in, that is probably the wisest way forward. And I don't think we should be too nostalgic about bipartisanship. If Franklin Roosevelt, there were people who could not say his name. They referred to him as that man. 40 percent of the country never voted for Franklin Roosevelt. You gave a very generous spirited evaluation of the New Deal.

But in many ways, the right wing in the country is still living in reaction to this redefinition of the relationship between the state and the individual that unfolded amid the crisis of the 1930s. The other thing about President Johnson of course is, yes, Niall is exactly right that 61 percent of the country voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964 but a thousand days later, in 1966, the Republicans had a remarkably successful midterm and Ronald Reagan becomes governor of California.

And so these moments of consensus are vanishingly rare and therefore any president, any Congress, has to take full advantage of them when he or she can. And I think that's what the president is doing.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. We are going to have to continue this fascinating conversation. I'm going to ask Niall Ferguson in particular whether this new infrastructure bill could trigger runaway inflation when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with the historians Jon Meacham and Niall Ferguson.

Niall, let me ask you about the combined effect of the COVID relief bill, $2 trillion, and the infrastructure bill, another $2 trillion. I think it's fair to say that you were one of many very distinguished economists and scholars who argued that the last big stimulus bill, '09, '10 after the global financial crisis, was likely to trigger a runaway inflation, the collapse of the dollar. Those things didn't happen.

Why do you think -- you know, if those scholars were wrong then, why do you think that people are right now to warn of the same runaway inflation caused by spending?

FERGUSON: I don't remember predicting runaway inflation. I do remember arguing that there might be upward pressure on interest rates, but this is the scale of the deficits. That was back and I think around 2010. There was also the question of monetary policy and quantitative easing, and I think I was wrong about that and I was in pretty good company. But this is a different debate that we're having right now and the question is I think straightforward.

Is the amount of fiscal stimulus given to the economy appropriate given the size of the problem? And let me just quote, not from many conservatives but from Larry Summers, whereas the Obama stimulus was about half as large as the output shortfall, the proposed Biden stimulus is three times as large as the projected shortfall.

And here's the money quote, there is a challenge that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels, the normal recession levels, will set off inflation repressured of a kind we haven't seen in a generation with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability.

Now the key phrase there is there is a chance and the probability is the question. I think it's fascinating that Larry Summers, who for years argued that we were in seculous stagnation who was on the other side from those warning of inflation back in 2010, has now come out warning about this inflation risk. And he's supported by people who are definitely kindred spirits, Keynesians in many ways, think of the support he's got from Martin Wolf of the "Financial Times" or for that matter from Olivier Blanchard.

So this is not a Republican talking point. And I think the question is just uncertainty. We don't know. What's striking is that the administration and the Fed are so confident that any inflation impulse will be transient and that inflation expectations won't be unanchored, ugly word. I just don't think we can be sure about that. And given the magnitudes we're talking about, there is clearly a risk of the economy overheating and inflation expectations doing what they did on the Lyndon Johnson.

And now it's time to remind everybody that not everything went swimmingly for LBJ. He ended up with inflation going from below 2 percent to 3 percent to close to 6 percent by the end of his presidency. And that obviously is the risk that the Biden administration is running by doing such massive stimulus to an economy that's already recovering thanks to vaccination. I mean, the vaccines are the stimulus. Everything you do on top of that risked overheating.

ZAKARIA: Jon, I don't have a lot of time but I do want to ask you very quickly to tell us, you know, culturally what does it mean that a 78- year-old, very old-fashioned man like Joe Biden has succeeded the kind of circus of Donald Trump in the midst of the social media explosion? Is this the real harkening back of nostalgia that people have?


MEACHAM: I don't think it is the nostalgia. I think it's quite real. I think that stylistically, the president's more like Fortinbras in Act Five of "Hamlet," you know, he comes in to establish order, but that order is not intrinsically retrospective or retrograde. I think the legislative proposals here are quite forward-leaning and have the chance, as he said this week, to create certain enduring engines of opportunity for people in the way that we've done in our best in the past.

And so I do think it's important. This has been a wonderful conversation because it's actually been a conversation about ideas, money, the American tension, the Western tension between public and private, and it's not about creeping fascism. It's not about a crisis of democratic accountability which is what we came from 20 minutes ago. And so in that sense, I think the best part of the country has reasserted itself, nothing is inevitable, it is always a struggle but I think most Americans on this Easter feel a lot better about their country than they did last Easter.

ZAKARIA: Always such a fascinating chance to talk to both of you.

Jon Meacham, Niall Ferguson, thank you so much.

Next on GPS, this week the World Health Organization issued its controversial report on the origins of COVID. I will talk to Peter Daszak, one of the report's investigators.



ZAKARIA: It is one of the biggest unanswered questions about the pandemic. Where did it begin? Almost all fingers point to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the initial outbreak. Some say it came from a wet market in that city. Others say it

originated at a lab there that studies viruses. On Tuesday, the WHO released its long-anticipated report on the question.

The study was controversial from the start, especially since, as the front page of the report says, it was jointly conducted with the government of China. And, as the U.S. and 13 other nations complained in a statement about the report, the team lacked access to complete original data and samples, among other issues.

Peter Daszak was one of the WHO's investigators on that report.

Peter, let me -- welcome, and let me begin by asking you, you know, what is the central question that people are asking and have charged, which is why is the -- why is the report confident that the virus, coronavirus, did not originate in that lab in Wuhan, the Institute of Virology?

PETER DASZAK, PRESIDENT, ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE: Well, this is a scientific report. So what we did here is look at scientific evidence, data, information about all the possible pathways this virus could have taken from the wildlife host, which we think is probably a bat, into Wuhan, and caused a pandemic.

And what we found when we visited the laboratories in Wuhan and looked to the literature that's been published from them, asked them pretty tough questions about these origins, we simply found no evidence that suggests those -- those labs, or that lab in particular, is the source.

So we -- we deemed it extremely unlikely that it came from that -- that lab.

ZAKARIA: And there are people who say that there were samples withheld from the lab, that you didn't get the kind of access you needed. Is any of that true?

DASZAK: Well, I -- I think people should read the report. You know, this is an issue in China that has been extremely sensitive, Fareed, the origins of COVID. What we have here is an international team of experts, gathered together by WHO, sent into China to sit down with all the key scientists, the people who found the first cases of COVID, the people who were working on bat coronaviruses in the lab, and ask them questions, look at evidence, reams of new data that's never been published, given here in this report to the world.

I think that's -- that's pretty substantial. It opens the door. It's phase one. We now need to move to the next phase and dig deeper. And we have some real leads, some real clues in this information.

ZAKARIA: And you -- you believe, the report believes that the most likely scenario is this goes from a bat through an intermediate host like a chicken or a pangolin, through this wet market. Wet markets are places where live and dead animals are sold for slaughter and cooking. Why are you -- why is that the most likely transmission route? DASZAK: Well, one of the critical pieces of evidence we looked at was

interviews with the vendors in the market, Huanan Seafood Market, where the first cases of COVID were associated, the first big cluster of cases.

What we found were those vendors were bringing animals in from across China and from the places where the nearest viruses are found in bats, and they were also selling animals that were known coronavirus reservoirs. So that's a real clue. A real potential pathway opened up.

Now, we need to do more work to really nail this down. But we think that is the most likely route now, pathway, that this virus could have taken.

ZAKARIA: What does that suggest in terms of the future?

I mean, these wet markets are not going to go away in countries. Even in rural China, as you know, I mean, refrigeration doesn't exist to that extent, so there's going to be -- there are going to be live markets like this. They exist in Africa. Are we in danger?


DASZAK: Well, you know, it needs to be really looked at closely. This is a high-risk activity. People have been saying that for many, many years.

Don't forget the original SARS virus emerged in exactly this way. There is technology to produce refrigeration at that scale that could be used. It's a cultural issue. Is there a willingness of people to change their cultural habits?

And what we've seen in China is the government of China, on the 24th of February, in the middle of the outbreak in Wuhan, declaring that all of the wildlife farms, farms where these species are bred and farmed into the market, should be closed down.

So it is possible to -- to act. It is possible to shift. It requires a deep understanding of why people do this. But we need to get -- get to grips with that.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about some of the questions people have pointed to you personally, which is that you have worked with the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, that you have done research projects with them.

The -- the Trump administration proposed other Americans to the WHO and they rejected them and chose you. The implication, obviously, is that you are -- you are biased, that you have in a sense a kind of conflict of interest?

DASZAK: Right, and, you know, my relationship working with the Wuhan of Virology is public. And we've been publishing papers for 15 years on this issue. Our funding comes from the federal government to do this work. It's sanctioned by the U.S. government. And so, if you -- if you want to bring together a group of experts to

really have a deep understanding of how a coronavirus would emerge in China, it makes sense to bring in the people who have been working in China for 15 years on coronaviruses with the same scientists that we need to talk to.

And that was my role in the team. And I think I brought value to that. The decisions of who to -- should join the team were entirely WHO's, not mine, and I simply volunteered, like many other scientists around the world.

ZAKARIA: Peter Daszak, pleasure to have you on. I hope we can have you on when we get to the next step and learn more about this virus.

DASZAK: Absolutely, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Thank you.

Next on "GPS," I'm going to take you to a Western nation that was combating COVID very well. It is now on its third spike. What in the world is going on in Germany?



ZAKARIA: Take a look at this graph of new daily COVID cases in Germany. You'll see that early in the pandemic it suffered a little bump, topping out at about 6,000 new cases a day, and then a long period of very few infections.

During that time, as America and others were out of control, Berlin was praised for its handling of the crisis. But a major second spike started in October, and now Chancellor Merkel, as she prepares to step down, is dealing with a third spike.

This past week there were about 17,000 new cases a day. What in the world is happening in this country that seemed to have it all together?

Joining me now is Melissa Eddy, a New York Times correspondent in Berlin.

Melissa, first just give us a sense of, you know, what has it been like with the lockdowns and the -- and the -- you know, is it -- Germans have always prided themselves on having good, rational government. Does it feel like that, living in Germany?

MELISSA EDDY, NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT IN BERLIN: Thanks, Fareed. You know, it doesn't anymore. Initially, it really did. A year ago, Angela Merkel was completely clear. She was able to explain the science in a way that everybody understood. The rules were clear. Everyone was locking down. And then they started ramping up testing, and things looked really good.

But what we've seen in recent months is just a breakdown of all that clarity. Nobody is quite sure what lockdown status we're in because it changes depending on the rate of infection, and it's supposed to be different counties have different states of the lockdown. Nobody can remember any more.

Just two days ago we were told in Berlin we're now not allowed to go outside at night unless we're with somebody we know. And it -- it just -- people are getting really confused. And what we're seeing is a loss of that order that Germans pride them themselves on.

ZAKARIA: Some of this is -- I think most people outside of Germany don't realize Germany, like America, has a kind of crazy-quilt patchwork of local, state and federal authority, right?

EDDY: It does, yes. So this was one of the idea that the Allies, after the end of World War II -- they decided it was not a good idea for Germans to ever let power get too concentrated in the hands of one individual, after what we saw with Adolf Hitler.

So there's a real decentralized process. And what we're seeing, with handling a pandemic, is that the 16 states also have to have a say. So the chancellor, unlike, say, the French president, can't just declare a nationwide lockdown. She has to get all 16 governors effectively on board with her.

And where, a year ago, everybody was willing to get on board, we are now months out from a major election, and we've got, you know, some party politicking going on, jockeying for position, and a lot of those governors have different interests from -- coming from their constituencies, and they're not willing to just go along exactly with what the chancellor is saying.

So it's -- it's having an effect on the chancellor's ability to just really keep things under control.

ZAKARIA: And Chancellor Merkel has attacked directly some of these governors, including one who is her likely successor. She's also asked for more powers for the chancellor. How is this going to play out? Who's going to win?

EDDY: Well, that is the big question. So the more powers for the chancellor, we have to be careful. That is only for dealing with the pandemic, so that she would not be able to just have more powers in general. It would just be that it would make it easier for her to impose certain restrictions in order to get the pandemic under control.


At the same time, her criticism of her potential successor is an indication of just the level of tension that is going on here. And although she would need to get parliament on board in order to get that concentration of power into her hands, there is really no way that she can go around the states entirely because, at the end of the day, the governors are the ones that have to enforce these rules. So she has to be incredibly careful.

ZAKARIA: And tell us about what does this look like in terms of, you know, the future of party politics in -- in Germany?

Has the, sort of, center which Merkel so dominated been weakened because so much of that center's appeal was steady, steadfast leadership?

Have populists been able to take advantage of this sort of weakening of the center?

EDDY: Well, it's really interesting, Fareed. So far the numbers have not shown that the populists have been able to really take advantage of this. But it doesn't mean that we won't see that in the coming months.

Even yesterday we saw about 10,000 people who were demonstrating against all of these corona safety measures in the southwestern city of Stuttgart. That's in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, where we just saw a real bashing of the chancellor's party.

And overall, across the board, her party is losing in popularity. So for her, it's not a direct problem because she is not going to be running again. But for her party, it certainly is, that, after 16 years in power, it's a pretty sad tale for them to see them bleeding support to one of their main rivals right now, who are actually the Green Party, which was -- has been a younger upstart environmental party, and they have just been growing and growing in -- in popularity.

However, we saw this in the last election four years ago, that the populists were, kind of, sleeping, and then when it came time for people to vote, they did really well. And so that's always a specter that's, kind of, looming in the background here.

ZAKARIA: We have 30 seconds, so I just want to ask you about Merkel personally -- dominated German politics, as you said, for 16 years, had very high popularity ratings for much of it. Where do -- what do people think of her now?

EDDY: People are really, kind of, disappointed in her now because she seems to be doing one thing that she never did before, and that's waffling. Merkel has always been really clear, and in recent months we've seen her have to issue an apology. Where that got praise, that she was able to apologize, it was shocking that she had to do so.

ZAKARIA: Melissa Eddy, real pleasure to hear from you. Thank you so much.

EDDY: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.



ZAKARIA: Now for the last look. One of the very best parts of Joe Biden's COVID relief bill is what it does for America's children, especially its poorest children. It's estimated that the legislation will, amazingly, cut child poverty in America by half. It also contains money to get kids back to school. This is absolutely crucial because I believe primary and secondary education may be where the pandemic's disruptions end up hurting America the most in the long run.

Due to the pandemic, students started this school year on average three months behind on math and one and a half months behind in reading. Poor and minority kids had an especially hard time. They were more often ill-equipped for online learning.

To take one example, participation in online math coursework fell by as much as 60 percent for low-income students but only 25 percent for kids from high-income households. These poorest students were also more likely to have no live contact with teachers over the course of seven days.

As a result, McKinsey estimates that, by the end of this school year, students of color may lose up to 12 full months of learning. White students could lose up to eight months.

And now, as schools are reopening in many cities, students of color are less likely to return to classrooms because of a lack of trust in the school system's ability to protect them.

The repercussions of all this appear dire. McKinsey estimates that, when the current cohort of K-12 students join the workforce, average earnings for blacks are estimated to drop by about $2,200 per year due to learning loss. For their white counterparts, these losses would be around $1,400.

What's more, an estimated 3 million of America's most marginalized students seem to have disappeared from the education system all together. They haven't been seen in schools, virtual or in person, since March of 2020.

The pandemic exacerbated America's age-old achievement gap, with non- white groups performing worse on standard metrics of progress in education. We must prevent that divide from becoming more entrenched.

One way to do that is to get kids back in school, and quickly. The Biden administration is off to a good start on that, moving forward with a plan to reopen schools. The science is clear. It is unlikely that schools will become vectors for spread if basic health precautions are taken, especially when there are low infection rates in the surrounding community.

To make these educational institutions safer still, the White House announced a $10 billion investment in testing for schools. But even if every schoolhouse flings open its doors tomorrow and welcomes mass students with open arms, the nation will still have to contend with those devastating deficits in learning I told you about. Those have already happened.

Michael Bloomberg has a plan for that. The billionaire former mayor of New York City makes a compelling case in The Washington Post to keep schools across the country open over this summer, to fill in some of those gaps.


Why not? I've said before, America's often three-month-long summer breaks are an absolute aberration on the world stage. Because of the brevity of the school year as well as the shortness of the school day in the U.S., children in South Korea and China, by my calculations, end up spending almost two years more in school than their American counterparts by the end of high school.

Is it any wonder that they test better?

Let's fix these issues, but let's not stop there. I've also talked before about how the pandemic gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix those elements of society that are ailing. America's education system should be near the top of the list.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.