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Fareed Zakaria GPS
President Biden Declares America "Back At The Table"; How Human Beings Gained An Extra Life; Fragile Coalition Set To Take Power In Israel. Aired 1-1:55p ET
Aired June 13, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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 (voice-over): Today on the show, Joe Biden's first overseas trip as president. First G7, first meeting with the Queen. And the coming week brings more summits, NATO, the European Union and Vladimir Putin.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To let him know what I want him to know.
ZAKARIA: We'll talk about what's already happened and what's to come with former top Obama aid Ben Rhodes and "The Economist" editor-in- chief Zanny Minton Beddoes.
Also, a new day dawns on Israel. After decades of tough politics there in the last 12 years as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu will no longer lead that nation. Martin Indyk, twice U.S. ambassador to that country, will tell me what to expect from the new prime minister and his coalition government.
Then, an extra life. That's what author Steven Johnson says the world has gained in the last hundred years as life expectancy has doubled. He'll tell us the surprising story of how it happened.
And floods of people are trying to enter the United States at the southern border. Vice President Harris is in charge of stopping the migration. How should she do it? I have some advice.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. Are you ready for the next global crisis? Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said last month that we are already on the cusp of a global digital pandemic.
He was talking about the explosion of cybercrime. FBI director Christopher Wray concurs explaining that the dramatic rise of this new form of crime has shaken the American security apparatus much like the 9/11 attacks did in 2001. In fact, the escalation of cybercrime is a far more pervasive problem than terrorism.
As we connect more and more stuff to the Internet, all of us become more and more vulnerable to hackers who can compromise any person or business through the Web and steal their data or freeze them out until they pay a ransom. The pandemic accelerated the transition to a digital economy and thus accelerating cybercrime. By one estimate, ransomware attacks tripled in the last year.
We actually don't know the true extent of this problem because much of it remains unreported. Many companies large and small keep mum out of fear of inviting bad publicity, future attacks and legal consequences. Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that damage will reach $20 billion by the end of 2021 which is 57 times the number just six years ago.
One CEO who works actively on cybersecurity told me ransomware attackers are operating with a reliable business model. The cyber attackers typically cripple a network then set a price for the ransom that is high but affordable for the targeted organization, particularly if they have insurance. Once the ransom is paid, the attackers follow up on their end of the bargain. But there is one point in the blizzard of these transactions where law enforcement has leverage.
Virtually every cybercriminal demands payment in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. This makes sense because a crucial feature of these currencies is that they are largely untraceable. At least until very recently. Every successful technology fills some need or solves some problem. What is the need that cryptocurrencies fill? It's not to buy and sell on the Web or to move money electronically.
All that can easily be done using transitional financial institutions as well as new interfaces like PayPal or Apple Pay. But none of these can replace shadowy transactions that take place in the analog world, the kind where one person hands another a bag of cash.
That transaction is inefficient but secret and largely untraceable. Cryptocurrencies allow you to do something similar but digitally. No, this is not a matter of a private discrete payment, say a man who wants to book a hotel in Paris for a weekend without his wife knowing. There are plenty of ways for that to happen. Prepaid credit cards and the like. But with these new digital transactions, the identities of people involved are being kept secret even from financial institutions and from the government.
But not so secret, it turns out. This week's news about the recovery of a ransom indicates the way forward. The Justice Department and FBI were able to track and recover most of the Bitcoins paid by Colonial Pipeline during the recent ransomware attack that paralyzed fuel supplies to much of the East Coast. They seem to have managed this with extraordinary forensic work, digital savvy and some good luck.
But such success is rare. There is no reason it needs to be so hard. The IRS chief has asked Congress to give it the authority to collect information on cryptocurrency transactions over $10,000. That would be a good start. Putting cryptocurrency on the same level as a bank account, rather than giving it a special pass on legal scrutiny.
Many of cryptocurrency's most ardent advocates see it as the way of the future, a decentralized and seamless monetary system that offers an alternative to national currencies. Fine, but none of that requires that it be anonymous. If those broader goals are what Bitcoin is really about, it should stay strong even while its illegal use is reined in.
If on the other hand the crucial, distinctive and unique property of cryptocurrency is that it can be readily and officially used for crime, why exactly should governments around the world allow this?
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
President Biden held a press conference in Cornwall this morning during which he declared America is back at the table. The president was there for a meeting of the G7 world leaders. Next stop Windsor Castle to meet the Queen. Later in the week he has E.U. and NATO summits, and then the big event, a summit with Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
Let me bring in my panel to talk about it all. Zanny Minton Beddoes is the editor-in-chief of "The Economist" and Ben Rhodes was a deputy National Security adviser and speech writer for President Obama. He is the author of a terrific new book "After the Fall: Being American in the World We've Made."
Zanny, let me start with you. Biden says America is back at table. And it certainly does seem fair to say he's shaped the agenda, came to the table, both with an America that had done spectacularly with vaccinations, and then half a billion dollar -- half-a-billion vaccine donation, and it did seem to spur the Europeans to provide another half billion of their own which seems like the kind of classic traditional American agenda setting.
So is America back at the table?
ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: Yes. America is definitely back at the table. And you saw that just listening to the president. As I was listening to the president I thought, you know, you could not have heard this in the last four years but you can hear it now. It's a different president. A president who is multilateralist in his bones. He's got a team around him that wants to work together.
And so yes, America is back, and I think you're right. The G7 was spurred to doing more than it might otherwise have done. Reading through the communique there were more concrete details that I had expected. So more ambition in certain areas. But that said, it is -- I think as Angela Merkel said, we haven't solved all the problems but we can now pursue the solutions, she put it, with more zest.
But pursuing the solutions with more zest, what worries me is that the scale of the problem, the challenge facing the liberal democracies of the world, is so large that the G7 hasn't yet come up with an approach that is sufficiently ambitious. So fantastic to have America back at the table. America is the indispensable nation. Without American leadership, the G7 does nothing much but now it needs greater boldness, I think.
ZAKARIA: Ben, how do you think they're viewing Joe Biden? He's a familiar figure. Most of them know him. But do they -- you know, Europeans are sophisticated.
I mean, the Japanese are also there of course. But do you think they regard this as, you know, is Trump the aberration or are they worried that Biden may be the aberration?
BEN RHODES, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think you put your finger on it, Fareed. I mean, look, what I was struck by is not only is America back at the table but the agenda is quite different. You know, we didn't hear about terrorism very much, right. We're talking about climate change, we're talking about COVID, we're talking about China, we're talking about corruption.
I think this is really a bit of a sea change in terms of what the United States is bringing to the table. And I think it's a welcome change. They're dealing with issues that have to be addressed. However, I think no matter what Joe Biden does, all those leaders are kind looking over his shoulder at American democracy, and they're remembering in the Obama years, right, they painstakingly negotiated with us for a Paris agreement or an Iran nuclear agreement only to have Trump come in and tear it all up.
And they know that in 2024 the pendulum could swing back here. And there's not much Joe Biden can do about that obviously. But I think it does demonstrate that the way in which these leaders look at the United States is not just Joe Biden and his team, it's the state of American democracy generally and that's obviously something that we have to address at home as well as in settings like the G7.
ZAKARIA: Zanny, one of the things Biden keeps talking about is how America is back with its closest allies, it wants international norms and rules. But -- and this was the last -- second to the last question, the United States under Joe Biden is still maintaining a lot of these tariffs on the Europeans. The Build Back Better plan has a lot of buy only American provisions, which are all protectionist and in a sense violate international law, certainly the kind of spirit of the WTO.
How do Europeans regard all of that?
BEDDOES: Well, I think with concern and with suspicion. But as President Biden, when he got that last question, he said -- I was interested in this. He said it's been 120 days, you know, give me time. So I took that as being perhaps a sign that there would be movement on some of these tariffs.
But you're right. If you look at the Buy American agenda and if you look at the kind of disposition of President Biden in terms of really focusing on creating jobs and supply chains at home, it's not hugely different to the disposition of America First.
It's less, you know, unpredictable, it's more within the rules, but it is a kind of unilateralist soft protectionist approach. So I think there really is concern about that in the rest of the world, that this is a different kind of rhetoric. They talk differently. They talk the whole multilateral talk but it's not yet clear that the actual underlying approach is that different.
And there's one other area that really is beginning to worry me more which is that given the scale of ambition in President Biden's rhetoric, you know, it's the contest between liberal democracy and autocracy. He's painting this in very big stakes.
The credibility of the United States for the emerging world, for the developing countries is also really at stake. And if you look at the handling of the pandemic, notwithstanding these billion doses which the G7 has come up which is frankly still far too little relative to the scale of what needs to be done.
But even if you look at climate change where they haven't agreed to fund the money that they promised years ago, I think if you're in the developing world, you say well, this is great talk but is the other liberal democracies, is the G7 led by the United States really willing to walk the walk and actually come up with the commitments that are necessary? And I think the jury is really out on that.
ZAKARIA: Ben, I wanted to ask an angle of this which draws on your book which really is wonderful. You talk about the disillusionment that many people felt after 30 years of, you know, kind of American primacy and globalization, and the degree to which people feel that maybe globalization failed, maybe even capitalism failed, and then that is why a lot of this populism has risen not just in America but in places like Hungary and, you know, all over the world.
But it does strike me, and I wanted to ask you this, the one much stronger correlation is immigration. I mean, that's what really seems to me to have been the beating heart of populism and after all what is Trump's signature line, it's build the wall. And is Biden going down the wrong path by being more protectionist? Should he really instead -- is the message really more about immigration, cultural issues, things like that? How do you think about that?
RHODES: Well, I think it's a great question, Fareed. And just to kind of sum up that piece of what's in my book, you know, I was talking to a Hong Kong government official who was anonymous in talking to me.
And he said, look, the 2008 crisis was the pivotal moment in terms of this rise of nationalism and authoritarianism. In a lot of ways, in the West, that's when the narrative of liberalism and democracy collapsed. And there's just an opening for really right-wing populists who offered the more traditional sense of identity that came from ethno-nationalism.
And that's when in China they started to think, well, you know, we've been deferring to the Americans in running a lot of the machinery of the international system, the international order, maybe we don't have to defer to these guys anymore, maybe what we have is better.
And that's generated an enormous amount of momentum around -- particularly since Xi Jinping came to power, the Chinese taking their model and saying, not only are we going to, you know, kind of swallow up Hong Kong, not only we're going to be much more aggressive on issues like the Uyghurs, but we're going to start to export this along the Belt and Road Initiative that you heard Biden talking about, meaning their relationships with other countries.
And I think to deal with that, the United States has to recognize that part of our advantage and part of this competition of democracies isn't just demonstrating that democracies can deliver, that we can spend money, we can build infrastructure. It's a multiracial, multiethnic democracy made up of people from everywhere, in which immigration is a core part of that strength, in which anybody from anywhere can become an American. That's part of our advantage, too.
And we need to embrace that as a community of democracies around the world and not be, again, so afraid of the way in which right-wing populists demagogue those issues. We have to win those arguments in our democracies.
ZAKARIA: Zanny, can you give us a sense of what you think China's reaction to all of this is going to be? Because, I mean, Russia is actively out there, you know, trying to be a spoiler, whether it's in Ukraine, whether it's in Syria, whether it's with the cyber war. Is there -- are we missing an opportunity to work with the Chinese on something like climate change, where you couldn't -- you really are not going to be able to accomplish anything substantive without the Chinese?
BEDDOES: Well, I hope very much that we will try to work with the Chinese on climate change. And certainly, Secretary Kerry has very much tried to push that. There is a hope I think in the United States and in Europe that you can, you know, walk and chew gum at the same time and work with the Chinese in areas like that, where, you're right, you cannot make any progress unless you're working with the Chinese.
But I think the attitude in Beijing is somewhat skeptical of that possibility of being able to carve things up and on the one hand be criticized by the West for human rights in Hong Kong or in Xinjiang, and then on the other hand work together on those areas. And there's much more of a sense that it's a common approach.
There was a comment from China a couple of -- yesterday I think, saying that, you know, the G7, a group of small countries, you know, cannot dictate the rules of the world. And I think there's a sense of, you know, is this organization relevant?
If there is a generally united front between the world's liberal democracies in how to strategically approach China, one that allows a working relationship in areas that they need to have, one that stands up for the values of liberal democracy, they don't think the West is in a very strong position.
But I think we're really a long way from that. And even if you take something like B3W, I think it's called, the Build Back Better World, which is the thing that was coined today by President Biden to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which is their attempt to invest in poorer countries, there's no new money there. It's a nice slogan, it's a nice aspiration, but there's nothing really substantive behind it.
And so that again makes me think that it's a step forward where the West is, and I think that President Biden has probably succeeded in bringing the Europeans a bit more together because they've been very divided on how to handle China and perhaps a bit tougher than some of them might have wanted to be. But we're still a long way from a strategically coherent approach for how to deal with the world's rising power of the 21st century.
I don't think we're there yet. And that's the real test of whether this alliance of liberal democracies actually adds up to something really substantive.
ZAKARIA: Zanny Minton Beddoes, thank you so much. Ben Rhodes, thank you. Your book is called "After the Fall: Being American in the World We've Made." And I really recommend it. It is a fascinating tour (INAUDIBLE) of the world and also very well written as everything you do is.
(INAUDIBLE) virus pandemic human beings gained an extra life. The wonder author Steven Johnson will explain what he means when we come back.
ZAKARIA: My next guest says people live twice as long as they did 100 years ago, and that these gains are not just seen in Western countries, but around the world. So how on earth did it happen?
This fascinating story is the subject of Steven Johnson's new book "Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer." He also has a PBS series of the same name.
Steven Johnson, welcome.
STEVEN JOHNSON, HOST, "EXTRA LIFE" ON PBS: Thank you. It's great to be back.
ZAKARIA: So what you talk about as the big achievement between the two great pandemics, the Spanish influenza and this current one, is something again that we don't think a lot about, which is that the life span, the average life span of a human being has doubled. How did that happen?
[13:25:10] JOHNSON: Yes, it's an amazing story, and it's a story about, you know, humanity. It's a global story. Global life expectancy now is about 72, and a century ago it was half that. And that was partially because, up until that point, for really the whole history of civilization, even going back to hunter-gatherers, 40 percent of children died before adulthood. Two out of five of your kids would die. That was the average.
And someone who made it to adulthood would basically expect to live about 60 years. Some people lived older. But, you know, the overall life span was much shorter, and childhood was the most dangerous phase of your life until you get very old.
So in about 100 years, depending on how you measure it, we've radically changed that experience. And we forget about this because, you know, we have a short memory and because progress in health is measured in a weird way by non-events, by things that didn't happen.
You know, you didn't get small pox when you were 2 and you didn't die of cholera when you were 5. And so we don't think about those things because they're non-events. They didn't happen. And yet all of us are the beneficiaries of this incredible advance. So with this project I was trying to go back and really look at what are the kind of big drivers of this momentous change.
ZAKARIA: And you point out that sometimes these things are not some kind of single brilliant invention of a vaccine or something like that, but when you look at something like cholera, it's, you know, hygiene, it's water supply.
ZAKARIA: Things like that.
JOHNSON: One of the most important advances was the purification of the drinking water systems. I mean, it was in the middle of the 19th century and cities around the world, it was extremely dangerous to drink water, and to drink milk, too.
That was another big factor in all this. And, you know, before we really had major medical breakthroughs, just being able to create a safe supply of drinking water, that was a major advance. And other basic forms of sanitation, like just washing your hands and things like that, that people didn't really understand until we understood the germ theory of disease.
So it's -- you know, in some ways it's basic infrastructure as much as it is, you know, medicine and, you know, taking a pill or going in to see the doctor that really makes the difference.
ZAKARIA: Explain the milk one, the pasteurization, because that's another extraordinary thing. I didn't realize drinking milk used to be a very dangerous thing.
JOHNSON: Yes. And this is -- one of the things I've tried to do with this in both the book and the show is to create really compelling narratives about these things because they are heroic stories. We need to celebrate these kinds of stories. And milk is an amazing example of this.
So milk in the middle of the 19th century was very dangerous. You could get tuberculosis from it. We didn't have refrigeration and so milk would spoil, particularly in big cities where you had to bring it in from outside of the metropolitan area.
And in New York City in 1850 60 percent of all deaths were children. And a lot of that had to do with them drinking contaminated milk. And so -- now this is a classic story where we think well, science solved this problem because Louie Pasture in 1865 invented the technique of pasteurization which is now a word on every milk carton that you buy.
But what's fascinating about it is while he did invent this technique to make milk safe, and there was a scientific advance that was crucial to this story, it took 50 years for pasteurized milk to become the standard in a grocery store in the United States.
And that's because the science on its own wasn't enough. It took activists. It took people fighting. It was a political struggle to get pasteurized milk to become the standard. It involved persuading people to drink it, it involved persuading the milk industry to manufacture it. You know, there were legal reforms. And that fight, when we see big changes in human health, it's a combination of science and activism that really makes a difference.
ZAKARIA: So from the perspective of your book, would you say that when you look at this pandemic, the really big news, the news that will live in history is the development of these extraordinary MRNA vaccines and the speed with which they've been developed?
JOHNSON: Yes. I mean, I think we will remember the tragedy of the pandemic and the lives lost and the turmoil and economic disruption. But in terms of the long arc of human health, the speed with which -- and the efficacy of the new vaccines is just such an extraordinary breakthrough. I mean, the analogy I always make is, you know, it took us four years just to identify the virus that causes AIDS in the early '80s, right? [13:30:06]
And not to mention developing a vaccine which we still don't have for AIDS.
We isolated and shared the genome of the coronavirus within two or three weeks of it first being discovered, and then we were able to build the basic model of the mRNA vaccines just a few days after that.
And that just -- just imagine this crisis where it takes us four years just to figure out what the virus is, much less start thinking about vaccines. So, it is an enormous breakthrough.
ZAKARIA: Steven Johnson, great book, great show. Thank you for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thanks so much for having me on. ZAKARIA: And next on GPS, Benjamin Netanyahu woke up this morning as
prime minister of Israel. But the Knesset is moments away from voting on his replacement. That story and what the future holds for Israel when we come back.
ZAKARIA: If all goes as expected, it will be a truly historic day in Israel. The Knesset is meeting now to consider what is likely the country's next government, a coalition cobbled together with people and parties from all across the political spectrum. As I've said before, it seems they have one thing in common, a dislike for the sitting President Bibi Netanyahu. And if this new coalition is voted in today, Bibi will no longer be prime minister.
Martin Indyk is a two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel and a former U.S. special envoy for Israeli and Palestinian negotiations.
So, Martin, let me ask you the question that I think everyone has. So, this coalition comes together. Given how disparate it is and how much they disagree, Naftali Bennett, the prime minister to be, will move to do some of the things his base wants, which will be to further strengthen the annexation of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. That will outrage the Israeli Arabs who are part of this coalition, or, you know, the far left wing parties. They will then protest. It could trigger a no confidence vote.
Is the coalition as fragile as it seems?
MARTIN INDYK, FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, good morning, Fareed.
I think, you know, the party is an important one, it is a coalition that adheres because it's against Netanyahu, but it's a coalition that stretches from the far left to the far right. And, as you mentioned, includes for the first time in Israel's history, an Arab party, not just any Arab party but an Arab Islamist party in this coalition.
But because it's made up of this party across the political spectrum, they essentially cancel each other out. If they don't hang together, they will hang separately. So I think that with Netanyahu leading the opposition, he still provides the glue that will hold this coalition together.
And as Bennett has said, he'll have to forego his dreams in favor of focusing on the consensus issues that I think this government can work on together, which is recovering from the pandemic, focusing on social issues, focusing on the needs of the Arab sector in particular.
And so, they've got enough to do in common to give them some life.
ZAKARIA: You said that in a sense the specter of Bibi's return could keep this coalition together. Now, Bibi Netanyahu is probably the leader of the opposition. We'll see how it plays out over the next few weeks, but there is this issue about his indictment and possible conviction. How -- give us a sense of the timeline. He's been under indictment for years now, but will this resolve itself any time soon?
INDYK: Well, in terms of the wheels of justice, including especially Israeli justice, move exceedingly slow, so I think it will be some time. Now that he's no longer prime minister, he will have time to focus on the trial which is going on at the moment. He's charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, serious crimes he's been indicted for.
There are some in the Likud Party who are talking about challenging his leadership. If he decides to stay on, and I think he will, I think that he will be able to survive those challenges, and he will be out there creating as much problem as possible for the coalition.
And there is some immediate challenges that he will be highlighting. For example, there's an illegal outpost that went up during his last few months as prime minister that he did nothing to remove, placing a kind of land mine for the future government because that -- the removal of that illegal settlement, it's built on Palestinian land, will require the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, in effect, to go against his settler ways. And that will be in the way the first test, but not the only test, that's coming at this government that Netanyahu will amplify.
ZAKARIA: And what about the Israeli Palestinian issue in general? Does it stay paralyzed? Is there possibility of movement? Where do you see things heading?
INDYK: Naftali Bennett, the prime minister, is the strongest proponent of annexation of the West Bank and the strongest opponent of an independent Palestinian state in this government. But as he said, he's going to forego his dreams.
His focus in the past has been what he calls autonomy on steroids. That is designed to -- I think his idea is to boost the quality of life for Palestinians, to give them greater economic opportunities to build the Palestinian economy, build roads in the West Bank for Palestinians as well as Israelis, this type of day-to-day things that he promises will help the Palestinians in the meantime.
I think the Biden administration could go along with that in the short term because they, too, don't see much prospect for resuming negotiations on the two-state solution. But we've been down this road before and it turned out to be a rabbit hole because there are so many restrictions on what the Palestinians can do.
So we'll have to see just how far he and his coalition is prepared to go on this front, but this is a coalition that cannot hold together if it were to engage in final status negotiations on a two-state solution. On the other hand, the Palestinians are not exactly in a position to spit between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to advance on negotiations either. So, I think it's at least worth testing this idea of boosting autonomy
and quality of life for the Palestinians as a first step towards rebuilding negotiations for a final agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
ZAKARIA: Martin Indyk, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you.
And we will be back.
ZAKARIA: Now for the last look.
The flood of people trying to enter the U.S. from its southern border looks like a problem with no good solution. President Trump's draconian and cruel response didn't accomplish much. President Biden's more generous approach seems to be inadvertently encouraging many more people to come. So Biden has put Kamala Harris in charge of stopping migration at the source.
And this week, the vice president began those efforts with a visit to Guatemala and Mexico. The centerpiece of the administration's strategy is $4 billion in proposed aid to improve conditions in Central America so people won't want to leave.
It's essentially a return to the Obama strategy which many critics say didn't work. Much of that money was wasted on useless projects and administrative overhead, even as migration to the U.S. continued unabated. Defenders say the approach didn't have time to pay dividends because President Trump shut off the aids spigot.
But we are thinking about this the wrong way. That's according to Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development in a new "Foreign Affairs" article.
To understand what's happening in Central America, consider the case of Mexico. Millions of Mexicans poured into the U.S. from 1970 to 2010. That was actually a period of economic growth in Mexico. It turns out as people got a bit more money and education, they became more likely to leave, particularly young men. They heard about opportunities for a better life and they have the money for the journey.
Economic growth in other words was helping drive immigration. But as poor countries get richer, people tend to have fewer children. Mexico's birth rate plummeted over the same period. That had a delayed impact, because it takes years for babies to grow up and join the workforce, but gradually, there was less and less competition for jobs. Immigration to the U.S. began to taper off. In fact, over the last decade, more Mexicans left the U.S. to go back to Mexico than left Mexico to the United States.
Clemens believes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Mexico's neighbors to the south, are on the same path. They're still in the transition phase where rising incomes are enabling people to leave, while the effects of falling birth rates haven't been felt yet, but they are starting to. The population of young workers is dropping or leveling off in those countries. So, the long-term trend suggests this crisis will largely solve itself.
But Clemens points out that short-term disasters can also spur waves of migration. Indeed there's been a huge influx from Mexico during the pandemic as its economy tanked and resources were redirected from fighting crime to fighting COVID. Two recent hurricanes have pushed people to leave Central America.
So, if the goal is to stanch the flow of migrants, aid would be better spent on humanitarian relief than economic development, temporary assistance to help people through emergencies. In the long run, what the region needs most, according to a study by the Wilson Center, isn't financial assistance from the U.S., but better governance at home. You can't make much progress on poverty, gang violence, education or health care if you don't have basic rule of law.
That's harder for America to provide, but it has some tools at its disposals. Washington got Guatemala and Honduras to accept international anti-corruption commissions which helped prosecute more than 1,500 people and took down Guatemala's president.
The Trump administration allowed those commissions to be scrapped. Biden is trying to revive that approach. America's long reach, meanwhile, gives it the power to sanction corrupt officials, refuse them visas, freeze ill-gotten gains and extradite criminals to face prosecution in the U.S. America can also support media and NGOs that hold officials accountable.
Reducing migration isn't as easy as flipping a switch or building a wall. Part of the solution involves long overdue reforms to the U.S. immigration system. But much depends on the region itself and the long-term demographic trends actually look good. With thoughtful strategy and persistent engagement, the U.S. can get this problem under control.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.