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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview With CNN Global Economic Analyst Rana Foroohar; Interview With Former Venezuela Trade And Industry Minister Moises Naim; America And Its Adversaries; Xi Jinping Poised To Extend Rule At Chinese Party Congress. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired October 16, 2022 - 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 program, I'll talk to "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman who points out that not only is the United States involved in the largest war in Europe since World War II, but America has also entered a sort of tech war with China. And an energy struggle with Saudi Arabia.
What in the world is going on?
And China's leaders, more than 2,000 of them, are gathering this week to make major decisions about the country's direction for the next five years and beyond. On the agenda, an unprecedented third term in office for Xi Jinping.
What else will be decided? I will talk to the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.
Then, "Stop the Steal" maybe headed south of the border, as Latin America's largest democracy seems to be taking cues from its neighbor up north.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You don't concede when there's theft involved.
ZAKARIA: We will tell you about the controversy over Brazil's presidential election.
ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. Fiona Hill, a distinguished Russia expert, has recently argued that the West's confrontation with Russia over Ukraine has already brought us into World War III. That is dangerous hyperbole. What made the first two world wars so devastating was that the major powers of the day got into direct and protracted military conflict with one another. We are not in that kind of battle today, and with nuclear weapons, one
shudders to even think about the trajectory of a great power war. But she's right in one sense, the West is collectively waging economic war on Russia on a scale that would have been unimaginable just a year ago. The consequences of that are likely to be with us for decades.
This new cold war marks the end of the era of globalization and integration that has shaped the international system since 1989. We're now living in a new world of great power competition, economic nationalism, and technological decoupling. The risks of this new war might not be nuclear, but they are sky high, especially for the United States.
The sanctions against Russia have been more far-reaching than anyone had previously predicted. They have included extraordinary measures, such as freezing Russia's central bank reserves and cutting banks off from Swift, the financial messaging system that is a vital part of the global economic infrastructure. They've targeted the key vulnerabilities of countries in a world of globalized supply chains by denying Russia access to advanced technology.
The author Chris Miller writes that among the worst affected sectors have been cars, trucks, locomotives and fiberoptic cables, each of which has seen production fall by over half. Russia's imports have also collapsed.
Now as "The Economist" points out, when you look at some of Russia's broad economic indicators, they're holding up better than expected. The IMF have predicted that its economy would contract by about 8.5 percent this year. It has since revised its forecast to only 3.4 percent. Inflation spiked initially but is easing now.
The reasons are varied. Russia is actually not that globalized of an economy and the state has a large footprint within it, both of which cushion the population from external blows.
But the biggest explanation by far is that Russia is a resource economy, a country whose wealth heavily depends on its export of oil, gas, nickel, aluminum and other such commodities. And those have been largely shielded from sanctions because the West realizes that the world relies on these inputs and banning them would cause as much pain to consumers as to Russia the producer.
Washington sanctions have been well-planned and well-executed with one exception -- energy. If the goal is to reduce Moscow's oil revenues, the sensible strategy, assuming you can't cut off all Russian oil supplies, would be to allow petroleum to flow unrestricted while working on a long-term plan to reduce Western dependance on Russian energy.
That way for now supply would stay plentiful which means prices would stay low. Instead, Western countries announced an embargo on Russian oil. The price cap on Russian now proposed is an effort to correct these mistakes and essentially negate the effect of the oil embargo. So will the efforts to get Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to pump more oil which have failed.
The Saudis miscalculated how badly their decision would go down in Washington and it will cause a rupture in relations between the two countries. But the larger problem is the West's incoherent energy strategy. It has underinvested in the energy it actually uses today, which is fossil fuels, based on magical thinking about the energy of tomorrow, renewables, which really will come the day after tomorrow.
The greatest danger to the United States is that much of this economic war is being waged by America alone. Using the unique status of the dollar as its weapon. Because countries need to use the one truly global currency, the threat to cut them off from it allows for extensive sanctions that can touch on goods and services that are not even produced in America.
The dollar hit a two-decade high last month because of the lack of alternatives to it. But at the same time, many major countries from India to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Turkey, Indonesia, and of course China are searching for ways to shake off the hold of U.S. currency and escape the long reach of Washington's economic power.
As I've suggested before, President Biden needs to make a speech in which he explains that it is only because of the unprecedented nature of Russia's challenge to the rules based international order that Washington is wielding these weapons and that they will never be used in normal circumstances or for purely parochial interests.
Wherever possible Biden should be trying to keep the widest number of countries on board, otherwise even if American were to win this struggle with Russia, future historians might remember this as the moment when countries around the world began to reduce their dependance on America and when Washington lost what a French president once called the exorbitant privilege of holding the world's reserve currency.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column. And let's get started.
Let's talk about the new world of economic war against Russia. But yes, also involving China and Saudi Arabia. For all of this, let me bring in "The New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman.
Tom, welcome. The first thing I want to ask you is we often don't think a lot about what the countermove of the other side will be. So we've been waging this unprecedented war against Vladimir Putin. How do you think Putin is thinking about it, and what is his most likely responses, though we're already seeing some of them?
TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Fareed, Putin's most likely response we've already seen, which is to, I think, blow up that pipeline out of Russia that was providing natural gas for Europe, in combination with our own, as you noted, ban on imports from Russian oil.
We're going to create a situation here where a lot of European countries are going to have a very cold and uncomfortable winter. And gas and oil prices around the world will be extremely high.
And I think that's basically Putin's "Hail Mary," Fareed, where he's going to throw as many troops into Ukraine to hold the ground, hope that oil prices spike as high as possible in the winter, force people around the world to choose between heating and eating, and create pressure, he hopes, for the Iranians to cut a dirty deal with him.
ZAKARIA: And when you think about this energy issue, you've also written on the fact that at the heart of this problem we have not thought seriously about the transition to green technologies and underinvested in the exploration for oil and natural gas. Is there a way to square the circle, to invest in these technologies so that we can have relatively low oil and gas prices, and at the same time, move to a green future?
FRIEDMAN: Fareed, we need a strategy that maximizes three things. Our energy security, our economic security, and our climate security.
The only way you're going to get that is if the Biden administration does something it has failed to do, which is bring the leading oil and gas companies, executives around the table with the leaders and advocates within the administration of our climate policy, and come up with a solution that maximizes all three.
If you don't do that, we're basically telling the oil and gas companies, you're dinosaurs, please go off somewhere and quietly die after you give us a little more oil and gas to get through this winter.
The message that sends to their investors is, hey, don't invest new money in oil and gas, just raise your dividends, give me more my return back, and buy back more of your stock. And that's what's been going on. So we underinvest in our own capacity. It means we can't make up for Russia's losses and prices go higher. We need to have an honest discussion about this, and we're not.
People are basically just assuming you can flip a switch, and there's just so much virtue signaling around this and a woke green energy that is just unrealistic. I'm as green as they come. I mean, I can't wait to, you know, get off fossil fuels. But it's not something that's going to happen in the short term and we've got to be realistic about it.
ZAKARIA: And when you look at the Saudi situation, it just strikes me that, you know, at the end of the day, what this rupture shows is this is a very fragile relationship. I've always felt America and Saudi Arabia as such different countries that it's very difficult to maintain this alliance when you have a rupture like this because there's so much distrust between two very different systems.
FRIEDMAN: You know, it's exactly right, Fareed. I mean, after 9/11, after the brutal murder of Khashoggi, the relations between us and Saudi Arabia were already really shallow, really frail, basically. And we asked Saudi Arabia to use its influence not to raise OPEC oil prices, not to side with Putin who wants prices to go high so he can get more money for pumping less oil. And the Saudis made a calculation based entirely on what they thought were their interests, their budgetary needs, and told basically Biden to take a hike.
And I get it. They've got that power. I don't think we're going to break relations with them in the short run. But lord, how long are we going to have an energy policy that leaves us exposed, Fareed, to forcing our president to go to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else on bended knee to ask for more oil. We have to have a realistic policy. We have the ability to generate these resources on our own. We have to do it with a climate policy.
But we have waited too long. There has to be a coherent, strategic approach to this, and get over the whole progressive thing that we can't talk to oil companies. If the Biden administration doesn't get a coherent policy together, if the energy secretary, who's been completely missing in action, doesn't get the group together, we need to have a coherent policy that maximizes energy security, economic security, and climate security, we're going to go begging for, you know, every six months for somebody else to fill in the gap.
ZAKARIA: Let's talk about China because I think that there is a big difference between the economic war being waged against Russia and the one against China. The China -- these sanctions that have been announced, these measures to restrict technology, they seem very targeted, very focused. They're only on the highest end of semiconductor chips. And so the effort here is not to wage a war against China but to deny China access to the absolute cutting edge of technology. It seems to me to make sense. What do you think?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, I understand why we're doing it, Fareed. But this is -- in terms of, you know, U.S.-China relations, this is quite a move. And I just don't know where it ends. Let's begin with something very clear. China's president, Xi Jinping, invited this move. You know, if you think about Xi and Putin together, we today have the two most all powerful leaders in Russia has ever had since Stalin and China has had since Mao.
The difference, though, is that when Stalin misbehaved and Mao misbehaved, it was basically only Chinese they could hurt. But in the world we're in right now, in this wider world, now when the leaders of Russia and China go off the rails, behave in incredibly aggressive ways, it affects the whole world. It touches all of us. And there's no question that Xi is taking China I think in a very bad direction. So I understand where this is coming from entirely.
That said, though, I don't know how China is going to react. You know, China, Fareed, controls over 80 percent of all the world's rare earths that go into your electric car battery.
Are they now going to go tit-for-tat on that? I don't know but once we get into this whole thing, we unravel the product of the 40 years of globalization between us and China and us and the World. And those 40 years where -- you alluded to it in your introduction, no great power war, hundreds of millions of people came out of poverty, and interest rates and inflation were relatively low. You're going to miss that era when it's gone.
And so again, I have no sympathy with Xi. Where he's taking China is backwards, in a wrong direction. But I do think we're just heading down a road where I don't know where it ends, and it's not going to be good, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Tom Friedman, always a pleasure to hear from you.
And we will be back to talk about China.
ZAKARIA: Earlier today, in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, more than 2,000 of the country's top leaders gathered for what may be the most important high-level meeting in China in decades. The Communist Party's 20th National Congress is expected to hand a historic third term as general secretary to Xi Jinping, cementing his position as one of modern China's most powerful leaders after Mao and Deng Xiaoping.
What agenda will China set for the next five years and beyond?
Joining me to talk about all this is Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia. He's now the president and CEO of the Asia Society, and this year released an important new book called "The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the United States and Xi Jinping's China."
Kevin, welcome. I want to ask you about this party congress. We look at China right now and we see a lot of problems. We see a COVID policy that isn't working. We see an economy that's stalled. We see a lot of distrust among China's neighbors, from India to Australia. Will any of this matter as Xi Jinping solidifies his power base, or has he got such an internal lock on power, that this party congress will just be a rubber stamp of his third term?
KEVIN RUDD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I think, Fareed, it's important for us all to take out the rubber stamp because the bottom line is despite the head winds you just referred to, particularly in the slowing of the economy, also COVID social and economic impact, and the external shall I say missteps, Xi Jinping's Leninist control of the party is very, very strong. You'll see him remarkably reappointed by about 2,300 votes to zero.
I think on top of that, you'll likely to see personnel appointments which are largely if not exclusively his own closest supporters, and a continuation of the Xi Jinping policy line, probably, on the economy and foreign security policy as well. But it really is shaping up to be a profound coronation for a leader who will not just be around for the next five years, but intends to be around for life.
ZAKARIA: And so when we look at that, we are talking about a continuation of his philosophy which has really taken China in a very different direction, right. I mean, it was liberalizing economically. Xi Jinping has essentially scrapped all that and doubled down on state control and state organization. He's getting much tougher with the United States, much tougher with his neighbors. Is all of that likely to be articulated now in a way that, you know, we almost get a kind of doctrine from Xi Jinping?
RUDD: Well, Fareed, I think the important thing about this party congress is to look carefully at Xi Jinping's work report to the party congress. And the reason I say that is it outlines the ideological articulation of Xi Jinping's political, economic, and international policy line. So I think that is where the real substance of this congress lies.
What I've seen in the last several years now, Fareed, are three big changes. Xi Jinping has moved the center of gravity of the politics of China to the Leninist left, more party control over everything. He's moved also recently the center of gravity on economic policy towards the Marxist left, greater role for the state over the private sector, and at the same time, moved the dial towards the nationalist right in a more assertive in foreign security policy. I see those trends on balance as likely to be continued and in some areas strengthened.
ZAKARIA: And what happens with the pivotal issue of Taiwan? Because, again, it seemed to Deng Xiaoping's approach was this very long-term strategy of unification. You know, eventually, we're 1.4 billion people on one side of the Taiwan Strait, they're 22 million on the other side, you know, in the very long run we will be unified. Xi seems to be talking about a much shorter time frame, and he seems to be talking about unification by whatever means necessary.
RUDD: Well, Fareed, you're right is that unlike Deng Xiaoping, Xi Jinping has begun to reflect a timetable, an urgency about this question. Not next year, not the year after, and in my judgment, probably not this decade. But he has said you can't achieve China's ultimate national goal of national rejuvenation, which is code language for becoming the preeminent regional and global power, Xi Jinping has said you can't achieve that by 2049, his target date, without bringing Taiwan back into Chinese sovereignty.
If you like, at the largest and most expensive scale, we're now on a 27-year timetable. My expectation is he would want to be in a political, military and financial and economic and technological position to do that in the early 2030s when he would still hope to be around. But the clock if you like has started ticking, unless the United States, its allies and Taiwan can effectively bring about military and economic deterrence against that in the meantime.
ZAKARIA: That is a frightening prospect.
Kevin Rudd, pleasure to have you on.
RUDD: Good to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, is the forecast for the American economy getting even gloomier? How about for the global economy? I will discuss that next with Rana Faroohar.
ZAKARIA: JPMorgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon said this week that the U.S. economy is likely to be in a recession by the middle of next year, and Thursday's higher than expected inflation data only piles on the concerns. Could we actually be headed for the much dreaded stagflation of the 1970s, slow growth plus high inflation?
Joining me is Rana Foroohar, CNN's global economic analyst and the author of a terrific new book "Homecoming: The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World." Welcome, Rana.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: So let's first talk about the prospects for a recession. How likely do you think this is?
FOROOHAR: I think it's pretty likely. And look, recessions are normal. You know, this is the thing, we have sort of forgotten that they are supposed to happen every five years, every seven years. You know, because of monetary policy, low rates, you know, a lot of easy money after the financial crisis policymakers have kind of stretched out the business cycle. And I think we have all gotten used to the idea that, oh, recession, it's natural.
ZAKARIA: Now what do you think is going to happen with inflation? Because the number was not just high, but it was surprisingly high, over eight percent.
FOROOHAR: Yes, the thing that really stood out for me was housing within that. Really huge housing bubble in this country. Again, housing is the epicenter of all the easy money being pushed into the system.
You have got bubbles and then the pandemic. People work from home. You have got bubbles in places that we've never had them before in the U.S. Add in to that higher interest rates, and the cost of a mortgage carry on an average home in this country is up about 50 percent year on year. So that's what I'm really thinking a lot about.
ZAKARIA: Now, one of the things you talk about in the book is how -- we're really at a kind of inflexion point --
ZAKARIA: -- where the economy is going to change substantially. Describe briefly what that change is.
FOROOHAR: So we're talking right now about asset bubbles, about, you know, financial markets that are so unmoored from Main Street. And that financialization has gone hand in hand with a certain kind of globalization in the last 40 years or so. You know, it was all about cheap. Cheap capital mostly from the U.S. Cheap labor mostly from Asia and in particular China. And cheap energy, in particular Russia coming into Europe. All those things are going away now.
So we're seeing a real pendulum shift. This is happening for a lot of reasons. There are geopolitical shifts, you know, COVID, war in Ukraine. It kind of pulled up a scrim and made us realize that it matters where we get our energy. It matters where our supply chains are.
But even if we didn't have such a fractious politics globally at the moment I would argue that we're moving to a more regionalized, localized sort of economy for all kinds of reasons. The environment. You know, you look at the emissions cost in transporting cheap goods all around the world, and this is something that's changing as we move to a price on carbon at some point. You look at the new technologies like added manufacturing that can allow you to make an entire Tesla or an entire home locally. These are things people are really concerned about now.
ZAKARIA: So you outline all these reasons very well. But the thing that I'm struck by though is -- so if this is going to be a war in which cheap is not that important, efficiency is not that important, that's by nature structurally inflationary, right?
ZAKARIA: So are we entering a new world where we are just going to be living with a certain amount of inflation? Everything you're describing is you're not choosing the cheapest good or service or process, you are choosing to pay a little extra for national security, for resilience, for the environment.
ZAKARIA: That's inflationary.
FOROOHAR: A hundred percent. And you've really gotten to something important here. It's true, cheap isn't cheap. Cheap has never been cheap for workers. It's never been cheap for the environment. But you're right, as supply chains become more resilient, semi-conductors, for example, the U.S. is building two new major foundries. Europe is building its own.
This is ultimately a good thing, because it doesn't really make sense to have 92 percent of all high end chips produced in Taiwan, very contentious island. But yes, that's capital expenditure and that's inflationary.
What I would argue, though, is over the mid to longer term, this is going to take us to a place where we have a more balanced economy. If you look just in the U.S. at this idea that cheaper televisions in Walmart, cheaper products are somehow going to make up for the fact that there were flat or stagnant wages, it hasn't worked out.
All the things that make us middle class, housing, health care, education have been rising triple the rate of core inflation even before we had the latest bout.
ZAKARIA: But then if you add to it now the fact that your clothes and your goods are also going to get more expensive, what I'm wondering is, look, for people who are well-off, you go into a Walmart and goods are 25 percent more expensive, they don't even notice. But for somebody making $25,000 a year, you know, there's a reason that inflation has often caused political instability. Unemployment only affects the people who are unemployed and their families, five, seven, eight percent. Inflation hits everyone, and it hits the poor the hardest.
Will they be willing to pay for all these things you are describing? Because that's politically the question.
FOROOHAR: I think, Fareed, that if it is made clear, and I believe the Biden administration is doing a pretty good job making it clear that we're switching to a work not wealth mantra. We have got to create an economy that's based on more than just asset bubbles. And so, I think, that yes, if there is a clear message that we're in a bumpy period, the world is not flat, right, we've got some bumps, we're going to get through this together, we're going to bolster labor when we do sign new trade deals. We're going to think differently and more inclusively about economy. Then, yes, I think we can make it there.
ZAKARIA: Rana Foroohar, always a pleasure.
FOROOHAR: Thanks for having me.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we will tell you about an election to be held in the coming weeks where one of the candidates has already alleged vote fraud. I'm not talking about the United States, I'm not talking about the Senate race. I'm talking about Brazil's presidential contest. That story when we come back.
ZAKARIA: The western hemisphere's second largest democracy may be on shaky political ground and the reasons may sound familiar to Americans. Earlier this month, Brazilians voted in a presidential election where two candidates from the far sides of the political spectrum were pitted against each other. The right wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who is known for his admiration for Donald Trump, versus the leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula.
For months, Bolsonaro questioned the integrity of Brazil's voting systems which had sound familiar to us. Both candidates have been seen wearing bulletproof vests in public presumably fearful of political violence. Now the election will go to a runoff because neither candidate garnered a majority in the first round while Lula got 48 percent of the vote to Bolsonaro's 43 percent.
So where will all this lead? Moises Naim is the perfect person to answer that question. He is a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is "The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century." Welcome, Moises.
MOISES NAIM, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Hi, Fareed, thank you.
ZAKARIA: When you look at this campaign so far, Moises, what strikes you as most interesting? Because it's been a pretty raucous, chaotic campaign with a lot of rhetoric thrown around. So just give us your sense of what was most striking about it.
NAIM: How conflicted, polarized, divided is the country. How voting and elections just quantify the polarization. Around the world when we have these elections what we end up is not with a unified nation but a deeply divided nation, and we have the numbers to show how divided it is. And what is happening is how deeply Brazil has changed.
For example, Evangelical Christians a decade or so ago were just single digits in terms of the population, now they are a third of the population. And they vote -- mostly they vote as a bloc and they are active supporters of Bolsonaro, and the whole values kind of voters. So that's the deep profound change that has taken place in Brazil is a very important factor.
ZAKARIA: In this election, it does seem to me that you have a left- wing populist against a right-wing populist. But in most places in Latin America right now, it's the left-wing guys who are winning, right? Why do you think that is?
NAIM: Well, the pandemic -- you know, COVID is surely one. The people are frustrated and whoever was in power during the COVID pandemic is blamed, fairly or unfairly. Bad economy, high inflation, frustration, disappointment with the politicians. The anti-politics movement, you know, I don't believe in anything, in anyone, in they stop lying. They are all crooks, throw them away. That is a strong sentiment around the region, and around the world, by the way.
ZAKARIA: And you pointed out the rise of the Evangelical movement in Brazil. So one of the things that strikes me as different about Brazil, and tell me if I'm right, is it's quite a conservative country in many ways despite, you know, the image of Rio and all that. And Bolsonaro is tapping into that.
NAIM: Absolutely. This is a country --70 percent of the country is against legalizing marijuana or legalizing abortion. A large plurality is against same-sex. So going down on the list of -- that define a conservative voter Brazil now has a very substantial voting bloc that thinks along those lines, and it's quite, again, I have to stress how profound a change this is to what Brazil used to be.
ZAKARIA: In your new book, which is terrific, you talked about how this moment has become so dangerous because of the erosion of democracy by these populist autocrats, by dictators who understand how to play the game of populism.
And that seems to me to be something you see very clearly in many parts of Latin America, but particularly in Brazil with Bolsonaro.
NAIM: Exactly. You know, what we are seeing is, you know, populism, rampant populism. But then fueled populism -- the essence of populism is that there is a cabal, an elite that exploits the noble people and there is always a charismatic leader that is defending the people that are being exploited by these elites.
So populism is that, but then it gets turbo charged by polarization, by all kinds of identity politics. What defines you has to do with who you believe will be a better leader of the country. And, again, to populism and polarization then you have post-truth, right? Not knowing who to believe, what to believe, social media, and all that that fuels the polarization, that in turn empowers populists. Again, this is rampant in Latin America but we can see it all over the world.
ZAKARIA: Three Ps, populism, polarization, post-truth. Moises Naim, pleasure to have you on.
NAIM: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, it has been so inspiring to watch the brave protestors in Iran. But the question we keep coming back to is, will they succeed? We're going to look at some data that might give us a clue, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. The protests raging in Iran have been deeply inspiring, sparked by women demonstrating against the repression of a brutal regime, that has made control over women and their bodies a central tenant of its rule. And as the "New York Times" notes, the protests have now spread to include oil workers who have taken to the streets shouting slogans like "death to the dictator."
This is powerful stuff. But are the regime's days numbered? In a fascinating piece in "The New York Times," Max Fisher notes two puzzling trends. All over the world we are seeing an astonishing rise in protests. But this rise in frequency does not appear to correlate to a rise in efficacy. In fact, quite the opposite.
Mass protests are now more likely to fail than at any point in the past century. This finding comes from a group of Harvard scholars who maintain a data set of protests that have either sought to change a regime or to gain territorial independence between 1900 and 2021. That data shows that the number of such nonviolent protests have grown dramatically in the past 20 years.
Many of these demonstrations were remarkable. The Arab Spring, for example, or the recent protest against Belarus' brutal dictator Alexander Lukashenko. But it doesn't follow that these demonstrations were all successful.
The Harvard statistics show that of those protests initiated in the 1990s, 64 percent succeeded. Of the protests initiated between 2010 and 2019, just 42 percent succeeded. And of the protests that began in 2020 and '21, just eight percent succeeded in their aims, though that data is, of course, partial.
What is behind this striking drop? Perhaps the most illuminating place to look is the rise of social media. It's easier than ever to watch an explosion of anger. Just go online. But as Fisher writes, while it's become easier to organize discontent on social media, the traditional activist organizing that has historically led to change has weakened everywhere.
The truth is, as he notes, that street protests are just one piece of a multi-prong strategy required to affect change. The others involve forging alliances with other groups with overlapping aims and meeting and pressuring political elites.
The scholar Samuel Huntington pointed out that the key to democratic change was to induce cracks within the ruling elite. Achieving regime change or significant democratic reform needs more than just likes on Facebook or even bodies on the street. It needs effective organization and sustained strategizing.
Historically, major successful protest movements came with an almost military level of organization and hierarchy. Take one surprising example, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. As Malcolm Gladwell explained in 2010, that inspiring movement was not some spontaneous call for justice but rather "a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline."
Central to its success was the Black church, which Gladwell notes had a very hierarchical structure. It organize standing committees and other groups that ultimately reported to a central authority, the minister. Hierarchy, not decentralized democracy, Gladwell wrote, is what is required to effect systemic change.
Look at the Montgomery bus boycott of the 1950s. When Rosa Parks was arrested after she famously refused to go to the back of the bus, civil rights organizations and Black churches publicized a boycott to be held on December 5, 1955. About 40,000 people in Montgomery refused to take the bus that day. This protest lasted for over a year.
A young charismatic pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as its leader. To encourage sustained participation, the boycott's organizers had local Black churches work on keeping up morale.
Organizers also arranged a free carpool service. Black cab drivers were compelled to charge Black passengers just 10 cents for a ride, the local bus fare. Eventually the Montgomery bus boycott led to the Supreme Court's 1956 decision that bus segregation was illegal.
In a broader sense, the passage of the Voting Rights Act never would have happened without the years of back room meetings between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson. The data from Harvard is concerning not least because it marks a new reality as one of the scholars who maintains the database writes in a recent journal article, nonviolent protests now no longer has a statistically significant advantage over armed insurrection in terms of achieving systemic change in a country.
Now let me be clear, that does not tell us much about Iran. Individual countries can always be exceptions to a trend. But the trend is a troubling one.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. And I will see you next week.