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President Biden Declares To The World America Is Back; Winter Weather In Central Portion Of U.S. And Climate Change; Can The U.S. Afford Massive Spending? Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 21, 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.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the show, Joe Biden tells world leaders --


ZAKARIA: Back in the Paris agreement, back supporting the transatlantic alliance, and working to get Iran back to the negotiating table. Will it make a difference? We'll discuss with a terrific panel.

BIDEN: We are not backing backward. We are looking forward together.

ZAKARIA: Then a Texas-sized disaster as millions there lose power, heat and water. The state's energy infrastructure was left crippled by an unusual cold and ferocious winter storm. Why wasn't Texas ready for it? Is any part of the world properly prepared for the ever more intense weather caused by climate change?

I will talk to Texas resident and climate expert, Katharine Hayhoe.

Finally, the government of Bhutan is known for caring more about the national happiness than GDP growth. Well, the Bhutanese should be particularly happy about how their country has conquered COVID. This tiny and not wealthy nation has thus far suffered just one COVID death. I'll tell you how.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. The central question in American politics right now, one with global implications, is whether the Republican Party can purge itself of its most extreme elements. Obviously, this relates to Donald Trump, but it goes beyond him as well. The current Republican congressional delegation includes people who insist the 2020 election was stolen, have ties to violent extremist groups, traffic in anti-Semitism and have propagated QAnon conspiracies in the past. At the state level it often gets worse. Republicans have tolerated these views and voices for years. Can the

party finally find a way to control them? The answer to this question could well determine the future of American democracy. In a brilliant scholarly work, "Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy," Harvard's Daniel Ziblatt argues that Britain remained a democracy in the early 20th century while Germany veered into fascism because the main conservative party in the U.K. was able to discipline its extremists.

For years before World War I British conservatives faced a threat from anti-democratic elements of their party, particularly radicals in Northern Ireland. The Tory Party, strong and hierarchical, was eventually able to tamp down these factions and stabilize British democracy.

In Germany, by contrast, the main conservative party was weak and disorganized, depended on outside groups for help. This provided an opening for a sort of early incarnation of Rupert Murdoch, the nationalist Alfred Hugenberg, who used his media empire and business connections to seize control of the party and tried to drive it to the right.

The infighting zapped the strength of the party and many of its voters began to flock to far-right alternatives like the Nazi Party. Hugenberg allied with Hitler thinking that this would be a way to decidedly take control of the conservative movement. The rest, of course, is history.

I am not making a comparison between extreme Republicans and Nazis. I am making the argument that when parties lose the ability to police their extremists bad things happen not just to the party but also to democracy itself. Already, much of today's Republican Party has been permeated by extremism.

According to a recent American Enterprise Institute survey, 56 percent of Republicans believe the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it. Thirty- nine percent backed an even stronger statement. If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.


These are not views compatible with democracy. The Republican Party has lost control of the forces it has long encouraged. An early moment of reckoning took place way back in the 1980s, according to David Frum's prescient book, "Dead Right." As conservatives saw it, they had finally taken charge for the first time since FDR's reign in the 1930s. Now they could repeal the new deal and the great society.

But as they quickly realized, the public was utterly opposed to doing so. Ever since then, Republicans have gotten comfortable lying to their voters. Over time, the party was taken over by the increasingly frustrated mob. Consider the difference between the government shutdowns of the mid-'90s and of 2013. The former was centrally planned and directed by the House Republican

leader Newt Gingrich. The latter, under Obama, was demanded by the Tea Party and though Speaker John Boehner acquiesce, he was eventually pushed out by those same radicals.

In 2016. the Republican Party could not come together to defeat and purge Trump. The party hierarchy had lost its clout. Besides other presidential hopefuls like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz wanted to court Trump's base, not alienate it. A few leaders, like Mitt Romney, condemned Trump, but it was all too little too late.

U.S. political parties have become dangerously weak. Once upon a time, they picked the presidential candidates to present to the public. Now primary voters, often more radical than party leaders, have usurped that key function. Once the parties firmly control funds, today thanks to various Supreme Court rulings, outside groups have much more cash and influence than they used to.

So the odds are against the Republican Party disciplining its most radical elements. Some hope that electoral losses might force those actions. But remember that while 2020 was a bad year for Trump, it wasn't such a bad year for other Republicans. The party narrowly lost control of Congress, but it did well in statehouses across the country, sometimes with the help of voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Europe's political parties have not been captured by radical forces to the same extent because they have stronger internal structures, but these are also weakening. Everywhere the media has splintered and been decentralized making it harder to purge extreme voices.

We are moving into a world where democracies have fewer and fewer gate keepers. Without realizing it, we are embarked on a new and dangerous experiment in government.

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

On Friday one month after his inauguration, Joe Biden made his debut as president on the world stage with two events before global audiences, a speech at the Munich Security Conference and a meeting with the leaders of G7 nations. The thrust, America first is over, global cooperation is a must, and America is back. But is it really?

Joining me now are Zanny Minton Beddows, the editor-in-chief of "The Economist," Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Peter Beinart, a political commentator at CNN and a contributing opinion writer at "The New York Times."

Richard Haass, let me ask you very simply, is America back?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: If only it were so easy, Fareed. The good news is that we've rediscovered multilateralism. There is nothing we can do better ourselves and with others, but we're not back either objectively or in the eyes of others. Here at home we're about to reach the 500,000 death mark of COVID. The economy has yet to recover. There is infrastructure issues. There is race issues.

There is a long ways to go here at home before we are objectively back. And then in the eyes of others, they have to see that we can have a peaceful rotation of power and that whoever comes in office in the future is -- the change is bounded, that the United States has essentially rediscovered its predictable self which dominated for 70, 75 years. So until we show that there is a new consensus which others are willing to work with, no, we're not yet back.

ZAKARIA: Peter Beinart, would you agree? And let me ask you to bill on this fight by telling me, what you make of the basic orientation of the Biden team? These are familiar faces, experienced faces with a familiar world view. What does that -- what are you likely to see as a result and does it cheer you up or worry you?


PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: These are capable, decent people but what worries me is that they have not adjusted American foreign policy to take account of the magnitude of what we have learned over the last few years. What we have seen over the last few years is that America's government cannot protect the American people from the most basic threats they face, the threat of pandemics and the threat from climate change.

We're seeing now in Texas again and again we see that the American welfare state buckles in the face of these mounting threats. And given what we have learned, a relative continuation of the policies seems to me not connected to what the threats that we really face.

There has been no discussion of cutting the defense budget, even though we've seen that America's massive defense budget is not what's necessary to keep Americans safe when we need to invest at home. There is an emphasis primarily on competition with China, when if you look at the two greatest threats that China poses to the United States, public health and climate change, they can only be solved through cooperation.

So I fear that we have a foreign policy team that has not taken account of what we learned domestically over the last couple of years.

ZAKARIA: Zanny Minton Beddoes, give us a sense of how the world and particularly Europe is reacting to the new Biden administration. They made some nice statements. But take us behind the scenes. What is really happening? What is Europe's reaction to Biden?

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: I think it depends on which bit of Europe you're looking at. If you're looking at the European Union, I think there were nice words but basically they are not jumping for joy. It's a strikingly restrained reaction. President Macron on Friday at the same conference that President Biden said American was back, President Macron talked about the importance of strategic autonomy for Europe.

Even Angela Merkel said in her speech at the same conference that our interests will not always converge. So while they were polite, they were not sort of, you know, embracing with all arms open and huge, huge enthusiasm. That was left for somebody else. That was left to our Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said America is unreservedly back as the leader of the free world, and that is a fantastic thing.

You know that fantastic is one of his favorite words, so, you know, one can discard it a bit. But it is certainly true that the unreserved enthusiasm for this is very much a British thing right now. And that's partly to do with the fact that Britain is no longer in the E.U. and so it has to find its own friends in the world and go its own way. It has partly to do with the fact that actually the U.K. is more aligned to American priorities, particularly with regard to China. And of course the U.K. is leading the G7 this year and leading the global climate summit and so desperately needs some big progress there.

So it's going to be interesting. You know, Europe overall, I agree with Richard, quite muted. London on its own, on the other side of the channel, massively enthusiastic.

ZAKARIA: Fascinating. Richard, the China issue is going to be the central one. And I wonder, you know, it does sound like what Peter Beinart is saying is we're watching a kind of familiar playbook, you know, Cold War light or let's gather all the allies and show China the strength of the -- you know, the pro-American world. Will that work?

HAASS: Well, it will be tough. One test, Fareed, will be whether we can agree on a set of technologies that we will screen and not permit to reach China. And I think the only way we might succeed at that is if we keep that list of technologies and items quite narrow. And then the other side of that, the corollary, is that we work with our partners and allies in producing somethings ourselves. If we don't want to be dependent, say, on Chinese broad band, well, there ought to be a transatlantic alternative.

The other challenge with allies will be in the security realm. Can we, for example, show that we're more willing and able, say, to come to Taiwan's defense if China should act coercibly against it. So there's lots of issues here. And again, it makes the case for multilateralism. The question will be, can we translate the impulse which is the default impulse of this administration? Can we translate it into real policy?

ZAKARIA: Zanny, there was an earlier test here, which was Jake Sullivan, the National Security adviser, asked the Europeans not to sign a trade-in investment agreement with China until the Biden administration came to power. They essentially ignored it and went ahead and signed it. Was that significant in your view?

MINTON BEDDOES: Yes, I think it was immensely significant. And I think it's also striking how much the European Union is talking about, you know, its differences with regard to China with America. Clearly, you know, China is now the European Union's biggest trading partner and Germany, in particular, has huge, huge commercial focus on China, so there are very real differences there with the United States.

[10:15:05] There is also I think a sense in the European Union that they were burned in the last four years because they were very much the focus of President Trump's ire across the Atlantic. They were seen as an enemy on trade, if will. And now suddenly, you know, the U.S. is reaching out with its multilateralism, but how long will that last?

And finally in the area of trade, which is enormously important to the Europeans, they see -- you know, a Biden administration that talks about multilateralism, but one of the first things it does is talk about a large buy America scheme. You know, in action the Biden administration isn't all that pro-trade actually. And so, you know, I think there's quite a lot of skepticism in the European Union.

And therefore quite a lot of determination to forge their own role, which, you know, frankly, I think is problematic because the only way there will be a successful front to counter and develop a strategic approach to China is if the two sides of the Atlantic work together. But right now we're quite a long way from that in practice.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us, and when we come back I'm going to ask the panel how do we rejoin the Iran deal? What to do about Afghanistan? These questions and more when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with Zanny Minton Beddoes, Richard Haass, and Peter Beinart.

Peter, the Iran deal. Just give us a sense fundamentally what is the nature of Iran's threat and what should we do about it?

BEINART: I think that if you look at what the Biden administration has done so far, I think there is a disturbing contrast with the way they've behaved on domestic policy. On domestic policy, they've been bold. They've recognized that the Republican Party is not operating in good faith and they are pushing through probably on a partisan vote of domestic package they think is really important.

On Iran, they have, by contrast, kind of dithered. The United States, not Iran, is the one who violated this deal. Therefore, it seems to me just basic elemental fairness suggests that we return to the deal. Iran only started not living up to its commitments a year after we broke them. The United States should rejoin that deal first. And yet, we've not been willing to do that. And we're also talking about a follow-up deal that talks about addressing Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

But you know what? Iran is not the only destabilizing actor in the Middle East. The Saudis, the UAE, Israel, Turkey are at least as destabilizing in their foreign policy. So if the Biden administration wants to try to create regional peace, it has to see this more holistically, as a number of different countries all of which have legitimate security concerns. All of which have taken destabilizing actions. ZAKARIA: Richard, we're going to have to do a bit of a round robin. If

you have something to say on Iran, quickly say it. But what I really want to ask you is about Afghanistan, which you were in charge of for a while. What should -- Biden's instincts from the start had been to try and pull out or to get down to a very minimal commitment. What is the choice now? What is the right thing to do?

HAASS: Well, the choice is either to continue to do it. The Trump administration signed up to a year ago, which is to leave in a few months. That won't be a peace agreement, Fareed. That would be a withdrawal agreement. The government would fall and Afghanistan would likely again become a venue for terrorism. The human rights consequences would be awful and U.S. credibility would again take a major hit.

So I think the real question is whether you stay under current terms, 2500 troops, stay you're your NATO partners, extend really large scale support to this government, and possibly every now and then introduce some additional troops if need be. It won't give you peace. It won't give you military victory. But sometimes in life the most you can do is avert defeat. And I think that's both possible in Afghanistan and I think it's also affordable.

ZAKARIA: Zanny, let me ask you about something that your magazine did, which I thought was very intriguing and controversial. The United States has labeled what China is doing in Xinjiang with the Uighur and Muslim population a genocide. You pointed out that the United States is the only country in the world to label it as such and you disputed the characterization. You said look, what's going on is bad, but it's playing fast and loose with the word to describe it as genocide.

MINTON BEDDOES: We did. We had a couple of big pieces on this. And let me be clear. What is happening in Xinjiang is terrible. It is a crime against humanity. It is ought to be absolutely and totally and utterly attacked from the rest of the world. But what we went into is whether it was helpful for the United States to declare it a genocide.

Now genocide as you know has a definition under a U.N. treaty which is an extremely capacious definition. It can include cultural genocide, it can include forcible sterilization, it can include -- it has a lot of component. But hitherto, the United States has been extremely reluctant to declare a country genocidal regime.

It did so if you remember only at the very end of Rwanda genocide. And if you look at what's happening in Xinjiang, awful as it is, it is not the widespread slaughter of people. It is something different. It is -- we've called it a crime against humanity.

And we were pointing out that the Biden administration effectively to continue what Secretary Pompeo did on his last day to declare this a genocide and then basically continue as if nothing had happened, to continue working with China on climate change, to continue working with China on all kinds of other areas, risks debasing the term.

[10:25:09] I think once you've declared a regime genocidal, you can't really go on, you know, acting as though nothing else has happened and worked with it on all these other things. So we felt that it was important to make that distinction. Now the United States does need to work with China on areas like global climate. It should speak more loudly about human rights abuses. And I think it's excellent that the Biden administration is doing that.

It's excellent that, you know, they're speaking up about Hong Kong. That's really important. But this characterization of a term by itself with no follow-up from that, I think we thought weakened the term. That was the argument we were making.

ZAKARIA: Peter Beinart, I have 45 seconds, but I want you to explain one interesting point you wrote from a human rights point of view the Biden administration should take a serious look at the number of sanctions it has in place against, what, by some measure almost 50 percent of the world's population. Explain.

BEINART: I was particularly focused on what are called secondary sanctions where the U.S. not only refuses to trade itself but essentially tries to prevent other countries from trading. I described that as a kind of a siege. Oftentimes these are terrible governments that we are imposing these sieges on. But the academic evidence is clear. When you impose a siege and virtually make it very difficult for even humanitarian goods to come into a place like Venezuela or Iran and North Korea, you don't harm the regimes.

You actually harm the already brutalized people. And I think the Biden administration needs to completely review this policy, to become a cheap way for America to try to suggest its moral superiority and it actually hurts vulnerable people.

ZAKARIA: Peter Beinart, Richard Haass, Zanny Minton Beddoes, fascinating, intelligent conversation. Thank you.


ZAKARIA: And we will be back.



ZAKARIA: The entire central portion of the United States was hit this week by days and days of freezing cold. Much of the state of Texas had below-freezing temperatures for a week, along with record snowfall. Its power grid was crippled. Millions were without electricity for days. Then water systems failed as well. The winter weather left dozens dead.

I want to bring in Texas resident and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

Professor, thanks for joining us. Tell us, to begin with, just how, in a simple way, how is this related to climate change? KATHARINE HAYHOE, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: Well, first of all, it's winter.

And it is not unusual to get a storm of this magnitude in Texas. It happened about 10 years ago. And 10 years ago, grid operators and power companies were told, recommended, that they winterize their equipment. But as we see, the majority of them did not.

We also know, though, that the Arctic is warming. And as the Arctic warms much faster than the rest of the world, it's slowing down the jet stream. As the jet stream slows down, it starts to wiggle. And so we -- scientists are beginning to ask, could there actually be a connection between a warming Arctic, bigger troughs in the jet stream, and bigger outbreaks of Arctic air?

These outbreaks are, sort of, like opening the freezer door in the Arctic and letting all that cold air pour out.

But I have to emphasize that this has happened in Texas before. And the majority of the impacts that we are seeing is simply lack of preparation on the part of the grid.

ZAKARIA: But to -- to help people understand just how extraordinary these effects of climate change are, the Arctic is now, am I right, 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would be in an average year?

HAYHOE: Absolutely. The Arctic is warming faster than any other part of the world. And one of the biggest reasons the Arctic is warming so quickly is because, as it warms, all of that fairly shiny white ice and snow is melting, revealing dark ground and dark water underneath. And that absorbs a lot more of the sun's energy.

So it's what we scientists call a positive feedback cycle but what I think could be more accurately called a vicious cycle of warming.

ZAKARIA: So the result seems to be -- whoever coined the phrase -- "global weirding" seems to be more accurate than global warming. And, you know, you have these large temperature extremes. You can have 75 and 80 degree weather some weeks in Texas and now the kind you are seeing.

What is -- you know, what is the best way to prepare for that? What should Texas have done?

Obviously, it should have winterized. But, you know, give us a broader sense of where we're headed.

HAYHOE: We are headed into more extreme weather in general. We already know that summer heatwaves are becoming more intense and more deadly. We know that heavy precipitation is increasing and that precipitation can fall as snow or rain.

We know that we are not seeing more frequent hurricanes, but the hurricanes we get are bigger and stronger and slower and they're dumping a lot more rain on us.

And we know that the area burned by wildfires in the western United States has already doubled due to the impacts of a changing climate. So that's why I do think that a more accurate description of what's happening is global weirding.

ZAKARIA: What should we be doing?

Because it sounds like, in a situation where these extremes are going to continue as long as climate change continues to -- you know, as long as we keep pumping all this carbon into the atmosphere. We need to buy insurance, right?

You know, this is not just about one -- in almost every element of life, we have to be ready for these kind of extreme climactic events.

What do we do? How do we weatherize the infrastructure?

HAYHOE: Well, the way I look at it is as if we humans have been driving down a pretty straight road, like the roads we have here in west Texas, looking only in our rearview mirror.

We have designed our infrastructure, our building codes, our energy supply, our water allocations. We have designed almost every aspect of our lives based on conditions that we experienced in the past, the drought of record, the 100-year flood zone, the average temperature, so you know what type of air conditioner or heater or how much insulation you need.

But today climate is changing faster than any other time in the history of human civilization on this planet. We are already on the curve. Our wheels are already on the rumble strip.

And that's why one of the most important things any city, any state, any country can do is to prepare for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer avoid.

And that's what I do. I work with a lot of cities, including Houston in Texas, to help them see how their extreme heat in summer, their heavy precipitation and their flood risk will increase so that they can prepare for those impacts.

But the other side of the coin is that we actually control the steepness of a future curve. How? Our carbon emissions determine how much climate will change in the future.

And the United States has officially rejoined the Paris agreement. And that means that every country in the world is in on cutting their carbon emissions to keep warming below the level that really would signal danger, not for the planet but for human civilization. That's what's at risk.

ZAKARIA: Katharine Hayhoe, this is so illuminating. Thank you for joining us.

HAYHOE: Thank you for having me.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," the big question in Washington is, can the United States afford massive spending, whether to prepare for climate change or on COVID? Politicians, for decades, on both sides of the aisle, have cautioned against Washington spending money it doesn't have. That tide has now turned, says Annie Lowrey. She'll explain why in a moment.


ZAKARIA: The United States government expects to be in debt to the tune of $22.5 trillion at the end of September. That's after it spent $3.1 trillion more last year than it took in.

Meanwhile, President Biden has some very ambitious and costly plans. He has a $2 trillion COVID relief plan he's asking Congress to pass. And on the campaign trail he proposed another $2 trillion to be spent on infrastructure.

Many in Washington and New York ask, can we spend that much money when we are already so far in the hole?

Annie Lowrey explains why the answer is yes. She is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Welcome, Annie. Let me ask you, sort of, very simply to explain to people why, in your view, it's OK for the United States to have these kind of massive, massive deficit and debts where debt-to-GDP ratios will be up over 100 percent easily, probably closer to 125 percent?

ANNIE LOWREY, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think the thing to think about here is how the debt is behaving in terms of its dynamics on the economy, right?

The -- the debt is this inert mass that the United States and the taxpayer needs to service, correct?

And so, even though the debt has gotten much, much, much bigger, we've blown past that debt-to-GDP target of 100, so the debt itself is bigger than GDP measured per year, debt servicing costs have gone down because interest rates have been so low and have been so -- and this was not something that many people predicted but have been so low for so long, it feels like we're moving into or have moved into a structural period of low interest rates.

And so the amount of debt that the United States can handle has changed a lot. And our views of how -- how much debt and deficits are affecting the economy have changed a lot.

And then I also think that we need to think about what we're spending that money on. Because, if you're spending it on an investment that's going to generate more GDP down the road, something like infrastructure investment, for instance, if you're changing what the country is spending on, I think that that can matter a lot, too.

ZAKARIA: So you know that there are a lot of people who agree with the proposition you're making, that fundamentally interest rates are low for long and therefore we have the opportunity to borrow and invest. But they're saying this Biden bill and presumably the next one is just

too much. So Larry Summers, who has often talked about the need for more deficit spending, says this bill, $1.9 trillion, is just way too much and it could trigger inflation, which would then cause a rise of interest rates, which would then mean that debt servicing cost goes up.

And he argues the reason -- there's a very simple way to measure this, which is -- I mean, it's a technical term "output gap." But basically it's how much has the economy dropped off because of COVID? And there's that gap.

The amount of spending planned is four, five times that gap. That does seem a little too much, no?

LOWREY: Certainly. I think the question is what the spending is doing in the economy. So is this, sort of, traditional stimulus to get us out of a traditional recession, in which case you would perhaps cause overheating and you would see that overheating in terms of rising inflation, which the Fed would then have to raise interest rates to cool off.

Or is this something different?

So when you look at what's actually in the bill and what it's doing, this is billions and billions of dollars in part to ensure vaccinations; to keep child care centers and schools open; rental assistance to keep people from getting evicted.

And then there's another portion, which really is true stimulus, so the $1,400 stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, payments, PPP for businesses and some other money for small businesses, but that money isn't going to get used unless it's needed, right?

You know, you need to be unemployed in order to be applying for unemployment insurance.

And so, you know, I think that that -- if you don't think of it -- if you think of it as a kind of rescue package after a natural disaster, which in a lot of ways the coronavirus has functionally acted as, not just as a recession but as this public health catastrophe that has taken entire sectors of the American economy functionally offline, you know, it seems a little bit strange to be judging it only by the yardstick of it being a more traditional stimulus.

You know, in some ways it looks a lot, kind of, like war spending, right We are -- we are fighting this battle. And so I'm not sure that it makes sense to think of all $1.9 trillion as just being stimulus.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you, what's the worst-case scenario, right?

Like, let's imagine that this -- all this spending and these deficits do produce an overheating economy, that interest rates do rise, that inflation does go up. Why do we have in our minds this image of, you know, the 1970s

inflation out of control, very difficult to bring back down, you know, the older memories of Weimar hyper-inflation in Germany in the '20s. Are these all wrong?

LOWREY: I think the question is whether that was -- was the lesson that applies now and whether we could see the same circumstance, given that we've moved into this era of very low interest rates.

And I think it just might not be as applicable. We haven't seen problematic inflation in that way in -- in a generation. We have no memory of it. And so, given that inflation hasn't been problematic, it just seems like it might not be -- we might -- we might be cooling the economy off to solve a problem that we don't have.

ZAKARIA: Annie Lowrey, thanks so much for helping us understand this.

LOWREY: Thanks for having me.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," the United States will soon surpass half a million deaths from COVID-19. We will take you to a nation that has had only one death. Where in the world?

We'll be back with the answer.


ZAKARIA: My book of the week is "The Wake Up Call: Why the Pandemic Has Exposed the Weakness of the West and How to Fix It" by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

As someone who has written a big book on what the world will look like after COVID, I probably shouldn't recommend somebody else's book, but I'm going to do it anyway. This is really a superb examination of the political and economic changes that should be ushered in by the pandemic.

But since I mentioned it, you can also go to for a link to buy my book on the same topic.

And now for the last look. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, settled in the Himalayan mountains between India and Tibet, is known for its emphasis on gross national happiness over gross national product. Perhaps that's why it is one of the world's poorest countries, monetarily, at least.

So you may be surprised to hear that it has been one of the most successful at combating COVID-19.

When the pandemic began, the country seemed ill-repaired and vulnerable. It had just over 300 doctors, but only one with ICU training, about 3,000 health workers and a single PCR machine. That's all for a population of 760,000.

It shared an open border with India, where COVID has killed over 150,000 people. Yet Bhutan only reported its first coronavirus death, a 34-year-old

man with pre-existing conditions, this January.

Bhutan achieved this feat through rapid early action, strong leadership and a stringent public health response that emphasized compassion and unity.

While tourism is one of the country's main industries, bringing in almost $90 million a year, it swiftly closed its borders. Mass testing, tracing and social distancing were implemented. Hand sanitizer was distributed. Health workers were trained to use PPE and handle respiratory diseases. There were strict lockdowns and an aggressive 21-day quarantine policy.

It is notable that three top government leaders, the prime minister, health minister and foreign minister, are doctors or public health experts who call themselves "the healthy government," and they relied on science when shaping their pandemic response.

The prime minister, who is a surgeon, even slept on a window seat bench in his office throughout lockdown to avoid spreading the virus to his family, setting an example for the rest of society.

The king also played an active role, visiting the front lines and fostering a sense of cohesion.

In many respects, Bhutan is a lesson in preparedness, prevention and detection. Even before COVID-19, Bhutan, working with the WHO, was preparing for a virus-borne emergency. In November 2019 the country ran a simulation exercise in which a passenger arrived from abroad with a suspected case of coronavirus.

In January of 2020, shortly after hearing of a mysterious virus outbreak in China, the country began screening arrivals at the airport and drafting a national response plan.

From the first COVID case to emerge, a 76-year-old American who fell seriously ill, the country mobilized tracing and quarantining about 300 suspected contacts in just six hours.

Bhutan is not alone in mustering its comparatively small resources for a more powerful response to the pandemic than the U.S. and other wealthy countries.

As Madeline Drexler notes in The Atlantic, Vietnam, Rwanda and Senegal have all been more effective at suppressing COVID-19. All had similar policies of quick and early preventative action after prior experiences with epidemics.

Perhaps it's time for us to learn from countries like Bhutan, to promote trust in government, focus on communication with the public, to take care of our whole society by providing better social and economic support, to work on preparedness and prevention in public health and to address this crisis as a unified nation.

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