Preet Bharara: Pay Stay Tuned listeners, I want to tell you about a smart, funny new podcast you don’t want to miss. It’s called No Stupid Questions. You probably know one of the hosts Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics Radio. It’s one of the most popular and long-running podcasts out there. Well, Stephen has teamed up with Angela Duckworth, a world-renowned behavioral psychologist who studies grit and human perseverance. On No Stupid Questions, they explore all of the weird and wonderful ways humans behave by asking all kinds of questions like, how would our lives be different if we knew we’d live forever? And practical ones to like, are you a maximizer or a satisficer? And which is better? No Stupid Questions is available now. So you can check it out right after this. And make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned, I’m Preet Bharara.
Zanny Minton Be…: If you have a stock market that’s booming and disproportionately stocks, of course, are owned by wealthier people. And you have a real economy that is hurting and the people who are hurting most in it are the less skilled. That to me is not a recipe for social harmony.
Preet Bharara: That’s Zanny Minton Beddoes. She’s an acclaimed journalist and the Editor in Chief of The Economist, the weekly international periodical that’s been around since 1843. Beddoes has been writing for The Economist since 1994 when she joined as an emerging markets correspondent. She became editor in chief in 2015. And is the first woman ever to hold the position. Now based in London, Beddoes was ranked among Forbes 100 most powerful women for 2018. And she’s a regular financial correspondent and expert for major news networks.
Beddoes joins me this week to talk about running an international paper from home, the realities of a post-COVID economy, and why she invited Steve Bannon to debate her on stage at The Economist’s Open Future Festival. Plus she gives young people some advice for entering the workforce during a recession. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
The problem with the news right now, it’s everywhere and can be overwhelming. That’s where Slate’s What Next comes in. This short daily podcast is here to help you make sense of things. Not just explaining the news, but featuring voices and perspectives that illuminate the story of the day and expand the way we view the world.
Lately, like the rest of us, Mary Harris, the host of What Next has been laser-focused on the coronavirus pandemic, talking to ER doctors, Italian journalists, scientists and econ experts to tackle the many stories of this health crisis head-on. Now more than ever, What Next is just what you need. Because when the news feels overwhelming, we’re here to help you answer what next? Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Bart: Hi, Preet. This is Bart [Fornfeist] in Plano, Texas. Love your podcast. I have a quick question with the Supreme Court going to oral arguments over the phone, why don’t they use a video type application because that nonverbal communication is so important. Elie Honig had a write up about that. But he didn’t really answer the question why they didn’t go to a video and started adding in that nonverbal communication as well. It seems to me so essential in order to have true dialogue and discussion and discovery. And of course, the security pieces is an argument we’re all aware of. But where are your thoughts? Thanks.
Preet Bharara: Bart, thank you for your question. There’s been a long-term debate over the issue of whether or not Supreme Court arguments should be videotaped and in real-time. Only very recently, have Supreme Court arguments even been able to be live-streamed by audio in the midst of the COVID pandemic. I might have mentioned this before, but when I worked in the Senate, every Congress basically Senator Schumer and Senator Arlen Specter on the Republican side, would put in bills to require or allow at least the videotaping of courtroom cases proceedings including the district court, the appeals court, and also the Supreme Court.
My personal view continues to be that the most appropriate videotaping of courtroom proceedings is in the Supreme Court, where there are no witnesses who are testifying who can be intimidated by being on television or on a video with the quality of the argumentation is pretty high, where members of the Supreme Court are even more insulated than members of other courts. Because they’re the highest court in the land. And they have the final word on the law.
So, there’s not a lot of good reason in my mind for not having live video of Supreme Court arguments. But for a long time, members of the court have been opposed to that, in particular, the current Chief Justice John Roberts. So, I suppose that has a lot to do with why you’re not getting video streaming now that there’s a view on the part of Justice Roberts and perhaps others, that it would create something of a spectacle. I know that Justice Scalia also was always against videotaping of Supreme Court arguments, and that probably lingers on to this day.
I do take your point, that at least in the ordinary course, members of the court themselves, even if they were not allowing videotaping, they’re at least in the courtroom when courtroom proceedings were allowed to happen before the pandemic. So my guess is it’s a legacy from their belief that videotaping alters people’s behavior. Also, there might be a security concern, as I think you mentioned. And it also may be the case that Supreme Court justices don’t want everyone to see into their homes like we’re seeing with respect to contributors on cable television who always sit in front of a bookcase, or in their immaculate kitchens on television.
You may have seen or read that one recent supreme court argument a few weeks ago, there was heard on the audio, a flushing of a toilet. And as Anne Milgram and I discussed on the Insider Podcast, someone did some analysis, and pseudo investigation to determine if it was in fact a Supreme Court justice, who during a Supreme Court oral argument, used the facility. And her conclusion was yes, and so maybe I mean this mostly facetiously, maybe the Supreme Court justices want to be able to multitask and videotaping would harm that ability.
This question comes in an email from Claire Lynn Sexton who writes, “Hi, Preet, longtime listener, first-time caller.” Claire, this is an email, it’s not a call. Anyway, Claire goes on to say, “I love your show and look forward to it every week. Thank you so much for all that you do. Question in regards to prisoners, i.e., Paul Manafort, getting released early from prisons and jails due to concerns over the virus. Do the inmates have to return at a later date to serve the remainder of their sentences?”
Well, that’s a good question. And there are a lot of questions swirling around the compassionate early release of people who have been sentenced to prison terms because of the pandemic and fears about prison facilities and jail facilities becoming epicenters of virus. Because they’re closed environment, and it’s very hard to protect against it. And you don’t have all sorts of separation ability, of course, in a correctional facility.
With respect to Paul Manafort, my understanding is, he does not have to return to serve the remainder of his sentence. You’ll recall that he got a seven and a half year sentence from a federal district court judge and was serving that time in a prison in Western Pennsylvania. His lawyers made the argument that Manafort is 71 years old, and he has various conditions that are not good if you come into contact with the Coronavirus. They argue that he has high blood pressure, liver disease, and respiratory ailments. He was also hospitalized, in fact, at the end of last year because of a quote-unquote, “cardiac event.” So it’s my understanding that Paul Manafort, whether you like it or not, will not be returning to prison.
Now, with respect to other people, and there have been several thousand released early because of the pandemic, there was no standard operating procedure. It’s not written in stone anywhere that a released inmate has to come back. So it seems on a case by case basis, some wardens are saying with respect to some prisoners, that they go home and are on home confinement, essentially just wearing an ankle bracelet and never come back. And other cases, the wardens are saying, well, you’re basically furloughed for a period of time. And when circumstances change, when the pandemic eases, you have to come back and serve out the rest of your sentence back in the facility.
Now, one of the things that has been controversial about this, and that may be closer to mind is that Paul Manafort obviously close associate of the president of the United States. And it looks from the perspectives of some people that maybe Paul Manafort didn’t really meet all The guidelines and all the criteria and is getting favorable treatment. This has been sort of a moving target. But there have been guidelines that suggest you have to have served 25% or 50% of your sentence before you’re eligible for this kind of release. And Paul Manafort obviously has not come close to serving 50% of his sentence.
I still expect and believe and hope that the Bureau of Prisons remains as independent as when I was in the US Attorney’s Office. It’s a part of the Justice Department. But look, these are legitimate questions to ask not because there’s any specific evidence in these cases that I’m aware of. But because we’ve seen time and time again, people getting involved in the minutiae of a case, whether it’s Roger Stone’s sentence, or it’s Michael Flynn’s guilty plea because they are associate to the President. And so I think it will be reasonable to ask these questions and get some answers and get some assurances that there’s no favorable treatment. But I’m not making that accusation or allegation. I don’t see any evidence of it.
This question comes in an email from Mary Lou Barreiro, who asks, “My question is around the role of Christopher Wray in regards to AG Barr’s actions around the Flynn case, Roger Stone’s case and much more. Do you think he, meaning Chris Wray, is safe in his job? He seems undermined all the time by Barr by politically motivated actions. How does he keep the troops respect in terms of his leadership and the continued messaging around protecting the rule of law? ”
So that’s a great question. Mary Lou and a lot of people have been wondering about the position of Christopher Wray. I have said for a long time now, one of the few people that I see at the absolute top of the leadership in law enforcement in the country is Chris Wray. I think he has balanced himself pretty well by not necessarily running afoul of the president or Bill Barr, but at the same time, standing up for his troops, standing up for the FBI as an institution, but also not being afraid to admit errors.
With respect to the AG report on the use of the FISA Court and FISA applications relating to Carter Page, but not exclusively to Carter Page. Chris Wray, I think took the bull by the horns and has set in place a number of reforms, taking responsibility for some of what was done, obviously laid some responsibility at the feet of the people who preceded him. I think he’s been wise to stay out of the limelight, and keep his head down and support his troops in the ways he can.
So I think probably it’s the case, and I talked to some people from time to time, that within the FBI, Chris Wray is respected and in any ordinary universe would be seemed to be doing a good job, and would keep his job notwithstanding the fact that the FBI does make mistakes from time to time.
You’re right to express some concern about the level of his job safety. There have been some members of the President’s party in the Congress who have been kind of critical of Wray because he has not joined the sort of rhetorical stampede against some of the people who are involved in the Russia investigation.
In the last few weeks, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican and Mike Johnson sent Wray a pretty critical letter asking for documents from the FBI concerning the origins of that interview with Michael Flynn. That is the subject of a lot of controversy itself. He seems not to have responded yet. The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, said just a few weeks ago, something that’s I think kind of ominous. He said, quote, “I’m not calling on Trump to make a change. But I think the FBI needs to show more energy in terms of solving some of these internal problems. They need to up their game.”
Now, Bill Barr was interviewed and has expressed support for Chris Wray. I think his language is pretty strong on that, although it’s not 100%. Most importantly, President United States the one who makes these decisions has sounded a bit of a skeptical note about Chris Wray.
Donald Trump: Well, a lot of things are going to be told over the next couple of weeks, and let’s see what happens. He was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, and a lot of things are coming out. You’ll see a lot of things coming out [crosstalk]
Speaker 5: And recommended by Chris Christie, right?
Donald Trump: It’s disappointing. He was recommended by Chris, but he was really recommended by Rod Rosenstein and Chris said, “Fine, let’s see what happens with him.” Look, the jury’s still out with regard to that, but it would have been a lot easier if he came out rather than skirting and going through 19 different ways except through the FBI. So let’s see.
Preet Bharara: It seems that the President does not like people who merely do their job and keep their head down. He likes a lot of genuflection, I think and getting on the bandwagon and sounding the right notes that he sounds, especially about the Russia investigation. So when he was interviewed, Trump referred to Wray saying he was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, which is, of course not true, he was appointed by President Trump. And Trump says, “It’s disappointing. He,” meaning Chris Wray, “was recommended by Chris Christie, but he was really recommended by Rod Rosenstein.” And Chris said, “Fine,” meaning Chris Christie. Let’s see what happens with him. And the President says, “Look, the jury’s still out with regard to that. But it would have been a lot easier if he came out rather than skirting and going through 19 different ways except through the FBI,” to get these documents in connection with what happened with Michael Flynn in the Russia investigation.
So we’ve seen this before. He may keep his job. He may not. I think it’s a weird time to try to get another FBI Director through confirmation. The President has said on other occasions that he likes acting, putting people in acting positions because it gives him more flexibility, and there are lots of other jobs that are vacant. So, this is all a long way of saying I don’t know the job security of Chris Wray but I think he should remain where he is. It’s time for a short break. Stay tuned.
My guest this week is Zanny Minton Beddoes. She’s the Editor in Chief of The Economist. Before she was promoted in 2015, she had been a journalist there since 1994 and has since been an integral part of The Economist’s expanding digital presence. She is frequently a financial expert for major news outlets like CNN and MSNBC and was named one of Forbes 100 most powerful women in 2018. Today, we talked about global economic health in the midst of a pandemic, journalistic anonymity, and her hopes for the future of British pubs. Zanny Minton Beddoes, thank you so much for being on the show.
Zanny Minton Be…: It’s great to join you.
Preet Bharara: So you’re in London. How are things there amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, I’m in London. They are pretty extraordinary. I think as they are across much of the world right now. I’m sitting in my house in West London, where I’ve been for the past, I guess, now coming on nine weeks. We’re about to produce our 10th issue of The Economist remotely. I’m incredibly fortunate compared to a lot of people, but it’s a whole new world. We’re allowed out to go and exercise. Actually, we had a loosening of our lockdown last week. So you can now go to exercise for unlimited length of time, and you can meet one other person in the park.
Preet Bharara: One other person.
Zanny Minton Be…: One other person. But it is remarkable. I sometimes reflect on if you’d said to me, what? Even two and a half, three months ago, that this is what I would be doing for the next 10 weeks. I think we would have all just said no way. It’s amazing how our lives have adapted remarkably quickly. I’m very conscious that I’m immensely fortunate compared to a huge number of other people. I’m very conscious that we are lucky, both you and I, we can do our work remotely very easily. And a lot of people can’t.
Preet Bharara: One question I have is do you have a sense of when you might go back to your offices? Or is the discovery that so much of the work is capable of being done at home? Maybe people don’t need to go back to the office?
Zanny Minton Be…: I think both of those are true. I mean, what’s interesting is we started thinking about, in mid-February, how would we produce The Economist remotely if we had to. And kind of when we actually heard from… I have correspondents in China and Beijing and what life was like for them, and they were under extremely strict lockdown. And we started thinking, well, we better figure out how to do this luckily, and we put in place a sort of whole plan for how to do it. It is amazing how able we are to produce the paper remotely.
Everybody and my colleagues who make podcasts, I imagine much like you making them all from home often sort of hiding under their duvets with their kids next door. We’re making films from home. We’re producing everything, all the papers output from home. And now in the last sort of couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking about what will we do when we are able to go back. Right now, the guidance here in the UK has changed that people who are unable to work at home, should be actively trying to go back and work in their places of work. Now, we can work at home. So we have not yet opened the offices.
But we have put into place the sort of processes for what we’ll do when we do, how you socially distance in the office, what the maximum number of people working you can have in the office, how you can make it safe. I imagine we conducted a survey of all my colleagues and some people for whom the conditions for working at home are very difficult, perhaps they have young children, will want to spend some time in the office. But I don’t think we’re going to all go back into the office really anytime soon. And I imagine that many of our processes will stay as they are now just because they’re much more efficient. But I don’t think for a second that we will all work remotely the whole time.
I think there is something very important that you get from being in an office, whether it is the sort of serendipity of bumping into the colleague from a different department from which, all the best journalistic ideas are born from having an impromptu conversation with someone. So, I imagine we will have some semblance of office life. We will also, however, have much more working from home, and we’ll be much better at working remotely.
Preet Bharara: The way I’ve been thinking about it is that if you’re already established in your profession, and you understand the job, and you’ve been at a particular place for a while, it’s not that much of a disruption for people who are new to a business or new to a profession, like a young lawyer or a young journalist. The learning opportunities that are lost by not being able to just knock on someone’s door and meet people in the hallway or grab a coffee are pretty significant. That there’s kind of a difference between the newcomers and the established people.
Zanny Minton Be…: I think that’s absolutely right. And I think that one thing that I’ve realized is The Economist, it’s a small organization. It’s a very sort of tight culture and we are, I think we’re living on the social capital that we’ve built up from all of us knowing each other. You’re completely right, it’s much harder when you come into that, although we’ve actually had a couple of people actually join us through this process. And you can do it, but it’s much harder. But I think more broadly, it’s going to be very, very difficult for people who join organizations, and never really get to meet the people that they’re working with. That’s a whole different kind of cultural challenge to acclimatize to how an organization works.
I think more sort of the broadly that it’s an interesting question, whether all of this shift to remote working improves productivity or hurts productivity. Because I think on one level, we keep reading about, companies they’re not going to need so much office space. We’re going to re-imagine the way we work, become more productive. But actually, I think the quite a lot of basic innovation and quite a lot of the way that you get new ideas and you get new products, you get better ways of working come from people brainstorming. I think brainstorm is really hard remotely.
I mean, I don’t know how you found it, but we organize ourselves. We use pretty much every medium, from Slack to Zoom to Google Hangouts to a whole lot. But it is, in many ways meetings are much more efficient because you want to get them done. Because it’s not a huge amount of fun spending hours and hours of the day on a Zoom call. But on the other hand, there sort of the informal interaction that comes from sort of people noticing how other people’s body languages or from someone interrupting somebody else. That stuff is much, much harder to do. And I worry that over time, you will lose something from not having that.
Preet Bharara: Maybe some combination is the best. Can I ask you a question about the business?
Zanny Minton Be…: Yes, of course.
Preet Bharara: It seems that a lot of journalism outfits are not doing so well because the advertising budgets are lower. With respect to The Economist if it’s not an impertinent question, are people reading it more, reading it less, reading at about the same. How’s readership during this time?
Zanny Minton Be…: So people are reading it more. Our circulation is doing really well. I think like many news organizations, we saw a big increase in new subscribers. We’ve seen a big increase in digital engagement, all of those numbers are really are doing terrifically. But at the same time, we’ve been hit as everybody else has by declines in advertising and our events business has been particularly hit. So, it’s a tough time across the organization as a whole. In some sense, it’s a story of two things, on the one hand, the core journalism is really valued, which is great, and is doing very, very well. But it’s a very tough time across other bits of the business.
Preet Bharara: How do you describe what the readership is? Who’s reading The Economist?
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, all manner of people are reading The Economist. I mean, often the reputation of The Economist is global movers and shakers and so forth. There’s definitely some of that, but I like to use a phrase to describe who I hope are our readers as being the globally curious, people who, regardless of their age, their income are defined more by their interest in the world around them, their interest in the world beyond their borders, their desire to be kind of intellectually challenged. And to have, what I hope is authoritative, fair-minded, rigorous journalism. So, I think it is probably disproportionately, it’s a very global readership. It’s a reasonably affluent one. The Economist is not cheap. But I hope it goes much more broadly than that, and that anybody who is globally curious would get something out of our journalism.
Preet Bharara: So can I tell you about a constituency you have that you may not be aware of? I’ve discussed this before on the show.
Zanny Minton Be…: I hope it includes you by the way.
Preet Bharara: Yes, no, well, but I’m not talking about me. So both of my sons participate in speech and debate competitions in high school. They’re both in high school, and they both participate in a category called extemporaneous speaking. And in that category, I don’t know if there are competitions like this in school in the UK. But here they are given a topic, a difficult political question, or economic question or environmental question. And then in the course of 30 minutes there to prepare and memorize a speech whose length is supposed to be seven minutes delivered from memory.
And in those speeches to earn points and to do well and to be graded well, in the competition, among the things you have to do is to cite sources. And both of my boys will tell you that in their competitive circuit, the holy grail of references in one of their speeches is what? The Economist. They’re-
Zanny Minton Be…: I’m very [crosstalk], thank you.
Preet Bharara: … all these high school students. How do you feel about that?
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, I feel terrific. That’s wonderful. I’m delighted that they… it’s sort of everything I like to hear. I mean, I’m very serious, but we pride ourselves on the rigor and the authority and the trustworthiness of our journalism. So, I would very much hope that it would be seen as one of the strongest sources. In fact, I’d be really worried if you said anything other than that.
Preet Bharara: I asked my son this morning before I got on the phone with you just to confirm what he’s told me before about The Economist. I said, “Well, what’s in second place?” And he said, “I don’t know what’s in second place. All I know is that The Economist is in first place. If we can get an Economist quote, or cite to an article in The Economist, we feel like we can do better in our competition.” So congratulations.
Zanny Minton Be…: That’s Wonderful. Well, I’m delighted to hear that. Your son has made my day. But actually, I think there’s a kind of interesting bigger point that your son’s experience alludes to, which is a huge number of our readers first came across The Economist in high school or in college. Read it then perhaps because they were encouraged to read it because it was a good source to cite in a debating competition, but that’s where they first came across it, and then become devoted readers. And I think that that’s I hear that again and again and again. People say I’ve read The Economist for x years, x decades, I first came across it in high school or in college.
Preet Bharara: Do you have a sense of what level of financial literacy exists generally in either the UK throughout Europe, in America? Obviously, the readers of The Economist I would guess, would tend to be more financially literate. But a worry that I’ve had for a while is that many, many people even educated people but who are not in the economics field, don’t have basic financial literacy. They don’t exactly understand what the Fed does, don’t understand what the IMF does, don’t understand what different kinds of fiscal policy versus monetary policy mean for their countries? Do you think about the level of financial literacy? And if so, what do you think about it?
Zanny Minton Be…: So I think there are actually surveys which corroborate completely what you say that the level of financial literacy is really sort of shockingly poor and really worryingly poor. I think the metrics that you’ve just used to know what the IMF does is a pretty sophisticated metric for financial literacy. I think there are, you could use much more basic words like knows what an interest rate is, and I think you’ll find quite surprisingly large shares of people don’t. So, I completely agree that we have very low levels of financial literacy.
We assume and this is sort of separate to that, we sort of think of ourselves as writing for the interested layman, the generalist, the educated generalist, but not the specialist. So we’re very careful to avoid jargon which only the financial specialists would know. But we don’t shy from trying to explain difficult concepts. But we really, really try to avoid jargon. And so for me, I’m sort of a wannabe economist by background. And so economics is not the one that I test this on. But for me, the science section is the real test because I have to be able to understand the science section, and I am not a scientist. And so it has to be written in a way that I can understand the concepts.
Preet Bharara: What does the lack of financial literacy in many countries say about our capacity for self-government then? How are people voting properly about things that are so important to how their economies are run if there’s basic financial illiteracy? We always talk about other kinds of illiteracy and lack of knowledge and apathy. But what about this area?
Zanny Minton Be…: I think it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for thinking about the right kinds of economic policies, but I think it’s true, more broadly. I mean, I wouldn’t focus hugely or disproportionately on financial literacy. I think it is true of many, many things, right? A lack of knowledge of foreign policy, a lack of knowledge of what’s going on in other countries, a lack of curiosity of what’s going on in other countries, that affects the framework within the political backdrop against which governments are making international and foreign policy decisions.
I think in the US, it’s interesting because in the US it’s a continental sized economy can probably get away with a lesser interest in most of the rest of the world or the average many people can. But financial literacy is something that affects everybody’s daily life. And I worry about the consequences more in terms of people’s personal financial choices, people’s savings behavior, people’s credit card behavior, the level of debt, that kind of thing. I think that people even if they don’t have a deep financial kind of training, have an ability to sort of judge policies. So, I’m less worried about actually in the policy context than I am in the kind of personal finance sphere.
Preet Bharara: Have you ever heard people refer to The Economist as elitist? And do you have a view of that term? And the one reason I asked, and I’ll be transparent here is I had David Remnick of The New Yorker on, and we discussed this idea of certain periodicals being elitist. Is The New Yorker, elitist. And what does it mean to be or not to be?
David Remnick: Well, if the word elitist is used as I think most people use it nowadays, as a cudgel, as something to say that that’s something that this other person is, and I’m just a plain-spoken person of common sense then we run away from that. Because we all want to be thought of as-
Preet Bharara: Good. Do you have a view?
Zanny Minton Be…: So I think there is a view out there that The Economist is written either sort of by and for the global elite. And we’re certainly, associated with a kind of view of the world pro open market, pro-globalization pro sort of free integration of economies, a world that is now increasingly questioned in some quarters. And so the world globalist is now as you know a sort of a derogatory word in many quarters. I think we’re sort of seen as part of a kind of globalist worldview. I actually would take issue with that. We are proud liberals in the sense of the English traditional 19th-century liberal. So that’s very different to the modern American term of liberal. And I’m always kind of defining my terms here.
But we were founded, as you know, in 1843, to fight against the corn laws, which were high tariffs in England on corn, which kept food prices extremely high. And it was the beginning of the 19th century UK liberal movement. And that’s what The Economists came from. And we are proud sort of champions of free markets, of economic freedom, of social freedom, individual freedom, and always have been.
I don’t think of us as being a sort of an elite newspaper. I think that as I said earlier, I want anybody who is globally curious and interested in authoritative, trustworthy journalism, which champions a particular worldview. I mean, we’re very unashamed about that. We do champion free markets and individual freedom. But even people who disagree with that worldview, I hope would get something out of reading The Economist.
So, I died slightly at the idea that we are elitist if it is used synonymously with a sort of global elite. If by elitist people mean that we are rigorous, and we are fact-based, and we take the authority and seriousness about journalism very seriously, then it’s a badge I wear proudly.
Preet Bharara: There’s something that’s different about The Economist, well, there are many things. It’s unique publication, but one in particular that I find fascinating, and if people are not familiar, they’ll learn something here, that all the articles written in The Economist are anonymous. They’re no bylines and lots of people follow particular reporters at the New York Times or The Washington Post. They make decisions about whether or not they will read the article based on who has written the article.
I had George Packer of the Atlantic and formerly of The New Yorker on. And we talked about some of these issues of, in his mind, a worry that people will only read an article by someone if they first understand what group that writer belongs to. And that writers are not supposed to belong to groups. They’re supposed to be writing independently, not as representatives.
George Packer: We want the shorthand of being able to just know well, what’s this guy’s or this gal’s orientation? Where are they coming from? And therefore, what do I think of what they’re about to say? It makes life easier. You can already make up your mind even before you’ve read it once you know who’s written it, and what stripe they are.
Preet Bharara: Could you explain the logic and philosophy behind no bylines?
Zanny Minton Be…: Yeah, so when we were founded back in 1843, it was a much more normal practice for newspaper articles to be unsigned. And we were very much similar to other publications at that time. But we’ve essentially kept that whereas now as you say, we’re almost unique. I think we are unique in being a publication where virtually everything is unsigned. There are actually what we call special reports, which are kind of long 12,000 word articles, which appear every other week, usually, which people labor on for six or seven weeks one individual. And they do get in very small print their name on those special reports, but most things are, as you say, unsigned.
There are really several reasons for it. But one, the main one, is that we are very much a paper that infuses and has a very sort of strong worldview, the worldview of 19th century English liberalism, the belief in free markets, and individual freedom. We have that view, particularly in our leader columns, which are our editorials at the front, but also actually many of our articles. They’re rigorous, they’re fact-based, but they’re full of opinion. And that opinion is The Economist’s opinion rather than the opinion of the individual writer. And that’s not to say that there are sort of differences of nuance. Of course, there are, but there is a sense of this is a product of the sort of The Economist worldview.
Actually, in most of practical a prosaic way, we have a very cooperative quite heavily edited, but more importantly, so cooperative culture which is not a culture of individuals star reporters so much as a group of incredibly talented people working together. Now that said in today’s environment of social media, which is the exact opposite of The Economist, right? It’s individual, it’s personalized. We don’t try and hide who Economist writers are. They have their own Twitter handles. We have Economist films where people appear in. We have podcasts and obviously people have voices. You’re hearing me now.
It’s not that we don’t want people to know who’s done the writing. I’m delighted that my colleagues are well known, but it is much more sense that we are producing something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a kind of collective effort to produce The Economist rather than a constellation of individual people and individual articles.
Preet Bharara: Does that mean sort of that every one at The Economist more or less, generally speaking, agrees with all of the content? I mean, that’s not the case at a lot of newspapers.
Zanny Minton Be…: No, it’s absolutely not. And in fact, we have a kind of quite infamous Monday morning editorial meeting, where anybody in the organization can come to. This week’s meeting, they’re now done by zoom. There are somewhere between 100 and 200 people on the Zoom call. We discuss what’s going to go in the paper. And we particularly discuss the leaders, which are the five articles at the beginning that essentially laying out the papers view that are pure opinion. And anybody can pitch one, whether it’s the intern that started last week or someone who was there for 25 years, and anybody can weigh in on the argument.
And we have, were you at one of those, you’d know that there are plenty of different views. There are lots of people who disagree on lots of things, but we believe very strongly in the sort of power of debate. And we probably have the equivalent of what your son has. We have a big and kind of engaging debate and then at the end of it we either end up agreeing or if we don’t, that’s I guess one of the responsibilities I have. We then lay out what a leader line is going to be.
But no, there are certainly lots of small difference of opinion and even quite big ones. There are plenty of my colleagues who don’t agree with lots of things that are written in the paper every week. Having said that, I suspect if you were someone who believed in protectionism and didn’t believe in individual freedom and didn’t believe in any of the basic positions that The Economist holds dear, I think you would find it quite hard to work here.
Preet Bharara: You don’t have many Marxist.
Zanny Minton Be…: I don’t think so. Not real ones. I might [crosstalk] if you say they are.
Preet Bharara: So speaking of controversy, and disagreement, and you’ve already mentioned this issue of the terms globalist and globalism being bad words for some people. A million years ago, back in the time of live events, back in September of 2018, at a festival sponsored by The Economist, you invited to be interviewed and then did interview Steve Bannon, who helped Donald Trump get elected. And one of the reasons I asked, hearkening back to an interview I did with David Remnick of The New Yorker. T
he New Yorker also had planned to have an interview with Steve Bannon by also the head of the magazine, and there was such a controversy and uproar that David Remnick disinvited Steve Bannon, I believe at the beginning of September of 2018. Did you consider that had you done it all over again, you might not have invited him or only invited him once you laid the groundwork.
David Remnick: I’ve turned this snow globe upside down and forwards. Of course, I considered it backwards and forwards.
Preet Bharara: But then once you invited him, wasn’t some lost to the capitulation?
David Remnick: Probably.
Preet Bharara: There was some I guess, discord when you announced that you would be interviewing Steve Bannon and the day after the New Yorker rescinded the invitation, you confirmed that your event would go forward. What was your thinking in inviting Steve Bannon, and how did you deal with the disagreement over that?
Zanny Minton Be…: So the reason we were holding this festival, it was called the Open Future Festival, was to mark our 175th anniversary. And what we were trying to do in that day of debate was to have a conversation about what liberalism, free markets and open societies should look like in the 21st century. What should a kind of modern-day economists be championing? And we wanted to do that by engaging our critics, engaging people with a very different worldview, as well as people who shared our worldview.
And Steve Bannon was, to my mind, an immensely articulate proponent of a worldview that is completely antithetical to The Economists. But I felt very strongly that it was important to engage people with a very different worldview because otherwise, you’ve got a whole load of like-minded people in an echo chamber. And that’s not how you’re going to genuinely make progress. And whether we like it or not, the kind of worldview that he espouses, and epitomizes is one that is held by a considerable number of people on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether it is Donald Trump supporters or whether it was a certain genre of Brexit supporters here, or indeed people on the far-right in the European Union. And so it seemed to me that engaging with that worldview was important.
Now, I got a lot of flack for that, for various reasons. A lot of people who felt that, it was giving a platform to somebody who was completely beyond the pale. I disagreed with that. It seemed to me that somebody who had been working in the White House was whether we like them or not, as sort of a substantial figure, substantial enough figure to want to engage with or need to engage with. And so that’s why I did it. I don’t regret it at all. I think that I genuinely believe that it’s really, really important to engage with people who have a different worldview than you.
One of the things that I lament nowadays, on both sides of the Atlantic is an increasing unwillingness to do that and that the sort of the rise of a, if you will, kind of no platforming culture is one where I think there are some serious downsides. I mean, liberals in the English sense if they’re in favor of anything, they’re in favor of they believe in the power of debate of reasoned argument. I think debate and reasoned argument is the way forward, and you need to engage with people who have a different worldview than you. And whether or not you’re convinced by them or not convinced by them, the way to have sort of progress is to have that and to engage in that kind of discussion.
So although it was a kind of painful episode. We had several people drop out who were angry at this decision, who didn’t want to take part of the conference as a result, which I really lament. I still think it was the right thing to do. And I continue to believe that it’s incredibly important for liberals, and I’m going to keep having to harp to the English liberals. But for liberals, for people who believe in making progress in society to engage with all manner of other people in serious and reasoned debate, and that’s what we were trying to do there.
Preet Bharara: Do you think then, that the New Yorker made a mistake by just inviting Steve Bannon?
Zanny Minton Be…: No, I think every publication has to make its own decision. And every organization organizing an event has a different set of considerations. So I’m not in any way criticizing others for what they decide to do. I just thought it was very important for what we wanted to do, particularly as an event that was asking what should liberalism be in the 21st century.
Preet Bharara: Can we now talk a little bit more about the pandemic. Obviously, Americans it’s interesting to me that until people started dying in America, we were watching our television, news, and paying attention to various countries as the pandemic would hit a particular country, Italy, China, obviously, first, and then other countries. And then once it hit the United States, sort of as a general matter, we’ve only been paying attention to what’s happening.
In America, it’s a little bit harder to find out what’s going on in other countries, and that is natural, people have parochial interest. From your perspective in the UK, which countries do you think handled the pandemic well, which did not? And if you have a theory about why that might be, I’d love it if you’d share it with us.
Zanny Minton Be…: So I think in some ways, we’re going to be debating this for decades hence, my sort of superficial answer, which won’t surprise you is that you can see a number of countries in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, Taiwan, springs to mind, South Korea, Singapore to a degree, have handled it very well. They had experience of SARS. They had experience of this kind of thing before. They as a result had processes in place, particularly contact tracing. They had a playbook, they knew what to do. Within Europe, Germany is often cited as an example of a country that has handled it particularly well.
I would caution I think it’s a little early to sort of decide all of this yet because I hope that we are towards the end of it. But I know I’m not for suggesting for a second, we’re going to see a repeat of it. But if you look at 1918 and the Spanish Flu, there were clearly second waves. I’m not going to say anything that’s terribly surprising. It’s the usual suspects. It’s understanding, taking the science seriously, having a sort of technocratic approach, and a political system that sort of early on sees the importance and the urgency of acting and acting in a consistent manner. But I think more than anything else, it’s probably having had experience of it, which is the reason that those countries, those democracies or near democracies did particularly well.
Preet Bharara: There’s a parallel debate going on where some people are suggesting that it’s not the nature of the governmental system. That’s putting aside experience, and that’s a good point. But it’s not necessarily the nature of the political system that was reacting to the pandemic, but the nature of the leadership. And some people have pointed out, and I don’t know if this is true in every instance, but the more populous the government, the less well they handle the pandemic. Do you see anything in that, any truth in that?
Zanny Minton Be…: I mean, it may well be true, but I think there are enormous number of other things that I would want to look at too. For example, we’re beginning to see patterns in the kinds of people that are most vulnerable. So quite a lot depends on your sort of prior demographic considerations. Italy was particularly hard hit both because it has a relatively old population and because there is multi-generations living together. It depends on the nature of your health system. I mean, I think the US health system is not optimized to deal with a pandemic. I mean, a fee for service for-profit system has many advantages. But it is not optimized for this.
It’s not clear yet whether a sort of more central government or a federal structure does better. I think we’re going to sort of see all of that coming out. So I’m not denying that you’re probably right. I mean, if you look at Brazil, it seems to me to be Exhibit A of a leadership undermining its country’s response. But I think there are an awful lot of factors that will play into how well or how badly countries did. I think that the nature of political leadership, America, if you look at the US and you look at the lack of trust in government relative to many other countries, if you look at the degree of political polarization, I’m sure all of that hasn’t helped.
Preet Bharara: I’m going to throw one more theory at you about this because I found it interesting. The New York Times suggested in a story that people have noticed that one thing that may be a feature of countries that did well, and this is true in Taiwan, which you mentioned, Germany, which you mentioned, also New Zealand, and also Finland-
Zanny Minton Be…: I know where you’re going.
Preet Bharara: … is what do… Oh, all right, here’s a quiz. What do they all have in common?
Zanny Minton Be…: They all have female political leaders.
Preet Bharara: They all have female political leaders. And some people have speculated that maybe those leaders are a little bit more open-minded, more capable of showing empathy, better at humility. What do you make of those arguments?
Zanny Minton Be…: Of course, I’m going to say that’s a huge factor. There may be something to that. What I really would like to see, and I’m hoping we will do some of this too, is I’d like to see a kind of a really detailed set of cross country comparisons that try and look at various factors. What is underlying pre-pandemic demographic considerations. So what you might call structural considerations, whether it’s the structure of the healthcare system, the structure of government in the federal system, is it not. The nature of political leadership, the degree of trust in government.
We had an interesting piece a few weeks ago, which looked at countries in Europe, where paradoxically, low trust countries have actually done relatively better than you would have expected. Eastern European countries where there’s not a load of trusting in government actually have done surprisingly well. I think all of these are really interesting theories. But rather than leaping on the bandwagon of grasping onto a particular theory, I’d really love a sort of detailed, dispassionate going through factor by factor and looking at different countries on those. I’d also caution that, it’s not over yet.
Preet Bharara: Can I mention another country we haven’t talked about yet. I don’t know if you have any insight or reaction, but the nation of my birth, India, has reacted fairly broadly with a huge national lockdown. I don’t think a lot of people would have expected. So far not a high rate of cases or deaths, any reaction to that?
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, but an absolutely, dramatically high economic cost and huge, huge negative consequences for the economy and for an awful lot of vulnerable people in it. And I think one of the things that we’re going through the various stages in this now and the first one, what strikes me if you look back over the last nine weeks. It is amazing that billions of people in the world from India to the United States to most of Europe to are awful lot of Asia were put under lockdown. The same policy was essentially applied across the world and rightfully so because in the short term, when cases were rising exponentially, that’s the only way we know of flattening the curve to use the jargon, of getting the rate of infection down, and so everybody did it, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.
Now, I think we’re gradually emerging to a much more complicated phase. Which is how do you ease those lockdowns? How’d you come out of them? How do you balance the damage that is being done to the economy? And we’re seeing it. We’re seeing a global economy in its worst downturn since the Great Depression. This is calamitous economic consequences, which are way, way, way tougher if you are a poor person in India than if you’re in a rich country, where you don’t have the social safety nets, where you don’t have the ability to have the scale of fiscal support that we’ve seen in the West. Even in the West it’s really, really hard.
Look at the scale of unemployment has soared in the US, look at the scale, the numbers of companies that are going bust. This is a huge economic price we’re paying. And so I think the question now is, how do you going forward balance those two. You need to prevent a return to an exponential rise in the pandemic. We don’t yet have a vaccine. We don’t have an effective treatment. Doesn’t look like we’re going to get one for a while. But we can’t have our economies in the deep freeze completely shut down for the next year.
And so how do you going forward balance those two? And I think we’re seeing countries taking different paths on that. And that’s going to be the area where I think the whole question of how you’ve handled it thus far has been how quickly do you impose your lockdown? How good were you at getting protective equipment? How good was your contact tracing? There were sort of medical criteria. Now, I think going forward, it’s also how do you support your economy? How much are you able to do that? What do you open up in what way? And how do you balance those two outcomes?
Preet Bharara: Do you think there’s any evidence to suggest that the countries that did well thus far in handling the medical aspects of this are also the ones that are going to do better on reopening and fixing their economies or are those two distinct and separate?
Zanny Minton Be…: I think it’s going to be really interesting to see. My prior would be that countries which have prided sort of made sensible technocratic based decisions thus far are likely to do that going forward. But countries are also in a very different position. There are countries in Africa that have had lots of experience, particularly with Ebola, but even before with other infectious diseases that have handled the medical side of this remarkably well. That have incredible, ability to do contract tracing, again because they’ve had experience of it. But who don’t have the capacity to do the enormous, stimulus and support that we have been able to do in Europe or the US has been able to do. And so there are quite different constraints on countries when you’re looking at the economic stuff, relative to the health stuff.
Preet Bharara: So with respect to let’s say, Europe, and the US, are there particular economic strategies that you think would serve those countries well, versus others in the coming year?
Zanny Minton Be…: Yeah, I think there are some interesting challenges that are going to come up. I mean, right now on both sides of the Atlantic, we have rightly thrown support at the economy, whether it is the central banks, the Federal Reserve, essentially pulling out all the stops deter the Bank of England to a slightly lesser degree, but nonetheless to a huge degree, the European Central Bank. So, central banks have absolutely thrown the book it. And we’ve had enormous fiscal support from Washington, here in the UK, even in many countries in Europe.
So, the question now is what do you do going forward? And one interesting question is how long do you maintain support for workers and in what way? They’ve been sort of interestingly different strategies on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, as you know, millions of workers have been furloughed, the unemployment ranks has shot up, but the generosity of unemployment assistance has been increased quite substantially. Although a lot of people haven’t been able to get it yet. But put aside for a second, those very real sort of practical difficulties. The idea was to really cushion and support people through unemployment insurance.
In Britain, the strategy was somewhat different, where the state is paying 80% of the wages of furloughed workers who are still attached to their company. They’re not working, but the state is paying 80% of their wages. And those two strategies in the very short term have essentially a somewhat similar effect. But over time, they have a different effect. Whereas in the US, unemployed workers can presumably will go off at some point and try and find different jobs. In the UK, their still attached to the company.
Now, if we think that the economy is going to come back and be very much the same as it was two and a half months ago, the sort of pre-COVID economy, then that strategy makes sense. But I think what’s becoming increasingly clear and this gets to where we started our conversation, I don’t think the post-COVID economy is going to be the same as the pre-COVID economy. Not only is it going to be weaker for longer than we thought, it’s going to be in many areas a very different kind of economy. So whether it is transportation or the hospitality sector, there are going to be quite significant parts of the economy that are going to take a long time to recover, or indeed may never recover to what they were before.
And that means that and this gets into sort of economists jargon, but it basically means that, resources have to shift from one bit of an economy to another. So people who worked in the UK, let’s take pubs, quintessential British invention. I’m sure you’ve been to lots of them. I cannot see how-
Preet Bharara: No comment.
Zanny Minton Be…: … the business model of British pubs is sustainable in a world where you have to keep two meters away from someone or even one meter. Actually, there was a study I think I saw which looked at it in the US and it suggested that if Americans choose to avoid person to person proximity of an arm’s length or less, then occupations worth 10% of national output will be unviable. I mean, that’s a big transformation. And it’s something that we put a couple of weeks ago we put on the cover, you might have seen it, we called it the 90% Economy.
The 90% Economy is an economy that we think the world post-COVID will be. And it’s an economy, which is sort of back to normal, but it’s fallen short of normal. And it’s fundamentally different in ways than the pre-COVID economy was. If we’re right about that, then there are millions of people whose pre-COVID jobs simply won’t exist and who need to shift into new jobs and new bits of the economy. And so the question then turns to what is the kind of public policy that supports those people, but also encourages that transformation into new jobs in new growing parts of the economy? And kind of preserving today’s jobs in aspect is not going to be the way to do that.
Preet Bharara: Is there a feeling on the part of a lot of people, unlike the financial crash of 2008, where I think people assume that it takes a while to recover from something that was structural in the economy. Here, in many, many places people don’t believe that there was a structural problem. The economy was booming in the US, low unemployment, high GDP, and a good bit of growth. Do people wrongly assume? And I wonder what the policy implications are of this, that because COVID wrecked the economy so quickly, that it can just as quickly when there’s a vaccine, the economy will come roaring back. And that’s sort of the rhetoric of the President. Is there any truth to that? And if not, how dangerous is that kind of thinking?
Zanny Minton Be…: I think that there are a lot of people who believe that the economy is going to come roaring back. And it’s frankly, the only way that I can make sense of what’s going on Wall Street is that there must be a lot of people believing that the economy will come roaring back, and or there will be continued massive fiscal and monetary support to sustain it. Because otherwise share prices and what’s happened to share prices and the difference between the bounce-back that you’ve seen on Wall Street relative to what’s actually going on in the real economy are kind of hard to understand.
I suspect that that is going to gradually become clearer that bits of the economy will come roaring back, but many bits won’t. And for the reasons we’ve just talked about, I don’t think the post-COVID world is going to be identical to the pre-COVID world. So there are some industries, the big tech companies, the Amazons of this world that have done extremely well. Zoom video conferencing, there are definitely areas that have done immensely well. But there are many other sectors and I would put travel, I would put tourism, I would put hospitality, commercial real estate. You can think of many more sectors where the world that we are moving into is not going to be the same as the world before COVID because it’s going to take a while until we get a vaccine. Even when we get a vaccine, it’s going to take longer for everybody to be vaccinated.
So for us to put this kind of definitively behind us is going to take months, years. During that time, people are going to be worried, people are scared, people don’t want to get this. So people’s behavior is going to change. If you look at what’s going on in China, where the rate of new cases is now, apart there’s a new outbreak in the northeast, but broadly relatively low. The country’s effectively sealed off to foreigners. You want to go there, you have to spend two weeks in complete quarantine, if you can get in at all. And if you look at domestic spending in China, something around that discretionary consumer spending is down I think by 40%. Hotel stays are still in their third of normal ones.
People are not going back to the way of life they had before. Plus they’re going to be many people are going to be much more indebted. They’re going to be uncertain about their jobs. So I think it’s not going to be a V-shaped rule back to where we were. Now, it’s very different to the financial crisis because the financial crisis was a very different phenomenon. It was over-indebtedness, particularly the housing crash, people had negative equity. There was a balance sheet problem. It’s a different kind of problem now. But nonetheless, it is one that I think won’t mean that we’re going back in a traditional, very rapid V-shape to the same world we had before.
Preet Bharara: I’m going to go back to something you said a couple of minutes ago. And I think this divergence is much more pronounced now, the divergence between what’s going on in Wall Street, and what’s going otherwise in the economy. People keep reminding us that the stock market is not the economy. And yet there are politicians when the stock market is doing well, like the President, who basically uses it as a substitute for the economy. Is there any more you can say to explain to people why it is the case that the stock market is not the economy. It’s not necessarily an accurate reflection of how the economy is doing.
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, the stock market is I guess, investors best guess of where the future stream of company’s profits is going to go discounted back to today. I think that that’s affected both by the expectations of tomorrow’s profits, it’s also affected by what people think the interest rate is going to be, and thus what monetary policy is going to be. And part of what’s going on now is a reflection of the enormous amount of stimulus that’s been put in, particularly by the Federal Reserve. That’s some of what’s going on in financial markets. Some of it is also, I think, a sense that perhaps there’s some of this rose tintedness that we’ve just been talking about.
But what worries me is that I do think the gap between the two is hard to sustain. And while it is true that stock markets anticipate where the economy is going to go. So, it’s okay to have a gap between the awfulness of today’s statistics, which reflect what happened yesterday in the real economy, and a much more optimistic stock market. I’m not at all sure that we’re going to see big improvement for the reasons we’ve just talked about, of what’s happening in the real economy.
But what worries me that the scale of that gap is so big, and I think there’s some kind of really interesting politics around that. I think, to talk about the economy doing well or for to try and gauge the health of the economy from the stock market when millions and millions of people are still losing their jobs when the unemployment rate is in double-digit figures. And when the people who’ve been hit hardest by COVID are people at the bottom of the income ladder, are people who are less skilled who tend to be the people who work in labor-intensive sectors who work in they are the cleaners in the hotels. They are the waitstaff at the restaurants. They are the people who are in the front lines who have been hit the hardest.
That’s a very dangerous gap, I think to have in a country between if you have a stock market that’s booming and disproportionately stocks, of course, are owned by wealthier people. And you have a real economy that is hurting and the people who are hurting most in it are the less skilled. That to me is not a recipe for social harmony.
Preet Bharara: I want to talk about what the rest of the world thinks about the US most specifically first. What’s the view you think generally speaking from Europe and other places about America’s handling of the pandemic?
Zanny Minton Be…: I guess my first point would be something that you mentioned earlier in our conversation, which is that I think people are looking at the pandemic, increasingly, and overwhelmingly through a national prism. So most of the debate in the UK is about how Boris Johnson is handling the pandemic, not about how any other political leader is doing it. People are very much focused on what’s going on in the here and now in their own country, for understandable reasons, right? It’s a huge shock. It’s a scary shock. And it is one where your own personal outlook is determined by what your government does. What I think it’s not a sort of huge focus.
That said, I think what has struck many people outside the US is how absent the US has been in terms of global leadership. For the entire post-war period, it’s almost a truism to say it, but the US was the leader of the international order. The US was the kind of global hegemon, the US was the country that people turn to for natural leadership. Even during the Ebola crisis, there was a sort of greater sense of US leadership. And this time it’s been striking absent, whether in the international economic sphere, whether in the health sphere. There was a conference about developing a global vaccine organized by the British a few days ago. And I don’t think the US even took part.
But not only is the US not showing international leadership, which in some way is consistent with what’s been happening over the last couple of years. It’s worse than that because there is a sort of huge and dangerous spat, worse than a spat, the sort of worst relationship between the US and China that we’ve had in decades. And it’s just getting worse on both sides. China deserves opprobrium for having covered up the pandemic to start with, absolutely. But the degree to which that relationship has deteriorated, and we are heading to something that is sort of an ever more dangerous schism between those two powers makes I think the international geopolitics of this even more worrying than it would otherwise be.
It’s not just that the US is absent, it’s that the US is absent from multilateral global leadership and is engaged in a really scary fight with the world’s aspirant superpower. And you see that in the argument about the World Health Organization, you see it in any number of areas. And so I think for the most of the rest of the world, it’s less about, I think… within the United States, there is understandably and rightly a huge debate going on about how the administration has handled the pandemic within the United States. And there’s a huge amount being written about that. It’s a very polarized country, the US, and was before the pandemic. And so it’s not at all surprising that the pandemic is viewed through partisan polarized political prism.
But for the rest of the world outside, it’s less about how the administration and how the President has behaved as regards to the pandemic within the US. Although, of course, there are comments that he’s made that have kind of raised eyebrows around the whole world. Of course, there are. But actually, I think the big focus for the rest of the world is more that the United States is not showing, displaying the kind of global leadership that it might have done in decades past.
Preet Bharara: So then here’s the follow-up question. What, if anything, is going to happen to fill that gap in American leadership?
Zanny Minton Be…: Well, I don’t know. You tell me. That’s much more your bailiwick than mine. But I would think that some of these changes are changes that will outlast this president. I mean, I think the relationship between the US and China, which I suspect is the single most important relationship of the 21st century, it’s going to do more to define what the next few decades are like than anything else.
We are not going to make significant progress on climate change without those two countries taking a lead. We’re not going to deal with the consequences of this pandemic, let alone help prepare for the next one without those two countries working together. They’re the two biggest economies in the world. We’re not going to have any kind of sense of global trade rules without them working together.
So on any number of fronts, it’s immensely important that these two rival risk countries are able to work together. And yet I don’t see that happening. I think there is a suspicion of China and a sense of China as a sort of geopolitical rival, which is, don’t get me wrong, based on some perfectly understandable reasons. I’m not criticizing it. But I think it is a view that is shared in both parties actually. It’s now a bipartisan view in the United States, which makes me think that I’d be surprised if there was a sort of significantly different strategic approach. The tone may be different, but a significantly different strategic approach, regardless of what party was in power.
Preet Bharara: Zanny Minton Beddoes, thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you for your work, and my boys, thank you also.
Zanny Minton Be…: Thank you. Great to talk to you.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for members of the CAFE Insider Community. To hear this Stay Tuned bonus material with Zanny Minton Beddoes and get the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider Podcast and other content head to cafe.com/insider. Right now you can try a CAFE Insider Community membership free for two weeks at cafe.com/insider.
So, folks, I want to end the program this week talking about voting. First, as you may have heard, Stay Tuned with Preet, this podcast that you listen to, won the People’s Voice Webby Award, which is an important award for podcasts and radio and other things for Best News and Politics Podcast. I want to thank all of you for supporting the show, listening to the show, writing in, and voting. It’s a great honor. And I’m very gratified not only for your support but for the spectacular team we have here on Stay Tuned. You don’t hear their voices, but you hear their names and the credits at the end of every show. And we couldn’t do it without having that kind of a team.
Now, much more importantly, with respect to voting, we have perhaps the most important election of our lifetime’s coming up. I know they say that in every election, but this time, it is in fact, clearly true. And we’re going to see a lot of fighting about elections, and about voting and the nature of voting. We’ve talked on the show, and on the Insider Podcast, about the skirmishes in Wisconsin, where it was a back and forth about whether or not people could vote by absentee ballot, whether they got their absentee ballots and on time. And some people are going to be denied the franchise unless these court battles go the right way.
Just this morning, and I’m taping this on Wednesday, May 20th, Donald Trump posted a fairly outrageous tweet that has to do with this issue of voting. He posted “Breaking, Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of primaries and the general election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this voter fraud path.”
That is a crazy tweet in a pantheon of crazy tweets. Basically every sentence is false. Michigan did not send absentee ballots to 7.7 million people. Michigan sent applications for absentee ballots. It was not done illegally. It was not done without authorization. And this threat to hold up funding from Michigan, if they do something that is otherwise authorized, is on its face unconstitutional. So that’s the kind of thing that we’re in store for, and it’s going to happen a lot of different states. States that are known to be blue, known to be red, don’t to be purple, and there may be in transition.
One state in which there was a positive ruling this week is Texas. On Tuesday, a Texas federal court judge ruled to expand absentee voting to anyone concerned about getting COVID-19 at the voting booths regardless of age. Before that, mail-in ballots were reserved only for those over the age of 65. In his ruling, US District Judge Fred Biery of the Western District, Texas sided with the individual Texas voters in the Texas Democratic Party. They were the plaintiffs in this case, to ensure that all people would be able to cast their vote during this unusual election cycle. Now, ordinarily, I don’t read from court opinions, although we do sometimes. But Judge Biery’s order, in this case, is striking. And so I want to share a little bit of it with you today before we leave.
After he opens his opinion with a quote from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, he writes this, quote, “244 years on, Americans now seek life without fear of pandemic, liberty to choose their leaders in an environment free of disease, and the pursuit of happiness without undue restrictions. Of the 3,929,214 original Americans, We the People, as the new sovereign with the power to prevent a new despot belonged in the hands of only 235,753 white males who owned property. Over time the franchise grew to include all white males, African-American men, and women. Without that evolving expansion, We the People are mere words on 200-year-old parchment. There are some among us who would if they could nullify those aspirational ideas to return to the not so Halcyon and not so thrilling days of yesteryear, of the divine right of kings, trading our birthright as a sovereign people for a modern mess of governing pottage in the hands of a few, and forfeiting the vision of America as a shining city upon a hill” end quote.
Now isn’t that something. With Judge Biery’s powerful and eloquent words in mind remember to vote, remember to register to vote, and don’t let anyone take you right away. Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest Zanny Minton Beddoes.
If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me at Preet Bharara with the hashtag Ask Preet, or you can call and leave me a message at (669)247-7338. That’s 669-24Preet, or you can send an email to [email protected]
Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore and the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Calvin Lord, Noah Azulai, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay Tuned.