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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
Leadership in a time of global crisis with Italy on a war footing to combat coronavirus. Former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, joins me from Rome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight, we are a step closer to restoring decency, dignity and honor to the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: As Joe Biden takes a commanding lead in the Democratic Primary, I speak to Trump confidant and campaign adviser, David Urban.
Then, as coronavirus disrupts the tightly linked global workforce, our Walter Isaacson speaks to labor economist, David Autor.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Democratic voters in the United States are coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden, and this is happening as the World Health Organization
declares the coronavirus a pandemic now. The virus is both a health crisis and an economic crisis and poses a major challenge to leaders around the
world, including President Trump. We’ll get reaction to all of that from Trump adviser David Urban in a moment.
But first, we take a deeper look at life during viral wartime in Italy where the entire country is on lockdown. Over 10,000 cases of coronavirus
are confirmed there and the death toll is increasing at an alarming rate. More than 600 people have died so far.
So, to get more on this, we are joining by Matteo Renzi, he is Italy’s former prime minister and he’s currently serving as senator from Florence.
Prime minister, Matteo Renzi, welcome to the program.
MATTEO RENZI, FORMER ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: So, here you are several weeks into your crisis and two days into a nationwide lockdown. Can you tell me how that is affecting the
country and how do you even patrol and monitor a lockdown of this size?
RENZI: It’s a very strange experience, particularly for a people as Italian people. Very used to shaking hand, to give hugs, kiss, Italian
people is not a people able to block everything. But there is a priority today and the priority is to block the coronavirus because maybe also we,
as Italian establishment, as Italian people, we made some mistakes and we became, unfortunately, the first country in Europe for number of
So, the idea is that after the Sunday, last Sunday, everyone have to stay at home with the possibility, of course, to buy the thing important for the
life, for the drugs, for the food, of course. But lots of shops are closed. And we believe for the next two weeks, more or less, to live in a very
strange situation for the first time after World War II. But I think this is necessary.
And my opinion, that measures very, very strong will be the same measures in every country of Europe in the next days because if you follow the
graphics, the numbers of problem in Italy are exactly the same of the numbers of the problem in France and in Germany in the first days. So, in
the next days, if France and Germany were not able to block as in Italy will have the same problem. So, it’s very strange, strange, strange
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you, because you started by saying, we made some mistakes, and I want the know from your perspective because it is a
lesson to the rest of the West right now, from your perspective, what are your mistakes?
I could tell you that in January your prime minister, Prime Minister Conte, boasted, the system of prevention in place by Italy is most rigorous in
Europe. Well, clearly that was not the case. So, what happened? In your opinion, as a former prime minister, what are the mistakes that you made
and the others can learn from?
RENZI: I think if we discuss now about mistakes is not for politics but only, as you said, only to learn from our mistakes. For example, we blocked
the direct plane from China to Italy. And this is the same measure yesterday announced from Spain government for Italian plane.
But that is not the good measure because if you block the direct plane but we don’t check the people who came from the contagious area who used the
transition plane, if you don’t care about that, you risk to income the people with the contagious.
The real priority is not close the direct plane but, for example, close the schools. I’m father of three children, three children who in the age in the
school age and I know how it is difficult to close the schools. But this decision will be a decision, will be — my view, my two cents (ph), really
necessary. We need that decision in every part of Europe. And I’m very appreciative that the decision on some leaders, also United in States who
blocked in some cluster, in some districts the schools. So, not block the direct plane but block the schools.
Second mistake, I think if we decide to block some areas, we have to block really the areas. OK. China is not democracy. China have instruments very
strong. Maybe more efficient but, of course, I prefer democracy than efficiency. At the same time, we have to decide and democratic way to block
the people. Because I know it’s not easy to force the people to stay in the single town under single places, but there is not alternative. This is a
virus. Always really a pandemic event.
And the only way to block the virus today is avoid the contagious and the – – also human relation is very sad that but is the only way for little period. My hope is that American guys, Chinese guys, Israelian, European,
Italian guys could find very quickly vaccination. And that is very interesting because in the public debate in Italy for a lot of time, a lot
of people, populists leader used to say, oh, we don’t believe in vaccination. Now, in Italy there is not place for no vaccination —
AMANPOUR: The Anti-Vax Movement, yes.
RENZI: Everyone believe in the science. Yes, yes.
RENZI: Everyone today, fortunately, believe in the science.
AMANPOUR: Well, they definitely need to. But as you know —
RENZI: Very sad.
AMANPOUR: As you know, Prime Minister, there’s unlikely to be a vaccination before a year or 18 months, but we’ll see what happens. But
just interestingly, you — as you said, your shops, there are bars, there are restaurants, the pope did regular sort of Wednesday mass behind closed
doors. The Senate has banned any floor debates. You are a senator. So, the blocking is happening as you say.
I want to ask you this, though. What about the massive death toll and — well, I mean, it is the highest in Europe, and in the last 24 hours, close
to 200 people died of this virus. And what we understand, apart from just blocking, there is a very severe shortage of hospital space, of doctors and
nurses, not just in Italy but around the world.
And a doctor in Italy said, you know, it is like war surgery here. This is a paramedic who is published the Corriere della Sera from Bergamo in
Lombardy, which is closed down. It is like war surgery. We only try to save the skin of those who can make it. That is what’s going on. Do you worry
that choices are having to be made about who’s saved and who isn’t, who’s treated and who is not?
RENZI: The decision of last Sunday will produce a fact not quickly but in one week, in 10 days, because if you block the people today, the statistics
about new contagious are statistics would depend — which depended from the last two weeks, one week, not from today.
So, first point, this decision will show the effects in the next days, not today, not tomorrow but in probably according to scientist opinions, in one
week, 10 days. This is the first.
Second point, in Italy, that decision very strong is the only way to avoid the risk of collapse of hospitals because the problem is not the level of
mortality of coronavirus. The problem is too much people needs the hospitalization and if that arrive altogether in the hospitals, the risk is
the organization, particularly as you know about the audio of the Bergamo’s doctor, the risk is in the organization of the system.
My view is that, if Italy will be able in the next week, 10 days, to support, to sustain more correctly, to sustain that wave of contagious of
the last week, the last 10 days, for Italy from the strong decision of last Sunday will start, finally, a new way, a positive, new way.
RENZI: But the problem is we live in a global world. And for that my request is please, to my friends of the older European countries, and let
me be very clear, also to American guys, please, don’t make the same mistakes of under evaluation of the risk.
Because a lot of people, for example, decide over in France, last week or in the U.K. or in Germany, to go, for example, to the theater or to museum
because the reaction is, don’t be afraid. We go to theater. This is a good reaction when there is an attack of terrorist. We show our resilience.
When there is a virus, we have to avoid, to stay in a public place. So, don’t waste time. Italy wastes time and this was a mistake. Please, France,
Germany, U.K., Spain, we have to absolutely avoid the risk to waste time.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let me play what Angela Merkel of Germany has said today. I mean, she is trying to calm people but she is also said that
pretty much more than half of her population could become infected. Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): It has to be understood that if the virus is here and there is not yet immunity of the
population against this virus, no vaccine and no therapy, that then a high percentage of the population experts say 60 percent to 70 percent will be
infected as long as this is the case. And that is why this intensive search for therapy and vaccine is ongoing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that’s from Chancellor Merkel who is not an alarmist, but 60 percent to 70 percent is a very high number. I wonder what you make of
Europe’s reaction to Italy. At first, there was a reluctance to sell or to send to Italy, you know, protective gear or any kind of medical help
because everybody was trying to hoard their own help. Have things changed? Because Europe says they’re now going to really help Italy.
RENZI: First of all, you know, Angela is a very pragmatic leader. And I agree with her. For sure, around the world, in the next months, half
population may be, according to the data of scientists will be affected from coronavirus. But the problem is the timeline, because if the people
altogether in the same period are infected, that will create a chaos in the hospitals. This is the reason to postpone the arrive of this infection, of
This is very important because, of course, coronavirus is not a tragedy for humanity in term of lethality but the problem is the timeline. This is the
first. So, reduce the risk of simultaneous contagious is very important.
Second point, Europe is, for sure, ready to support and help Italy. But I repeat, in the next 10 days, in the next week, the problem today present in
Italy will be present in Europe. So, I think Europe have to make three, to do three things. First, we have to change the business model for the next
10 years. You know, in the last 10 years we follow the business model committed on Germany’s leadership, particularly with the export of China,
in the car — in the industry of car, in manufacturing, good.
This is the past unfortunately. Because China will reduce the import. And so, for a new business model for Europe we need more infrastructure, more
flexibility and less austerity. This is the first. About health care. I think we need a real European Union, for example, in the research, in the
And the third, my view, we have to change the rules for the banks because the problem today for the people remains at home is that liquidity. The
liquidity for money. Because if I’m artisan, if I’m an architect, a lawyer and I’m forced to stay for two weeks, three weeks in my home, I have a
problem of liquidity of money.
So, European banks have to change the rules, particularly to encourage and to save the people, to have liquidity, to live in this period. And then,
when the crisis will be over, we will come back to normal.
AMANPOUR: So, finally, Ursula von der Leyen, who is the E.U. commissioner has said today that the E.U. will distribute 25 billion euros across Europe
with several billion of those going to Italy, is Precisely as you say, to help small and medium-size enterprise, to help people stay at work, to try
to cushion some of the worst economic effects of this.
But I want to ask you this. You were prime minister during the Ebola crisis. How do you see the world reacting today in coronavirus compared to
how they reacted in 2014 to when the Ebola crisis could have been a pandemic?
RENZI: I remember 2014, a great tension, unbelievable attention from President Obama about that. I remember in every meeting, President Obama
and also Vice President Biden and all the leaders, also Angela Merkel and all the leaders around the world stressed the point of a global reaction.
That is also my request to White House, to President Trump and to all the leaders. Please, this is a pandemic event and we need a great effort from
United States exactly as in 2014, President Obama and United States of America tried to do.
For Europe, my view, I’m very optimistic as a character. But let me be very clear, I think 25 billion in this case is absolutely not enough.
RENZI: Not because we — my personal view is Europe will make an initiative of 200 billion to stay in front of coronavirus. Because today is
only the first step. As Italian people, unfortunately, we are the place of stress test because we are the place of the first real great event of
coronavirus in Europe. But I’m really, really worried.
In the next 10 days, that will be spread around Europe and my request is we have to learn from the Italian mistakes.
AMANPOUR: All right. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
And next, to the United States where there are now more than 1,000 coronavirus cases and new restrictive measures are impacting lives across
the country. Schools and universities are closing. And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the National Guard will be deployed for
the first time in this crisis to patrol a containment zone in Westchester County.
And yet, top federal health official Dr. Anthony Fauci says this is just the beginning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERG AND INFECTIOUR DISEASES: We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are
right now. How much worse we’ll get will depend on our ability to do two things, to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the
outside and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country. Bottom line, it is going to get worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, that is the health official’s health official. And the crisis impacting the presidential race. Both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders
canceled their election rallies last night. Still, the Trump campaign says, it’s all systems go for a campaign event in Milwaukee next Tuesday.
David Urban is an advisor to President Trump’s 2020 campaign and he is joining me from Florida, which is an important state, of course, in this
But, David Urban, I want to ask you, you just heard, really, that Italy is the stress test case for Europe and possibly for the West. And he’s calling
on everybody, including the United States, to treat this as a global crisis with a global reaction. You’ve been writing about, you know, the reaction
of the president. How would you assess and what do you think needs to be done?
DAVID URBAN, TRUMP 2020 ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBER: Well, Christiane, thanks for having me. And obviously, our — everyone’s thoughts and prayers
go out to those affected in Italy and around the world by this terrible pandemic.
I agree with Dr. Fauci. Obviously, as you say, he is the health care expert’s health care expert. Containment is number one thing that everyone
here in the United States is focused on and should be globally because that’s all you can do at this point. There are no vaccines, there’s no
treatment. You simply have to ride it out.
So, when there’s known clusters, when people known to be infected, we need to quarantine, contain those individuals, those clusters of people that are
infected and try to stem the spread. There’s obviously the summer — spring and summer around the corner here.
This flu as in other flus is expected to kind of taper off once the warmer weather comes. And so, hopefully, that, you know, quarantining people who
are infected, treating those who are infected and limiting their exposure to others with the break of, you know, the weather change, change in
climate, hopefully, will kind of burn — allow this virus to burn itself out here and in other places.
AMANPOUR: You heard, also, what Renzi said and you’ve heard what your own health officials have said, that we have to be led by the data, by the
science, by the facts. And I think you have encouraged the president to do that too, let the experts talk. Because as you know and as everybody knows,
there’s been a lot of tweeting and a lot of, you know, Trump being trumping over this, frankly. Do you think that he has the message?
URBAN: So, I do believe, Christiane, that the president has let the CDC director, Redfield, the surgeon general, Adams, Dr. Fauci and other experts
lead. I think the president is trying to be somewhat of a cheerleader. You saw Angela Merkel. That’s what leaders are supposed to do, right? Calm and
urge people to be calm.
There is a sense of panic, as you know, in lots of people for fear of this, this virus. People need to, obviously, exercise caution but the level of
panic that has swept through lots of places in America, you see these lines at grocery stores, at wholesalers like Costco, people, you know, queueing
up for hours with this incredible fear. I think the president’s trying to align some of that fear.
You know, in America, Christiane, this is like people that — I liken it to is the entire United States is going to be hit by a hurricane or a cyclone
and people are preparing at that level. And so, there gets to be a great deal of panic, and I think the president is just trying to calm some of
that panic and I think he’d be wise to just continue to push Dr. Fauci, the CDC director, as well as the surgeon general out front to deliver those
messages of facts and just, you know, let’s be specific about how many people are actually infected.
And we don’t know — what we don’t, Christiane, as you know, is the denominator. We know the numerator, how many people have died but we don’t
know the denominator, how many people have been affected. There are people who are asymptomatic. And so, the severity of this coronavirus is really
going to be really not truly known until we know what that bottom number is, the denominator. And is this more like SARS or MERS, or is it more akin
to, you know, a really bad case of the flu?
AMANPOUR: Well, right now, they’re saying it’s 10 times worse than the flu in terms of its effect and mortality. But to the cheerleader point, I would
like to play this little bit of a soundbite from President Trump and then tack about the rest of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away. We want to protect our shipping industry, our cruise
industry, cruise ships. We want to protect our airline industry, very important. But everybody has to be vigilant and has to be careful. But be
calm. It is really working out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, there you have the cheerleader in chief. But there seems to be like a bifurcated two-pronged sort of effort. Be calm. The president
keeps talking about the economy. And others, like yourself and others, have talked about, also, you know, the health aspect of it.
You know that, and you just heard Matteo Renzi talk about Ebola and how the United States and the rest of the world leaders came together, gave a huge
amount of global leadership and resources to make sure that the worst effects of Ebola were contained. President Trump declined to extend the resources to the CDC that have been put in place. And that’s a big amount of money that has been wasted. And as
you know, right now, there are almost — well, there’s certainly not enough testing kits, and that’s another thing. You talk about the denominator.
There are not enough testing kits to try to figure out who’s got what.
URBAN: So, Christiane, the CDC information, the budget cut to the CDC was not for infectious disease. There’s, as you know budgets to these federal
agencies are quite large. So, that’s not correct. In fact, the president did not cut funding for the infectious disease portion.
AMANPOUR: Didn’t he disbanded the National Security Council’s global health security unit in 2018, as well?
URBAN: But that’s not the CDC. Listen, Christiane, you’re right. There needs to be a much more robust response, not just at CDC but the FDA, CMS.
There’s a “New York Times” article today, it talks about why some of these local labs weren’t able to conduct testing and — because of bureaucratic
red tape. Clearly, all countries can be more prepared for a pandemic. We’re moving as rapidly as we can in the United States to get more test kits
available, to ramp up the testing, to do all those things necessary.
The Congress today, the Senate and House are working together on a package of incentives for — you know, the House is put forward for school lunches,
for small businesses, for health care providers. They’re trying to address the wide concerns of everybody.
Like the prime minister is talking about in Europe, there’s a huge concern in America about what does it mean for the economy here. Stock market, the
U.S. stock market is obviously, you know, up and down like a yoyo based upon, you know, nobody really knows what’s happening. Supply chains are
disrupted in China. There’s a panic set in.
So, I think as the Congress moves forward here in the next few days, people begin to quarantine, get a better sense of the numbers, hopefully, in next
few weeks. The prime minister says the incubation period is, you know, as we understand from the experts, you know, roughly under two weeks what
we’ll know a little bit better, we can hopefully quarantine some folks and try to drive it down. But there is going to be a huge economic cost of this
People — just the economic cost of people staying home and self-isolating, even if they’re not symptomatic right now, you know, people aren’t going to
the theater, they’re not going on cruises, they’re not booking travel. People are staying home in lots of places. And, you know, that is going to
have a huge impact on the economy. People aren’t shopping, they’re not going to the theater, they’re not going to the malls. That will have an
And then when you close schools, there are lots of kids who get their meals through schools. And so, what’s going to happen to the school lunch
URBAN: Lots of concerns from lots of people across America. And the Congress is working hard to try to address that with the administration.
AMANPOUR: It’s an all of life impact which requires an all of government response. So, there is word —
AMANPOUR: — that President Trump is favorably potentially disposed to declaring a national state of emergency under the correct Stafford Act,
which would free up about, I believe, about $40 billion in immediate aid.
URBAN: Right. the FEMA money, that’s correct.
AMANPOUR: Is that going to happen? Can you confirm that to us?
URBAN: I don’t know. I can’t speak to that. I know there have been ongoing discussions at the White House and other places. It’s been rumored to be
kicked around. And that if it does, obviously, that frees up a great deal of money, a great deal of resources that can be further utilized to help
stem, you know, the pandemic here in America and other places.
AMANPOUR: You know, you said the stock market is like a yoyo going up and down. I mean, it really seems to everybody that it’s going down and down
and that is something that is very close to President Trump’s heart and central to his re-election campaign theme.
As you know, and you just heard what Joe Biden said, we are here to restore, you know, dignity and honor to the White House. And as you see the
Democrats seem to be coalescing around him. We know from you Republicans that perhaps Biden is not the person you would prefer to see President
Trump running against. Lindsey Graham said it out now that, you know, it would be a tough run for the president to face Biden. Just give me your
analysis right now.
URBAN: So, Christiane, I don’t agree with Senator Graham. I — and I shared this with the president. I was much more fearful of Senator Sanders
and the coalition, the really grassroots coalition ground swell support that he had gotten from so many, so many, many excited folks in the base of
the Democratic Party.
I will tell you that there is not a great deal of excitement about Joe Biden. There may be a great deal of excitement about beating Donald Trump
in the party but there’s not a great deal of excitement amongst of Joe Biden.
You saw our colleague, Van Jones, perhaps last night talking about the Democratic Party has a real challenge ahead.
And what are they going to do in terms of reaching out to the Bernie supporters? How are they going to bring them in the tent to solidify that
party moving forward?
Senator Biden — or — excuse me — Vice President Biden is going to have to tack very, very, very hard left and become much more and more
progressive than he’s very — than he’s comfortable doing.
You recall that Senator Sanders is an advocate of Medicare for all, of free college going forward, of retiring student debt, of eliminating ICE, open
borders. There are some real progressive notions here. You saw the vice president stand with Beto O’Rourke in Texas and say, this is the guy I’m
going to put in charge of my gun control, a man who stood and said, I’m going to take people’s guns away.
I mean, there are lots of progressive positions that the vice president is now going to be forced to embrace in order to bring his party together.
Anybody running with that anchor around their neck is going to be very difficult — it’s going to be very difficult to win a lot of swing
counties, Christiane. He will do very well in San Francisco. He will do very well in New York, but what about Kenosha County, Wisconsin, or Luzerne
County, Pennsylvania, or Macomb County in Michigan?
Those are the swing counties–
AMANPOUR: Well, what about Michigan? I mean–
URBAN: — will determine — well, that will determine — those will determine the presidency.
Let me just say that Politico today headline, “Michigan romp shows Biden could rebuild Democrats’ blue wall vs. Trump. What Biden demonstrated on
Tuesday was an ability to have it both ways, accelerating the GOP’s exodus in the suburbs, while stopping his party’s bleeding in the exurban and
rural areas beyond. If you he do that in November, he will win.”
And I just want to say that I admire you lobbying for or missing Sanders, because, clearly, President Trump was — he wanted Sanders, and he was sort
of saying, crazy social Sanders.
So, Christiane, I — that Politico report is correct, right? That’s the coalition the vice president needs to put together to win. The vice
president needs to bring back those kind of blue-collar conservatives that the Democratic Party has abandoned and has looked past for so many years.
And I submit that, as the president — the vice president moves to solidify his party and has to adopt a lot of really, really progressive positions,
that he will in turn alienate those folks.
Those same people that just turned out to vote for him, when they get to the ballot box come November 3, they’re going to have to listen to all
those things, a laundry list of things that the vice president now believes in, which are incredibly progressive. He will an incredibly progressive
running mate, is my prediction.
And it’ll come down to a choice. And do you want to move forward with what’s been going on with the Trump administration? Or do you want to go
back to a third term of Obama-Biden, which was what basically we ran in 2016, right?
Hillary Clinton ran for a third term of Obama-Biden with — it’s almost like deja vu, right? Bernie was nipping at her heels the whole way. And she
was running without a lot of great enthusiasm. When you got to the general election, you had a candidate with not a lot of support.
The Biden — the Bernie folks kind of left are standing at the altar and President Trump was able to win. So I think you’re seeing a little bit of
that being replayed right now.
Obviously, how it’s going to play out is going to be a great — we’re going to see what’s going to happen at the Democratic Convention, which is
upcoming, whether they be able to coalesce around the vice president, whether Senator Warren and Senator Sanders will bring those progressives
and join up with the vice president.
That’s what they’re going to need to do. Otherwise, it’s going to be — they’re going to have a tough time. And no matter who is in the ticket,
Christiane, I have always said it’s going to be very tough.
URBAN: It’s going to be a very tough race for this president. And it’ll be down to under 100,000, roughly 100,000 or so votes again, this election.
AMANPOUR: Like it was last time, yes, indeed.
Let me just get back finally to the coronavirus. I mean, look, you’re a West Pointer. You were awarded the Bronze Star in the first Gulf War.
You’re 101st Airborne. You get it when it comes to facing an enemy, whatever it is, including a virus like this.
Governor Cuomo in New York deployed the National Guard to contain a particular area of the epicenter in suburban New York. I just want to know,
from a military perspective, you have seen what South Korea has done. It’s a democracy, but it’s used as military to test and to clean and do all the
Does there need to be just a little more organization from the United States and some leadership on a daily basis, and briefings and transparency
URBAN: So, Christiane, I do believe that they’re — that has been — the briefings that are taking place with Dr. Fauci, right, every day and the
director of CDC and the surgeon general, I think that’s gone a long way to provide information.
The deployment of the military, it’s my understanding, in New York is to be used for delivery of meals, for decontamination for, for things along those
lines, not to keep people from leaving, but to help the delivery of services and disinfecting and things along those lines.
URBAN: The states are — as you know, in America, it’s a republic. These are all 50 states.
And the states, unfortunately or fortunately, have the apparatus to do all these things. It’s incumbent upon the governors in these states, the mayors
in these states to take those measures to take care and protect their own people. So I applaud Governor Cuomo for what he’s doing, that he thinks
it’s in his best interest of his people to get out in front of it.
That’s the best way he feels it contain it and do what’s responsible. So I think you’re going to see it in other states, right? This is — Europe is
facing that now, where the Italians are kind of looking backward saying, maybe we should have done more. Other states and other countries in Europe
are looking around saying that.
And so when you have the United States, you’re looking at the neighbors of New York, right, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and wondering,
well, what exact happened? Did people transfer — were people going to transit from New Jersey into our state via bus, train, plane? Did they
infect people in Pennsylvania, infect people in New Jersey?
Unfortunately, open borders create those type of things. And the prime minister was very wise and say, listen, the Chinese were able to head it
off pretty quickly because of their form of government.
URBAN: I prefer freedom and some illness than living in communism with less illness.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, South Korea is a democracy. It also deployed a massive all-government and military response. And it’s managed to — it’s
managing to sort of turn the corner.
So I was just asking whether you believe that it’s an all-government approach in the United States.
Anyway, David Urban–
URBAN: Well, no, absolutely. Absolutely, it should be an all-government approach.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes.
URBAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you so much.
Our next guest is the MIT professor David Autor. He’s a leading economist studying disruptions to labor markets from globalization to trade and, as
it turns out, viruses. “The Economist” calls Autor the academic voice of the American worker.
He talks with our Walter Isaacson about U.S.-China trade relations and the long-term impact of the coronavirus.
ISAACSON: Your academic studies for the past two decades have really focused to a large extent on globalization and even China having been
brought in around 2000 or so into the global economy.
How will the coronavirus disrupt this in the longer term?
DAVID AUTOR, FORD PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, MIT: Well, what the coronavirus phenomenon has reminded us, if we didn’t already know, is how tightly
integrated the global economy is, both on the one hand through tourism, through travel, business travel, and all the routes of transmission, but
also through supply chains that run very deep into Asia and throughout the world.
And they’re highly, highly interconnected. And so a break in any link of that chain can have repercussions for, when will the next iPhone be
introduced? How fast can we produce surgical masks? When will we start having shortages of pharmaceuticals?
All those things are things we will feel. And this is something that has proceeded rapidly and deeply in a way that many people may not be as
But when you think of Walmart’s business model, Walmart’s business model is not just trucking stuff out to big box stores. It’s developed supply chains
into China to produce millions of goods at very low cost and getting them efficiently into U.S. stores.
So, Walmart’s business model will be interrupted — will be disrupted, to the degree that China’s production is disrupted.
I think, more broadly, we have seen this is one of several shocks that have hit global supply chains in recent years. The Trump tariffs also had a very
large effect, both in terms of changing the costs of producing certain things in certain places, but also reminding businesses how vulnerable they
were to disruptions in areas over which they have very little control.
So, I don’t know what the long-run effect would be. And it’s premature to say, because we don’t know how transitory this will be. But I think it will
make us aware of that vulnerability.
And I think both businesses and individuals will take that into account in how they plan where they travel, but also how they plan what they produce.
ISAACSON: We’re in an era of amazing disruption, from Brexit to Trump to Bernie Sanders.
Part of it seems to be due to trade and what that did to our middle-class, part of it to do with technology.
How disruptive was trade, especially trade with China, to the American middle class?
AUTOR: It was quite consequential, much more than was expected by the people who were negotiating China’s joining the World Trade Organization,
which it did in 2001.
And, in net, it probably cost the U.S. a couple of million manufacturing jobs. And let me put that in context. The labor market, 150 million
workers, so a couple million jobs is actually not that large relative to the whole.
However, those jobs are geographically concentrated, right? They’re in the South Atlantic area. They will be in specific industries, like textiles,
furniture, shoes and leather goods.
And so relative to the whole U.S. economy, that’s small. Relative to the places where that impact was felt, it was extremely concentrated, extremely
immediate, and it put companies and industries and towns kind of out of business very quickly.
ISAACSON: So, when it came to China and trade deals, did Trump — was he onto something? Did he get it right?
AUTOR: There are really two answers I’d like to give to that question.
So the first is, looking back, Trump picked up correctly on how much economic and psychic damage had been done by the China shock, just how much
that hurt in a way that economists and economic policy-makers hadn’t anticipated and in a way that politicians had not accounted for.
So he correctly picked up that zeitgeist and channeled it. And I give him credit for that.
He is also correct that the U.S.-China trade relationship was and is badly in need of renegotiation, but not in a way that’s going to bring back those
jobs. That’s not going to happen.
The real negotiation with China now has much more to do with frontier sectors, like microelectronics, aircraft, network routers, 5G, and with
ownership of intellectual property and with market access. Those things are incredibly important.
They aren’t going to undo the China shock.
ISAACSON: When we negotiate trade deals in the future, should we be looking just to maximize the GDP, or should we be saying, hey, trade deals
should try to protect — I know protectionism is not a good word — but protect the jobs of Americans?
AUTOR: So I’d say there’s kind of a middle course to that.
So change is necessary. It’s part of economic dynamism. It allows us to grow as a country. If we just said, look, we can’t have cars because it’s
really going to hurt the horse industry, right, the equestrian sector, that would not have been a good choice.
However, we ought to be thinking about the rate at which things change and the transition path between those things. So, the China shock happened
really fast. When China joined the WTO, it was granted permanent most favored nation trading status in 2000.
It joined the WTO in 2001. And there was a surge of imports. The U.S. trade deficit in merchandise goods rose to about 3 percent of GDP. And that made
many labor-intensive industries, particularly in the South Central United States, kind of nonviable, right?
So the commodity furniture industry, plants with 1,000 workers or more disappeared, textile production, leather goods, toys, assembly. And I
think, in retrospect, if we had known it was going to happen like that, I think we would have done it more gradually.
It’s not that we said, no, that could never happen. But we should make that transition path less traumatic, and we should have supports in place for
workers making that transition as well.
ISAACSON: Do you think the disruptive effects of globalization and trade on average people who had good jobs is a global phenomenon that’s causing
things from Brexit to Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump?
AUTOR: I think it’s one part of it.
So,I mean, I would say there are two or three forces that are kind of contributing to the sense that we all perceive that people are reacting,
reacting to how the world is changing, reacting somewhat vehemently at the polls.
One, of course, as we have discussed, is trade and global integration. A second is that technological change itself over the last 40 years has had
very non-neutral effects on the labor market. It’s been highly complementary to professional and technical and managerial workers who have
cheap information, larger locus of control, better communications, made them more productive.
It has simultaneously substituted for a lot of workers doing office, clerical, admin work and production and operative positions, a lot of the
skilled, but well — skilled, but kind of scripted work, things that followed a well-understood set of procedures and rules, often which
required education, expertise, and practice, right?
Those are increasingly automatable. What is left behind, in addition to these professional and technical managerial jobs, is many in-person
services, food service, cleaning, security, home health–
ISAACSON: You mean, in other words, those jobs still exist?
AUTOR: Those jobs still exist.
However, those jobs don’t pay as well. And the reason they don’t pay as well is not because of class structure or prejudice. It’s because they use
a relatively generic skill set that many, many people have.
And there are jobs in which you don’t typically develop expertise and become much more productive. If you’re a janitor, or you’re a checkout
clerk, or a hotel clerk, you will probably reach peak productivity at that that job in a few months.
And then that means that you won’t have a rising life cycle of rising wages if your productivity isn’t rising. It also means that you’re in kind of
neck-and-neck competition with the next person who applies for your job.
That wouldn’t be true if you were getting better some skilled production tasks or learning an expertise at clerical work. So the labor market has
bifurcated. Many of these middle-skilled jobs have been hollowed out by a combination of technology and by trade more recently.
We have this kind of polarized labor market, lots of opportunity for the highly educated and a narrower set of opportunities for people without
ISAACSON: Has there ever been a time in our history in which technology has reduced the number of jobs?
AUTOR: And that’s a very good question.
And I should mention I’m one of the co-directors of the MIT Work of the Future task force. It was set up by president Reif of MIT to look at this
question about technology and employment and, what is changing, what are the challenges, what are the opportunities, and what are the policies that
attempt to respond to that?
There is a long history of the fear of technologically-induced joblessness. So far, we have seen very little of that. Most technological advances have
led to productivity growth, income growth and rising opportunity.
But just like trade, they don’t make everybody better off. And that is a very legitimate concern. You know, the most famous example of the people
concerned about the technological progress were the Luddites in 18th century England, and rose up against the power loom or mechanical frame —
power frame — excuse me.
And although they were — if they believed it would eliminate employment altogether, they weren’t correct. But if they thought it would threaten
their livelihoods they were right, because the Industrial Revolution devalued artisanal skills, the people who worked at home doing careful
handicrafts, and moved them into factories, where a lot of the work was done by less skilled, less trained individuals, often children, working
with big machines.
And so it had hugely redistributive consequences. And out in the present era, there’s no reason to think that we’re approaching technological
In fact, you can look around you and see we are in a jobs boom. And that’s true throughout the Western world. Wages are rising. Unemployment is low.
And, moreover, demographically, we face great challenges because of low fertility, an aging population, restrictive immigration policies, and
rising education, which makes people less interested in doing many of the service jobs that need to be done.
So it’s not a question of the quantity of jobs, but the quality of jobs. And that has changed a lot. And technology has a lot to do with it. And
this bifurcation of opportunity is a very substantial factor in people’s perception of opportunity and security vs. economic dead ends, and the
notion that the assumptions on which they had structured their working lives are threatened.
It’s not clear where the equivalent opportunity is anymore for people without a college degree.
ISAACSON: But if we just do more education, more skills, more community colleges, we will create a better work force, but is that going to solve it
Or do we have to also have a supply of jobs for those people?
AUTOR: I think you ask a very astute question.
There’s a kind of — it’s the easiest thing in the world to say, oh, more education skills, that will do it, supply-side intervention. And that’s
certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient. We need to do more that changes the structure of work.
So what would that look like? One is tax policy. Our tax policy heavily subsidizes investment in machines, relative to workers. So a firm might be
saying, well, I could do this thing — I spend — I could spend a million dollars a year on labor or I could spend a million dollars a year in
renting this piece of capital to do the checkout or do the airline reservations. What should I do?
Well, it’s kind of a wash. Oh, look, the tax system is going to go in with me 20 percent on the machine, but it’s going to tax me on the workers. I
think I will use the machine.
And so we may actually create excessive automation through our tax code. That is something that my colleague Daron Acemoglu and his co-author
Pascual Restrepo at Boston University are working very hard on, fascinating paper on this topic.
Additionally, the U.S. is an extreme among market economies in venerating shareholders as the only legitimate stakeholder of companies. There was a
time not long ago when it was thought that a firm was there to maximize the wealth of its shareholders, but also the welfare of its workers, and had
some responsibility as well to the community in which was located.
Milton Friedman in 1950 said, oh, that’s crazy. What companies should do is maximize profits. Anything else is actually a waste. They’re harming
themselves and harming society. That
view was extreme. It was not accepted until the early 1980s. And then it basically took over. It became intellectually acceptable. And at the same
time, labor unions atrophied, partly because of globalization, partly because of changes in the way that firms bargained with them.
Now, we are in a setting where firms have kind of very few constraints to do anything other than maximization of shareholder value. I’m not saying
they make short-term bad decisions because of that. I’m saying they’re making decisions that don’t place much weight on the welfare of workers,
especially the rank-and-file workers.
I don’t think firms are heartless. I think they — people are sentimental, but the market pushes them in one direction. And if you don’t have a
countervailing force to any degree, that will lead to outcomes that are profit-maximizing for firms, but arguably socially suboptimal.
ISAACSON: What do you make of the phenomenon of temp work, Uber-type gig economy jobs? Is that good for the economy?
AUTOR: There are some really important benefits, let me start off by saying.
The problem with many service sector jobs, we know retail, food service, so on, is you often work at hours you don’t want to work, and you can’t work
at hours that you do want to work. Well, this turns that on its head, so that’s a very good thing.
However, of course, we — traditional employer direct-hire employment has lots of structure, lots of protection, lots of guaranteed benefits. It has
Social Security payments. It will have pension payments, health care payments, all kinds of good things that go along with it.
As soon as you’re outside of that traditional employment relationship, there are very few protections for the worker, very few strictures. And
workers may not even be aware of what bargaining they’re getting into.
Are they insured when they’re driving? If they have an accident or the passenger damages their car, opens the door and gets hit by another car,
are they insured? They may not know until they discover that, in fact, they are not.
In fact, the ways Uber and Lyft are now — have argued themselves legally, they’re not — they’re no longer — they don’t — not only are they not
employers of those of drivers. They’re not even — those drivers are not even contractors in the traditional sense.
It’s like they’re running dating apps. It’s like you and I would like — I would like a ride and you would like to drive? Can we go on a date? Let’s
use Uber and Lyft.
And so it completely disintermediates the traditional relationship. So I think it provides opportunity, but also moves risks onto workers in a way
that they may not be aware of, and, moreover, will erode other forms additional work, right?
So we know hotel room service is in decline because of Uber Eats. We know many of the things that would potentially be done through direct-hire
relationships will increasingly be done through app-based services.
So it’s not altogether bad. But we need to find an employment model that is not so binary. Either you’re a direct-hire worker, and you have lost
protections, or you’re not a direct-hire worker, all bets are off, Wild West, employer — the company does whatever it wants.
So I think that is the concern.
ISAACSON: When you were young, before you were an academic, you taught computers to disadvantaged kids out in California.
How did that affect your thinking on the role of technology in the work force?
AUTOR: It was formative for me.
I saw the tools required in the workplace changing very rapidly. And I saw that — how hard they were to access both for — one, for people who didn’t
have the incomes to buy a computer to give that to their kids to get the education, and, two, for people who didn’t already have high levels of
literacy and numeracy, because many of these stories depend upon you’re good at reading, you’re good at math, and you can use the tool for
programming, you can use the tool for writing, and you can use the tool for design.
But that kind of builds on foundational skills. And so my concern in that time that was really the genesis of the program to which I — at which I
worked was that there was a kind of a digital divide growing.
Now, what I think — and that is really what sent me to graduate school, to study that. What I have learned over time is the digital divide is not
access to a computer, per se.
It’s the way that automation, computerization has devalued a lot of middle education, middle employment skills by taking them over, by accomplishing
them with software, and, therefore, kind of making work more interesting, more creative, more remunerative for people who have abstract skills,
interpersonal skills, professional skills, and making work narrower and less skilled and less expert for people who don’t have those opportunities.
And I feel that is a big cost, not something we can fix directly, but something we have to fix by investing in skills, sure, but also by changing
incentives, changing incentives for making workers more productive, for recognizing their value, and for using technologies that make them more
ISAACSON: Professor Autor, thank you, and good night.
AUTOR: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: What a fascinating conversation.
And, finally, a story that we have been following closely and a new milestone for the MeToo movement.
Harvey Weinstein was sentenced today to 23 years for rape and first-degree criminal sexual assault. Prosecutors argued the disgraced Hollywood mogul
should be given a lengthy prison sentence, given his — quote — “lifetime of abuse towards others.”
Although his lawyers say they will appeal, this is certainly a moment of justice for the brave victims who dared to speak up and for the fearless
journalists who brought this story to light, despite a campaign of intimidation.
That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can follow me an the show on Twitter. Thank you for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.