Reimagine Podcast with Eric Schmidt: Democracy After the Pandemic

Podcast originally published 4 November 2020


Madeleine Albright (00:05):

We can’t expect miracles immediately. But there has to be an assessment of how the international system works, and also, what America’s role in the world is. I happen to believe that president Clinton was the person that said that we were an indispensable power. He said it first, I just repeated it so often it became identified with me. But there’s nothing about the word indispensable that says, alone. It means that we need to be engaged and a partner, not some country that bosses everybody around and then says that we’ve been victimized. But to have, as a partnership, that deals with what are a whole set of new problems.

Eric Schmidt (00:50):

The Coronavirus pandemic is a global tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the world. To make it better, faster for more people than ever before. I’m Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and now co-founder of Schmidt Futures, and this is Reimagine, a podcast where trailblazing leaders imagine how we can build back better.

Eric Schmidt (01:17):

In 1945 the world was reeling from successive catastrophes, the previous 30 years included two world wars, The Great Depression, and a global pandemic that left hundreds of millions dead or impoverished. That summer, leaders from democratic nations around the world convened in San Francisco to reimagine global cooperation and leadership. They created a set of institutions and norms that we refer to as the liberal world order, to insure the tragic calamities of the prior decades would never happen again. 75 years later, we find ourselves in a similar place, amid another devastating public health crisis, authoritarianism is surging, the leaders and institutions that have historically guided us through various crises are faltering amid rampant tribalism, conflict and fear.

Eric Schmidt (02:18):

On this episode of Reimagine, former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, will help us understand the trajectory of democracy in global leadership in an increasingly unstable world order. The pandemic has deepened divisions and mistrust and set the world on a different course than it was just a short while ago. We must find a way back to the right path for peace and prosperity to flourish.

Eric Schmidt (02:48):

Joining us now, is former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Secretary Albright was our nation’s 64th Secretary of State, and the first woman to lead the state department. During her illustrious career, she has helped the United States navigate many international crises, and has spent much of the last 50 years advocating for freedom around the world. Born in Prague on the cusp of World War II, Secretary Albright has also seen fascism up close. Her experiences have made her one of the worlds foremost experts on democracy and authoritarianism. She presently teaches at Georgetown and chairs the National Democratic Institute, which works to safeguard elections and promote openness and accountability in governments around the world. Secretary Albright, welcome.

Madeleine Albright (03:31):

Eric, it’s great to be with you. Thank you so much.

Eric Schmidt (03:33):

Now, you’re doing a book tour and promoting a book that you’ve just recently published called Hell and Other Destinations. Tell us about the book. What’s special about this insight?

Madeleine Albright (03:44):

Well, first of all, let me tell you, it kind of starts out by saying, people want to know how I want to be remembered. And I say, “I don’t want to be remembered, because I’m still here.” And I wanted to kind of show the things that I’ve done since I left office. And one of the things I’ve always tried to do is to make whatever I do next more interested than what I did before. Which is a little hard if you’ve been Secretary of State. So the book is based on the fact that as we were leaving the department people were saying, “Well, what are you going to do? You can go back to teaching. You can write books. You can start a company. You can do your democracy work. You can continue with the Truman Foundation. So what do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to do it all.”

Madeleine Albright (04:32):

And so what I’m doing are all those different things, and rationalizing that they all go together and that one informs another, and that I learn an awful lot, and I have. The only problem that I’m having was that I was trying to prove that I was not old, by showing how much I do. And then all of a sudden, I’m categorized as “elderly”, and so making that point, while I’m doing something virtually, is a little bit harder. But I had fun.

Eric Schmidt (05:04):

But you were peripatetic and incredibly productive as Secretary of State, so I think this is just a character of who you are. I don’t think it’s true of before state and after state. You just work this way. This is who you are.

Madeleine Albright (05:17):

Well, I certainly love traveling, and maybe I didn’t like airports, but once I got on the plane it was nice.

Eric Schmidt (05:24):

I’ve always been interested in America’s view of fascism and our lack of understanding of kind of bad government outcomes that we have. In the United States, we assume that democracy is first, always the winner, and second, that it’s always been true. But you have personal knowledge that this is not true. And we hear about fascism, but we don’t really know what it is. Tell us in a way that we can understand, why fascism is to be fought at all costs.

Madeleine Albright (05:53):

Well, first of all, I think people throw around fascism as a term without understanding it, a fascist is somebody that you disagree with or I often talk about a teenage boy who’s father doesn’t allow him to drive and he calls him a fascist. First of all, fascism is not an ideology, it is a method for gaining control, and it is a way of controlling population. And the way I describe it is that, a fascist leader is somebody who take the divisions in society, which happened just to exist for any number of reasons, and exacerbates them. So that it is based on the fact that a fascist leader identifies himself, and by the way, they’re all himselves, and identifies with that group at an expense of another which is then the scapegoat that is to blame for everything and makes the divisions worse. The second characteristic of fascism is that the leader thinks that he’s above the law, and then also calls the press, the enemy of the people. But it is a way to control the population ultimately. But to gain power, and control the population.

Madeleine Albright (07:06):

I decided that in order to understand fascism, I had to go back and see where it originated. And it did obviously originate with Mussolini. And what was interesting about him and how he gained power, was the Italians felt unappreciated because of the role that they had played at the end of World War I by supporting The Allies. So there was an anger and a disappointment. And then also, there were divisions in society and all of a sudden, this leader who was an outsider took advantage of those divisions and exacerbated them. The interesting part was that both he and Hitler, gained power constitutionally. And I think that is also something that is worth thinking about.

Madeleine Albright (07:52):

And so then, I began to look at some of the things that I saw going on in Europe, in Hungary, and in Poland, and then in the Philippians with Duterte, Venezuela. So it’s not something that’s gone, it’s definitely there.

Eric Schmidt (08:07):

So when you think about fascism and you think about democracy, we obviously prefer democracy. We also have authoritarian systems, which don’t appear to me to be too fascist. So for example, China, clearly authoritarian, but it’s at least a system of governance without a lot of freedom. What’s happening with democracy? Is democracy weakening now? For a decade or so, democracy was getting quite a bit stronger.

Madeleine Albright (08:35):

First of all, by the way, I decided that I would say communists were fascist also, because they do control the system. But what I do think is true, is that democracy is a process as much as anything, and it is complicated and it takes time. And it is based on a social contract in which people gave up some of their individual rights, in order to have the government take on duties which were protective or did help the system move forward in exchange for the fact that the citizens would participate and vote and play the role that they need to do in a free society.

Madeleine Albright (09:16):

But, and this is where we have found the issues complicated is, democracy depends on information in many different ways, and democracy also has to provide a system which allows people to speak freely and figure out who they are. But at the same time, also allows them to make a living. And so I always say that, democracy has to deliver both in the political and in the economic field, because people want to vote and eat. But it is complicated.

Eric Schmidt (09:50):

It seems to me that, people are positing what I think is a false choice, between order and freedom. And it should be possible to achieve both. The narrative today about democracy has to do with the impact of the internet and social media, and the fact that specialized groups are getting weaponized if you will, by a combination of finding each other and then exploiting either vulnerabilities loopholes or features of the social media world, where they can get an outlandish level on impact, far greater than they would have before that. Do you believe that this is a threat to the way democracy works or do you think that this is going to get solved relatively easily as people understand it?

Madeleine Albright (10:34):

I think it will get solved. And by the way Eric, something that you don’t know about me is that, I wrote my dissertation on the role of the Czechoslovak press in 1968 because I was always interested in the role of information and political change. And the thing that happened in that was that the people actually knew what the truth was because of Radio for Europe and Voice of America, but their censored pressed wasn’t printing it in any way. So they weren’t able to act on it. They couldn’t figure out how it all went together. And what was interesting was, systematically, the press became uncensored. Also, information played a huge role in what was happening with solidarity in Poland. Which by the way, had a new form of passing on information which was a taped cassette. So when Lech Wałęsa spoke in one factory, they could send it to another one and motivate people to be supportive.

Madeleine Albright (11:33):

And so I’ve always been fascinated by the role of information, and so I am very much, by the technology that is taking place now. I do think that in order for people to participate in a democracy, they need information. That is a key to being able to be a participant that knows what is going on. The question is, and I think this is obviously something that you and others are dealing with is, “How do you allow the freedom to put all kinds of information into the system and yet, not have it be undercut by those who are trying to do something else with it? And how do people distinguish between what is true and what isn’t?”

Madeleine Albright (12:18):

And so I hate to be a relativist in this, but I think it is hard to figure out what the truth is these days. And therefore, just the way any professor, I will say, read or listen to a lot of different sources and try to figure it out. But I do think that at the moment, there is an exploitation by some of the incredible advances in technology that have been made. And the question is, how one has some kind of regulation without undercutting the aspect of the freedom of it. And I think that is very hard, as all of you in silicon valley are really experiencing.

Eric Schmidt (12:58):

It remains an unsolved problem. But lets consider the Chinese argument, and their argument goes something like this, the West has had a disease, and failing for a long time. The Chinese model, which is much more organized, much less free if you will, is more effective at producing the things that people care about. And indeed, if you look at the Coronavirus, even if you take a factor of ten discount on the numbers that they quote, there’s no question that China is largely working. The economic growth is quite strong now, there’s plenty of signals that their demand is growing, while the rest of the world is still struggling with no end in sight to the impact of the virus. One scenario is that this is the beginning of the acceleration of the Chinese model, and that the democracies can not get their act together because of the reasons that we discussed. How do you argue that one way or the other?

Madeleine Albright (13:59):

Well, I can take the opposite view, frankly. First of all, I do think it’s worth going back on something in Chinese history. There is an anger that has created a lot of this, from the fact that China felt disrespected by the West all the years, and imposed upon by some of the Western systems, some good some bad, like the opium war and variety of aspects of things, and felt that there needed to be one party. What is interesting is that we all had a theory, which turns out to have been wrong. Which is, having looked at South Korea, that had a dictatorship, and then that was disposed of and all of a sudden there was the development of a middle class, that the middle class brought with it, a sense of wanting to be able to make decisions about their own lives.

Madeleine Albright (14:53):

They were doing fairly well, but having that capability of not working under a dictatorship, they then began to adopt democratic principles. So there was the thought, that as China was experiencing economic growth and developing a middle class, that they would also go in the direction of having a more open system. It didn’t work, because there was a question about what had happened to the communist party and a new leadership with Xi Jinping, who felt that he had to reinvigorate the base of the party by calling on nationalism in a very strong way, i.e. then going back and say, “We had been limited by the imposition of Western ideas and now we’re going to do things our way.”

Madeleine Albright (15:44):

I do think that I could also argue, that the Chinese system made it difficult for on the virus itself in the beginning, because the people that knew about it were quickly expunged from the system and they weren’t able to speak outside about what was happening in Wuhan and how that was effecting people. And then, because of the way that they hid what was going on, we don’t have to speak about what was going on here, but the Chinese were undermining a lot of the really, way of getting information out. They clearly, have a better system of controlling things. Even if we were functioning better, they can tell people what to do in a way that we never can or want to do.

Madeleine Albright (16:35):

So I think it’s a system that is aggressive in the way that it sees itself and the world. It is, as I said earlier, operating off of the base of nationalism, that they were mistreated, and they still have people that would like to be doing something else. So I don’t see it as a better system. And I can’t, given my own background, see any kind of authoritarian system as one that allows for the evolution of society in a way where people feel that they want and can’t make decisions about their own lives. I can see where it is a competitive system, because at the moment, we are totally disorganized. They have somehow managed also, to get some control over the virus. They have no compunctions. And it isn’t just tracing, as far as the virus is concerned, but it’s literally having images of everybody and knowing where people and what people are doing in society. So once the virus is dealt with, it will be hard to get rid of the control system that has been established by the Chinese Communist Party.

Eric Schmidt (17:48):

I agree with that fear. It turns out the ranking system and the rating system can clearly be used for other forms of social oppression as well as of course, tracking the spread of the disease. Madame Secretary, you mentioned earlier a little bit about fascism and that they were always men. Why is it that most of the successful governments dealing with these problems seem to be headed by women now?

Madeleine Albright (18:15):

Well, I’ve been asked that question and I’ve tried to analyze it, and it is very interesting. First of all, I do think that women have a way of worrying about how other people are doing, and these are generalizations, and our caregivers. I think that one of the aspects is that, I think women are better at multitasking, which allows there to be peripheral vision, to see where the problems are coming from and look at them as ways to solve the problem rather than blaming it one somebody else. I think also, there is an attempt I think, to tell the truth to people and not try to hide how to deal with it and not domineer the aspect of being able to really use the various parts of their governments to spread the word without dominating it.

Madeleine Albright (19:10):

And frankly, I have also made clear that fighting fascism, the women do better with that, frankly. Because again, it is not trying to divide people. Mothers do not like to have one set of their children arguing with another. And I think that thinks are not based so much on ego. The countries that have been successful are Taiwan and New Zealand and Germany, and then Norway and Sweden, Iceland. And a lot has to do with having good communication between the head of state and the people, and trying not to treat them as if they can be totally manipulated, but to level with them and say, “You need to be part of the solution.” And they actually believe in science too, that helps.

Eric Schmidt (20:01):

You were the first female Secretary of State for this country, what advice would you have for Kamala Harris if she were to become the first female Vice President?

Madeleine Albright (20:09):

Well, first of all, it’s an honor to be the first but it’s not the easiest to be first.

Eric Schmidt (20:15):


Madeleine Albright (20:16):

Because you are constantly being compared with your predecessors, and there are those, and I’ll say this in my own case, who wonder how I ever got the job. And I have to tell you, when my name came up to be Secretary of State, there were people who said, “Well, Arab countries will not deal with a woman Secretary of State.” And so the Arab ambassadors at the UN got together and said, “We’ve had no problems dealing with Ambassador Albright, we won’t have any trouble deal with Secretary Albright.” I had more problems with the men in our own government.

Eric Schmidt (20:51):

Oh my God. Really?

Madeleine Albright (20:52):

And partially, it had to do with the fact that they had known me too long. I had had them over for dinner, which I helped to pass the plates around. I had been a carpool mother. I was good friends with their family. And then, and I’m sure that this will also happen to Senator Harris, many of them thought, well, why weren’t they in the job when they should be the ones doing it. So I think there will be issues. I think also, that one has to be conscious of the fact that you are also being judged by other women. And I think we have a tendency to be very critical of each other, judgemental, and then also, many times, do project our own sense of inadequacy on other women.

Madeleine Albright (21:40):

And that is partially what I was writing about in this book. Because the most famous statement I ever made was that, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” which came out of my own experience. So when I was writing that dissertation I was talking about, there were other women who said, “Why aren’t you home with your children or in the carpool line?” And then, and this is very germane to your question just now, I was Geraldine Ferraro’s foreign policy advisor, and traveled with her in 1984, when she was the first women to be on a national ticket. And we were somewhere and a women came up to me and said, “How can she deal with a Russian? I can’t deal with a Russian.” Well, nobody was asking this woman to deal with a Russian.

Madeleine Albright (22:26):

So I think that Kamala will also be judged I think, as to whether X woman could be doing the job that she is doing. So I think we do need to be supportive of each other. That has sometimes been interpreted to mean that I say, “Women have to vote for each other.” I have never said that. I do think however, we need to be supportive of each other.

Eric Schmidt (22:49):

On the COVID response, you’ve actually written extensively about how we need to reorganize ourselves and in particular, around international responses. You’re uniquely, I think, concerned about the structure of the world going forward, after this is hopefully over. I was reading about this, you talked about additional resources for low income countries, especially Latin America and Africa, conflict areas where the disease is going to be terrible, but more importantly, they’re in conflict anyway, and then support democracy and good governance in general. Is that going to happen? How will it happen? How will you make that happen from your position?

Madeleine Albright (23:31):

Well, let me just say, one of the things that I have been very conscious of is, we are operating with international organizations that were created, most of them 1945, at the end of World War II. And they do need refurbishing. They need updating in a number of different ways. So that’s for number one. But I also think that we have to recognize that the threats that are out there now know no borders. So whereas the virus might have started in China, it has definitely spread, climate change in another issue that is multinational, nuclear proliferation. So there are a number of aspects that have to be considered multilaterally. And by the way, Americans don’t like the word multilateralism, it has too many syllables and it ends in an ism, but the bottom line, is that some of the issues can only be solved by more than one country. So that is for starters.

Madeleine Albright (24:31):

I think that what has to happen is to recognize the fact that the virus has hit different countries in different ways, and countries have their own way of dealing with it. And part of the issue, and as you raised it, is that the developing countries have been working very hard in terms of dealing with some of their economic issues as well as their governance issues. And this is hitting them very hard now in terms of how they deal with, what are the combination of the issues of environmental problems that pushes them to have to move into refugee camps or in fact, how to deal with the various struggles that are going on, and then not enough in terms of resources. If they are told to wash their hands every five minutes, they don’t have enough water to drink. So one has to consider what the issues are.

Madeleine Albright (25:30):

I also do believe that the international system has the capabilities of helping them economically as well as with advice. And we have done that in other cases in terms of being able to control smallpox or working also on control of Polio or later, Ebola. But the system has failed on dealing with COVID. And it’s partially because of what the Chinese didn’t do, and then what they did do. Which is I do think that they have contributed a lot more than was expected to the World Health Organization, and there are politics everywhere and it all needs to be fixed in some form or another. But also, the fact that the United States has not seen it as a threat and has not recognized the fact that not only is it that the virus knows no borders, but that it’s effect will also affect our economic policies, trade, what can be done, and how people can exist within their countries and whether it is then contributing to a deficit in democracy. Because we are not the best example at the moment.

Madeleine Albright (26:46):

So there are an awful lot of things that have to happen, we can’t expect miracles immediately. But there has to be an assessment of how the international system works and also what America’s role in the world is. I happen to believe that President Clinton was the person that said that we were an indispensable power. He said it first, I just repeated so often it became identified with me. But there’s nothing about the word indispensable that says, alone. It means that we need to be engaged and a partner. Not some country that bosses everybody around and then says that we’ve been victimized, but as a partnership that deals with what are a whole set of new problems.

Eric Schmidt (27:32):

A few weeks ago, you wrote an op-ed about all of this, talking about the American election. And you wrote and I’ll quote, “Mr. Biden, if elected, will inherit a country diminished by his predecessor’s surge for greatness in all the wrong places. The new president’s task will be daunting to reassure allies, reassert leadership on climate change and world health, forage effect coalitions to check the ambitions of China, Russia, and Iran, and establish the U.S.’s identity as a champion of democracy.” Do you believe incoming Biden presidency will be able to do this?

Madeleine Albright (28:08):

I do believe. I don’t think that it can happen all at once. And I also believe the opposite, that another four years of Trump will make our situation impossible in so many different ways. I really do think that another four years of this will be a disaster. There’s no other way to state that. I have been around enough and even now, virtually, to think that it is un-American in every single way, and we are part of the major issue in the functioning of the world.

Madeleine Albright (28:40):

But I do think that Vice President Biden is Uniquely qualified given his experience, to deal with a variety of these issue. He has seen how the system can work in terms of the international aspect of it. He believes and he’s talked about, having a summit of democracies, which would really look at best practices and what can be done. He also, I think, has talked about the power of our example, that I mentioned, just generally. But I think we have to also recognize that it’s going to take a certain amount of humility. We can’t all of a sudden say, “Okay, we’ve had the selection and now we’re in charge again.”

Madeleine Albright (29:24):

I think it is going to take a deliberate effort to explain where we are, the issues that we’ve had. Then in fact, also spend time as a partner trying to sort out how to generally behave in this 21st century, and think about how technology can be out partner and our friend, how we can acclimate our selves to… I don’t think anythings going to be the same after this whole pandemic. And that we need to sort out what the tools are that we have, in order to have a functional world, where we do not divide people more, and where the United States does have a partnership role, and understand that our domestic situation can only be made better in partnership with others.

Madeleine Albright (30:18):

So it’s a very big assignment, there’s no question about that. And my last foreign trip frankly, was to go to Munich, for the Munich Security Conference. And we were a joke, because Pompeo and Esper were there, and the way they talked about the United States was just totally out of lala land. And the other countries were looking at what some of the solutions could be, were concerned. And I think that we need to get a reality check about the way we are viewed. And by the way, one of the things that we need to go back and look at is, how did this all happen. And the best quote in my book on fascism is from Mussolini, that, “If you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, nobody notices.” So there has been an awful lot of feather plucking and we need to either get a new chicken or stop the feather plucking.

Eric Schmidt (31:15):

Madame Secretary, I want to congratulate you on your new book which is called, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir. Thank you again, I look forward to your next book and the product of your great work at Georgetown.

Madeleine Albright (31:28):

Thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed being with you Eric, and what you’re doing in your podcast.

Eric Schmidt (31:32):

The primary goal of a democracy is to keeps it’s people safe and get them to be prosperous. Our democracies have failed on both parts of that so far. We accept that democracies are really groups of people who are lobbying and shaping information, and so forth. But ultimately, great leaders should emerge, leaders that somehow can judge where the risks are and make the right balance of trade offs, so that the society can, at the end of the transaction, be more prosperous, safer, and so forth. Where will those leaders come from? They’re not going to come from leaders who spend all their day testing their popularity, and they’re not going to come from leaders that are beholden to special interests. They’re going to come from the leaders of the old time. The ones who started with a principle of what they were trying to do and stuck to it, a principle around greatness, and success, and safety, and so forth. The leaders who choose to pander to the crowds, to ignore facts, and to focus only on themselves and their own narcissism are destined for a terrible history.

Eric Schmidt (32:48):

Secretary Albright’s experience is invaluable as we lay the foundation for the next chapter of international coexistence. Our next guest, former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will help us continue to look toward the future by helping us understand one of the growing forces shaping world affairs, China. Prime Minister Rudd is an expert on China and currently serves as the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York City. As Prime Minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010, and then in 2013, Kevin was an active leader in global affairs. He ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed Australia to decreasing carbon emissions. On the domestic front, he helped Australia survive the global financial crisis as the only major developed country to not slip into a recession. Among many other accomplishments, he delivered Australia’s first national apology to indigenous Australians as his first act as prime minister, and made significant investments in schools and education. Prime Minister Rudd, thank you so much for being here with me.

Kevin Rudd (33:50):

It’s good to be with you, Eric.

Eric Schmidt (33:51):

So lets look at what happened with Australia and COVID. As best I can tell, the COVID crisis accelerated a break between Australia and China. Can you explain how this break happened and how the positioning of COVID in China now feel if you’re in Australia?

Kevin Rudd (34:11):

I think the first think is, as you and I both know, is that China has significantly changed. Xi Jinping’s China is radically different from the China before 2012, 2013. It’s certainly more assertive in terms of it’s international policy across the board. And so that’s been building over the last six or seven years. Plus the second point is this, being a Western country located in the East, we’ve kind of been the first Western country down the Chinese mineshaft, that is first Western canary down Chinese mineshaft so we’ve experienced first and upfront a lot of the direct challenges in terms of the ultimate tension between economic policy and security policy. Australia is one of America’s oldest allies. China takes, would you believe, more than one third of Australian turtle exports. And of course, we’re from radically different human rights traditions. So for those reasons, it’s structural.

Kevin Rudd (35:05):

And finally, what’s happened most recently, I think it’s because we had the eruption of the virus coming out of China, we had it’s impact on all countries in the world, including the horror that unfolds in the United States, and a more manageable problem here in Australia. But still, big questions on the mind of the Australian public as to how this thing came about in the first place. Put all those things together and Australian advocacy for international inquiry into the origins of the Coronavirus, and it adds up to a cocktail of a deeply negative state of the Australia, China relationship.

Kevin Rudd (35:46):

And one final point is, what our Chinese friends have been doing with various American allies around the world, and friends around the world, is kind of make and example of them. You’ve seen that with the Canadians, over the Madame Meng affair on Huawei. You’ve seen it recently with the Swedes who have had their own human rights challenges with China considering various of their Chinese Swedish citizens. You now see it of course, with emerging problems for the British over Huawei. And then there’s the Australians. So I think what tends to happen is that, individual countries are singled out to particular treatment if they don’t comply with China’s foreign policy wishes, in order to set examples for the rest.

Eric Schmidt (36:31):

Well, it’s interesting that Australia was the first to call for an independent investigation of what was going on, which ultimately the WHO took on, and Australia and the current prime minister pushed very hard. What penalty has China extracted from Australia today, in your opinion?

Kevin Rudd (36:54):

Well, the complexity of this is a bit like this, I suppose number one it, as a middle power like Australia again, to call for such an independent investigation of the origins of Coronavirus, it’s usually helpful to hunt in packs. By which I mean, bring a Coalition of the Policy Willing with you. What the Australian government did was, went out there and unilaterally call for this, which makes it much easier for the Chinese then to single you out.

Kevin Rudd (37:18):

The second point is, just for the clarity of the record, that the independent inquiry into the origins of the virus is somewhat different to what we ended up with, with this WHO investigation into effectively, the WHO’s performance and not much beyond that. But it is something. And I suppose on the key question of, how is Australia been singled out, I suppose I’d point to three measures. One, is travel warnings to Chinese tourists not to come back to Australia because it’s unsafe. Two, warnings to Chinese students studying in Australia, that it’s also unsafe because of alleged racist reaction to Chinese in Australia. And number three, in specific commodity areas, like Australian barley, Australian Beef, and potentially Australian wines. The Chinese have used various so called quarantine and WTO related measures to effectively switch their sources of supply. And ironically, American supplies is moving into some of those opportunities. So there you go. That’s the background.

Eric Schmidt (38:30):

But building on this, you have been critical of the American response. I’m quoting you, “America would have mobilized the world, but in this time, in America’s absence, no one did.” And indeed France convened the G7, and the G20 was summited by Saudi Arabia and so forth. Do you have a view now of this that’s different? Do you see any change in the American role? Is it getting worse or better from your perspective?

Kevin Rudd (39:02):

If you’re concerned about the stability and effectiveness of the global rules based order, which through painstaking leadership, Americans, together with their friends and allies have put together out of the ashes of the second world war, then you’ve got to stand back and look at the policies and posture and actions of the Trump administration and just kind of scratch your head. So take the COVID-19 crisis, yes, it’s been a domestic challenge for all of us. But when you have a monumental global assault on public health and a global assault on the economy and employment in virtually all countries, than the instantaneous response for those of us who are friends and allies in the United States, and others, is to look for American global leadership.

Kevin Rudd (39:51):

Instead what we found with Trump was, the guy behaving domestically, as I read recently, like some 19th century quack apothecary, recommending kind of unbelievable medical treatments for this condition. But when it came to global action, either the global provision of PPE protective equipment, or global leadership on vaccine development, et cetera then the America we’ve come to know and respect, and most of us to love over the decades, was just not there.

Kevin Rudd (40:28):

So this creates a significant vacuum in the mind of global public opinion. And this fall, we look forward to the next presidential election and Joe Biden’s elected, it’s what I’ve described and stuff I’ve written recently for Foreign Affairs Magazine, is kind of the last chance saloon for American global leadership. We want America back. We want you to work closely with your allies. There’s so much to be done in the world not just on pandemics but climate and the rest, and having America back in the saddle is what we’d really like to see. But it is frankly, a last chance saloon to get this done.

Eric Schmidt (41:05):

In the Foreign Affairs piece that you’d recently published, you actually argue that both china and the U.S. will emerge “Severely damaged,” I think is the phrase. And severe damage is a pretty strong statement. And it seems to me that it’s a race to the bottom, whether it’s the politics or the change in the politics inside of China, she is as you pointed out, much more authoritarian, Trump is a different kind of leader than our previous presidents, as everyone is established. Describe the weakening and then tell us how you would fix it, on both sides.

Kevin Rudd (41:45):

Wow, there’s a big question, or a couple of big questions. Firstly on the diagnostics, lets just look at the United States first. There’s a huge economic hit on the United States, which we will not know the full dimensions of for several years. And that’s going to effect the future budget resilience of the United States as well. Ultimately, America can only print money for so long. Ultimately, there has to be a rebalancing of the system. And I say that as someone who has a deeply cleansing approach for how you fix economies in a time of systemic international crisis. But the truth is, the objective truth is, it’s a massive economic hit and it’s a massive budgetary hit. Which obviously then has implications to what you can do with the government in the future and funding the future of the U.S. [inaudible 00:42:39] and the rest.

Kevin Rudd (42:40):

But do you know something? There’s also been this hit on the American soft power. What we talked about before Eric, was American global leadership. And frankly, you friends and allies are just around the world, holding their breath and waiting for November for a decision by the American people as to what leadership they want America to exercise in the world in the future as well. But in the meantime, there’s been a huge reputational hit on the U.S. standing.

Kevin Rudd (43:07):

But what I find, is people often then therefore go into an automatic equation which says, “America down, therefore China up.” Well, not so. The Chinese economy has taken a huge hit itself. We really have to go back to the cultural revolution to see such disastrous economic numbers as we’ve seen emerge from China in recent quarters. And therefore, that flows through their own budgetary capacity to fund The Belt and Road Initiative, to fund what they’re doing through their military, to fund their expanding international development program, et cetera. And so it becomes a huge economic and financial equation for the Chinese State as well. And remember, China is probably, I wouldn’t double dependent, but significantly dependent on the global economy through trade and investment flows as a key part of their formula for long term, sustainable growth for themselves.

Kevin Rudd (44:06):

So what do I say emerges as a result of that, post COVID, whenever post COVID comes, Eric, is likely to see these two wounded elephants roaming around in the global living room, and as a consequence, we no longer have anyone leading effectively, the global order, and the systems and institutions of international governance, which have kept us basically, outside of barbarism for the last three quarters of a century. And what I see is these institutions dying the death of a thousand cuts, and now increasingly becoming, as it were, vulcanized into pro-American and pro-Chinese camps with neither of the super powers willing or able to exercise effective leadership. So it leads to what I’ve described as an emerging international anarchy.

Kevin Rudd (44:54):

So what can you do about it? Two things, perhaps three. Start with those of us who are not Americans and Chinese, what I’ve written about extensively in the Economist and elsewhere is, it’s time for a Coalition of the Policy Willing what I call the M7 or the M10, the middle power 7, or the middle power 10, countries like France, Germany, the U.K., once it decides what it wants to do in the future, maybe the Swedes, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Australians, the Indians, and the Canadians, and the Mexicans, these are all democracies, they’re all middle powers, and that is, how do you exercise through them financial, diplomatic, and political measures to triage the international system until we have the reestablishment of the level of geo-political equilibrium, involving the great powers.

Kevin Rudd (45:49):

And as for the United States, as I said, it really hinges on November. If Americans decide they wish to be the worlds leaders in the future or be it perhaps in a different way in the past, and not simply a replication of past forms, then the world is looking to see what America under Biden would do. And that means fixing your house at home, Black Lives Matter, but basically the inequality which drives it, and rediscovering your confidence in the world.

Kevin Rudd (46:19):

And as for China, China’s not a done deal under Xi Jinping. Now you’ve just said before in your intro to this part of our conversation, Eric, that you and I share many friends. And lets say there are world views in China quite different to the ones we see articulated by Xi Jinping’s administration. And these are essentially internationalizing world views. These are more liberal internationalist world views. These are more open economy and increasingly open society world view, though with a question mark on the continued centrality of the Chinese Communist Party in a one party state. And so it really depends where shakes down in Chinese politics and the lead up to the 2022, 20th Party Congress, and whether Xi Jinping easily secures his reappointment.

Eric Schmidt (47:06):

My final question, you’ve spent your whole life studying China, you studied the language, you did it academically, you wrote a PhD on the dissidents. Did you foresee the rise of China in this way, the new strong, powerful china? When did you know this was the path?

Kevin Rudd (47:29):

Did I actually see China turning out this way? I think most of us who lived and worked Beijing as I did in the 1980s, when I was a Junior Woodchuck in the Australian Embassy back then, analyzing the earliest days of political and economic reform in the Chinese system, we had a degree of optimism that China would evolve in the direction of more open economy, more open society, and perhaps in time open politics. I think though, having been myself, in Tiananmen Square about a week or so before the tanks moved in, and having spent the better part of a week prior to that walking around and talking to the students back then in the square, many of whom were subsequently killed, I was always deeply skeptical about whether a Leninist Party, like the Chinese Communist Party, would ever voluntarily surrender political power. As we saw with a combination of Galsnost, and Perestroika in the then, Soviet Union.

Kevin Rudd (48:38):

So I’ve seen China as moving in the direction of certainly a more open economy, because they don’t want to return to poverty. I see that as generating the social pressures that you and I have both experienced in China in people wanting more freedom in their personal lives. But to be honest, I’ve always been skeptical as to whether the communist party, being deeply rooted in it’s Leninist traditions, would ever see itself and it’s self interest handing over power to a more open elected political entity. The Chinese communist party calls this the theory of “Peaceful transitionism,” and it’s something which the communist party regards internally, as political enemy number one. So yes, I saw China becoming more open, but always with a big doubt in my mind having been in Tiananmen way back when, 30 years ago now, that it would every voluntarily open it’s politics to sort of transitions we’ve seen elsewhere.

Eric Schmidt (49:46):

Thank you Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, you’re incredibly insightful on all such matters. Thank you again.

Kevin Rudd (49:53):

Thanks for having me on your podcast, Eric.

Eric Schmidt (49:58):

Where are we now? The liberal world order is not as free, global, or organized as it could be 75 years after the democratic nations created it. COVID has deepened fissures in the international system and accelerated our slide toward anti-democracy. In a pandemic, we have not seen tremendous leadership out of the largest democracies. Instead, we’ve seen compromise, and in compromise comes death. Because they have not figured out how to collectively manage both health and economic growth. It’s a false choice to tell people to choose between heath and economic growth, you have to solve both at the same time.

Eric Schmidt (50:40):

75 years ago, not just the winner of the war, but the leader of the free world, the United States, set the global world order, set the rules, set the way that the institutions would work, and set a style of approach of solving problems. Today, the United States has relegated that role to others. That loss of leadership means that the world does not have a natural organizational point. It’s probable that the world will devolve a bit, becoming a little bit more confusing. And during a pandemic, you need strong centralized leadership as opposed to confusion and lack of leadership. The most important thing now with democracies, is to recognize that democracies have a certain shape and a certain set of values and to restate them, and to call out behaviors that are inconsistent with democratic values, and strengthen those democratic values.

Eric Schmidt (51:35):

I’m quite convinced that democracies with strong values and a lot of voter participation, will do just fine. The most important thing in our democracy is to increase voter participation so that people have a share in the outcome. Study after study indicates that generations that don’t participate, don’t buy into the leadership, they don’t buy into the decisions, they don’t have a shared sense of the outcome, and they ultimately become troublemakers. Over and over again, we want very high participation and I think we’re going to get it this time.

Eric Schmidt (52:08):

Secretary Albright and Prime Minister Rudd, have helped us understand some of the major past, present, and future forces shaping the story, but thankfully, the story’s not over. We must reimagine democracy in global leadership for a hyper connected and technological world. We must reaffirm liberal democracy as the most fair and effective form of governance. And we must call on the nations that uphold these human values and rights to steer the international system through this century and beyond. We’ve done this before, I know we can do it again.

Eric Schmidt (52:40):

On the next episode of Reimagine, we’ll finish our season by reimagining our lives, planet, and universe with astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.