Quartz Weekend Brief—Global economy, Summers sense, chocolate plague, shark fins

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When we tried out a weekend version of the Daily Brief a while back, the response was enthusiastic. So from today we’ll be in your inbox each Saturday morning too, with some thoughts on the week’s big themes and the best writing we’ve seen on Quartz and around the web. Please give us your feedback, as always, by replying to this email. We hope you enjoy it.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Frankly, if we didn’t take a long-term view about these things, we at Quartz would find this past week’s batch of econ data a bit unsettling. The march of economic power from the developed to the emerging world—one of our core assumptions about the age we live in—seemed to take a step backwards. Asian manufacturing, for the most part, continued to slow (with a very slight expansion in China according to official data, but who believes those?). In the US GDP growthmanufacturing, and jobless claims were all stronger than expected, even if the key monthly jobs report was a bit blah. And even Europe seems to be clambering, if not to its feet, then at least back to a respectable kneeling position.

Tie all that together with the excitement over who’s going to be Fed chair (there are now three contenders, and while we can’t really tell you which one we like better, we’ve got some good hard questions for whoever does get in) and one might be forgiven for thinking that the US is on its way back to running the world economy again.

But for those with a mind to look, there’s also a note of caution. A bit over half-way through second-quarter earnings season, US companies’ earnings have been beating expectations by a lot less than usual. And a small but smart group of people thinks this isn’t a blip, but an early sign of a permanent global economic decline. What’s driving it? Four things: Demographics (the workforce is topping out); natural resources (they cost more and more); technology (nothing big like the internet on the horizon); and climate change (it’s gonna be expensive!)

So that’s been our week: a dose of optimism, a smidgen of surprise, a spark of intrigue, and a cold puff of gloom. How was yours?—Gideon Lichfield, news editor

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Why is Larry Summers so hard to make sense of? Zachary M. Seward, who’s been following the man who is now front-runner for Fed chair since they were both at Harvard (admittedly in very different positions), calls it the Summers Uncertainty Principle; the man is, quite simply, inscrutable by nature. And for a Fed chair, this may be a good thing.

3D printing will explode in 2014. It’s all because a key set of patents is set to expire, writes Christopher Mims, which will open the door to a flood of cheap printers from (where else?) China. Also, notes Rachel Feltman, you may soon be able to 3D-print things you 3D-scanned. And meet the 3D printer that prints on—wait for it—paper.

Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about shark fins. Including where you can get $100 bowls of soup, why New York state’s new ban on shark fins won’t save the sharks, and the possibly most weirdly named lawsuit in history, United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins, courtesy of Gwynn Guilford.

What earns more export dollars for Uruguay than fish? Soccer players. Roberto A. Ferdman and David Yanofsky dug into the data and found that footballers are one of Latin America’s biggest export commodities, bigger than all of the region’s livestock put together. And you can’t even turn them into steak.

Big Oil isn’t quite so much about the Big any more. In a wash of disappointing earnings data and some gnomic pronouncements by oil executives, Steve LeVine reads a new trend: Faced with rising costs, the world’s energy supermajors are deliberately pivoting away from size and more towards profits.

Five things we read elsewhere that made us smarter

Why some good ideas spread slowly and others spread fast. The New Yorker’s Atul Gawande digs into how innovations in medicine propagate, and comes up with a simple answer: It depends an awful lot on how nice the people spreading them are.

The ants are coming for your chocolate—but not to eat it. Worse. Ed Yong, in Aeon, on how the discovery of a cocoa plague carried by insects shows that, by contrast with human diseases like HIV and cancer, research into plant diseases is woefully—and for the wellbeing of our species, dangerously—underfunded.

What if it’s all downhill from here for Western civilization? Echoing our piece on global economic decline, a profile of Robert Gordon, an economist who argues that the first and second industrial revolutions were freaks of history and the period of sustained growth that followed them—which is the entire history of the US, incidentally—is now over.

But on the other hand, maybe not. The Economist presents George Mitchell, the inventor of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, who died this week, as “a one-man refutation of the declinist hypothesis.”

Exactly why austerity was a terrible idea. In a week when the news from Europe started to look just a little bit more hopeful, it’s worth a reminder of what came before by reading Martin Wolf’s dissection last month of how belt-tightening policies meant to make the continent healthier ended up choking off its air.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Larry Summers jokes and shark-fin recipes to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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