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Quartz Weekend Brief—Marijuana legalization, surge pricing, movie micro-genres, Olympic corruption

Good morning, Quartz readers!

In “healthy societies,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks this week, as marijuana went on sale for recreational use in Colorado, “government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.”

When one thinks of other things that US government policies “subtly encourage”—obesity, gun violence, climate change, debt bubbles, ballooning health-care costs, and yawning income inequality—one has to wonder what Brooks’ idea of an unhealthy society would look like.

To be fair to Brooks and other reformed teenage potheads who worry that legalizing weed will turn today’s kids into Generation Stupid, nobody really knows what will happen—though there’s a fair amount of evidence that various levels of decriminalization haven’t led to increased use, and that kids who smoke pot will be less likely to drink and crash cars.

But 2014 is the year that we start getting answers. Washington state, following Colorado, could begin legal recreational sales by the spring. That’s also when legalization takes effect in Uruguay, whose example already seems to be tipping the balance towards pot-friendly laws elsewhere in Latin America.

Social impacts aside, the economics and regulation of legal marijuana are where it gets really interesting, because the three markets opening up this year are all structured differently. Colorado’s is a fairly open model wherein growers of pot can also process and sell it, while Washington is following a more restricted system akin to that of the alcohol industry and will cap total production. In Uruguay, meanwhile, the entire cannabis industry will belong to the state.

Together, then, they could amount to the great economic and social experiment of 2014. And we’ll be following it closely.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Why China can’t take over the world. In a thumbnail history of the world’s great empires, Noah Smith argues that China has been dominant only for brief periods because its very size makes it prone to frequent rebellions and conflicts with neighbors, and holds back its technological progress and economic development.

New York City is not the place to invest in property. Jason Karaian unearths a surprising fact: the US is one of only a handful of rich countries where national property prices rose faster than in the biggest city in October, and in New York they rose only one-third as fast as the national average.

The US might want to encourage wealth inequality. Allison Schrager notes that the US’s growing wealth gap is partly due to an aging population—older people have more money—and argues that rather than taxing all the rich more, taxes should encourage people to save for retirement.

This could be the year oil prices come down. It was supposed to happen last year, but various geopolitical upsets kept oil above $100 a barrel. Steve LeVine analyzes the thinking behind various estimates and predicts that if things calm down in Libya and the Iran thaw continues, the trend is down from here.

Two more ways for Uber to fix its “surge pricing” problem. The car service is being vilified for price gouging at busy times. David Yanofsky and Tim Fernholz suggest two solutions: a futures market for Uber rides (“FUbers”) and a loyalty scheme, like airlines and hotels have, to reward frequent customers.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

There is such a thing as marijuana withdrawal. There is lots of informed (and uninformed) comment on the effects of starting to smoke pot, but not so much on what happens when a regular user stops. Malcolm Harris in Aeon peels back what happened when he temporarily suspended a five-year habit.

Everything you know about migration is wrong. Hand-waving about culture clashes, stolen jobs and welfare abuse can’t stand up to the data that shows immigration is an economic boon to natives, immigrants and the people they leave behind, write economists Michael Clemens and Justin Sandefur in Foreign Affairs.

How Netflix reverse-engineered Hollywood. Netflix’s algorithm has identified 76,897 micro-genres, from “Emotional Independent Sports Movies” to “Romantic Indian Crime Dramas,” writes Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic. That gives it a major advantage in creating original content—or argues Reuters’ Felix Salmon, in feeding its customers a “frustrating slurry of mediocrity.”

How the 2014 Winter Olympics came to cost $51 billion. “It can be hard to determine at which point inefficient and repeated work becomes outright theft,” writes Joshua Yaffa in BusinessWeek; but, he found, there seem to be plenty of both plaguing the Olympic building projects in the Russian resort of Sochi.

The internet’s enfant terribleEvgeny Morozov’s goal is “destroying the internet-centric world that has produced me.” Michael Meyer in the Columbia Journalism Review profiles the 29-year old Belarusian who has become the chief critic of techno-utopianism—widely dismissed by opponents, yet too clever to completely ignore.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, marijuana withdrawal stories, and unidentified micro-genres to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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