Weekend edition—Defending Davos, art in storage, philanthropic power

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Markets are tanking and economies are faltering. Good thing, then, that this week the global elite assembled in Davos, under the World Economic Forum’s mantra of “improving the state of the world.”

It’s easy to scoff at the annual spectacle in the Alps as long on rhetoric and short on reality, which isn’t wrong. But while much of what is said at the panels and plenaries is vague, and quickly forgotten, even the tiniest spark of inspiration among a crowd this powerful has the potential to flare into action.

Indeed, at a private lunch for a group of CEOs (and a Quartz reporter), an exec said that business conditions are much more positive than the past few weeks’ brutal stock-market performance suggests. “Also, if we keep telling each other that, it becomes reality,” he added.

So what can the elites do to reboot global growth? At a panel moderated by Quartz during the conference, the tone was hopeful. “You can bring a country out of a mess” by investing in people, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said, speaking from experience. What’s important is the “quality, not quantity” of growth, added Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, reacting to questions about what blunt measures of GDP have to do with inequality, happiness, and protecting the environment. And all agreed that governments and business should harness the huge potential of new technologies—what the Davos organizers have dubbed “the fourth industrial revolution”—while being mindful of the equally huge disruption to jobs and incomes.

Yes, Davos is dense with fuzzy promises, empty platitudes, and naïve utopian fantasies. But it also features a high-intensity dose of dreaming about how to make things better. And who better than Davos man, and occasionally woman, to give it a go?—Jason Karaian

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Why is so much of the world’s great art in storage? Christopher Grothkopf analyzes the collections in some of the world’s great museums to produce some striking data on just how many masterpieces are kept out of public view. He also examines the policies that cause this hoarding, and looks at the growing pressure on museums to change them.

The real story behind Hong Kong’s bookstore crackdown. Mysterious disappearances, forced confessions… It looks like just another stage in the repression of Hong Kong’s freedoms. But as Zheping Huang, Echo Huang and Heather Timmons explain, the affair of the booksellers is actually a sign of infighting in the Communist Party.

What ultramarathons do to your body—and your brain. For people hardy—some would say crazy—enough to run 50 or 100 miles in a day, the physical wear and tear can be intense. But as Katherine Foley explains, their coping mechanisms offer clues as to how we all manage stress and overcome obstacles.

The generation of women lost to ADHD. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder manifests differently in girls than in boys. For decades, as a result, untold numbers of girls have gone undiagnosed, and missed opportunities through having to manage the problem themselves, Jenny Anderson writes.

Uber’s spectacular political coup. Most US states now have regulations friendly to the ride-hailing service, despite fierce opposition from taxi lobbies. Just a year ago, most didn’t. Alison Griswold tracks the march of pro-Uber policies across the country and explains how it wielded a mix of savvy public diplomacy and high-powered lobbying.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Silicon Valley is “too white.” Vauhini Vara shows why in this piece for Bloomberg Businessweek about how tech companies repeatedly fail to recruit “black coders” at Howard University, arguably America’s pre-eminent black college.

The secret of immigrant brilliance. Some of the world’s most outstanding intellectuals have been immigrants. We tend to assume it’s because they’re driven and hungry for success. Eric Weiner in the Wall Street Journal writes that it probably has more to do with “schema violations”—an outsider’s perspective, which gives people more cognitive flexibility and power (paywall).

The dark side of dog shows. It was a classic murder mystery—except that the victim was an Irish setter. In exploring it for Vanity Fair, Mark Seal shines a light on the highly competitive, often bizarre, and occasionally sinister world of championship-level dog breeding.

The world’s strangest genetic mutation? In one of the more remarkable examples of the “self-taught medical genius” genre, ProPublica’s David Epstein tells the story of Jill Viles, an “Iowa housewife” who discovered that the same mutation—in just slightly different places on the genome—causes both the muscle-wasting disease that afflicts her, and a condition that can give people superhuman bodies.

The hidden power of philanthropists. Billionaires are lauded for giving money to good causes. They should be probed instead, says Michael Massing in a provocative essay for the New York Review of Books, arguing that philanthropy in the US not only costs taxpayers billions (because of tax breaks) but exerts as much influence as political campaign contributions, and with far less scrutiny.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, ultramarathon routes, and dog-show horror stories to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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