Coronavirus: What’s the prognosis?

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Hello Quartz readers,

No matter what we put on our vision board, Covid-19 continues to, well, exist. So adjustments must be made, and obsessions—the framework around which Quartz organizes its journalism—must be updated.

In refreshing our obsessions, we debated where coronavirus should fit. Is it its own obsession, like the future of finance or the climate economy? Or is it a phenomenon informing all of the rest? After auditing months of coverage, the answer was clear: Covid-19 is everywhere, and so every obsession is, to some degree, about the world vs. coronavirus.

Today we’re looking at the Quartz obsessions, and how Covid-19 is upending each. Let’s get started.

🏦  Fixing capitalism

What we mean: Capitalism is not an organic system, markets are not forces of nature, and companies don’t have minds of their own. They are all collections of human decisions, rules, incentives, predictions, and consequences—and people can change them if they want to.

What we’re watching: “Governments are expanding their social safety nets to deal with the pandemic, some in ways that were unthinkable before. Which approaches are working better, and do any of them have a chance of surviving Covid-19?” Ana Campoy, deputy finance and economics editor 

Rona reading: The US gave employers half a trillion dollars and has no idea how many jobs it saved + The coalition trying to make sure poor countries get Covid-19 vaccines + Coronavirus is putting the power of private philanthropy to the test

🚧  Borders

What we mean: Borders are arbitrary lines on a map, but they have real impact on where we live and work, and the ways we trade and transact. How porous or rigid they are is determined mainly by policy, sometimes geography, and occasionally by sheer human will.

What we’re watching: “Using the pretext of Covid-19, the Trump administration has upset visa processes for immigrant students and H-1B workers, potentially making the US a less attractive option for years to come. It will be interesting to see how this influences the flow of labor and innovation globally.” Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India reporter

Rona reading: The countries that will be first in line to get a coronavirus vaccine + Globalization brought us Covid-19 and the tools to fight it + Air travel’s collapse will make it harder to ship vaccines

🗺  Beyond Silicon Valley

What we mean: As tech giants in the US transition from disruptor to incumbent, a new generation of companies around the world are challenging their dominance—and changing the startup playbook along the way.

What we’re watching: “It will be interesting to watch the flow of investment from global VCs towards African tech ecosystems given that the global economic uncertainty triggered by the pandemic could cause investors to become risk-averse.” Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa reporter

Rona reading: Why Silicon Valley is no longer the global model + Not enough people are downloading contact-tracing apps + How Africa’s promising startup landscape survives post-Covid-19

🛍  How we spend

What we mean: Shopping isn’t just about acquiring the necessities. It’s a statement by consumers about their preferences, priorities, and increasingly, their politics. Consumers power the global economy, and the choices buyers make can shape industries, build fortunes, and slow climate change.

What we’re watching: “I want to know what’s going to happen to stores. They’re the foundation of retail and still account for most of the industry’s sales. But there’s never been more reason to shop online instead. It’s forcing shifts in how stores operate, what companies are investing in, and how we use all that retail space that’s in limbo.” Marc Bain, senior fashion reporter 

Rona reading: These are the products people value more in a pandemicHow Covid-19 is transforming the retail industry + The month the entire world signed up for delivery

🌎  The climate economy

What we mean: To stop the worst of climate change, the world is shifting the way it produces and consumes energy. As businesses and economies chip away at their carbon emissions, they’re creating new markets for more sustainable fuels, products, and even financial instruments. Every industry can be part of the solution—or part of the ongoing problem.

What we’re watching: “How much will the global energy system backslide once life returns to normal? Fossil fuel use plummeted during the pandemic, but much of it could soon spring back, especially if airlines and other carbon-intensive industries continue to pocket huge stimulus checks.” Tim McDonnell, climate & energy reporter 

Rona reading: What coronavirus means for climate change + The world is blowing its chance for a green recovery + Do oil companies make sense anymore?


  Rethinking cities

What we mean: Cities have been the source of many of humanity’s greatest triumphs, as well as some of our greatest injustices. But whether or not cities still can claim to be economically essential, they’re going to have to change dramatically to address climate change, inequality, and a shifting workforce.

What we’re watching: “I’m looking for signs that big cities are taking advantage of this great pause to build more human-friendly spaces and systems for everyone, including the low-paid essential workers who have kept towns running, seniors, and people with disabilities.”Lila MacLellan, senior Quartz at Work reporter 

Rona reading: Covid-19 is revolutionizing the way we commute + The pandemic is weakening the office’s grip on Japanese commuters + Social distancing is wrecking South Africa’s most dysfunctional—and vital—public transport


  Future of finance

What we mean: Technology is upending everything in finance, from saving to trading to making payments. And some of the most innovative mobile and online financial services are taking emerging markets by storm, bringing millions into the formal financial system for the first time.

What we’re watching: “The pandemic has accelerated the rise of digital payments by about a decade. I’m reporting on the winners from the shift, like PayPal, and the people who are left behind, like the poor and the elderly.” John Detrixhe, senior future of finance reporter

Rona reading: Covid-19 is killing cash + How the retail trading boom is shaking up the US stock market + How countries are trying to avoid a coronavirus recession

🇨🇳  Because China

What we mean: China is striving for global leadership and has the economic clout to realize its vision. From policing the internet to reordering global trade to cracking down in Hong Kong, Beijing is promoting a worldview that increasingly pits it against the US.

What we’re watching: “China has seized on the global pandemic as an opportunity to make aggressive moves on multiple fronts, including its swift crackdown on Hong Kong and clashes on the border with India. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how Beijing continues to use the pandemic to advance its strategic goals.” Mary Hui, reporter in Hong Kong

Rona reading: Covid-19 is changing China’s playbook in Africa + The UK is facing the prospect of a future with no Chinese tourists + US imports keep falling, except from China


  Future of work

What we mean: Automation, advanced manufacturing, AI, and remote work are dramatically changing the nature of work, while the gig economy is forcing societies to redefine what it means to be an employee. Workers from all walks of life need to prepare for the impact they’ll see in their fields—and prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet.

What we’re watching: “I want to understand more about how the pandemic will impact the gig economy. Will it cause people to be attracted to less flexible, but more stable jobs? Or will it lead them to discover all of the different part-time gigs that allow them to make money on their own schedule?” Dan Kopf, data editor  

Rona reading: Teleworking is widening the income gap around the world + Will Covid-19 finally take the idea of work-sharing mainstream? + How offices can make employees feel safe from Covid-19

You asked?

We may have a lot on our minds, but some of our best obsession stories come from readers: questions you’re fascinated by and developments you’re keeping tabs on. Here are some good reader Qs that have kicked off stories lately:

Season’s fleetings

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Essential reading

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