Good morning, Quartz readers!
Something seems about to break in the American markets. Sure, yesterday’s US Labor Department jobs report painted a rosy picture: 200,000 jobs were created last month, unemployment is at 4.1% and, in the big surprise of the day, hourly earnings finally grew, by 2.9% over the prior January. While we’re on good news, the Atlanta Federal Reserve thinks US GDP is growing at 5.4%.
Yet, as Allison Schrager explains, Americans are saving at their lowest rate since 2007. And when Americans reduce their rate of savings, it usually means there’s a recession in the offing. “The economy may be booming now,” she writes, “but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical it will last. Productivity numbers don’t justify the headline growth figures. Many people think the stock market is overvalued and due for a correction.”
“It has been eight and a half years since the last recession,” Schrager continues, “and the natural oscillation of the business cycle suggests we may be due for another one soon.”
Indeed, yesterday the stock market had its worst day in two years. As Dave Edwards and Helen Edwards wrote earlier this week, “Anyone looking at any of the standard models will tell you that the US stock market is overvalued.”
They go on to write that there may yet be a “melt-up” in the stock market—a rise in prices that makes these good times feel even more euphoric, for a little while longer. After that though, it’s up to human psychology, bears versus bulls, central bank interest rates, liquidity, debt, and all the other usual suspects, to determine if the market ends up in a crash, and the US ends up in a recession. A recession that will be hard for many ordinary people to weather, given that wages have only just begun to rise, and savings rates have dropped.
And recessions, like stock market panics and the flu, have a nasty tendency to spread across borders, countries, and continents with ease.—Paul Smalera
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
There are skeletons in your online closet. Employers are screening the social media history of job seekers for signs of questionable behavior, and the results can be alarming. Oliver Staley used a new software tool from BrandYourself to plumb his own online past, and discovered that even the most innocuous photos and comments can raise red flags for employers.
A film about a burkha-wearing Muslim teen is an unlikely hit in China. Secret Superstar swept the box-office when it opened, taking in more than $27 million, writes Echo Huang. In a country that has a tense relationship with its Muslim community, Huang takes to online forums and film buffs to uncover why the Indian movie and its star resonate so deeply with Chinese audiences.
Black Panther carries the hopes of the global African diaspora. As Aamna Mohdin and Lynsey Chutel write, “Black Panther has always carried a heavy burden—the only black person at the table (fictional or not) usually does.” They explain how the “burden of hope” is already receiving prominent mention in early reviews, which “suggest the film is not only a “game-changing movie” for Marvel, but also well on its way to becoming a “defining cinematic moment” for on-screen racial and gender representation.”
Watch: Stand-up comedians design the best dog toys. The Viagrowl plush pill, the Chewniversal remote, the Dognald Trump—these are among the bestselling dog toys that have originated from zany brainstorms at Bark. The New York-based start-up best known for the monthly subscription service called BarkBox has a team of professional comics who come up with product ideas and clever names. Anne Quito and Jacob Templin visit Bark’s design studio to sniff things out. (Watch the video if only to learn how a plush squeaker effigy of the 45th president is uniting America. Bonus: the rosé-guzzling Pomeranian.)
Consciousness is everywhere. This isn’t bunkum but a credible academic theory, explains Olivia Goldhill, that has gained attention as philosophers and scientists have struggled to explain what causes consciousness. “Panpsychism,” as this theory is called, posits that every particle in the universe is imbued with an inconceivably tiny amount of consciousness, that comes together to form more complex consciousness in human brains.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
China can’t decide whether it wants to have a #MeToo moment. This month the Chinese government moved quickly to strip a Beijing professor of his title after allegations of sexual harassment arose. But as professors signed on to a proposal to deal strictly with future cases, a planned march was abruptly canceled. The protestors, reports Christian Shepherd for Reuters, were told not to attend. As with everything else in China, the state has the final say, and it appears it hasn’t yet made up its mind about how much to embrace #MeToo, and how much to crack down on those accused of doing harm.
Could self-driving trucks be good for truckers? It’s accepted wisdom that among the jobs most vulnerable to automation is long-haul trucking, give the rapid development of self-driving trucks. But, counter-intuitively, the innovation may actually increase employment of truckers, Alexis Madrigal writes for the Atlantic. As technology drives down the cost of shipping, the amount of freight on the roads will increase, meaning more work for drivers who will take over the automated vehicles for the tricky last miles between the highway and warehouse.
How not to die in America. It’s life changing to be not just sick, but truly ill, and at the mercy of strangers for treatment and recovery. Coupled with America’s shoddy health care system, Mallory Osberg for Splinter tells her own harrowing story of becoming suddenly, mysteriously, life-threateningly ill in a Rashomon-like narrative that demonstrates the dumb luck of having health insurance when catastrophic illness strikes, and the cruelty that is non-universal coverage in a wealthy nation.
Should Trump nationalize a 5G network? In the New York Times, Tim Wu explores the White House’s proposal, which has come as a shot across the bow to the big wireless companies and even Trump’s own FCC chairman. Yet, Wu writes, “if winning the 5G war [against China] is the FCC’s priority, a federal network might be how we get 5G to more citizens more quickly. It is surely a crazy idea, but we live in crazy times, and if done right, it merits serious consideration.”
How do you learn the rules of being rich? America is built on rags-to-riches tales. But how does ‘class-passing’ actually work—and how to navigate your new life and your old? For the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi interviews four New Yorkers who leapt beyond their parents’ stations to illuminate the story of how they learned the unwritten codes that govern so much of society—and the fact that most Americans pretend those codes don’t exist at all.
Super Bowl Sunday
Last year, over 110 million viewers tuned in for the Super Bowl, the half time show, and the commercials. However, science has made it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that a career in football all but dooms players to death by a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a result of years of taking hard hits. Some companies are trying to improve the game’s safety through better helmets and tackling, but ultimately rules and regulations will have to change, Katherine Ellen Foley reports. The challenge is that the hits are what make the sport iconic and entertaining—can football’s popularity can survive without them? We’ll be watching on Sunday, and you can follow our coverage here.
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