Good morning, Quartz readers!
As a private businessman, Donald Trump battled cabinet makers, mechanics, and painters with bullying lawsuits and intimidation aimed at negotiating a better “deal” for himself by paying them less than promised.
Trump and his lawyers used similar tactics on women who say they had sexual relations with him, or who have accused him of assault, leaving behind a string of non-disclosure agreements and opaque private settlements.
But in sparking a trade war with China, the self-proclaimed great dealmaker faces a completely different type of adversary. Instead of small businessmen or Playboy bunnies, Trump is taking on the richest Communist Party regime in history, and a leader who has just consolidated power so completely that he has effectively allowed himself to be ruler for life. Key US industries, including agriculture, autos, and airplanes, are also heavily dependent on China for profits.
After China retaliated with its own tariffs, Trump this week pushed for another $100 billion in tariffs, without consulting other branches of government. The move sparked outrage in his own party: John McCain decried Trump’s lack of “a real strategy” and Nebraska senator Ben Sass said the president is “threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”
Which is to say that politically, China currently has something the US does not—unity.
Yes, this is because China is an autocratic dictatorship, in which human rights are regularly abused and no one has a vote. And yes, there have been plenty of Beijing power struggles beneath the surface. But when it comes to the trade war, Beijing’s establishment is “united on the response they’ve taken” to the US’s proposed tariffs, said John Ross, a senior research fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China. “I have not detected any significant signs of disagreement about what should be done,” he said.
Trump is negotiating like he’s still in the private sector, and acting like he’s king of his own empire. In reality, it’s Xi who has that kind of power. No one in China is likely to speak out against Xi’s trade pushback. If they did, they’d be silenced, perhaps brutally.
In acting like he has the same authority as Xi, Trump is setting himself up to lose another deal.—Heather Timmons
Sherlock Holmes and the Kazakhstan kleptocracy. In this investigation, part-time sleuth Max de Haldevang managed to link the ownership of 221b Baker Street—the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes—to the family of Kazakhstan’s decades-long president. The building now tells the story of modern London: “A mecca for money stashed away by the elites of corrupt countries.”
Addressing the back of the house. While many companies lovingly attend to the working conditions of white-collar employees (see: desks, standing), the needs of service workers frequently go ignored. Oliver Staley explains how Hilton Hotels is trying to rectify the imbalance with a plan to spruce up the places where hotel staff work, eat, and congregate—and why it’s worth the investment.
Luxury doesn’t mean what it used to. As clothes get cheaper and more disposable, wealthier fashion consumers no longer want items that look shiny and new. Downright uncomfortable materials, like raw denim, are now the most desired. Marc Bain explores why the old offers an emotional charge that new clothes simply cannot.
Is your Uber driver really worth five stars? For most passengers, the ride-sharing service’s highest rating is also the default, as a new study explains. Alison Griswold notes that the reason has to do with basic human decency: It’s uncomfortable for us to give other people a bad review, especially if we know they’re going to see it.
Spotify’s IPO was an insight into investor psychology. The streaming company’s direct listing was a success, mainly because the VCs and funds who backed Spotify didn’t sell their shares. Why not? David Yanofsky uses the IPO’s unusually low trading volumes to suggest that backers think Spotify—which has never turned a profit—will soon be worth even more than $25 billion.
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A story about Antarctica that isn’t depressing. Pilita Clark, for the Financial Times (paywall), takes us through a melting continent using the daily lives of scientists at a British scientific base. Perks include outdoor yoga, a wild bird that delights in toying with a scientist’s wooly hat, and gin and tonics made with chunks of ancient glacier.
What’s the deal with all these online mattress companies? In a strange offshoot of the e-commerce revolution, Curbed’s Jeff Andrews digs deep to explain that low overhead, VC funding, powerful digital-marketing tools, and vulnerable brick-and-mortar competitors have led to hundreds of companies offering to ship you a compressed mattress.
The brutal bureaucracy of ISIL. Behind the headline-making violence of the Islamic State’s attempt to build a caliphate in Iraq was an administrative machine that, in some ways, was more efficient what it replaced, writes Rukmini Callimachi for The New York Times (paywall), drawing from thousands of files collected after ISIL’s fall.
How British architecture took over the world. Apple’s new “spaceship” HQ is the epitome of a trend that has the likes of Norman Foster—who says his favorite piece of architecture is a Boeing 747—designing major corporate buildings covered with once-impossible curved glass. For 1843 magazine, Joe Lloyd describes how the Brits wooed big business with an optimistic, forward-thinking space-age futurism.
A forgotten path-breaking journalist. Ron Porambo wrote a seminal book on Newark’s 1967 race riots, but his work doesn’t appear on any journalism-school syllabus and Porambo himself died behind bars a convicted murderer. Greg Donahue traces Porambo’s incredible story for the Atavist Magazine.
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