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On Wednesday, Donald Trump announced the rollback of Obama-era standards for energy-efficient light bulbs—a gradual phase-out of incandescent and halogen bulbs that would have kicked in on New Year’s Day 2020. The same night, CNN aired a seven-hour marathon of interviews with 10 Democratic presidential candidates, exclusively focused on the global climate crisis.
Some candidates were asked whether they’d reinstitute those light-bulb regulations. All said yes, naturally. But Elizabeth Warren’s interviewer, Chris Cuomo, made the implicit question explicit: “Do you think the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of light bulb you can have?”
In America, land of the free, this was a central question guiding CNN’s interrogation of the Democrats: How much are you going to ask us to give up in service of global salvation? Some candidates literally were asked to name the greatest personal sacrifice they’d ask Americans to make for climate change. You’re already coming for our drinking straws and our light bulbs. What’s next? Our prized coastal real estate or—gasp—our cheeseburgers?
That framing is a trap, as Warren suggested to Cuomo. The Massachusetts senator first acknowledged all the little ways people try to change their energy consumption. “I’m in favor of that,” she said. “But understand, this is exactly what the fossil-fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about.”
It’s true, some Americans’ lifestyles would shift as a result of climate-focused policies. Small changes beget larger ones. Yet most of those choices would happen naturally, as new products and services become cost-effective through subsidies and other economic incentives—like, for example, newfangled light bulbs that last longer and use four or five times less energy. To continue to focus climate policy debates on how much politicians are asking of individual taxpayers is to distract from a far larger, more worthy target: the majority of US greenhouse gas emissions that come from the energy and transportation industries.
As the Democratic field narrows, voters should be skeptical of debates that place individual climate angst ahead of the industrial policies that could take the biggest bite out of emissions. —Katie Palmer
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Share economy. Thirty years ago, only about 30% of Americans owned any form of stock. Today, more than half do, thanks to the increased popularity of index and mutual funds and, especially important, 401(k)-type retirement plans. But there are downsides to greater stock ownership, writes Allison Schrager, including widening inequality and—in the event of a market drop followed by a slow recovery—a more volatile and unpredictable economy.
Mapping it out. The Hong Kong protests have been effective in part because of their leaderless, “be water” strategy, with demonstrators moving fluidly from one place to another in response to police activity. But how to track that activity? As Mary Hui writes, real-time, crowdsourced maps managed by anonymous volunteers have played a key role, working much like Google Maps, with emoji warning of tactical squads, tear gas, and other dangers.
Paging the IRS. Experts say the US Internal Revenue Service would have a good case to sue Walmart for “improper” tax avoidance, based on a Quartz investigation. Max de Haldevang uncovered files, written by a former Walmart executive, that allege the retail giant dodged up to $2.6 billion in taxes through a “fictitious” Chinese joint venture. If the IRS got hold of all that cash, it would be the second-biggest tax repayment in US history.
The big messy picture. The chaos surrounding Brexit has led to much head-scratching about where things could be headed, with each new development creating myriad possibilities. As Adam Rasmi writes, a cottage industry in flowcharts has sprung up to help people make sense of it all. Fittingly, the flowcharts themselves are mind-bendingly complex, with only the satirical or tongue-in-cheek ones seeming to present simple scenarios.
Whatever happened to Six Sigma? Six Sigma, a system of defect reduction through statistical analysis, was once a must-have business credential popularized by Jack Welch and GE. As Oliver Staley writes, it soon became diluted into meaninglessness—and eventually faded into obscurity as the business world became more concerned with innovation than efficiency.
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With dispatch. Amazon keeps getting faster at delivering orders. But as Patricia Callahan reports for the New York Times and ProPublica, that speed comes at a cost, with contractors involved in traffic accidents that are sometimes fatal as they race to stay on schedule. The retail juggernaut applies pressure behind the scenes, she writes, while carefully shielding itself from liability, with accident victims often unaware Amazon is involved.
Breaking it down. Fretting about the collapse of national institutions in America isn’t unmerited, but pieces in the Atlantic offer hope. Derek Thompson notes that while 18-to-38-year-olds value patriotism, religion, and the nuclear family far less than other age groups, there are signs that something positive is emerging. Meanwhile James Fallows takes heart in the “late antiquity” period following the Roman empire’s fall, finding echoes of its “astounding new beginnings” at the state and local level throughout the US.
Carefully engineered. One of the world’s biggest lawsuits involves the Nigerian government owing about $9 billion to a tiny, mysterious company over an oilfield gas project that fell apart. The debt increases by more than $1 million a day because of interest. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, the case may be part of an elaborate scam that a late Irishman devised—one with a breach of contract and subsequent penalties planned from the start.
Unfair advantage. There are not many defects in Apple’s armor. One of them might be the way it often copies ideas from the developers operating in its app store. As Reed Albergotti writes in the Washington Post, Apple, being the platform owner, can collect vast amounts of information on which apps are successful, create something similar, and give advantages to its own offering. That’s caught the attention of regulators worried about unfair competition.
Fleeting options. It’s easy to see why fast-food joints and theater chains are enthusiastically replacing static menu boards with dynamic, high-definition screens. What better way to tout promos? Still, the screens often create confusion, as Britton O’Daly writes in the Wall Street Journal. A consumer might forget the fancy name of a burger she was about to order, only to find it’s vanished from where she saw it just seconds ago.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, tear-gas emoji, and well-worn Six Sigma books to email@example.com. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Steve Mollman and John Mancini.