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Boris Johnson is often compared to Donald Trump, and for reasons that go beyond their hairstyles. The UK’s shift to the right—starting with the 2016 Brexit referendum—is said to resemble America’s. Now that Johnson’s Conservatives won a massive parliamentary majority in this week’s election, we’ll see how apt the comparisons are.
One school of thought holds that Johnson’s majority will unleash his inner social liberal, veering him away from a populist agenda that feeds off a sense of grievance, a smirking ignorance, and thinly veiled xenophobia. After his victory, Johnson declared, “let the healing begin.”
Johnson is now, at least in theory, no longer in hock to his party’s hardline Brexiteer faction, which means the UK’s exit from the EU can avoid the worst-case disruptions to trade and supply chains. On other issues, Johnson’s pledges—cutting immigration, introducing voter ID rules—resemble proposals US Republicans would support, but there’s little debate in the UK on abortion rights and none on gun control. Previous Conservative governments haven’t adequately addressed climate change but didn’t deny its existence. Johnson has promised not to privatize the National Health Service and appears less beholden to his predecessors’ austere spending stance.
If Johnson embraces his liberal tendencies, he will be in line with a powerful force growing within the business community: putting purpose at the heart of strategy. For a long time, traditional capitalism offered companies a get-out clause in the form of “shareholder accountability.”
This tenet held that the best way a company could serve society was by making money for its shareholders. But that’s changing. A few months ago, the Business Roundtable group of CEOs of blue chip US companies said firms are accountable to a broader constituency that includes customers, employees, communities, and the planet itself.
But if the UK prime minister lurches right, giving less room to environmental policy and caring less for the vulnerable, he’ll be on the wrong side of a movement many companies now embrace. UK stocks and the British pound rose sharply on the election results, suggesting business is banking on Johnson to do the right thing. Many expected the same from Trump. —Rashmee Roshan Lall and Cassie Werber
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
Amazon’s pilot problem. The rise in speedy shipping has put pressure on many of the people who move our packages around the planet. Low pay and morale are plaguing those who fly for the retail behemoth’s contractors, reports Amrita Khalid, at a time when Amazon is expanding its air cargo operations. Amid a global pilot shortage, some well-trained aviators are simply leaving for better opportunities.
The story of Afghanistan’s only B Corp. In 2003, a husband-and-wife team from Canada set out to bring mobile phones to a country that barely had landlines. The company they founded, Roshan, is now Afghanistan’s biggest telecoms operator—and employer. But the way the firm has improved lives and communities goes well beyond its core business, as Cassie Werber writes for our series The New Purpose of Companies.
Is there a fintech bubble? Bullish venture capital investors admit there’s too much cash chasing too few genuinely innovative startups. But they don’t seem to think the music will stop anytime soon. Our guide to fintech startups (Quartz member exclusive) by John Detrixhe, Jane Li, and Ananya Bhattacharya looks at the biggest beasts in the worldwide herd of unicorns, and separates the hype from the promise.
The world of plastic—literally. “It is the best and clearest guide through the plastic supply chain I’ve seen yet, which also means it’s the best tool to understand the full lifecycle of a material we touch and use every day,” observes Zoë Schlanger of the documentary The Story of Plastic, which takes viewers to places across the globe to illustrate the impact of, and struggle with, the ubiquitous substance.
The future of rocking out. Fender, the 73-year-old instruments company, has long made some of the most iconic guitars. It builds them using time-tested practices on machines almost as old as the firm, but it’s having to reckon with the shifting tastes of new musicians. Mike Murphy visited its California factory to see how the company is investing in technology—from machine learning to cloud computing software—to reinvent the brand while maintaining its strong heritage.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Death Highway, up close and personal. Kicking off the Boomtown podcast by Texas Monthly, Christian Wallace visits his hometown in the Permian Basin, meeting ordinary people whose lives have been upended by America’s biggest-ever oil boom. One, a tow-truck driver, deals with the gruesome accidents along US Route 285, where heavy tankers barrel through day and night—which is why West Texans gave the road its gruesome moniker.
The rise of “Instagram Face.” Among the selfie-obsessed, apps like FaceTune make it easy to subtly enhance one’s appearance, and Instagram accounts like Celeb Face highlight the sloppy use of such tools by celebrities. Emerging from all the modifying and critiquing, writes Jia Tolentino for the New Yorker, is a cyborgian “Instagram Face”—epitomized by Kim Kardashian West—that many young women are trying to mimic for real via injections and surgery.
Old ships’ logs are helping us understand climate change. When crews of 19th-century ships (especially Arctic explorers) diligently wrote observations about ice, air temperature, and other conditions, they never imagined how valuable their records would be in the 21st century. For Reuters, Andrew R.C. Marshall writes about the eccentric group of citizen-scientists painstakingly extracting the logs’ data, which paints a sobering picture of our warming world.
The disappearing family phone. For decades, before smartphones came along, families shared a single telephone line. That forced them to answer each other’s calls, which in turn made them more aware of one another’s social lives. Today, ever-more homes have no landline, and family members operate in their own “techno-cocoons.” For the Atlantic, Julia Cho ruminates on what’s being lost, and what can be done about it.
A threat to your obscurity. Russia’s leading search engine, Yandex, has—unlike Google—enabled facial recognition. That means a user can enter the image of a stranger’s face and track the person down. In a Vox Recode video, Joss Fong explains how the technology works, why many governments are keen on it, and what privacy experts warn is at risk: our ability to take anonymity in public for granted.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Stratocasters, and 19th-century logbooks to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.