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Best reads from the week of April 3-9, 2021

The top stories of the week included Jamie Dimon’s letter to CEOs and the pandemic’s impact on retail. 

This story was published on our Quartz Daily Brief newsletter, The concise, conversational rundown you need to start your day.
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Jamie Dimon has a lot to say about how to fix America. In his annual letter to shareholders (pdf), the JPMorgan Chase CEO discussed the economic recovery after Covid-19, his thoughts on leadership and the purpose of companies, and US public policy. The document is 66 pages long—three times longer than last year’s letter—and a full 22 pages are devoted to Dimon’s prescriptions for rebuilding America and addressing what he sees as the world’s biggest problems: climate change, poverty, economic development, and racial inequality. It’s a banker’s manifesto for a more progressive form of capitalism, masquerading as a corporate report.

Dimon’s missive followed a week in which dozens of prominent CEOs spoke out with varying degrees of conviction against a new Georgia law limiting voting access in ways that will disproportionately affect Black Americans. Most of these corporate defenses of democracy were brief, belated (many came after the vote and under activist pressure), and carefully lofty. “The right to vote is the essence of a democratic society, and the voice of every voter should be heard,” wrote the Business Roundtable, representing nearly 200 CEOs. That shouldn’t be a controversial point of view, but in America in 2021, it is.

Microsoft president Brad Smith’s approach was more in the Jamie Dimon mould. In a blog post, Smith took on each of the law’s major provisions and urged “the business community to be principled, substantive, and concrete in explaining its concerns.”

When enough corporate leaders band together to oppose legislation, politicians listen. Even the most anodyne statements can have an effect. But CEOs serious about corporate responsibility will have to grapple with the issues in a lot more detail. They’ll need to explain how social and political questions are connected to economic and corporate ones, be clear about their companies’ responsibilities and interests, admit their own complicity, and define the society they want to help build. For that, even 66 pages won’t be enough. —Katherine Bell, editor in chief 

✦ Corporate leaders are finally focusing on making business better, which also happens to be Quartz’s mission. Support our journalism—and the quest for a more progressive form of capitalism—by signing up for a membership today.

Five things from Quartz we especially liked

Shots aren’t the only way to deliver vaccines. Needles spook patients, create health risks for doctors and nurses, and are now in short supply. Katherine Foley dives into scientists’ century-long quest to find alternatives, ranging from inhaled innoculations to blasting puffs of vaccine vapor straight into the skin. —Nicolás Rivero, tech reporter

A virtual tour of Covid-19’s impact. In this animation tour de force, Amanda Shendruk takes readers on a visual journey through three of the world’s most iconic shopping streets—London’s Oxford Street, LA’s Rodeo Drive, and Hong Kong’s Russell Street—to illustrate the devastating effect the pandemic has had on brick-and-mortar retail. For anyone who still enjoys the odd window-shopping session, this piece could serve as a call to action. —Annabelle Timsit, geopolitics reporter

How online scammers fooled an African fintech startup. The same loopholes that fraudsters have historically used in countries like Nigeria are now turbocharged by fintech platforms like Paystack, Chikezie Omeje finds in an exclusive investigation for Quartz Africa. Aspiring university students have been left devastated by one such operation. Says one: “I don’t know that someone born of a woman, created by God, can actually formulate such a thing to scam people.” —Jackie Bischof, deputy membership editor

He’s got a feeling. It’s no surprise that will.i.am is hocking a new piece of over-engineered luxury consumer tech. But it might surprise you that it’s a $300 face mask, since everyone is itching to rip their coronavirus face covers right off. Marc Bain explains how Honeywell, the mask’s maker, is betting that western consumers will still find reasons to avoid aerosols in a post-pandemic world. —Tim Fernholz, senior reporter

This is why we can’t have nice things. Over the past 15 years, Yahoo! Answers has gone from “How do I decide on a good magic set for children?” to “Will America survive four years of Joe Biden?” And on May 4, the site will be no more. In a poignant eulogy, Samanth Subramanian captures the lost promise of Yahoo! Answers’ once sincere and democratic ethos. “In the gap between that first question and the latest,” he writes, “lies the demise of the original vision of the Internet as one large, utopian community.” —Kira Bindrim, executive editor

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One membership thing that made us check our pay stubs

Should employees be paid less when they move to a less expensive place?

As remote work took off amid the pandemic, companies that include Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft gave employees the freedom to flee expensive cities—if they took a pay cut. That might not seem so outlandish; after all, location is a factor most companies take into account when determining wages in the first place. But there are a number of reasons why companies that dock remote workers’ pay might come to regret it.

✦ Post-pandemic pay scales are just one topic we dug into for this week’s field guide on what a year of Covid has done to work. Check out the full guide, and don’t forget to take the quiz: How much do you know about what employees want now?

We’re obsessed with rice cookers

A kitchen tool goes global. For many households, the humble rice cooker is an essential tool, saving home chefs the time and effort of having to watch over a pot, while reliably delivering perfectly cooked rice. But this is no mere kitchen implement—the rice cooker’s history is a tale of innovation and globalization, tracing an arc from post-World War II Japan to modern international success. We’re tucking in to the backstory with the Quartz Weekly Obsession.

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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter

The Covid-19 kaleidoscope. In an engrossing piece in The New York Times, Caity Weaver shines a light on an oft-overlooked minutiae of the pandemic response: color-coded warning alerts. Surveying the wild inconsistencies across the US, the article packs lessons about color psychology, data viz, and human folly. —Anne Quito, design reporter

India’s missed-call opportunities. In the early 2010s in India, before smartphones became ubiquitous, the best way to ping someone was with a missed call. Dialing a number but hanging up before airtime charges kicked in “functioned as a kind of code” for millions of people “who counted every rupee,” writes Atul Bhattarai in Rest of World. The story of one company’s attempt to capitalize on that trend, and its later downfall, reveals the breakneck pace of tech innovation in India. —Tim McDonnell, climate and energy reporter

Identity within politics. Andrew Yang, a former US presidential candidate, has always shied away from talking about his identity as an Asian man living in America—but the recent spike in anti-Asian racism has made it impossible to ignore. For Politico, Tina Nguyen writes about how the New York mayoral candidate sees his identity in his personal life and in the greater political landscape of an increasingly diverse country. —Katherine Foley, health reporter

The fight against environmental racism. For decades, heavy industry in the US has tended to cluster in Black and Latino neighborhoods labeled undesirable by white government planners. For the Washington Post, Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis examine the lingering effects of these policies. They trace the battles communities of color fought to prevent their homes from becoming dumping grounds—too often in vain—and look at how change is taking shape in president Joe Biden’s environmental agenda. —Marc Bain, senior fashion reporter

A struggling carbon-capture CEO. Direct-air capture could be a key technology for staving off climate change: Global Thermostat has promised that its tech can suck tons of carbon out of the atmosphere like a whizzy air filter for the planet. But as Leslie Kaufman and (Quartz alum) Akshat Rathi write for Bloomberg, the New York company hasn’t lived up to its promises, and the field lacks other startups to push forward when an enterprise like Global Thermostat stumbles. —John Detrixhe, future of finance reporter

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, luxury face masks, and rice-cooker recipes to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Tim McDonnell and Kira Bindrim.

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