Good morning, Quartz readers!
This week neatly encapsulated the state of US antitrust enforcement: messy.
On Monday, a Washington, DC, judge threw out two landmark Facebook lawsuits. One case, seeking to unwind Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, is permanently dead. But the judge told federal prosecutors to refile the second case, this time with more math to prove Facebook is the world’s dominant social media company. The ruling was a reminder that antitrust lawsuits now hinge on the vagaries of convoluted economic models more than legal arguments about Big Tech’s moves to squash competition.
On Wednesday, a Congressional committee passed six tech-focused antitrust bills, with proposals ranging from the banal (raising merger filing fees) to the extreme (legally mandated breakups of big tech conglomerates). That all the bills made it out of committee marks a stark shift from the government’s tech-worshipping 2010s, and the vote also surfaced new bipartisan voting coalitions. Pro-business Republicans joined with Silicon Valley Democrats to oppose the bills, but were overpowered by tech antagonists on the left and the right who are channeling the popular rage against tech monopolies.
To cap off the week, the Federal Trade Commission—the top US antitrust enforcement agency—moved Thursday to significantly expand its authority. Under the direction of Lina Khan, the antitrust crusader who just took over as the commission’s chair, the body began a slow, bureaucratic process to revive its rulemaking powers, by which it could act on its own to outlaw specific business practices that kill competition.
The fight, in other words, is far from settled. But if there’s one takeaway from this week’s mixed bag, it’s that the most important battles are playing out in Congress and the FTC—not the courts. Under the existing antitrust regime, prosecutors have little hope of landing decisive blows against tech giants through lawsuits. They need lawmakers and regulators to give them real ammunition if they’re going to put a dent in the biggest firms’ dominance. —Nicolás Rivero
Five things from Quartz we especially liked
Africa’s budding cannabis industry. Covid-19 and debt loads are making African countries contemplate something that was unimaginable just a few years ago: the legalization of cannabis. Stephen Kafeero describes how growth in Western markets is proving enticing to entrepreneurs and policymakers, despite a legacy of punitive colonial era and morality laws which have, until now, kept the cultivation and sale of the plant predominantly underground. —Jackie Bischof, talent lab editor
A shortage of shipping containers. At a moment where everything from rental cars to chicken wings is in short supply, the vessels our goods come in are also experiencing too great of a demand. It’s yet another indication of how much Covid-19 has thrown a wrench in global trade. Nico Rivero’s piece answers every question you never knew you had about shipping containers, how they could be in short supply, and how long the shortage will last. —Alex Ossola, membership editor
Learning from the lobster capital of Europe. After some political maneuvering this week, the US state of Maine is set to study how wind turbines off its coast are affecting the local lobster industry, which wanted a moratorium on wind farms. Luckily, there are years of research from across the ocean to show how the two industries can productively coexist. Clarisa Diaz explores the conflict and potential compromises in a story with helpful visuals and an encouraging message for the future of Maine’s coastal waters. —Heather Landy, executive editor
Clash of India’s titans. When telecom tycoon Mukesh Ambani announced a $10 billion investment in renewable power last month, he immediately set up a showdown with India’s other richest man: energy baron Gautam Adani. Niharika Sharma lays out the stakes, which include worries that Ambani could run Adani out of the industry, or that the two men could create an unbreakable duopoly that would slow India’s energy transition. —Nicolás Rivero, tech reporter
A desk of one’s own. Everyone seems to love working from home, but, oh, how I have missed the office! And, now that I’m back in it, I miss my desk. Hot desking leaves me cold, just like it does Anne Quito, who dedicated this week’s The Memo newsletter to the joy and value of having your own working space in the office, and what is lost when all workers—I mean, desks—become interchangeable. —Annalisa Merelli, reporter
One membership thing that made us 😴
As humans evolved, certain frequencies of light set our circadian rhythms, the body’s 24-hour internal clock that regulates sleep and other processes. We’re used to more blue and green wavelengths in the day, and more red at night.
But the way we live now tends to scramble that natural inclination. The screens we stare at during many of our waking hours emit blue light, which wakes us up (screen time has been connected to sleep problems). And we never fully get the “quiet down” signal because we don’t go to bed with the sun, instead staying up past dark with our artificial lights.
“We’ve sort of made the night optional,” says Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona.
✦ Darkness might be optional, but sleep certainly isn’t. Read more in our latest field guide.
We’re obsessed with sleep 🛏
We just wrapped up Sleep Week here at Quartz. Here are the tl;dr versions of what we’ve been obsessing over, but be sure to click through if you missed any—we promise they make for excellent bedtime reading.
Napping: This undervalued sleep reserve has mental, physical, and economic benefits.
Circadian rhythms: Sometimes our internal clocks are at odds with modern life.
Sleepwalking: The medical community has no idea why some people are prone to (mostly) harmless nocturnal wanderings.
Mattresses: Take a peek under the covers of the $81 billion global industry.
Sleep deprivation: Your lack of shuteye is a real drain on the global economy.
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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter
The fat of the land. Former US president Donald Trump’s top agriculture official, Sonny Perdue, is facing allegations of corruption after one of the country’s largest farm companies sold him land worth millions of dollars for just $250,000 when he joined the cabinet. This Washington Post investigation by Desmond Butler explores the deal and the gaps where US financial disclosures fail to inform the public about conflicts of interest. “This stinks to high heaven,” one former prosecutor said. —Tim Fernholz, senior reporter
India’s other Covid-19 crisis. India has the world’s third highest number of billionaires but also continues to rank poorly in the Global Hunger Index. This divide has been exacerbated further by the coronavirus. In Article 14, Deepa Sinha explains how the Indian government’s mishandling of the crisis is disrupting nutritional schemes for women and children, leaving millions ravaged by a different pandemic: hunger. —Priyanka Vora, audience editor
Are US streets paved with gold? The US needs infrastructure. But can it pay for it? The price of roads, highways, bridges and tunnels has soared since America’s 20th-century building spree—interstates are now five times more pricey per mile than they were in 1990. For Vox, Jerusalem Demsas explores just what’s driving this, and whether there’s anything that can be done. —Michael Coren, deputy emerging industries editor
The bots are coming—to fire you. Contract drivers who handle deliveries for Amazon quickly learn the company uses algorithms to track performance measures such as how fast they complete their routes. Often they’ll get automated emails with feedback. Drivers say Amazon’s bots are even firing them when they fall short, sometimes for issues outside their control, Spencer Soper reports for Bloomberg. As Amazon increasingly uses algorithms to manage employees, it’s raising questions about the fairness of human resources without the humans. —Marc Bain, senior reporter
The president’s briefcase. After he died unexpectedly last week, former Philippine president Benigno Aquino’s aides revealed to the Philippine Star’s Brooke Villanueva the objects they schlepped to every public engagement. Stowed in a decidedly plain black bag was a copy of the constitution, maps, reports, and a big calculator—material evidence of a man who, if lacking in charisma, was hell-bent on leading with accountability and moral discipline during a time when corruption was the rule of the land. —Anne Quito, design reporter
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, nap hacks, and the contents of your briefcase 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 Liz Webber.