Good morning, Quartz readers!
Wallonia was once an economic powerhouse. Its vast coal reserves fueled one of the earliest industrialized regions in continental Europe. But the French-speaking part of Belgium has since fallen on hard times.
Before this week, few beyond Belgium cared much. But then the Walloons nearly torpedoed a free-trade deal, seven years in the making, between the EU and Canada. Belgium’s quirky constitution grants its regional parliaments extensive powers, including—it turns out—the ability to veto trade deals affecting half a billion people.
That highlights the fragile state of global trade, under attack from all sides. US presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton reversed her previous support for a major deal between the US and several Asian countries. Huge protests in Europe, especially in export-dependent Germany, have put off politicians negotiating a similar US-EU deal. Post-Brexit Britain, as ever, is a little confused—it is quitting a large free-trade area so it can do deals with countries elsewhere (that’s been going so well, after all). Donald Trump, of course, never saw a trade deal that wasn’t a “rip off.”
Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise that protectionist trade measures have been rising much faster than liberalizing ones, and global trade growth has slowed to post-crisis lows. But this isn’t simply a blanket rejection of free trade by populists on the left and right.
The UK is giving a Japanese-owned car plant special treatment to ensure its exports remain competitive if tariffs go up after Brexit. Back in Wallonia, the administration opposes free trade in chocolate with Canada on ethical grounds, but happily sells weapons to Libya and Saudi Arabia.
So while the post-war preoccupation with big multilateral trade deals is fading, a narrower, opportunistic approach is back in fashion, favoring intervention on behalf of favored industries instead of putting faith in free markets. The business barons of Wallonia’s 19th century heyday would feel right at home.—Jason Karaian
The magical soothing power of the megastore. Andy Wright loves megastores. He can’t afford to buy much, but he finds it “narcotically calming” to cruise the aisles. That led him to delve into the history and psychology of superstore design, and the enormous effort taken to make us feel comfortable in them.
Trump is good for the Republicans. Adam Freelander makes the case that a landslide defeat in next month’s US presidential election won’t bury the Republican party for a generation as many people think; rather, it will re-energize it. Plus, Chris Arnade on why Trump voters deserve support, not scorn.
The trouble at Tata. The sacking of Cyrus Mistry, chairman of India’s iconic conglomerate, sent shockwaves through the country’s business world. Was he to blame for its flagging performance, or could Ratan Tata, the group’s aging patriarch, just not let go? Madhura Karnik and Manu Balachandran assess the evidence, and tell the story of the Mistry family’s journey from outsiders to kingmakers to opponents. Plus: Devjyot Ghoshal creates the “OK Tata,” a Diwali cocktail with a Mistry ingredient.
Korea’s bitter gender wars. Feminist groups in South Korea have adopted strong tactics against a deep-seated culture of misogyny and spiraling rates of sexual violence. But in doing so they’ve provoked an ugly backlash. Isabella Steger dissects the history and economics of a conflict taking place in both the public and private spheres.
Can a club for women solve women’s exclusion? Jenni Avins visits The Wing, an artfully cozy penthouse space in Manhattan that is a contemporary ladies’ version of the old-style gentlemen’s club. But does its limited space and mile-long waiting list merely mean it is just as out of reach to most women as its all-male precursors?
The weird economics of Ikea. Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight dug into decades’ worth of the Swedish furniture giant’s catalogs. He found that prices for some popular pieces have dropped dramatically, others have crept up gradually, and country-by-country variations often follow some mysterious code that researchers struggle to identify and the company is not keen to reveal.
The train of the dead. From 1854 to 1941, London’s Necropolis Railway was devoted to transporting the city’s dead (and funeral guests) to a cemetery 23 miles away, far from the British capital’s then severely overcrowded graveyards. As Amanda Ruggeri writes for the BBC, this inspired all sorts of concerns, among them that the mixing of nobility and the hoi polloi on the same train would be “somewhat egalitarian.”
War is really boring. The battle for Mosul is underway in plain, live streamed sight. The unedited continuum of war images accessible online does nothing to help an understanding of what’s happening, argues Sam Kriss, but it perfectly represents our war against ISIS: always, everywhere, yet mostly uneventful.
Instagram’s Renaissance hangover. Pics of brunch and selfies were a thing way, way before Instagram. Jacob Mikanowski for The Point takes us from ontbijtjes, or 17th-century Dutch paintings of breakfast, to Symmetry Breakfast, the Instagram account with 640,000 followers. He dissects Silicon Valley’s unspoken obsession with aesthetics—from Mark Zuckerberg’s desire for “minimalism” to Larry Ellison’s ersatz medieval Japanese palace—for good measure.
It’s the end of the line for Vine. To those who mainly understood Vine as a social media platform where young people could gather and gawk at six-second videos, the decision this week by its parent company, Twitter, to shut down the app was perhaps befuddling. But as a former executive told The Verge’s Casey Newton, Vine was destined to wither once Instagram added a video component. Don’t worry about the pseudo-celebrities Vine created—most foresaw the app’s death months ago, and have already gained larger audiences on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, old Ikea catalogs, and Renaissance-era selfies to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.