Good morning, Quartz readers!
This week we learned the future will be an automated utopia. Amazon announced its first grocery store will open in Seattle, Washington, but it’s not like any grocery you’ve seen. Cashiers need not apply; customers pull food off the shelves, walk out, and pay automatically through a smartphone app called Amazon Go. Truckers, too, will likely see their jobs disappear before long. Many have put the arrival of autonomous commercial trucks at 40 years off. “Three years, at most,” countered one Silicon Valley investor.
The working and middle classes of Europe and North America are already reeling, as globalization hollows out much of the industrial heartland of the world’s rich countries. Now automation technology seems ready to finish off the job. Millions of jobs are on the chopping block—most paying less than $20 per hour. Meanwhile, politicians’ neglect of the working and middle classes’ economic security makes the electoral shocks that followed—Brexit, Trump, Renzi—seem almost inevitable. The stability of these democracies will hinge on how well the economy works for these citizens.
It wasn’t long ago that automation promised an economic paradise. “For the first time since his creation,” wrote economist Maynard Keynes in a 1930 essay, “man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure.” That, of course, assumes a big share of machine-generated wealth reaches workers. So far, that hasn’t happened.
History may be instructive. The last time American capitalism faltered, Franklin D. Roosevelt rode to power on the strength of his “New Deal” in 1932. Does a comparable political platform exist to rally Americans discarded by their own economy? Proposals are already being floated: A “GI Bill” to educate workers displaced by automation. A universal basic income to give workers the right to economic security. Companies paying for workers’ vocational training, with the help of government incentives (Germany already does this).
Instead, America might get Trump’s answer: a mix of deregulation for big business and steep tariffs. That has populist appeal, but economists warn it also risks tipping the US into recession—not righting the ship.—Michael Coren
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Everything we thought we knew about free trade is wrong. High-skilled American workers have enjoyed obscenely cheap import prices for years now—at the expense of the country’s poorer, less-educated taxpayers. Meanwhile, China has all the jobs, but no purchasing power. If the recent US election has you questioning how we got to into such a global economic mess, Gwynn Guilford has answers.
The last slow-food holdout is fish. Sushi restaurants still fly in endangered species every day for diners, but if we continue trawling the oceans at our current pace, all fish stocks could collapse in our lifetime. That prediction is leading some to posit we are at peak wild fish. Alden Wicker dives deep into how to disrupt the sushi business and save the oceans.
You can build a better life by tracking your happiness. Katherine Ellen Foley spent a year writing down moments in which she felt “truly, blissfully happy.” The resulting data helped her figure out how to best spend her time and energy in 2017: more cozy nights cooking with friends, more long-distance races, fewer fancy nights out, and lots of ambitious writing goals.
Filipinos send oversized boxes home every Christmas. Balikbayans are a unique symbol of the global economy: flat-rate shipped consumer goods that serve as an expression of generosity and longing for 10 million overseas workers. Anne Quito and Adam Freelander explore the Filipino preference for Spam and Jiffy peanut butter, plus one bonus: a video on optimum packing techniques.
The solution to poverty is…giving poor people cash. There has always been much hand-wringing among policymakers about how to ensure financial aid gets used in the “right” way (i.e., not for booze). But it may be for naught: As Dan Kopf reports, poor people almost always use cash transfers to lift themselves out of poverty.
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Google grows up, and faces the music. For years, the Silicon Valley giant made enough money from search to overlook that all its “moonshot” side projects were financial sinkholes. But Bloomberg Businessweek reports that since Google’s “Alphabetization,” the former startup has been forced to act like “a normal, publicly traded company”—in other words, to look at the books.
The dark, twisted world of chemsex. Warning: not for the prudish or fainthearted. In an eye-opening examination of the gay male subculture of drug-fueled sex, Buzzfeed’s Patrick Studwick looks at a phenomenon that surpasses all normal limits of sexuality and human behavior, and has led to horrific abuse and exploitation.
Human traffickers are sending refugees to their deaths… Reuters investigated the April sinking of a ship that resulted in the deaths of 500 migrants and refugees. They name the main smugglers responsible as Ahmed Obeid and Ismail al-Bougy, detail the events leading up to the deaths, and allege that none of the local or international bodies involved in Europe’s migrant crisis has ever investigated.
…and some survivors end up in a hell disguised as paradise. About 900 refugees have been detained—and abused—in Papua New Guinea’s heavenly Manus Island for three years and counting. Roger Cohen, reporting for the New York Times (paywall), went to Manus to hear the chilling stories of this forgotten slice of humanity, banned from entering nearby Australia and stuck in seemingly eternal limbo.
Old-fashioned diplomacy is dead. Veteran US State Department official Robin Raphel was a master at boots-on-the-ground networking, but her cozy relationship with Pakistan sparked a (fruitless) FBI espionage investigation that upended her life and career. In a thorough examination (paywall), the Wall Street Journal highlights a crucial disconnect between how the State Department and the FBI gather and assess intelligence.
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