ℹ️ You’re reading Quartz Essentials: quick, engaging outlines of the most important topics affecting the global economy.
April 9-10, 2022 briefing
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📈 The ruble has bounced back. Are sanctions not working?
📺 One thing is keeping streaming TV from taking over
🏠 Great news! US mortgage interest rates just hit 5%
🚀 SpaceX has flown more people to space than China has
🎻 A renowned orchestra shows how boss-free companies thrive
📱 Why Africa’s digital payment landscape is so fragmented
🇮🇹 Italy will offer visas to remote workers seeking la dolce vita
👋 The Great Resignation is not really great, or a resignation
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What to watch for
French voters will turn out for the first round of the presidential election this Sunday. Emmanuel Macron is vying for a second term, but history is not on his side—an incumbent hasn’t won in France for 20 years. Polls show the centrist with a narrowing lead over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is running for a third time. Macron is also contending with “l’affaire McKinsey.”
He easily beat Le Pen in 2017, winning 66% of the vote. But recent polling gives Macron (link in French) a slim four percentage point lead in the second round, which is slated for April 24.
Financial markets reacted negatively on April 5 to the possibility of a Le Pen victory, with France’s stock index performing worse than its European counterparts.
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Are sanctions not working?
Barely a month after the West imposed heavy sanctions on Russia, the ruble has bounded back up against the US dollar, to levels last seen before the invasion of Ukraine. Why isn’t the ruble feeling the pain?
Internal manipulation of the currency and soaring oil and gas prices are driving its rise. Increased pressure to buy Russian gas in rubles could boost it even more, if big European buyers actually bent to those demands. Ultimately, though, the ruble isn’t the best indicator of sanctions’ success. “Irrespective of the moves in the ruble, the sanctions are hurting Russia’s economy hard,” economist William Jackson said. “Inflation is already surging, the banks are under strain, and financial conditions have tightened dramatically.”
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A union fight at Amazon
In recent years, Amazon has sought to quash unionization efforts across the country, spending millions of dollars on consultants focused on dissuading workers from organizing. But that didn’t stop organizer Chris Smalls from clinching a union win for Amazon workers.
While the contract still needs to be hammered out, Amazon employees at a Staten Island, New York City warehouse voted by a roughly 10% margin to form a union, marking the first successful labor campaign at the retail giant. The effort comes during a growing wave of worker activism across the US that has been met by plenty of pushback from Amazon:
$4.3 million: Amount Amazon spent on anti-union consultants in 2021
2: Times a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama voted against unionizing
2,600+: Number of Staten Island employees who voted to unionize
$30: Hourly minimum pay the union wants
$18: Current starting hourly pay rate
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Charting the Great Resignation
The uptick in workers quitting their job during the pandemic, dubbed the “Great Resignation,” isn’t very exceptional, according to research from the San Francisco Federal Reserve bank. When economies recover quickly from an economic downturn, it’s common for workers to quit at about the same rate they have been over the past two years. As job openings increase, workers move around to find better opportunities.
The current Great Resignation only feels special because recent economic recoveries have been unusually slow. In the US, it took years for employment numbers to bounce back from the 2000 tech bubble and the 2007 financial crisis; the pandemic recovery, by comparison, has moved at lightning speed, creating the feeling of great turmoil and change in the economy.
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What’s happening in Shanghai?
What was supposed to be a short covid lockdown in Shanghai has become indefinite. The financial hub saw more than 17,000 new cases on Tuesday, surpassing the highest daily tally in Wuhan set in the pandemic’s early days.
Residents in Shanghai are at their wits end. Chaotic access to basic necessities and poor coordination between government agencies are fraying people’s nerves. More so than in previous waves, the current lockdown has shown that China doesn’t have a roadmap out of its zero-covid policy.
Need to catch up on what’s happening in Shanghai and with China’s strategy? We’ve got a reading list for you:
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We’re obsessed with karaoke
Whether on a stage, in a private booth, or with a hairbrush in your bedroom, millions of us around the world have lost ourselves in a song, thanks to karaoke. Between the pitch-bending and the video subtitles—if you even need them for your favorite track—being a star has never been easier than it is now.
But what makes you feel so good when you’re up there belting it out? The Quartz Weekly Obsession is just what you need to pick your song, step up to the mic, and get ready to lose yourself.
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