Weekend edition—The strongman playbook, fixing Reddit, we ❤️ seltzer

Good morning, Quartz readers!

It’s turning into quite a month for global strongmen.

Last weekend, Chinese president Xi Jinping upended his country’s two-term limit on power, meaning there’s now little to stop him from ruling for life. Two days later, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoganpushed through sweeping changes to the electoral system that give him a strong chance of extending his 15-year reign in the 2019 elections.

And there’s zero doubt that Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be re-elected with a massive majority on Sunday, taking him to a total of 24 years in power by the end of his next six-year term.

Donald Trump responded last week by joking that America should itself give the president-for-life thing “a shot someday.” But the idea could have some actual backing among Trump voters: A 2017 Pew poll showed that 33% of Republicans (paywall) would like a “strong leader” whose power is unchecked by courts or Congress.

All this fits nicely into the narrative of the world turning authoritarian at an unsettling speed.

At times, that strongman model can look tempting. Putin’s centralized rule and disregard for international law allows him to take quick, daring actions that can leave liberal democracies looking impotent and flat-footed. The West’s riposte to Russia’s alleged murder of a British agent on UK soil, for example, has so far been limited to the expulsion of a few diplomats and a grumpy letter from Britain’s friends.

But take a step back, and you start to see all kinds of flaws in the strongman method.

Putin may be able to flex his muscles on some international issues, but the length and autocratic nature of his reign has left Russia far weaker than it should be. The Russian president has shored up power with patronage. To stay popular with the masses, he has had to take massive risks—among them the seizure of Crimea—which have alienated Moscow from all the main global powers. On the world stage, Putin is more of a reactionary counter-puncher than an agenda-setter.

Xi risks following Putin’s lead and sapping the dynamism out of his country’s economy—which became the world’s second-largest under a political system where the leading actors rotate and institutions more or less function. Strongman rule, by its very nature, undermines those institutions. Russia’s constant plunging in and out of recession should serve as a cautionary tale.

For all its frustrations and seeming impotency, the “Western liberal order” bears that name because it is the order.—Max de Haldevang


Should we even write this? Perusing Trump’s recent remarks on trade with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Gwynn Guilford ended up questioning everything. Here, she shows how the president’s speaking style gives journalism an existential crisis, and even undermines the concept of a shared reality.

Everything you ever wanted to know about seltzer. Why are Americans so obsessed with seltzer? Is seltzer not the same as sparkling water? Is it bad for you? Adam Freelander answers these questions and more in our inaugural Obsession video, a thoughtful, hilarious, and refreshing look at the history (and recent popularity) of seltzer water.

The next war between tech giants is in health. According to Helen and Dave Edwards, Apple could win it via the trojan horse that is the Apple Watch. They examine two patents to argue that while Alphabet and Amazon slowly make their way into American healthcare, only Apple can make medical surveillance bearable, let alone cool.

“The blackness has really made me drowsy.” Despite a strong box-office debut in China, some moviegoers there are less than impressed with Marvel’s Black Panther, which has become a racial and cultural milestone. Echo Huang used online reviews to delicately highlight the limited exposure many Chinese people have to other races.

You do have it harder than everyone else. Lila MacLellan delves deep into why people often feel their parents were tougher on them than on a sibling—and why both political parties believe the electoral map puts them at a disadvantage. It’s a psychological trap called “headwinds-tailwinds asymmetry.”


More human than human. How do you encapsulate all of humanity in a single photograph? For most of us, that question is an amusing mental exercise. For the editors of Wikipedia’s “human” entry, it’s a real and complicated challenge. In Wired, Ellen Airhart explores the debate behind the chosen photo and what it means to be—and look—human.

Your next potato chip could affect the evolution of the species.Diet has shaped human genetics over centuries. But the rapid pace of dietary change in modern times, Brian Handwerk writes at Smithsonian.com, complicates a delicate process that has life-and-death consequences for our descendants.

We need to talk about talking. Reddit is the most conversational social network of them all—but what if that conversation is hateful? Inthe New Yorker (paywall), Andrew Marantz looked into Reddit’s attempts to monitor communities without becoming a censor. Choice quote: “My internal check, when I’m arguing for a restrictive policy on the site, is Do I sound like an Arab government?”

Meet the best pool sharks in America. In the macho world of professional billiards, the women’s game was once on ESPN and growing. No longer. Megan Greenwell, for Topic, meets some of the women who still compete in a sport where the best players win barely $5,000 a year in prize money.

Is there a right to have sex? In the London Review of Books, Amia Srinivasan looks at the disturbing case of Elliot Rodger (paywall), an “incel” (involuntary celibate) who killed six people in 2014. It’s a rampage with some important and uncomfortable lessons for modern feminism, which has long struggled with questions about how desires are formed and politicized.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Apple Watches, and sparkling water tohi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Kabir Chibber.


CWS Market Review – March 16, 2018

Bespoke Brunch Reads — 3/11/18

Good Morning,

Below is our Bespoke Brunch Reads linkfest, featuring some of our favorite articles (both finance and non-finance related) over the past week. Click here if you’d like to read our weekly Bespoke Report newsletter.


A Not-So-Great Recovery in Consumption: What is holding back household spending? by Aditya Aladangady Laura Feivseson (FEDS Notes)

Why hasn’t consumer spending been very strong to bounce back in this recovery? A quantitative investigation of the breakdown in the relationship between income, net worth, and government transfers with consumer spending. [Link]

The Moral Hazard of Lifesaving Innovations: Naloxone Access, Opioid Abuse, and Crime by Jennifer L. Doleac and Anita Mukherjee (SSRN)

We present this paper with the following cautionary notes: while the study’s design and data set are of good quality, they have not yet been peer-reviewed and they are contradictory to prior findings, meaning they should be handled carefully while not being dismissed, in our view. That said, if the findings hold up they are important. To summarize, the authors find that increasing availability of Naloxone leads to moral hazard (more risk-seeking behavior) and therefore the benefits of the drug’s availability is cancelled out. [Link]

Study: When CEOs’ Equity Is About to Vest, They Cut Investment to Boost the Stock Price by Alex Edmans (HBR)

This study finds that equity grants’ vesting period creates an incentive for short-termism around investment versus quarterly profitability. [Link; soft paywall]


Men of Steel, unburdened by experience by Jamie Powell (FTAV)

A summary of what steel tariffs may mean, viewed through the lens of the last abortive effort at similar tariffs attempted during the Bush Administration. [Link; soft paywall]

Trump says American workers are hurt by immigration. But after ICE raided this Texas town, they never showed up. by Nick Miroff (WaPo)

This fascinating article gives an overview of the local economy of the Texas Panhandle. While some of that narrative deals with the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policies, the scope of the story is much larger and worth reading regardless of the currency policy context. [Link; soft paywall]

How Trump’s Hudson Tunnel Feud Threatens the National Economy by Elise Young and Demetrios Pogaks (Bloomberg)

While this story is a tad dramatic, it does underscore some of the risks to changes in federal policy facing one of the biggest engines of wealth and output in the country. [Link]

Stock Bulls in Trump Country Are Freaking Out Their Brokers by Michelle Davis (Bloomberg)

A frankly terrifying review of market enthusiasm based on Presidential tweets. With the current bull market celebrating its 9th birthday today, relatively elevated valuations, and lots of priced-in optimism about tax benefits and global growth, the extreme sentiment described in this article is concerning to say the least. [Link]

Rigged Games

How Do Pundits Never Get It Wrong? Call a 40% Chance by Rolfe Winkler and Justin Lahart (WSJ)

A rundown of the popular prognostication play which pegs every significant shift at a 40% chance, inflating odds of a major change while carefully hedging towards the baseline outcome. [Link; paywall]

Under Armour Boss’s Alma Mater Wins Shady Hoops Game, Has Folks Wondering If Money Buys Free Throws by Dave McKenna (Deadspin)

The favored charity of Under Armour CEO Kevin Planck received what can only be described as an absurd series of favorable calls during their effort to beat another school’s squad. [Link]

Yale’s Swensen (Mostly) Apologizes for Harsh Words to Students by Janet Lorin (Bloomberg)

In a rather embarrassing turn of events for one of the most revered asset allocators in the world, Yale’s endowment manager got into a very public spat with the school’s newspaper this week. [Link; auto-playing video]


You probably won’t remember this, but the “forgetting curve” theory explains why learning is hard by Nikhil Sonnad (Quartz)

In practice, the challenge of learning isn’t the intake of information, but its retention. This is such a persistent phenomenon, it’s even got a mathematical formula. [Link]

Startup Weekly

12 questions about the future of HQ trivia and its $15M fundraise by Josh Constine (TechCrunch)

All you need to know about HQ, the live trivia game which has driven rabid enthusiasm and huge numbers of persistent trivia players. [Link]

Wall Street Tech Spree: With Kensho Acquisition S&P Global Makes Largest A.I. Deal In History by Steven Bertoni and Antoine Gara (Forbes)

Prayer beads, cast iron tea pots, and Buddhas as decoration: Kensho is ramping up its algorithmic offerings after being purchased by S&P. [Link]

Long Reads

State of the Wine Industry 2018 by Rob McMillan (Silicon Valley Bank)

Chock full of charts and data, this rich, smooth report offers a wealth of tannic observations for the casual drinker and serious oenophile alike. [Link; 45 page PDF]

Jerry and Marge Go Large by Jason Fagone (HuffPo)

The story of a retired couple from Michigan and the numerical assault on the jackpots of lotteries in two different states. [Link]

National “Security”

Geek Squad staff ‘paid by FBI’ to flag illegal imagery (BBC)

A secret deal between Best Buy’s repair division and the FBI led to reporting of imagery related to child abuse; while the goal is laudable, such an arrangement very likely violates 4th Amendment rights and was found by a federal court to be insufficient evidence for a search warrant. [Link]

The Women Who Lived at CIA (CIA News & Information)

The story of a Quaker’s property that became enclosed in the campus of the CIA during the expansion of the new agency. [Link]

Fake News

It’s True: False News Spreads Faster and Wider. And Humans Are to Blame. by Steve Lohr (NYT)

In news that won’t surprise anyone that spends a lot of time on social media, fake stories are spread much more rapidly than real ones. [Link; soft paywall]

Meanwhile, In Canada

Over 500 Canadian doctors protest raises, say they’re being paid too much (yes, too much) by Catherine Clifford (CNBC)

“Who would want to cut their own pay?” is a fun hypothetical, and one which can now be answered: Canadian (specifically, Quebecois) doctors. [Link]


The Literal Translation of Country Names (Open Sea Dragon)

This amazing map presents the name of almost all countries with their original meaning. Spoiler: America’s is by far the least interesting. [Link]

Have a great Sunday!


La Guida al Moat Investing di Morningstar Italia

Una bellissima serie sull’Economic Moat (o vantaggio competitivo), a cura di Morningstar.

Cos’è e come funziona l’Economic moat

Cos’è l’Economic Moat

Alle fonti del moat

VIDEO: Tre idee azionarie con Wide moat

Il Moat visto con gli occhiali quantitativi

Cosa c’è nel fossato dell’industria dei fondi

Fondi ed Etf con l’Economic moat

Oltre il fossato, le valutazioni

L’extra-performance del vantaggio competitivo

Il “moat” secondo Warren Buffett

Caccia al moat che non ti aspetti


#Billions: uno show che merita davvero

La migliore serie su Wall Street ed i suoi segreti che possiate vedere.


La questione Italo

Perché Italo non è andato in Borsa?


Perché le #infrastrutture sono importanti?