Good morning, Quartz readers!
It is always easier to criticize something than it is to fix it.
US president Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise, the complete repeal and replacement of Obamacare, is now dead, at least for the foreseeable future, after it didn’t get enough votes in the US House of Representatives, despite a Republican majority.
Trump, like other populist leaders, promised to do away with“business-as-usual” politics. But as revisions of the health-care bill were kicked between Capitol Hill and the White House, it became clear that this was very much business as usual—a highly public display of the traditional arm-twisting and favor-granting that had led disgusted US voters to vote for Trump. In an attempt to get the needed votes, the White House took a bill already deeply unpopular with voters and heavily criticized by the medical profession and made it even more draconian, stripping away some of the most basic health-insurance guarantees.
Trump pledged before the US election that he would quickly craft “much better health care, at a much less expensive cost.” He alsopromised “decades of failure in Washington, and decades of special interest dealing, must come to an end.” Populists enjoy making such sweeping promises, and voters like them too, because they are easier to digest than the equivocations of mainstream politicians and the nitpicking of policy wonks. But they can also become yokes around a leader’s neck.
The Republicans’ mistake was to spend so many years demonizing Obamacare that repealing it became an end in itself, which had to be achieved at any cost. It turned out that “any cost” was not, in fact, a feasible price to pay.
“We were a ten-year opposition party, where being against things was easy to do,” a chastened Paul Ryan, the House speaker, admitted afterward. “Doing big things is hard.” Welcome to reality.—Heather Timmons and Gideon Lichfield
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Multinational corporations are investing in the world’s third largest economy. With a lower corporate tax rate and revamped visa requirements, Japan is increasingly a destination for those with a growth mindset looking to tap into global business opportunities.
SOME THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
IBM’s office head space. In 2009, 40% of IBM’s nearly 400,000 global employees worked from home. Now the remote-work pioneer has changed its mind about the value of in-person teamwork, asking some employees to move to cities where they can work side by side. Sarah Kessler examines IBM’s shift, part of a transformation effort amid 19 consecutive quarters of declining revenue.
The science behind the meatless burger. The Impossible Burger is 100% made from plants, but it tastes, smells, and bleeds like the real thing. The secret ingredient? Neuroscience. Hannah Yi visits the lab where flavor scientists are creating meat that’s indistinguishable from an actual beef patty—part of the hunt for a perfect meat alternative.
Don’t be relieved by the Dutch elections. While the global media heralded the election results as a repudiation of xenophobia, the “quarterfinals” of European politics actually proved just hownormalized populism has become in the Netherlands. As Christiaan Paauwee notes, in his country and elsewhere, the political mainstream has sold its soul. And that does not bode well for the rest of Europe.
Uber’s biggest selling point is under threat. The world’s most valuable startup often offers an unbeatable price in the nearly 600 cities where it operates. It partly achieved that by skirting local taxes, offering plenty of freebies, and paying drivers as little as possible. As Alison Griswold and Akshat Rathi report, these strategies have run their course: Regulators are forcing Uber to cough up avoided taxes, huge losses are bringing freebies to an end, and it can’t pay its already angry drivers any less.
China jumps into athletic wear. With 415 million millennials, a booming middle class, government investment in sports, and a rapidly growing consumer appetite for sportswear, China is starting to look increasingly attractive to athletic-wear companies. Marc Bain explores how sportswear companies are competing in this arena, as more and more Chinese look to sport for fun.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
One country, one system? Hong Kong is in a state of “permanent crisis,” and its people fear a head-on collision with the mainland’s masters in Beijing will cause irreparable damage to one of Asia’s freest and most cosmopolitan cities. Howard W. French describes for the Guardian Hong Kong’s increased political radicalization, fuelled by rising mainland wealth, an ascendent Chinese premier, and stalled social mobility.
When the first hundred days go wrong. A new president who misses the traditional honeymoon due to scandal, incompetence, and a lack of discipline will find that early mistakes haunt the rest of his presidency. But we’re talking about Bill Clinton, not Donald Trump, writes David Graham in the Atlantic—which means that despite everything, there is a blueprint for Trump to salvage his stumbling administration.
Corporatized inequality. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom argues in Harvard Business Review the extent to which the gaps between companies have become drivers of income inequality in the US. This “firm inequality,” driven by outsourcing, an increasing reliance on technology, and a “winner take most” competition, has created a stark division between employees who are treated well and those who aren’t.
ISIL isn’t Iraq’s only nightmare. While the West has largely moved on, the fight against the extremist group in Iraq continues to rage with an extremely bloody and complicated intensity. Ramita Navai spent several weeks on the ground reporting on sectarian power dynamics and describes to Frontline her fear that the entire region is a tinder box, waiting to explode again.
Scientists as therapists. Entomologists are used to studying insects so they can help clients with pest control. But occasionally, people will come to their offices complaining of bites from insects that aren’t real—the product of a mental-health condition called Ekbom syndrome, or delusional parasitosis. For STAT, Eric Boodman explores how these scientists navigate the moral waters of helping clients find the treatment they need, not necessarily that they want.
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