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Amazon’s deal to buy Whole Foods may be remembered as the dawn of a new era in business, when an old industry stubbornly resistant to change suddenly gave way to something modern and innovative. But supermarkets were once themselves a cutting-edge concept.
It wasn’t that long ago that shoppers went to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread, and the green grocer for produce. Starting in 1930, the supermarket pulled it all together. The bounty of the American supermarket, with its towers of toilet paper and freezers full of meat, was so arresting to Soviet officials who visited one in 1989 that itshattered their faith in communism and helped end the Cold War.
Modern supermarkets were made possible by a host of changes, from industrial-scale farming to the interstate highway system. But after pioneering a logistics revolution that paved the way for shopping malls and big-box stores, progress pretty much stopped. While virtually every other domain of commerce has changed dramatically with the advent of the internet, online grocers were stymied by the challenge of delivering perishables while operating within the tight margins that make groceries a competitive business.
Why is this time different? Part of it is the track record of Amazon and Jeff Bezos; from books to television shows, there is little, if anything, they haven’t been able to sell online.
Bezos will soon be the richest person in the world. After today, Amazon is headed toward being the biggest company. And just as flip phones became obsolete the day after iPhones were introduced, Amazon-powered food buying could soon make us wonder how we ever managed before.—Oliver Staley
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How do you draw a circle? Direction, it turns out, is everything. Thu-Huong and Nikhil Sonnad analyzed 100,000 circle samples from around the world, finding intriguing clues about culture, geography, and upbringing. Draw yours here to learn which way you roll.
Why it’s so hard for women to figure out what to wear to work.Increased freedom of choice makes buying—and selling—more complicated than ever, Marc Bain explains. The big clothing brands are just as flummoxed as customers, but the answer may lie in “capsule wardrobes” customized to match specific office dress codes.
The nearly invisible new markers of the elite. The leisure class no longer trumpets its status with flashy purchases. Low-key is the new high-water mark of arrival, Dan Kopf finds, as Americans of means demonstrate their deepest aspirations with NPR tote bags, yoga classes, and other less conspicuous symbols of cultural capital.
The private-prison industry loves the US Marshals. The agency runs the nation’s largest jail system but owns no buildings to house its thousands of detainees, Hanna Kozlowska reports. Trump’s immigration crackdown means business will only increase foroperators with questionable records on safety and compliance.
Modern medicine makes wellness a women’s issue. At the inaugural summit of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop, Jenni Avins meets seekers on a quest for fulfillment amid markers of the lucrative “transformation economy.” Annaliese Griffin links the boom to the medical establishment’s bias against women, who are now drawn to cozier types of care.
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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
The miserable origin story of the iPhone. A decade after its release, Brian Merchant dives into the iPhone’s still-hotly-debated genesis for The Verge, detailing an intense Apple operation that birthed one of the world’s most influential devices—and ruined more than one marriage.
What was easy to miss about bitcoin. Bitcoin’s greatest advantages over legacy payment systems seemed to be low cost and fast speed. But with those gaps closing, American Banker’s Marc Hochstein argues for a more important bitcoin benefit: “censorship resistance,” to counter governments, political-correctness police, or anyone else who might seek to control our transactions and the data trail they leave.
Wealthy countries outsource toxicity to Asia. In the ‘80s, chemicals called EGEs were linked to miscarriages and other problems for women in semiconductor factories. In the US and Europe, the industry stopped using them. IBM, Motorola, HP, and others started relying on chips manufactured in South Korea, where, Bloomberg Businessweek finds, plants are still using EGEs, putting 120,000 women at risk.
Smoking shows inequality is a matter of life and death. The US smoking rate is just 15%. But it remains over 40% for the less educated. As cigarettes become a habit of only the poor in America, William Wan in the Washington Post spotlights how wealthier Americans are increasingly immune (paywall) from their devastating health and financial costs.
Meet the real father of economics. Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century Islamic scholar, laid down basic economic precepts such as the division of labor four centuries before Adam Smith, and even hinted at the 20th-century ideas of John Maynard Keynes. Daniel Olah in Evonomics celebrates the pioneering—and thoroughly modern-sounding—writings of a thinker often ignored by the West.
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