By popular demand, I'm bringing back the Weekend Longreads+Open Thread. News junkies and newsletter junkies go into moderate withdrawal over the weekend, and I'm happy to keep on pushing in response.
- Foxconn’s Rise and Labor’s Fall in Global China: a long piece on working conditions in China, in particular workers' low pay and the abuse of internship programs as a labor source. Every country that industrializes goes through a period where working conditions are, by rich-world standards, terrible, but as Trade Wars are Class Wars has argued, some countries (including China, but also Japan, South Korea, and Germany) deliberately weaken labor's bargaining position in order to keep savings high. That balance sheet story is much more compelling when it's paired with the human cost.
- Charter Cities and Hong Kong: a piece worth revisiting in light of The UK's decision to grant visas to 5.4 million people in Hong Kong.
- Building Democracy in Cambodia: a deep look at mostly-failed efforts to build a functioning democracy. One point this piece makes is that, when a country is small and lacks natural resources, there are few incentives for outsiders to do a good job helping the country join the international community, and many incentives for them to behave in ways that feel helpful but are ultimately ineffective.
- The Economist highlights the increasing concentration of the chip industry into a handful of cutting-edge firms ($). And they undersell the case, by putting Intel's capabilities in the present rather than near-future tense. At the beginning of the chip industry, every company fabricated its own chips. The list of companies that can produce the most advanced chips keeps shrinking, and it's interesting to imagine what happens when there's just one.
- The Intel Trinity is a group biography of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove. I read it right after The Big Score and was moderately annoyed that the author had gotten all of his best anecdotes from the latter book—until I realized they were by the same person. It's a good review of how the industry has shifted as it's become more important. A constant theme of the book is that Moore's Law set the pace of the entire industry, and there were failures from being too slow or too fast.
Some questions I've been thinking about lately:
- Some parts of the economy are naturally non-tradeable, but there are some goods that are a) a decent chunk of the entire economy, b) produced in just a handful of places, and thus c) important from both an economic and policy perspective. Oil, commercial aircraft, copper, chips, the dollar—what else belongs on the list? (One way to describe this list is that it's a list of economic problems that every head of state up at night.)
- Will Big Tech find a home in either American political party? Or are FAAMG destined to be disliked-to-despised by most governments?
- Do the newer, faster-spreading variants of Covid-19 have a reasonable chance of causing some of the worst-case scenarios people contemplated in March? Compound interest remains easy to underestimate, although the pace of vaccinations has picked up.
- Any good longform pieces I should have linked above?