May 20, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Kaveh Waddell is at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: The health care election

House Speaker Pelosi, last June. Photo: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty

Amid the hullabaloo over purported immigrant hordes, alleged Chinese perfidy on trade and a Green New Deal, Americans — crossing lines of age, party and gender — are united in what they really care about, according to a new poll: health care.

Eighteen months before the presidential election, the finding suggests potential peril for President Trump should he be seen as insensitive on the issue, says John Della Volpe, polling director for RealClear Opinion Research, which conducted the survey.

  • Health care was the most important issue across all three groups: 45% of Democrats, 30% of Republicans and 31% of independents ranked it their No. 1 issue from a list of six that were shown. For Republicans, 29% said the economy was the No. 1 issue and 28% immigration.
  • 62% of all people polled said health care is the No. 1 or 2 issue.

For all generations, the No. 1 and 2 issues combined are making sure that all Americans have access to health care and lowering its price, according to the poll.

  • For millennials and Generation Z: 58% ranked them the top 2 issues.
  • Gen X: 60%
  • Boomer/silent: 67%.

Democrats are bound to double down on the issue: "It's only the earliest days of his campaign. But when it gets to the general election, there is no question that if [Trump] doesn't address his plan for health care in America, it will be a problem," Della Volpe tells Axios.

At this stage, both parties have staked out sharp-edged positions:

  • In March, the administration asked an appeals court to rule the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Previously, it was seeking only to invalidate parts of the law. Now, Trump says he will propose a plan to replace Obamacare after the 2020 elections.
  • Striking it down would leave several million people without health care. It would also eliminate the requirements that insurance cover pre-existing conditions and allow parents to keep children on their policy through age 26.
  • Against this, Democrats in the House have sought documents from the administration explaining how it decided to seek the act's invalidation. They have set a deadline this Friday for a response. Several Democratic presidential candidates are seeking "Medicare for all," expanding the program to all age groups.

Thought bubble from managing editor David Nather: "There are other issues that both parties are working on — like lowering drug prices. But the lawsuit won't help Republicans defend themselves against Democratic warnings that they'd get rid of health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. That message helped drive the big Democratic gains in 2018."

  • Chris Arnade, author of "Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America," who has been driving around the country for several years reporting on addiction and poverty, said health care is "the one thing that brings out frustration."
  • "Health care is where the rubber hits the road," Arnade tells Axios. "The number of stories I hear of people who have no health care — it's sad. People make awful choices — 'Do I go into debt to get my daughter's health addressed? Do I go to the hospital?'"
  • "It's so costly to the working class. They are receptive to someone like [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren or [Sen. Bernie] Sanders who say we need change. People are receptive to change."
2. When debt disappears

Morehouse commencement 2019. Photo: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

It’s commencement season in the U.S., and thousands upon thousands of students are graduating with unprecedented debt, Erica writes.

On Sunday, billionaire tech investor Robert F. Smith chipped away at the crisis by paying off all the student loans of nearly 400 young men — the graduates of Morehouse College.

  • We don’t know the exact amount, but the gift will be between $10 million and $40 million, the college predicts.

The big picture: All told, Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans. That debt is preventing huge swaths of young people from entering the middle class.

But the burden is not shared equally. Smith's gift to the historically black, all-male college targets a group that's among the most affected by the student debt crisis.

  • While the typical American student owes $32,000 in debt, that is at the lower end of Morehouse graduate loans, based on the college's estimates.
  • Black graduates are more likely to take on debt than white graduates.
  • Black students are also more likely than students of any other race to drop out of college with debt — to avoid sinking deeper.

Axios' Dan Primack spoke last night to Morehouse College president David Thomas.

  • "[The gift] rewards those individuals who were committed to getting the best education they could at the best college they could attend, and who invested in themselves by taking on student debt," Thomas said.
  • Dan notes that Smith is rumored to have political aspirations.

Our thought bubble: Smith threw the ball to his fellow 1%-ers. The pressure is now on the country's other millionaires and billionaires — many of whom are commencement speakers — to pony up.

Go deeper: Student debt help is becoming a big workplace benefit

3. Mailbox: The AI worker underclass

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

We received much response to last week's post about a new, low-paid category of workers who empower AI. One was from Johanne Sterling from New York:

The title of your article "The new sharecroppers" is click-baity at best and disturbingly callous and disregards the deeply painful history of slavery and how sharecropping was a disgusting racially based system of control at worst.
Sharecroppers were violently retaliated against and this was a system specific to the southern U.S. to enforce white power throughout this region of the country. It was violently enforced and it was a mutation of a violently enforced system of slavery and sexual violence by white men and women in America. 
These individuals who do this AI work are moving from work they chose and aren't thought of as barely human. There is an assumption that they are human just like the people who [run] these tech companies even though they are poor. The systems of slavery and sharecropping were built on white people believing that they were inherently superior to black people in every way possible (they were wrong) and building an entire society on top of that belief, a society that we are not yet free of.
4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The fixers who incite feverish competition for jobs (Cezary Podkul — WSJ)

Wanted: Mind-reading AI chauffeurs (Joann Muller — Axios)

Will the U.S. or China blink first? (Sam Fleming, James Politi, Tom Mitchell — FT)

Life is improving for lowest-paid workers (The Economist)

Is dentistry a science? (Ferris Jabr — The Atlantic)

5. 1 name thing: Amazon vs. the Amazon

Photo: Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon (the company) has prevailed over the Amazon (the enormous South American rainforest) in a long-standing dispute over a precious domain name: ".amazon," Kaveh writes.

Eight countries in Latin America had been grappling with the Seattle tech giant over the domain name for seven years, reports Camilla Hodgson for the Financial Times. Today, the international body in charge of domain names took the company’s side.

  • Hodgson writes: "Icann’s final decision is a disappointment for [the countries]. The coalition had rejected what it called 'the monopoly of one company' and the 'appropriation' of the 'geographical names of the states, without their due consent,' and argued the nations had a right to participate in the domain’s governance."
  • With the decision, Amazon (the firm) agreed it will not use the coveted domain name alongside a list of 1,500 words with “a primary and well-recognized significance to the culture and heritage of the Amazonia region."
  • The company also said it would host up to nine noncommercial sites focused on the Amazon region's culture and heritage.
Bryan Walsh