Sep 12, 2018

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Welcome back to Future. Thanks for subscribing.

Let's start with ...

1 big thing: Back to the jungle

June 28, 2014: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, 5 minutes before his assassination triggered WWI. Photo: Bettmann/Getty

The spread of anti-establishment movements in the U.S. and Europe — fed by a gnawing sense of Western failure — suggests a restoration of "the jungle," the more dangerous, strongman-led politics that preceded World War II, according to a leading historian.

Why it matters: Over the last week, politicians and voters in Italy, Hungary and Sweden have reinforced Europe's move away from the U.S.-led order. But historian Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution says many forget that, prior to the war, normal European politics gave birth to fascism, Nazism, genocide and some of history's most predatory dictators.

No one contemporaneously forecast those as a natural outcome of events, he says. Today, they are among the risks of a reversion to the pre-existing system.

Ahead of the publication of his slender new book, "The Jungle Grows Back" (out next week), Kagan tells Axios that the string of events in Europe are examples of the world returning to its natural, tough guy-led state.

  • In a vote today, the European Parliament censured Hungary as a "systematic threat to the rule of law" because of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's increasing concentration of power in his own hands, report the WSJ's Valentina Pop and Drew Hinshaw.
  • On Sunday, Swedish voters gave their biggest support ever to the right-wing Democratic Party, which has neo-Nazi roots. The Democrats finished with almost 20% of the votes, giving them 42 of the 349 seats in parliament, the third-largest share of nine parties or coalitions.
  • And last Friday, Matteo Salvini, Italy's powerful deputy prime minister, joined The Movement, a group founded by Steve Bannon to spread populist politics throughout Europe, reports the NYT's Jason Horowitz.
"Democracy and liberalism aren't our fate. It's always a battle of the human soul, of the competing forces of human nature. We now have tribalism and nationalism in search of strong authority."
— Kagan, speaking to Axios

The impact: Kagan's thesis has gained traction in Germany. In a speech on Aug. 27 in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, "We Germans in particular can have no interest in a 'jungle growing back in the world order.' We must resist this to the best of our ability. And we must lay our hands on the right tools when the jungle beckons."

In the book, Kagan argues that the last three decades of geopolitics — the failure of the Arab Spring, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the financial crash and more — have naturally led people to lose faith in the basic system of governance.

Americans in particular wonder why the U.S. ought to pay an outsized portion of the cost of the system. But Kagan says the governing system amounts to a bargain — the U.S. gets strategic hegemony and the same resulting peace and prosperity enjoyed by everyone, as long as it does not constrain anyone else's economic growth.

  • Absent the U.S., the whole house falls apart, Kagan says. "[T]here is no guarantee that democracy comes out on top," he says. "If you look at history, you have to say that that has been rarer."
  • "People think the last 30 years has been a disastrous foreign policy," he says. "It will be difficult turning it around. The only answer is to go back through history and say, 'This is what normal looks like.'"
2. Ground zero in Chinese surveillance

QR in rice, Shenyang, China. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty

The lines between online and offline political suppression in China are becoming increasingly blurred, say experts, as Beijing accelerates the export of its surveillance methods.

The latest example is the placement of QR codes outside the homes of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to collect information on the residents, according to Human Rights Watch, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

  • Based on interviews with 58 Uighur Muslims formerly living in the far west region of Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch reports that the Chinese government is placing QR codes on houses to vacuum up information on residents into a scannable bite.
  • The QR program is part of a larger picture in which Beijing is using Xinjiang as a petri dish for its newest surveillance technologies, says Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
  • Beijing has detained about a million Uighurs in political indoctrination camps and enacted a regime of DNA and voice data collection.

The tech behind QR codes is simple, but in the context of surveillance, they allow authorities to access massive amounts of personal data in seconds.

  • Richardson says that police in Xinjiang have collected data on matters such as how many times a day a person prays, whether they have relatives outside the country and where their political loyalties lie.
  • The data goes beyond what's publicly available, she says.

The bigger picture: China is already exporting "smart city" surveillance and policing technology to states with governments like its own. As we have reported, recipients include Iran, Russia and several others.

  • China is showing these countries that they can "have thriving digital economies and, at the same time, use that technology to promote advances in surveillance," says Samm Sacks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The bottom line: The internet has long been a powerful tool for social change, propelling political protests and movements around the world, perhaps most notably the Arab Spring revolts. But China "turns that model on its head," says Sacks. Beijing has become adept at using the internet as a force of control.

Go deeper: The U.S. tech companies that power China's state surveillance

3. A tech platform to crack trade war

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty

At a time when the U.S. has declared trade wars against its biggest partners, Mastercard said today that it is launching a new platform that can cut through and allow trillions of dollars in cross-border business to continue.

What's going on: Michael Froman, Mastercard vice chairman, tells Axios that the platform — called Track — allows businesses and their suppliers to carry out due diligence, contracts, payment, delivery and more. "At a time that governments are having trouble breaking down barriers, the private sector can step in," Froman says.

The details: The platform will include a newsfeed and connections to 150 million companies in 76 countries, in addition to more than 500 legal compliance programs, he says. It is launching in Singapore in January.

What it's disrupting: In 2016, $58 trillion of business-to-business transactions around the world were conducted on paper, Froman says. The disruption will be allowing such business to be done automatically. "It will be all in one place so you don't have to look everywhere for it," he says.

4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Meet the new boss at Alibaba (Liza Lin — WSJ)

Hard times for cyberattack insurers (Shannon Vavra — Axios)

A gigworker mutiny in China (Viola Rothschild — Foreign Policy)

Upwork files an IPO (Ingrid Lunden — Techcrunch)

The CRISPR patent war is over (Katherine Ellen Foley — Quartz)

A 4-day workweek — in 2100 (Laura Hughes — FT)

5. 1 Apple thing: A doctor on your wrist

Photo: Karl Mondon/Digital First Media/The Mercury News/Getty

It's 2018 and fancy smartwatches require FDA approval.

Apple said this morning that it got the agency’s green light for its fourth-generation watch. It's half smartwatch, half medical device, including a workout tracker and an electronic eye on its wearer's vitals, Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes.

  • If you take a tumble and then remain still on the ground, the Apple Watch can automatically call your emergency contacts.
  • A new sensor allows users to take a 30-second EKG test — which involves sending an electrical signal up one arm, through the heart and down the other. The watch will search for signs of irregular heartbeats that could belie a medical issue.

Users checking up on their own health will contribute to health research: Stanford University School of Medicine gathers Apple's data — without personal information attached — to study.

Thought bubble via Axios’ Ina Fried: Adding health features like fall detection and improved heart monitoring is probably the best way for Apple to turn the Apple Watch from a nice-to-have product into a must-wear.

Go deeper: Axios gets their hands on the new Apple Watch.

Bryan Walsh

Consider inviting your friends and colleagues to sign up. And if you have any tips or thoughts on what we can do better, just hit reply to this email or shoot me a message at steve@axios.com.