Nov 8, 2017

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Welcome back. Please invite your friends and colleagues to join the conversation. Tell me anything on your mind, including what you think about what you are reading here and in the daily stream. Just reply to this email, or reach me at steve@axios.com.

And some Axios news: Sinocism's Bill Bishop, one of the world's most wired experts on China, is moving his weekly newsletter to Axios this week! Bill will bring Axios China subscribers the most important U.S.-China news and analysis. Sign up here.

1 big thing: Where workers are leaving

A new study by LinkedIn says Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and Norkfok, Va., have been losing more jobs than anywhere else among the nation's top 50 cities over the past year.

  • Who are these people? A lot are nurses, teachers and construction workers, according to LinkedIn data, who are in high demand elsewhere in the country, says Guy Berger, Linkedin's chief economist.

The thing about these three professions is that people in them are usually the last people to leave a town or city, simply because their jobs tend to be the most in demand and therefore the most stable, Berger tells Axios.

2. Gaming out gerrymandering

Democrats romped in the elections yesterday, but they still face a deeper problem in gerrymandering, the age-old practice in which the party in power artfully redraws political boundaries so its members can more easily win. Republicans have taken full advantage, and Democrats do the same when they're in control. But gaming and artificial intelligence researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they have a solution.

A game of alternating rounds of play, in which each political party takes its best shot at maximizing advantage in a districting map, is outlined in a new paper, by Wesley Pegden, Ariel Procaccia and Dingli Yu of CMU. How it works:

  • Player A maps a state into districts; Player B then peruses those districts, and selects one to freeze — no changes can now be made to that district. Then Player B takes over, mixes up the game board as he or she sees fit, and now Player A freezes another district in place, and so on, until all the districts in the state are fixed. In the end, neither player has an inordinate chance to pack districts with an unequal voting balance.

Procaccia says the system outperforms using an independent body to draw districts — the leading solution many propose at the moment — because independence can be subjective.

Read the full post.

3. Falling out of the middle class

By next week, a St. Louis property developer called Commercial Development Company must decide whether it will buy a shuttered, 94-year-old GM assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Whatever happens, the plant's prominence — and that of Janesville itself — in U.S. industrial history is past, vanquished by the same forces that have unraveled the fabric of so many storied manufacturing towns, and with it shaken up politics fundamentally.

This week, the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein won the FT/McKinsey Business Book of 2017 for Janesville: An American Story, her well-timed account — the result of six years of immersive research — of what happened when one company town went south.

Janesville is and isn't the story of Donald Trump's America: its middle class has been wrecked by the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs, and their replacement by lesser employment in a distribution center that the town paid millions of dollars in incentives to attract. Yet, though Democrats stayed away in droves, the town voted for Hillary Clinton last year.

I chatted with Amy yesterday. Her top takeaway:

  • "Falling out of the middle class is very different from being poor all along," she said. "There's a real trauma to it." Even when everyone around you is in the same circumstance, and you are a part of the worst economy since the Great Recession, humiliation is deeply felt. "Losing a job feels very painful and personal," Goldstein said.

Go here for more of her thoughts after months of speaking about the book.

4. Why inmates fighting fires can't be firefighters

Thousands of inmate firefighters have been battling wildfires in California for $1 an hour. My colleague Stef Kight looks at the licensing rules that can keep them from getting jobs as actual firefighters when they're out of prison.

  • These rules can prevent former prisoners from becoming cosmetologists, tree trimmers, truck drivers and construction workers, among other occupations.

Katherine Katcher, founder of Root and Rebound, says the rules can put an "invisible prison" around people after they're released. Read more from Stef here.

5. Worthy of your time

Silicon Valley's working homeless (AP's Janie Has)

The GOP tax bill may lead to a brain drain (Axios)

America's retail apocalypse is only beginning (Bloomberg's Matt Townshend et al)

Students are checking the titans of AI (Quartz's Dave Gershgorn)

AI pioneer Geoff Hinton's new ideas (Wired's Tom Simonite)

6. 1 China thing: the world's biggest shopping day

China's "Singles Day" started in the 1990s as an excuse for lonely young men to buy gifts for themselves, rather than their non-existent girlfriends.

  • But the holiday, held on 11-11 due to the solitary "1"s in the date, morphed into a nationwide e-commerce extravaganza after Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba latched on to the custom in 2009 and promoted it as an excuse for self-gifting, regardless of marital status.
  • Alibaba rivals like JD.com have since gotten in on the celebration, and Singles Day now serves as a microcosm of the discount-laden battle to win the business of China's rapidly growing middle class.

By the numbers: Oliver Wyman predicts that merchants on the Alibaba platform alone will gross $23 billion on Singles Day, or more than 6 times what Americans spent on last year's record-setting Cyber Monday. According to Goldman Sachs, these purchases will result 1 billion packages being delivered by more than 3 million delivery personnel.

Bryan Walsh