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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
For decades, America's tech giants scaled up quietly — paying little attention to the cities and towns that hosted them. Now, they're answering to the communities that have felt the most acute effects of their explosive growth.
Why it matters: Much of the backlash against Big Tech is occurring on a national — or even global — scale, but the giants are realizing some of their toughest and priciest fights are in their hometowns.
"Some of these tech companies with this 'move fast, break things' ethos have learned that when you get involved with local politics, your brand can suffer," says Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.
Local politics are becoming too costly for the companies to ignore, says Margaret O'Mara, a tech historian at the University of Washington. "They're now finally playing in local politics. It's becoming important not only to their public image, but also their bottom line."
What's happening: Amazon has put $1.4 million into the Seattle City Council race this year. It's "a staggering sum for a city election, let alone from a company that was M.I.A. in local politics for years," the New York Times' Karen Weise writes. Just four years ago, Amazon spent $25,000.
Money in San Francisco's elections is reaching new heights, too. The past two City Hall elections saw $7 million and $8 million in spending, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tech giants are also putting money into local projects — often trying to address housing and transit crises fueled by their own growth.
But, but, but: "Politics is not a vending machine," says Lee Drutman, a scholar at New America. And in some cases, spending too much can work against tech giants.
What to watch: As the techlash intensifies, eyes are on federal regulators, but local and state lawmakers will be in the crux of the action, too, O'Mara says. "We're in for a really interesting 5–10 years in which this issue of tech regulation is going to be a really defining political question — at every level."
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
When CEOs throw their corporate weight around, they can force change faster than policymakers, but the lure of big profits can make them look the other way.
The list of big names scheduled to attend "Davos in the Desert" — the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — later this month sends a clear message: The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi royal family doesn't matter when there's money to be made, writes Axios' Felix Salmon.
Felix got a "Draft Narrative Program" for the conference, marked "Not Final — Subject to Change." Any of the names on the program could therefore still pull out.
The big picture: Never before has an authoritarian governments' ability to influence — or even silence — America's rich and powerful been so starkly on display. And it's not just Saudi Arabia.
The American intelligence community acknowledges that the Kremlin interfered in an American presidential election and committed a nerve agent attack on British soil. But American companies like Boeing, Ford and McDonald's all consider Russia a big growth market, per Reuters.
And no country has pushed American people and companies around like China.
"China is in a different category from anything else — and maybe anything else in world history — because there's never been such a fiercely authoritarian regime that had such overawing market power," Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, tells me.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
There's a staggering stat in Kim Hart's Axios Cities newsletter today: California mandates that 250,000 EV-capable charging stations be publicly available by 2025 — but the state is way behind with only about 22,000 charging outlets so far.
Why it matters: America's infrastructure is unprepared for the EV revolution.
There's a reason for that: Equipping parking spots to be EV charging stations is expensive.
Sign up for Kim's newsletter, a weekly dive into the technological and demographic trends shaping cities, here.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Inside the esports investment boom (Dan Primack — Axios)
The global backlash against Libra (Paul Vigna — WSJ)
The existential threat to global tourism (Chuck Thompson — Gen)
China hacks its minorities — even abroad (Nicole Perlroth, Kate Conger, Paul Mozur — NYT)
Amazon's second largest market (Emma Thomasson, Riham Alkousaa — Reuters)
A Postmates deliverer in Washington, D.C. Photo: Getty Images
The idyllic lifestyle of the urban-dwelling millennial could get more expensive.
What's happening: A slew of companies that grew into shiny unicorns by offering cheap, convenient services or products are bleeding out. And they might raise their prices to start making money, writes The Atlantic's Derek Thompson.
One to add to the list: MoviePass — a millennial favorite that launched with a ton of buzz, but had literally no way to make any money.
Thanks for reading!