Sep 20, 2018

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Situational awareness: As we reported Tuesday, the signs are growing that the U.S. and China are headed into a prolonged period of tensions. Oblivious of the building trouble, though, markets closed at record highs today.

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: Peak immigration, peak hysteria

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Around a century ago, amid a massive surge of immigrants, Americans — themselves virtually all of foreign blood — pushed back in what turned into a more than four-decade-long uprising against newcomers.

The big picture. Now, the U.S. immigrant population is nearing the same proportions, and again Americans are revolting.

  • At 13.5% last year, the population of foreign-born U.S. residents is now nearing the 1890 peak of 14.8%.
  • If history holds, the U.S. is entering a new, prolonged era of anti-immigrant fever.
  • And, if so, it won't be easy to tamp down: The last time it took the legislative mastery of Lyndon Johnson to quell the hysteria, in a bill he muscled through Congress in 1965. But now there is no Johnson.

Why it matters: The new wave of migration is, along with automation, one of the primary drivers behind the anti-establishment uprising roiling both in the U.S. and Europe, experts say.

"We've begun the 21st century as we began the 20th. The target may be different, but the anxiety is the same."
Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University law school

The background: The U.S. has gone through at least three waves of anti-immigrant fevers.

  • The first, in the 1850s, was anti-Catholic and anti-Irish, and it turned into the Know Nothing movement.
  • In the late 19th century, a second wave arose against a surge of some 9 million eastern and southern Europeans.
  • In 1921, Congress approved the Emergency Quota Act and then the National Origins Act, which kept allowing western and northern Europeans but blocked almost anyone else. Asians were effectively barred.

Then, in 1965, Johnson pushed through legislation that ended the quota system. But experts say the current fever is in large part an unforeseen byproduct of that legislation: By linking immigration to relatives of the current population, Congress thought the makeup of the U.S. population would not change much. Instead, it resulted in the surge of immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere.

Expand chart
Data: IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota (1900–2000), U.S. Census Bureau (2010, 2017); Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The bottom line: As researchers have sought an answer for the Western world's abrupt pivot to populism, the main explanations they have settled on are:

  • The long period of flat wages and joblessness, pushing people into a dispiriting plunge out of the middle class. At fault have been automation, globalization and trade deals that have buoyed the overall global economy but created pockets of profound blight.
  • But the more potent dynamic has been migration — a cultural defensiveness rooted in the feeling that one's accustomed way of life is under attack by newcomers.
  • "The first wave of immigration produced the National Origin quota system. The second wave produced Trump," said Chishti. "The current wave has the same tone about immigration as the beginning of the 20th century."
2. Why food delivery is a big deal

A Meituan Dianping delivery guy in Hangzhou. Photo: VCG/Getty

When some of the world's biggest retail companies are announcing forays into food delivery, they might be thinking about Meituan Dianping, which while not widely known outside its base in China, is worth $55 billion.

The big picture: In China, delivery is not just delivery. Meituan Dianping gained notoriety among its 310 million active users by delivering meals super fast, but it has since become the "everything app" — Seamless, Yelp, Uber, Facebook Messenger and more, all rolled into one, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

"This is exactly why we have to say China is innovating now and is no longer a copycat," says Samm Sacks of the Center of Strategic and International Studies.

  • There's nothing like Meituan Dianping in the West. Users might not even want such an app — Facebook has tried to become a Swiss army knife, but has had limited success. But, in China, Meituan Dianping solves a slew of problems with efficiency.

The backdrop: Meituan Dianping is backed by Tencent, Alibaba's epic rival. Alibaba has its own delivery arm, Ele.me, but it isn't employing an Amazonian strategy of doing everything like Meituan Dianping.

The catch: As quickly as Meituan Dianping has climbed to the ranks of global tech giants, it has not been able to figure out how to turn a profit. The company lost $3 billion in 2017, according to the WSJ.

  • That sounds a lot like Amazon, which also wasn't profitable for years because CEO Jeff Bezos was focused on getting bigger. Meituan Dianping could be doing the same.
3. What ails lidar

Lidar, sensing what's in its path. Screenshot: Vayavision

Most driverless vehicles rely on a clutch of sensors — radar, cameras and especially a 3D, 360-degree viewing technology called lidar, which is that big spinning thing you see atop test vehicles.

Why it matters: A big problem, in addition to making the sensors better and cheaper, has been unifying all their feeds into a single stream of information and acting reliably on what they indicate. If they could be fused in a sensible way, that could compensate for flaws in the individual sensors.

  • Ronny Cohen, CEO of Israel-based VayaVision, is gathering together the feeds of all the sensors and determining — based on machine learning — what challenges surround the vehicle or are coming ahead.
  • "We combine all of them into a unified image. We want to know where each pixel is in its space and its velocity," Cohen tells Axios.
4. Worthy of your time

At Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo: ©Art Wolfe/Science Advances

DNA to find elephant poachers (Andrew Freedman — Axios)

The great German beer battle (Olaf Storbeck — FT)

We could cure cancer — if pharma would charge less (Ezekiel Emanuel — WSJ)

China's renewed push to a homegrown, non-US chip (Marrian Zhou — CNET)

A hospital’s controversial deal to share patient data with an AI startup (Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas — NYT/ProPublica)

5. 1 fun thing: Instagramification of retail

Away's store in NYC. Photo: via Away on Twitter.

The big upside to brick-and-mortar shopping has always been instant gratification — you buy and take your stuff home immediately. But now retail startups are hard at work developing another perk: "Instagramification."

The big picture. New retailers are making sure millennials and Gen Zers have a reason to come into their stores — with state-of-the-art interior design as a backdrop to artsy Instagram posts, writes Erica.

New features showing up in hip stores around New York City and Los Angeles include brightly painted walls with catchy slogans and photoshoot-ready nooks decorated with props. A not-incidental added plus: Social posts are free advertising.

What we're seeing: The trend is common among companies that were digital first and got into brick-and-mortar second. They sit in stark contrast to the flickering fluorescents and tired beige stucco of old-school retailers.

  • Away, a luggage startup founded in 2015, now has five stores and several celebrity partnerships. It sees its stores as “profitable billboards," co-founder Jen Rubio said at Recode's Code Commerce conference in New York this week. Rubio said Away judges the success of its stores by how many Instagram posts they inspire.
  • Warby Parker, which also started online, collaborates with artists to outfit its stores with custom murals. Its sunglasses are organized by color. Both are perfect Insta backgrounds.
  • Melody Ehsani, a jewelry maker, does something similar in her stores, with neon signs and painted angel wings on walls that you can step into for a picture-perfect moment.

Go deeper: Your Entire City Is an Instagram Playground Now (CityLab)

Bryan Walsh