May 9, 2017

The New York Times - Is China the World’s New Colonial Power? 24min

Driven by economics (a hunger for resources and new markets) and politics (a longing for strategic allies), Chinese companies and workers have rushed into all parts of the world. In 2000, only five countries counted China as their largest trading partner; today, more than 100 countries do, from Australia to the United States. The drumbeat of proposed projects never stops: a military operating base, China’s first overseas, in Djibouti; an $8 billion high-speed railway through Nigeria; an almost-fantastical canal across Nicaragua expected to cost $50 billion. Even as China’s boom slows down, its most ambitious scheme is still ramping up: With the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — its name a reference to trade routes — President Xi Jinping has spoken of putting $1.6 trillion over the next decade into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The scheme would dwarf the United States’ post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe. ... China’s relationship with Africa goes back to the 1960s, when Chairman Mao Zedong promoted solidarity with the developing world — “Ya Fei La,” as he called it, using the first syllables for Asia, Africa and Latin America. Though it was poor and mired in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China won new allies in Africa by finishing, in 1976, a 1,156-mile railroad through the bush from Tanzania to Zambia. Aid continued to trickle in, but there were no other big projects for nearly 30 years

Bloomberg - Can Wal-Mart’s Expensive New E-Commerce Operation Compete With Amazon? 13min

They were assigned perhaps the most urgent rescue mission in business today: Repurpose Wal-Mart’s historically underachieving internet operation to compete in the age of Amazon. ... Lore cuts an unusual figure at the Bentonville headquarters, which he now visits once a month on a private company plane, and in the geeky hallways of San Bruno and Sunnyvale, Calif., where most of Walmart.com’s engineers work. He’s a former bank risk manager and longtime New Jersey resident who’s a fan of Bruce Springsteen and of figuring out ways to simplify the routines of daily life. He recently ditched his Tesla and uses only Uber, for example, and he visits the same sushi restaurant near his office four times a week, always ordering the salmon sashimi. He also spends time on customer-pleasing contrivances that, in the parlance of Silicon Valley, do not scale. He recently devoted a 12-hour day to recording a thousand variations of a video greeting for new Jet customers. Now when customers sign up, Lore welcomes them by their first name. ... He’d like to extend Jet’s sensibility and business model to Walmart.com, the second-biggest e-commerce destination in the U.S., according to ComScore Inc. ... Wal-Mart has a lot riding on Lore. Last year he received $244 million in pay, 10 times that of his boss, Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart’s CEO. His project could determine the future of Sam Walton’s legacy and the eventual success of McMillon.

Scientific American - Why Don't People Return Their Shopping Carts? 4min

While some supermarkets are better than others, it's probably not unusual to find a few stray shopping carts littering the parking lot to the dismay of shoppers who may think that a parking spot is open, only to find that it's actually being used by a shopping cart. It seems like a basic courtesy to others: you get a cart at the supermarket, you use it to get your groceries and bring them to your vehicle, and then you return it for others to use. And yet, it's not uncommon for many people to ignore the cart receptacle entirely and leave their carts next to their cars or parked haphazardly on medians. During peak hours, it can mean bedlam. Where does this disregard come from? ... The data above suggests that as a situation broaches on deviance, more people will trend toward disorder; once we have permission to pursue an alternative action, we will do so if it suits us.

CityLab - Cities Seek Deliverance From the E-Commerce Boom 11min

Pick any other major city or metropolitan area in the U.S., and the situation’s probably the same: a massive surge in deliveries to residential dwellings, one that’s outstripping deliveries to commercial establishments and creating a traffic nightmare. ... It’s estimated that, on average, every person in the U.S. generates demand for roughly 60 tons of freight each year, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. In 2010, the United States Post Office—which has overtaken both FedEx and UPS as the largest parcel-delivery service in the country—delivered 3.1 billion packages nationwide; last year, the USPS delivered more than 5.1 billion packages. The growth in e-commerce is fueling a commensurate rise in the number of delivery vehicles—box trucks, smaller vans, and cars alike—on city streets. ... While truck traffic currently represents about 7 percent of urban traffic in American cities, it bears a disproportionate congestion cost of $28 billion, or about 17 percent of the total U.S. congestion costs, in wasted hours and gas.

The New York Times - The Online Marketplace That’s a Portal to the Future of Capitalism 4min

Shopping involves scrolling through an intoxicating admixture of goods: Commodity necessities appear next to fast fashion and knockoff apparel; extraordinarily cheap but on-trend electronics mingle with what I can only describe as global manufacturing overspill. ... These shipments were made in accordance with a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and China that originated in 2010, meant to address the rising tide of cross-border e-commerce. Items up to 4.4 pounds — more than the weight of, for example, a violin and bow — can be shipped as ePackets, at extremely low rates with tracking numbers and delivery confirmation. ... This obscure trade deal has become the quiet conduit for an explosion in a new and underexamined American consumer behavior: buying things directly from their countries of manufacture. ... Because of ePacket, and the decades-old international postal agreements that serve as its foundation, lightweight product shipments from China are heavily subsidized by the U.S.P.S. ... Wish certainly illuminates the peculiarities of international shipping, but it casts a much brighter light on the state of globalized manufacturing and commerce. In fact, it offers a somewhat convincing vision of what they might become in the near future. ... Wish wastes no such effort on concealing its international character. Its product selection feels like a churning, infinite cascade; its lack of any sort of organizing principle is part of the reason it’s so hard to stop scrolling.

GQ - The Life and Death of Wasil, the Taliban-Hunting Child Warrior 13min

When his father was murdered, Wasil Ahmad vowed revenge. He was barely old enough to hoist a rifle, but still he trained to fight the Taliban. Finally, when the insurgents returned, Wasil found his chance. What he did next made him a legend. And then it made him a target. ... At first, Wasil's family managed to steer the boy away from his quest for revenge. “We convinced him to keep going to school,” Merwais Ahmad, one of Wasil's other uncles, told me. But as he grew, Wasil refused to forget. Like very few things in Afghanistan, the boy's hatred for the Taliban was simple. It was also unwavering—which was another rarity in a part of the country where the Taliban aren't always the enemy. ... Samad's men were impressed—the boy was a natural marksman, and as he graduated to more powerful weapons, he seemed surprisingly unaffected by the recoil of the guns. Before long, Wasil was firing rocket-propelled grenade launchers.