The right to have children humanely: to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities”

The first step is renouncing the individualism celebrated by capitalism and recognizing the interdependence that is essential for long-term survival. We depend on our water supply to be clean, and our rivers depend on us not to poison them. We ask our neighbors to watch our dogs or water our plants while we’re away, and offer our help in kind. We hire strangers to look after our children or aging parents, and trust in their compassion and competence. We pay taxes and hope those we elect spend that money to keep roads safe, schools open, and national parks protected. These relationships, between us and the natural world, and us and one another, testify to the interdependence that capitalist logic would have us disavow…the right to have children humanely: to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” as the collective SisterSong put it. from excerpt further down.

Excerpt, NYTimes, Nov 17 2019

Figuring out a way to face climate truth without being controlled by grief

Live like the crisis is urgent. Embrace the pain, but don’t stop there. Seek out a spiritual path to forge gratitude, compassion and acceptance, because operating out of denial, anger or fear only hurts us in the end.

Lou Leonard, a founder of One Earth Sangha, a Buddhist group focused on the crisis, told me that living like climate change is real and that we can do something about it are signals to others — and can help shift cultural norms. Who would have thought Burger King would one day serve delicious plant-based meat?

“We need to break the cognitive dissonance in as many ways as we can in order to be more real with what’s happening,” Mr. Leonard said. Making seemingly inconvenient changes now, he said, can also prepare us for what might be to come.

Zhiwa Woodbury, an eco-psychologist, believes that we are collectively experiencing climate trauma, of which we are both perpetrators and victims — our assault on the biosphere is an assault on ourselves. Altering habits like how we eat can make people feel more empowered and less overwhelmed, he said, and can shift our relationship with the natural world. After all, the belief that natural resources exist for our heedless exploitation got us to this point in the first place (and made us none the happier). “It makes us feel good that we’re doing something and it gets back to the idea of shared responsibility,” Mr. Woodbury said. “The idea that individuals are powerless only exists because we’ve made them feel powerless.”

Embracing the pain was something I struggled with more. Didn’t we deserve to feel bad? Maybe. But feeling despair is itself a kind avoidance. “What despair is telling you is that you haven’t processed your emotions,” Mr. Woodbury said.

In the Red Hook workshop, which used the pioneering decades-old work of the environmental grief activist Joanna Macy, the facilitator, Jess Serrante, said something that hit me like a thunderclap.

“Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world,” she told us. “We feel such depths of despair because we love the planet so much.”

Several psychologists told me they are telling the same thing to patients who are grappling with eco-despair: Feeling depressed about the crisis is actually a sane, healthy response. Yet as a culture, we pathologize depression as a personal failing, and as individuals, we avoid it, partly, Ms. Serrante said, out of the fear that if we dive in we won’t emerge. But that causes us to shut down. By jumping into the pain, it can alchemize into something bigger, Ms. Serrante told us, and reconnect us with our deepest selves.

The key is to channel it, through everyday actions or joining wider movements, and also to figure out a way to face it without being controlled by it, because operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out. That is where the spiritual component comes in — to find a way to move to a place not of tacit acceptance, but of fierce, roaring compassion.

Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Leonard both got burned out by environmental advocacy and found emotional resilience in Buddhist practices and a more compassionate view of human nature. “There’s nothing more powerful than a broken heart, as long as you have a spiritual container to hold it,” Mr. Woodbury told me.

I’ve begun tiptoeing in that direction, trying to learn how to be spiritually nimble and to have faith in people again. Feeling connected — with others, with ourselves — is an antidote to tough feelings we try to keep at bay by distracting and numbing ourselves. I also hold fast to something else Mr. Woodbury told me; that the crisis could force us to heal our relationship with the natural world, and there is no room for despair in that.

Still, eco-pessimism dies hard. In Red Hook, Ms. Serrante had us pair off and tell each other why we were grateful to be alive at this time. My eyebrows shot up.

“I’m grateful about being alive in this time because,” I said haltingly to my partner, a man who worked in corporate disaster preparedness, “people are more aware than ever about what we have wrought? Because this is the logical conclusion to what the industrial revolution set in motion?

“Wow,” the disaster preparedness guy replied.

He told me he was grateful that he was living at a time when we could see gorgeous animals, plants and sprawling wilderness that might not be around much longer. My breath caught. I hadn’t thought of that. Something shifted. I noticed the disaster preparedness guy’s eyes were red and leaky, and that mine were, too.

Afterward, stepping onto the baking sidewalk, I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld.


In a secular world in which a capitalist ethos — extract, optimize, earn, achieve, grow — prevails, fewer are having children, Nov. 15, 2019,, excerpt

Lyman Stone, an economist who studies population, points to two features of modern life that correlate with low fertility: rising “workism” — a term popularized by the Atlantic writer Derek Thompson — and declining religiosity. “There is a desire for meaning-making in humans,” Mr. Stone told me. Without religion, one way people seek external validation is through work, which, when it becomes a dominant cultural value, is “inherently fertility reducing.”

Denmark, he notes, is not a workaholic culture, but is highly secular. East Asia, where fertility rates are among the lowest in the world, is often both. In South Korea, for example, the government has introduced tax incentives for childbearing and expanded access to day care. But “excessive workism” and the persistence of traditional gender roles have combined to make parenting more difficult, and especially unappealing for women, who take on a second shift at home.

The difference between life in tiny Denmark, with its generous social welfare system and its high marks for gender equality, and life in China, where social assistance is spotty and women face rampant discrimination, is vast. Yet both countries face fertility rates well below replacement levels.

If Denmark illustrates the ways that capitalist values of individualism and self-actualization can nonetheless take root in a country where its harshest effects have been blunted, China is an example of how those same values can sharpen into competition so cutthroat that parents speak of “winning from the starting line,” that is, equipping their children with advantages from the earliest possible age. (One scholar told me this can even encompass timing conception to help a child in school admissions.)

After decades of restricting most families to just one child, the government announced in 2015 that all couples were permitted to have two. Despite this, fertility has barely budged. China’s fertility rate in 2018 was 1.6.

The Chinese government has long sought to engineer its population, reducing quantity in order to improve “quality.” These efforts are increasingly focused on what Susan Greenhalgh, a professor of Chinese society at Harvard, describes as “cultivating global citizens” through education, the means by which Chinese people and the nation as a whole can compete in the global economy.

By the 1980s, she said, child-rearing in China had become professionalized, shaped by the pronouncements of education, health and child psychology experts. Today, raising a quality child is not just a matter of keeping up with the latest child-rearing advice; it’s a commitment to spending whatever it takes.

“These notions of the quality child, the quality person, got articulated in the language of the market,” she said. “It means, ‘What can we buy for the kid? We need to buy a piano, we need to buy dance lessons, we need to buy an American experience.’”

Talking to young Chinese people who have benefited from their parents’ investments in them, I heard echoes of their Danish peers. For those with the right credentials, the past few decades have opened up opportunities their parents never imagined, making having children look burdensome by comparison.

“I feel like I just got out of college, just started working,” said Joyce Yuan, a 27-year-old Beijing-based interpreter, whose plans include earning an M.B.A. outside of China. “I still think that I’m at the very beginning of my life.”

But Ms. Yuan and others were also quick to note China’s harsh economic conditions, a factor that rarely, if ever, came up in Denmark. She cited, for instance, the high cost of urban living. “Everything is super expensive,” she said, and quality of life, especially in big cities, “is extremely low.”

The factors suppressing fertility in China are present throughout the country: In rural areas, where 41 percent of its nearly 1.4 billion citizens still live, there is little enthusiasm for second children, and policymakers can seemingly do even less about it. In Xuanwei Prefecture, after the central government announced in 2013 that couples in which one spouse was an only child could apply for permission to have a second baby, just 36 people sought such approval in the first three months — in a region of around 1.25 million people. “Local family planning officials blamed economic pressure on young couples for the low take-up,” the authors of a study on China and fertility wrote.

In urban settings, the opportunities for education and enrichment are more abundant, and the sense of competition more intense. But Chinese couples everywhere are responsive to the pressures of the country’s hyper-capitalist economy, where setting a child down the right path could mean life-changing opportunities, while heading down the wrong one means insecurity and struggle.

As access to college has expanded, the value of a diploma is worth less than it once was. Competition for places in top schools has grown more brutal, and the need to invest heavily in a child from the start more imperative. For many mothers, arranging the details of a child’s education, seen as the most critical channel for upgrading his or her “quality,” has almost become a full-time job, said Dr. Greenhalgh.

One Beijing resident, Li Youyou, 33, sees the stratified nature of reproduction in China playing out within her own circle. A wealthy friend with a high-earning husband is having her second child this year. Another, from a modest background, gave birth this summer; when Ms. Li asked her about a second, she said she could barely contemplate providing for this one. Ms. Li, who teaches English, was planning a visit to bring a gift for the baby. She wondered if she should just give money.

Ms. Li has no near-term plans for a family. She hopes instead to pursue a doctorate in linguistics, preferably in the United States.

“Having a relationship is not my priority right now,” she said. “I more want to focus on my career.”

‘I should have $200,000 saved before having a child’

MY OWN EXPERIENCE AS AN AMERICAN has been in some respects Danish, in others Chinese. I am one of the lucky ones: Thanks to scholarships, and my mother’s tremendous sacrifices, I graduated from college without debt. Thus unencumbered, I spent most of my 20s working and studying overseas. Along the way, I got two master’s degrees, and built a rewarding, if not especially remunerative, career. In my late 20s, I learned about egg freezing. It seemed like a secret weapon I could use to stave off the decision of if and when to have kids — an absolution, of sorts, for spending these years abroad and not searching terribly hard for a partner.

At 34, I finally underwent the procedure. Last year, I did another round. Ever since then, there’s a number I’ve been playing with as I’ve wondered about whether and when I will use those eggs. According to my back-of-the envelope calculations, I should have $200,000 saved before having a child.

To be clear, I am fully aware that people far worse off than me have children all the time. I know that even the prospect of a pre-pregnancy savings target vaults me firmly into the realm of tragicomic middle-class absurdity. I am resolutely not saying that if you don’t have this (or any sum of) money, you should reconsider children.

Rather, this number is a hybrid — an acknowledgment of the financial realities of single parenthood, but also the arithmetic crystallization of my anxieties around parenthood in our precarious era. To me, it demonstrates that even with my abundant privileges, it can still feel so risky, and on some days impossible, to bring a child into the world. And from the dozens of conversations I’ve had in reporting this essay, it’s clear these anxieties are shaping the choices of many others, too.

Where did I get the $200,000 figure from? First, there’s at least $40,000 for two rounds of IVF. (That I am contemplating this route also speaks to the obstacles of dating under late capitalism — but that’s a subject for a different article.) Thousands of dollars in hospital bills for a birth, provided it’s not a complicated one.

As a freelancer, I wouldn’t be eligible for paid leave, so I’d either need child care (easily $25,000 a year or more) until the child starts prekindergarten, or have enough saved to support us while I’m not working. I could sell my studio apartment, but homeownership is a key means by which parents pay for college, and I am as terrified of relinquishing this asset as I am of launching a child into the job market sans higher education credentials. On some days, I tell myself I’m being responsible by waiting. On other days, I wonder how this anxiety over my present might crowd out the future I envision.

The point is not really whether $200,000 is reasonable; it is that the very notion of attaching a dollar figure to an experience as momentous as parenthood is a sign of how much my mind-set has been warped by this system that leaves us each so very much on our own, able to avail ourselves of only what we can pay for.

For decades, people with as much good fortune as I have were relatively immune to these anxieties. But many of the difficulties that have long faced working-class women, and especially women of color, are trickling up. These women have worked multiple jobs without stability or benefits, and raised children in communities with underfunded schools or poisoned water; today, middle-class parents, too, are time-starved, squeezed out of good school districts, and anxious about plastic and pollution.

In the 1990s, black feminists, facing the conditions above, developed the analytical framework known as reproductive justice, an approach that goes beyond reproductive rights as they are usually understood — access to abortion and contraceptives — to encompass the right to have children humanely: to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” as the collective SisterSong put it.

Reproductive justice was not always well understood or embraced by mainstream reproductive rights groups. (Loretta Ross, one of the founders of the movement, said an early focus group found people thought the term referred to seeking fairness for photocopiers.) But the trickling up of reproductive injustice could potentially give it broader traction. “White America is now feeling the effects of neoliberalism capitalism that the rest of America has always felt,” Ms. Ross said.

Are we prepared, though, for what it asks of us? Ms. Ross compared reproductive justice activism to parenting. “When you parent, you’ve got to work on safe drinking water, and safe schools and a clean bedroom at the same time,” she said. “People’s lives are holistic and interconnected. You can’t pull on one thread without shaking up the whole thing.” Seen in this light, incremental improvements like paid parental leave are only a partial fix for our current crisis, a handful of crumbs when our bodies and souls require a nourishing meal.

‘This system of value is literally going to kill us’

THE SOLUTION, THEREFORE, is not to compel a man like Anders Krarup to put aside his fishing and procreate, nor to dissuade Li Youyou from pursuing her Ph.D. Instead, we must recognize how their decisions take place in a broader context, shaped by interrelated factors that can be hard to discern.

The problem, to be clear, is not really one of “population,” a term that since its earliest use, according to the scholar Michelle Murphy, has been a “profoundly objectifying and dehumanizing” way to discuss human life. Hundreds of thousands of babies are born on this planet every day; people all over the world have shown they are willing to migrate to wealthier countries for jobs. Rather, the problem is the quiet human tragedies, born of preventable constraints — an employer’s indifference, a belated realization, a poisoned body — that make the wanted child impossible.

The crisis in reproduction lurks in the shadows, but is visible if you look for it. It shows up each year that birthrates plumb a new low. It’s in the persistent flow of studies linking infertility and poor birth outcomes to nearly every feature of modern life — fast-food wrappers, air pollution, pesticides. It is the yearning in your friends’ voices as they gaze at their first child, playing in their too-small apartment, and say, “We’d love to have another, but …” It is the pain that comes from lunging toward transcendence and finding it out of reach.

Seen from this perspective, the conversation around reproduction can and should take on some of the urgency of the climate change debate. We are recognizing nature’s majesty too late, appreciating its uniqueness and irreplaceability only as we watch it burn.

I see a lot of parallels between this tipping point that people feel in their intimate lives, around the question of reproduction under capitalism, also playing out in broader existential conversations about the fate of the planet under capitalism,” said Sara Matthiesen, a historian at George Washington University whose forthcoming book examines family-making in the post-Roe v. Wade era. “It seems like more and more people are being pressed to this place of, ‘O.K., this system of value is literally going to kill us.’”

Conversations about reproduction and environmental sustainability have long overlapped. Thomas Malthus worried that population growth would outstrip the food supply. The 1970s saw the emergence of ecofeminism. Since the 1990s, reproductive justice groups have sought a better planet for all children. Today’s BirthStrikers disavow procreation “due to the severity of the ecological crisis.”

While climate catastrophe has revived elements of the insidious discourse of population control, it has also prompted a new wave of activism, born of an understanding of just how deeply these foundational components of life — reproduction and the health of the planet — are linked, and the collective action that is required to sustain them.

The first step is renouncing the individualism celebrated by capitalism and recognizing the interdependence that is essential for long-term survival. We depend on our water supply to be clean, and our rivers depend on us not to poison them. We ask our neighbors to watch our dogs or water our plants while we’re away, and offer our help in kind. We hire strangers to look after our children or aging parents, and trust in their compassion and competence. We pay taxes and hope those we elect spend that money to keep roads safe, schools open, and national parks protected. These relationships, between us and the natural world, and us and one another, testify to the interdependence that capitalist logic would have us disavow.

Reproduction is the ultimate nod to interdependence. We depend on at least two people to make us possible. We gestate inside another human, and emerge with the help of doctors or doulas or kin. We grow up in environments and communities that shape our health, safety and values. We must find concrete ways to recognize this interdependence and resolve to strengthen it.

One of the people upon whom my existence depends, my father, died of a heart attack when I was 7. At some point, I started wearing his watch, a beautiful gold thing that would slide up and down my wrist, heavy with sentiment. This year, on a work trip, I sat down in a hotel lobby to get some writing done. I took the watch off to type, only to realize on a bus going home that I’d left it at the hotel. Hours of searching the lobby and sobbing to the hotel staff failed to bring it back.

Later that evening, writing in a journal, I consoled myself by listing some of the things he had left me that I couldn’t lose if I tried: the large-ish nose, the sense of humor, the shrimpy stature that curtailed both his basketball career and mine.

In that moment, I understood why I had frozen my eggs. Intellectually, I am skeptical, even critical, of the inherent narcissism of preserving one’s own genetic material when there are already so many children without parents. Even as I was going through with it, injecting drugs into my abdomen each night until it came to resemble a dart board, I struggled to articulate why, at least in a way that made sense to me.

But as I reflected on the immaterial gifts I like to think I inherited from him, it became clear I craved genetic continuity, however fictitious and tenuous it might be. I recognized then something precious and inexplicable in this yearning, and glimpsed how devastating it might be to be unable to realize it. For the first time, I felt justified in my impulse to preserve some little piece of me that, in some way, contained a little piece of him, which one day might live again.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist who writes on gender, reproduction, and economics. This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


By Jack Ewing Nov. 15, 2019,

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Mark Schneider, the chief executive of the Swiss food giant Nestlé, gripped a bun-clad concoction that looked like a bacon cheeseburger but contained no actual bacon, cheese or beef. He took a bite.

It was a faux-meat, dairy-free mouthful symbolizing what may be the future of the food industry. It was also a manifestation of how big corporations like Nestlé are responding to increasingly intense pressure to help fight climate change.

Vegan burgers, Mr. Schneider said, are a response to rising consumer concern about the healthiness of red meat and to criticism that cattle farming is bad for the climate.

“The reason I like the plant-based so much is this is where the two kind of connect,” he said between bites at Nestlé’s research and development center in Lausanne. “There’s an environmental side to it, and there’s a healthy nutrition side to it.”

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, is in the pincers of both trends. It makes products that permeate daily life around the globe, like baby formula, coffee, ice cream, pet food and bottled water, and activists blame it for draining aquifers, fueling obesity with fatty and sugary foods and littering the world with plastic packaging.

The demands on Nestlé and other corporations are growing as consumers pay more attention to the environmental effect of what they eat. Agriculture accounts for more than a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, and plastic production and incineration account for an additional 10 percent or so. There is no way to avoid catastrophic climate change without action by the food industry.

Pressure to behave more virtuously has also been coming from investors. Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment fund, has put companies on notice that it expects them to serve a social purpose, not just generate dividends for shareholders.

That does not necessarily mean that investors are willing to sacrifice profit for sustainability, Mr. Schneider said. “From the financial results side, people are not cutting you a lot of slack,” he said.

But at least some shareholders have become more willing to take the long view. “To me, the difference is time horizon,” Mr. Schneider said. “Take the burger here. A Swiss franc we spend on developing the burger is a burden to this quarter’s profits. Next year or the year after, it will come back to us if we do our job right.”

Nestlé’s chief executive, Mark Schneider, left, said the company was taking a long view on profits.
Nestlé’s chief executive, Mark Schneider, left, said the company was taking a long view on profits.Credit…Djamila Grossman for The New York Times

Studies support the idea that profit and sustainability are compatible over the long run. Shares of companies perceived as environmentally responsible significantly outperformed shares of companies that were not, according to a study published by Deutsche Bank in September. The same report found that consumers were becoming more likely to base buying decisions on whether they believed brands were kind to the environment.

Jolted by movements like FridaysForFuture, a global climate protest staged by schoolchildren, companies are responding in a way that sometimes feels like panic. Hardly a day goes by without a big corporation’s promising to install solar panels on its factory roofs, buy battery-powered delivery vehicles or finance a reforestation project in Borneo. Increasingly, being green is a commercial imperative.

But corporate history is full of cases where claims to be environmentally responsible proved to be exaggerated if not outright fraudulent. Volkswagen said in 2010 that its goal was to be the most ecologically minded car company in the world. At the same time, Volkswagen engineers were rigging millions of cars to cheat on emissions tests.

During an interview and lab tour that lasted several hours, Mr. Schneider insisted that Nestlé’s commitment to the environment and public nutrition was sincere and longstanding. For example, he pointed out, Nestlé adds iron to Maggi brand bouillon cubes to address a common nutritional deficiency in Africa, where the product is a cooking staple.

Nestlé’s global food executive chef, Emmanuel Lorieux, preparing a vegan bacon cheeseburger.
Nestlé’s global food executive chef, Emmanuel Lorieux, preparing a vegan bacon cheeseburger.Credit…Djamila Grossman for The New York Times

“No one asked us to fortify these bouillon cubes,” Mr. Schneider said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Born in Germany, Mr. Schneider, 54, earned an M.B.A. from Harvard. Before being recruited to Nestlé in 2017, he was chief executive of Fresenius, a health care company in Bad Homburg, a city near Frankfurt. He drives a Tesla and said one of his hobbies was making vegetable drinks.

As part of a companywide campaign to reduce plastic waste, he recently volunteered to help clean up garbage along the Seine in Paris. In September, Nestlé inaugurated the Institute of Packaging Sciences in Lausanne, which has a goal to ensure that all of the company’s packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2025 and that none of it will end up in landfills or floating in the Pacific.

Activists say recycling is not a solution. Experience shows that even recyclable packaging usually winds up being thrown away. Poorer countries lack the necessary infrastructure. The solution is to make packaging reusable, said Graham Forbes, global project leader for Greenpeace’s plastics campaign.

“If they want to remain viable in the future, they need to embrace the direction young people want to go, which is away from throwaway culture,” Mr. Forbes said.

Nestlé’s size and dizzying array of products mean that the company, based on the shore of Lake Geneva in Vevey, is often in the cross hairs of activist groups. Nestlé has more than 300,000 employees, and sales last year were $93 billion. It operates in virtually every country.

One of the biggest knocks against Nestlé is that it promotes obesity in places like Africa, a growth market, by getting consumers hooked on sugary and fatty foods. The company’s products include Nesquik flavored milk powders, KitKat chocolate bars and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

“In the developing world, the sudden availability of high-calorie, sugary, fatty products has displaced traditional products,” said Oliver Huizinga, head of research and campaigns at Foodwatch Germany, a watchdog group. “That is certainly one reason for the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.”

Nestlé, sensitive to the criticism, says it has already cut sugars in its products by more than a third since 2000 and will cut them by an additional 5 percent by next year. It has set similar targets for saturated fat and salt.

At the Lausanne labs, scientists in white coats, working in labs with all-white surfaces, swish colored liquids around in beakers as they search for formulas that preserve taste while reducing sugar, saturated fat and salt.

The company has also promised to add more vegetables and fiber-rich ingredients like nuts, whole grains and beans to its products.

Still, there will always be an element of indulgence in some foods, Mr. Schneider said. “We would be defining food and beverage way too narrowly if you say only what makes you live longer and healthier is good,” he said. “That’s not the reality in which we all live.”

Mr. Huizinga of Foodwatch said corporations were unlikely to ever voluntarily stop selling their most profitable items, and called for restrictions on marketing sugary foods to children and other regulatory measures.

“The state has to act and not wait for Nestlé to someday stop selling unhealthy food,” Mr. Huizinga said.

Bottled water is another business where Nestlé is often on the defensive. The company owns brands including Perrier, San Pellegrino and Poland Spring. Last year, Nestlé’s water business generated almost $8 billion in sales.

But in places like Florida and California, the company has been accused of contributing to the depletion of spring-fed aquifers and selling a public resource at a profit. Bottling water and trucking it to stores are considered per se wasteful in developed countries where the tap water is just fine.

On a rainy morning recently, Cédric Egger, a geological hydrologist who is Nestlé’s corporate water resources manager, led a tour of the hills above the Swiss village of Henniez to demonstrate why he believes the accusations are unfair.

Nestlé acquired the Henniez mineral water brand in 2008 from a family company that had owned it for a century.

“The farmers were suspicious,” said Olivier Mayor, whose land is in the so-called catchment area where rain collects and then, over the course of years, seeps through underground rock to emerge at a spring near the village. “We have been here for centuries.”

But Mr. Mayor said Nestlé worked with him and other farmers to improve their agricultural techniques in a way that also protected the quality of the water.

For example, Nestlé fuels a biogas plant next to the Henniez bottling facility with local manure and spent coffee grounds from recycled Nespresso pods. Farmers use the waste as fertilizer, cutting down on their use of chemical fertilizer.

“This is the water stewardship strategy we are trying to diffuse worldwide,” Mr. Egger said.

Mr. Schneider defended bottled water in principle, noting that sales have surpassed carbonated soft drinks. “Water is the healthiest form of hydration,” he said.

The Swiss source for Henniez mineral water, a brand that Nestlé bought in 2008.
The Swiss source for Henniez mineral water, a brand that Nestlé bought in 2008.Credit…Djamila Grossman for The New York Times

He acknowledged that the company had work to do to reduce its impact on the planet. “There is the environmental side,” Mr. Schneider said. “We fully own up and step up to the plate when it comes to that responsibility.”

The vegan bacon cheeseburger is Nestlé’s entry into the veggie burger arms race. The taste was convincing to a Times reporter who, for health reasons, had not tasted a real bacon cheeseburger for many years.

Nestlé plans to supply the burger to restaurant chains, but has not yet announced any customers. The company is already selling plant-based burgers and other meat substitutes under the Sweet Earth brand in the United States and the Garden Gourmet brand in Europe.

Because cattle and dairy farming are major sources of greenhouse gases, the ersatz meats have the potential to serve the twin ideals of saving the planet and making money.

“Clearly, if we want to feed a planet of 10 billion people in a few decades,” Mr. Schneider said, “having more plant-based alternatives and a more plant-based diet is going to be a big support.”


How a City Fought Runaway Capitalism and Won

Greenwood survived the Black Wall Street massacre. It wasn’t going to back down when the dollar stores came to town.

By Victor Luckerson, a journalist, is writing a book about Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. Nov. 15, 2019

A Dollar General store in Tulsa, Okla.
A Dollar General store in Tulsa, Okla.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

TULSA, Okla. — On a recent Friday afternoon, in the parking lot of a Dollar General in the North Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, Jessica Faulk loaded a frozen pizza and other snacks for her grandkids into her car. This was her first trip to the store, which sits near an elementary school and a housing complex for seniors. Though she lives nearby, she’d been avoiding the retailer for more than a year out of principle, and usually shops at a Walmart in the suburb of Sand Springs.

It’s not necessarily this dollar store that’s the problem. It’s the sheer number of them. The City Council district where Ms. Faulk lives already has nine dollar stores and not a single high-quality grocer. This one actually does carry a small amount of produce, but it’s not nearly enough. “All you see is these types of stores over here,” says Faulk. “It’s a Band-Aid or a pacifier for the lack of an actual grocery store.”

Here and in communities across the country, the dollar store has supplanted the grocery store as the place where many Americans buy their food. Dollar General and its rival Family Dollar (which was acquired by Dollar Tree in 2015) have scattered 24,000 stores across urban and rural landscapes, more than 8,000 of them opened in the last decade alone. The chains draw an ever-growing percentage of their sales from food, much of it high in calories and low in nutrients, like the Doritos in the central aisle at the store on Pine Street. Stores that were once conveniences are now the only places to buy food in some communities.

Cities often accept this fate. In fact, they encourage it. Since 2001, Dollar General and Dollar Tree have received more than $130 million in tax breaks and other financial incentives around the country, according to Good Jobs First, an organization that tracks government subsidies.

Tulsa decided to fight. “When you let the market dictate, that’s how you end up with poor, disenfranchised communities,” says Vanessa Hall-Harper, a councilwoman representing this largely black area of the city. “Because if the market is dictating, then there’s no soul in that process. It’s whatever makes money.”

Vanessa Hall-Harper was behind the push to restrict dollar store construction in Tulsa.
Vanessa Hall-Harper was behind the push to restrict dollar store construction in Tulsa.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

North Tulsa is a fitting place for a dollar store backlash to begin. The area’s Greenwood district was once a thriving neighborhood filled with small businesses owned by African-Americans, known as Black Wall Street. Greenwood was burned to the ground in a race massacre by white rioters in 1921, an episode that has resurfaced in popular culture in the new HBO series “The Watchmen.” After the violence, Black Wall Street rebuilt itself. Dozens of grocery stores populated the neighborhood, including the black-owned Mann Brothers Supermarket, which took up half a city block and prospered well into the 1950s. Plaques for some of these businesses adorn the neighborhood’s sidewalks today.

Buildings in the black neighborhood of Greenwood burned on June 1, 1921. An estimated 300 people were killed.
Buildings in the black neighborhood of Greenwood burned on June 1, 1921. An estimated 300 people were killed.Credit…Tulsa Historical Society

But the small businesses of the midcentury were no match for the retail restructuring that was coming. In 1968, Walmart began its nationwide expansion with the opening of a superstore in Claremore, 30 miles from Tulsa, one of its first stores outside Arkansas. It siphoned off customers from Tulsa who could hop on the new interstate highways, which cut through black neighborhoods like Greenwood, to chase cheaper prices. The mom-and-pop shops of North Tulsa were replaced by grocery chains that were better equipped to compete with Walmart. But they, too, eventually folded. The Albertsons store turned off the lights in 2007.

Into this vacuum stepped the dollar stores. Dollar General and Family Dollar are among the rare brick-and-mortar retailers to thrive after the Great Recession. Historically, Family Dollar has been popular in cities, while Dollar General has focused on rural areas, and they have expanded aggressively. “The Dollar General customer is in a permanent recession, and we want to help them,” the company’s chief executive said last year. By 2016, there were seven dollar stores in the northern City Council district and in early 2017 the Tulsa Development Authority approved another one, on the northern edge of Greenwood on Pine Street.

Dollar General and Family Dollar were among the rare brick-and-mortar businesses to thrive after the Great Recession.
Dollar General and Family Dollar were among the rare brick-and-mortar businesses to thrive after the Great Recession.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Ms. Hall-Harper, a longtime employee of the Tulsa County Health Department, ran for City Council in 2016 vowing to bring better food options to North Tulsa. None of the stores offered fresh fruits and vegetables, and she feared they would undermine the prospects of any grocery store that might come to the area. “I’m driving around in my community and I see families walking home from these stores with 8 or 10 bags,” she says. “You know that there’s nothing in there healthy.” According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only one in 10 North Tulsa residents say they have very easy access to healthy foods, compared with 74 percent of residents of certain south Tulsa ZIP codes.

She made defeating the new dollar store a priority. The proposed site of the new Dollar General on Pine became a staging ground for public protests. Picket signs attracted news camera crews, and at the church next door, a large yellow-and-black sign, blaring “Don’t Shop at This Dollar General,” was propped by the front wall for months.

A selection of groceries at Dollar General. Only one in 10 North Tulsa residents say they have very easy access to healthy foods.
A selection of groceries at Dollar General. Only one in 10 North Tulsa residents say they have very easy access to healthy foods.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

She also developed a legal strategy. After learning about the retail restrictions in the small California town of Coronado, where the number of national chain restaurants within city limits is limited to 10 or fewer, she advocated for similar legislation against dollar stores in Tulsa. The effort initially met opposition from the city planning commission, the local newspaper’s editorial board, and many of her fellow city councilors. But she persisted, and the Council passed a six-month moratorium on dollar store construction in September 2017. In April 2018, the Council went further, requiring “small-box” discount retailers in most of Ms. Hall-Harper’s district to be built at least a mile apart, unless they carry at least 500 square feet of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.

It wasn’t a total victory. The Dollar General on Pine opened as planned, and a boycott proved ineffective. But a few weeks after opening, the store added a small produce section, citing a “focus to best serve our customers” as the motivation.

Although every Dollar General store carries milk, eggs, bread and other staples, the one on Pine Street is one of only about 450 stores (3 percent of the company’s locations) that offer fresh produce. Family Dollar doesn’t offer fresh fruits and vegetables at all. “We are disappointed in the recent zoning restrictions in North Tulsa, which restrict our ability to serve an even greater number of residents,” a Dollar General spokesman said.

It may seem like a small change, but the mere presence of healthy food in a store has a direct impact on nutritional outcomes. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that customers were three times as likely to buy fruits and vegetables in stores that carried at least 90 pounds of those foods as opposed to stores that carried 30 pounds or less. Food placement on shelves and location within the store can also have an impact. “Dollar stores are really designed to incentivize the purchase of high-calorie foods,” says Marianna Wetherill, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

While Tulsa’s law was unusual when it passed, other cities have begun following Ms. Hall-Harper’s lead. In August 2018, Mesquite, Tex., required that new dollar stores be built at least 5,000 feet apart and dedicate 10 percent of floor space to fruits and vegetables. “The underlying concern is competition with the grocery stores,” says Cliff Keheley, Mesquite’s city manager. “At the end of the day, one of these variety stores is not going to provide the services that a grocery store would to a neighborhood.”

Birmingham, Ala., adopted a similar ordinance in July, and New Orleans followed suit in October. Other cities from Cleveland to Fort Worth are currently considering restrictions. Such legislation offers poor communities the same protections that wealthier ones often obtain through petitions or through pressure on local development boards. “Just because we’re poor and communities of color doesn’t mean that we can’t demand quality,” says Blaine Griffin, the Cleveland city councilman who is pushing for a citywide dollar store moratorium.

With the dollar store debate settled, officials in North Tulsa are now hoping that a high-quality grocery store will be an anchor for a new era of small business growth. “It’s way overdue,” says State Representative Regina Goodwin, who can trace her heritage in North Tulsa to the early days of Black Wall Street.

Tourists viewing a mural honoring Tulsa’s Black Wall Street.
Tourists viewing a mural honoring Tulsa’s Black Wall Street.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Ms. Goodwin and Ms. Hall-Harper have recruited Eco Alliance, a vertical farming company, to run a North Tulsa grocery store with help from the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation and a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The store is scheduled to open in 2020.

Still, the shadow of past failures looms. Just steps from the construction site of the new store sits the husk of the old Albertsons. Another independent grocer abruptly backed out of building a North Tulsa location earlier this year. And to sustain itself, Eco Alliance will have to offer products and prices that are appealing to customers who are now accustomed to the convenience of dollar store shopping.

Ms. Hall-Harper stresses that her goal isn’t to eliminate dollar stores, only to limit their runaway growth. Nevertheless, she has become part of a vanguard of city leaders pushing back against America’s winner-take-all economy — from New York City’s protests against Amazon to new laws in California and Boston limiting the expansion of app-based services like Uber and Airbnb. Capitalism might not be going anywhere, but the residents of North Tulsa will have it on their own terms.

Victor Luckerson (@vluck), a former staff writer for The Ringer, is writing a book about Tulsa’s Black Wall Street.


By Thomas Meaney

  • Oct. 18, 2019
    • 61

James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate Over Race in America
By Nicholas Buccola

In 1965, the year of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and the Watts riots, an ancillary skirmish played out across the Atlantic. James Baldwin, then at the height of his international reputation, faced off against William F. Buckley Jr., the “keeper of the tablets” of American conservatism, in the genteel confines of the Cambridge Union. The proposition before the house was: “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” For Baldwin, who would roll his eyes more than once during the debate, the question indicated glaring ignorance. The American dream was a nightmare from which he was trying to wake. For Buckley, the American dream was a giant bootstrap that American blacks refused to employ. “We will fight … on the beaches and on the hills, and on mountains and on landing grounds,” he told the audience of students that evening, channeling Winston Churchill. Only Buckley invoked the imagery of plucky guerrilla resistance not against a Nazi invasion of the British Isles, but against Northern radicals bent on uprooting the Southern way of life.

Nicholas Buccola’s “The Fire Is Upon Us” is both a dual biography of Buckley and Baldwin and an acute commentary on a great intellectual prizefight. Baldwin and Buckley were, to put it mildly, from opposite sides of the tracks. Buckley was the son of an oil speculator who grew up in a Connecticut mansion stocked with tutors and servants. He honed his debating skills at the family dinner table and at Yale, where he was triggered by the presence of secular, left-leaning faculty members on campus, and later, in “God and Man at Yale,” called for a ban on hiring them.

Lack of godliness was less of a problem in Harlem. James Baldwin learned how to lock and load the English language as a child prodigy storefront preacher. Buckley’s postcollege trajectory included a stint in the C.I.A., while Baldwin’s extra-literary activities earned him a thick F.B.I. file. By the early 1960s, Buckley had gathered disparate right-wing tribes together in his magazine, National Review. Baldwin, despite his growing renown, would remain more of a loner. By the time he reached the Cambridge Union, he was already at odds with both the separatist agenda of the Nation of Islam and the arid progressivism of the Johnson White House.

Enshrined on YouTube and in countless documentaries, the Baldwin-Buckley debate remains an uncanny exchange. The grainy black-and-white BBC footage shows an overpacked Cambridge Union, with a sea of mostly young white men in jackets. The way Baldwin swings his body and thrusts his hands in his pockets and barely refers to his prepared notes makes him seem much closer to our moment than to the one that surrounds him. When he finally stands up after the two brittle speeches on either side of the motion by Cambridge undergraduates, he twists his eyes to the upper gallery where his sister Gloria was seated. Slowly, then quickly, he makes the alien hall his own.


Buccola, a professor of political science at Linfield College, deftly guides the reader through the rhetorical and philosophical moves of Baldwin’s speech. Baldwin adopted the tone of a preacher — “a kind of Jeremiah,” as he put it — who wants to readjust his audience’s “system of reality.” He tries to get them to imagine the black American experience from the inside. “It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians — when you were rooting for Gary Cooper — that the Indians were you.” Did the American dream come at the expense of the American Negro? For Baldwin, the obtuseness of the question demanded a pronoun switch: “I am stating this very seriously, and this is not an overstatement, I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads, under someone else’s whip, for nothing. For nothing.”

“The Fire Is Upon Us” becomes revelatory in its interpretation of Buckley’s performance. We learn, for instance, that the Cambridge students had first tried to get Strom Thurmond or Barry Goldwater to debate Baldwin, only later settling on Buckley, who seems to have been eager for the publicity. We also learn that Buckley’s speech that evening was based on an article he had commissioned for National Review by Garry Wills. Wills, a young Catholic ultra, who would later break with Buckley over racial questions and become an indispensable interpreter of the American scene, drafted a fierce response to Baldwin’s famous New Yorker essay, “Letter From a Region in My Mind.” Part of the trouble with Baldwin for Wills was that he was treated as a savior by his white liberal readership and not afforded the dignity of scrutiny that he would have received if he were white. Wills believed that Baldwin went too far in his condemnation of the West. “When a Dachau happens,” Wills wrote, “are we — as Baldwin suggests — to tear up all the Bibles, disband the police forces, take crowbars to the court buildings and the libraries?” This was a selective reading of Baldwin, who, as his Cambridge speech makes clear, was if anything more committed to upholding the legacy of the Enlightenment than National Review’s editorial board was. But what would come to gall Wills even more than Baldwin was that his boss Buckley not only lifted from his piece (before it was published) for one of his own columns but also distorted Wills’s honest reckoning with Baldwin in the interest of his own, more facile and racialist prong of attack.

Buccola shows how Buckley in his Cambridge speech was developing a new kind of conservative maneuver. In his war on the New Left, Buckley’s method — both on his television show “Firing Line” and in other public appearances — was less to engage than to expose. (The method backfired on occasion, as when Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panther Party, began a segment of “Firing Line” by out-Buckley-ing Buckley with a loyalty oath question: “During the Revolution of 1776 … which side would you have been on?”) Charm, wit, eye-twinkling and rapid deployment of stray factoids were among Buckley’s chief rhetorical assets. His main form of reasoning consisted of forced analogies. The Freedom Riders were compared to National Socialists in the pages of National Review.

In the Cambridge speech, Buckley dialed the comparison down, comparing the Irish in England to American blacks. Had the Irish gotten the vote because of, or in spite of, English civilization? Buckley asked. “The engines of concern are working in the United States,” he assured his audience. “The presence of Mr. Baldwin here tonight is in part a reflection of that concern.” The full force of Buckley’s argument was that blacks should aspire to the condition of whiteness, however unattainable that might turn out to be. The suffering and humiliations of blacks were real, he conceded, but this was more a testament to the fallen state of man than something that could be corrected swiftly. “I am asking you not to make politics as the crow flies,” Buckley told his audience, quoting the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Buckley’s stress on the gradualness of any accommodation told Baldwin all he needed to know: Why, after 400 years of being in America, did blacks not have access to the same bounty as their fellow Americans, including those who, like the Kennedys, “only got here yesterday?”

Baldwin’s views of race relations seesawed considerably in the ’60s, from a kind of cosmic resignation that, in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “perhaps struggle is all we have.” But on that February night in Cambridge, Baldwin envisioned a different endgame. “We are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other,” he told his audience. He suggested it might be possible to create a new political synthesis if white Americans were prepared to recognize what they had done, both to blacks but also, crucially, to themselves. Alongside his more apocalyptic visions, Baldwin harbored a wary utopian presentiment that Buckley believed ignored man’s true nature and endangered America’s delicate hierarchies.

It is tempting to view the Baldwin-Buckley debate as a small victory for the idea of racial equality: Baldwin carried the floor vote 544 to 164. But part of the wisdom of “The Fire Is Upon Us” is that it leaves the import of the evening open to question. The debate, and his subsequent encounters with Buckley, left Baldwin with a bitter taste: “He’s the intellectuals’ James Bond,” he once said.

Buckley believed he had gained much more from their night in Cambridge: “the most satisfying debate I ever had.” He would lose again, badly, later that year when he ran for mayor of New York. Curiously, his main support came not from the WASP establishment of Manhattan but from white voters in the outer boroughs. Buckley’s knack for historical analogies continues to flourish. The money manager Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama administration proposal to raise taxes on hedge funds to the Nazi invasion of Poland. After the last presidential election, Buckley’s son, Christopher, took to Vanity Fair to argue that his father’s politics had nothing to do with those of the outer-borough vulgarian who had landed in the White House. It would have been more becoming had he simply tipped his hat to one of the shrewder authors of our predicament.

Thomas Meaney is a fellow at the Max Planck Society in Göttingen, Germany.

James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate Over Race in America
By Nicholas Buccola
Illustrated. 482 pp. Princeton University Press. $29.95.

By Thomas Frank

  • Sept. 10, 2019
    • 48

How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite
By Daniel Markovits

For affluent, white-collar Americans, higher learning is something close to sacred. We bask in the sunshine of enlightenment that prestige universities radiate and we speak of them in the language of dreams, of religious veneration. They are the foe of much that is evil and the source of a lot that is good. More and better education, we like to believe, will solve climate denialism, overcome bigotry and even mitigate our grotesque income inequality.

But now comes Daniel Markovits, a professor at Yale Law School, to tell us that far from solving economic inequality, higher education is one of the central forces driving our yawning class divide. In this ambitious and disturbing survey of the American upper class, he tells us that our elite universities’ sifting and sorting of human beings has helped to herd Americans into a system of rank and status and — yes — caste that is now so clearly passed from parent to child that its most privileged beneficiaries might as well be called an “aristocracy.” Indirectly and along the way, the hierarchy thus constructed has drained the promise from middle-class life and sparked a backlash from the vast presumed unexcellent whom our cult of white-collar achievement has left behind.

Top universities are the central but not only element of what Markovits calls “The Meritocracy Trap.” Meritocracy is also the name for the hiring system used by America’s elite law, tech and finance firms, which recruit the most elite graduates of our most elite schools and turn them into millionaires. Meritocracy is what we call the well-traveled roads connecting Harvard with Wall Street and Stanford with Silicon Valley.

On the surface, meritocracy seems fair, but in reality, Markovits writes, what we call merit is “a pretense, constructed to rationalize an unjust distribution of advantage.” If you know what you’re doing and if you have enough money to spend on expensive tutors and prep schools, the meritocracy is easily gamed — which basically ensures that people who are rich because they went to a fancy school will have kids who will also go to fancy schools and thus also become rich. In this way and over the years, meritocracy has become the opposite of what it purports to be: It is “a mechanism for the concentration and dynastic transmission of wealth, privilege and caste across generations.”

[Read our profile of Daniel Markovits here.]

The results are ugly but undeniable. At two Ivy League colleges, the author tells us, data collected by students suggests that “the share of students from households in the top quintile of the income distribution exceeds the share from the bottom two quintiles combined by a ratio of about three and a half to one.” At other elite schools, “more students come from families in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from the entire bottom half.”

The concentration of rich kids, Markovits reports, is actually increasing as the white-collar class gets richer and more proficient at the admissions game — even as prestigious colleges renounce old policies of favoritism for legacy applicants. About the Ivy League’s recent embrace of diversity, he doesn’t have much to say, but apparently that, too, has done little to slow the march of the entitled 1 percent.

Markovits does find a way to compare the scholarly results of this new class system with racial inequality in the mid-20th century, declaring that today’s “academic gap between rich and poor students now exceeds the gap between white and black students in 1954, the year in which the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education.”


The middle class, broadly defined, is of course an outcast in the meritocracy, left behind in what Markovits calls “a stagnant, depleted and shrinking world.” Once, perhaps, America’s elite professional class served the general public, but today its members figure out how to replace local bankers through mortgage securitization and come up with clever ways to de-skill retail supply chains. With just about every recent meritocratic “innovation” Markovits studies, the winners turn out to be — surprise! — people already at the top of the meritocratic heap.

Rank-and-file Americans are aware that the vital life of the country has passed them by, and they sense also that thanks to their inability to gain admission to elite schools, they and their families are now an excluded people. Meanwhile, our mainstream media graciously flatters our highly educated ruling class for its good taste and advanced values, adding “a moral insult to the economic injury of middle-class stagnation.” One result of this ugly math, Markovits suggests, is opioid addiction and premature death. Trumpist nativism is another.

There is something salutary and urgently necessary in the way the professor pounds his message home, with his statistics and charts and sickening Ivy League anecdotes, informing his right-thinking readers that the status of which they love to boast was purchased at the expense of our egalitarian ideals.

In some ways, however, Markovits pushes his thesis too hard. Yes, smug professionals sit atop our class system, but they aren’t the only winners up there. There are also self-made oil billionaires, retail billionaires, real-estate billionaires and so on. Besides, to put the blame for inequality on the shoulders of the educated elite is to overlook the particular political deeds that decimated the middle class — among them, changes to the tax code that have had a marked plutocratic effect, the crushing of organized labor and the refusal of our nation’s leaders over the years to enforce antitrust laws.

But in other ways Markovits doesn’t go nearly far enough. When he squares off against the meritocratic elite, he keeps pulling his punches, assuring us that its members’ educational credentials really are excellent, that their skills are real and that they work extremely hard. At times he even seems to lament the psychic toll that all that work takes on our white-collar professionals, as though one might simply persuade them to give up their system of privileges.

A more resolute critique would zero in on the fraud and folly and hubris that always seem to accompany the deeds of the best and the brightest. A fuller account of the last real-estate bubble and the global financial crisis would have been helpful here; or the story of the Wall Street bailouts, when one set of high-achieving professionals simply forgave the sins of another; or a comprehensive discussion of the 2016 presidential election, when the Democratic team of geniuses managed to lose to the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time.

The book’s most unfortunate blind spot is the past. Markovits asserts that the oligarchic situation we are in today has “no historical precedent,” by which he seems to mean there has never been a social order in which the people on top were there because they worked so hard and thus appeared to deserve what they had.

However, the idea that the economy rewards the able and the diligent — and that therefore the successful deserve their riches — is one of the oldest and most familiar of American illusions. Yes, our modern-day, SAT-based meritocracy seems more objective than do some earlier ways of rationalizing extreme inequality (Calvinism, for example), but it is not without precedent. Social Darwinism seemed like a scientific idea once. So did eugenics.

I bring this up because if we’re going to do something about inequality, we need to recall that this country has confronted seemingly merit-based class systems before, and we have seen through their falsehoods, and we have taken them apart.

Until that day arrives, we have this book, which forcefully interrupts the comfortable bath of self-flattery in which our well-graduated professionals pass their hours. We are so enlightened, they tell one another; we care so very much; we wish we knew whom to blame for our toxic, embittered society — and Markovits drags them to the mirror and bids them open their eyes.

Thomas Frank is the author of “Listen, Liberal” and “Rendezvous With Oblivion.”

How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite
By Daniel Markovits
418 pp. Penguin Press. $30.


America’s “broadband gap” is shrinking but stubborn. 

Deployment of broadband internet — download speeds of 100 megabits per second or faster — has made some progress in recent years, but rural areas still lag behind urban ones. In 2016, one-third of rural Americans could access speeds that fast. As of 2018, 40 percent of rural America still lacks broadband, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. The shaded areas in this map show places where at least half the population has access to broadband. — Katie Peek

State-sponsored disinformation is on the rise. 

According to the Oxford Internet Institute, the number of countries with political disinformation campaigns nearly doubled to 70 in the last two years or so. Facebook remains the preferred platform for pushing propaganda; organized information operations were found on the social network in 56 countries. Perhaps most terrifying, it has been reported that disinformation tactics are spreading around the world as countries learn from one another. The countries shaded on this map were found by Oxford to have either a permanent disinformation operation integrated into the government, temporary campaigns flaring up around elections or both. — Davey Alba

Big Tech’s physical footprint is monstrous. 

Hyperscale data centers (each at least 100,000 square feet in size) run the internet, and they’re growing like gangbusters, both in number and size. A year ago, there were 449 hyperscale centers in the world; today there are 504, with the biggest topping out at millions of square feet. A conservative estimate for their total footprint is 125 million square feet, roughly the size of 2,170 football fields. One square yard of one of those “football fields” holds 1 petabyte of data: 250,000 DVDs worth. This chart shows the countries where hyperscale data centers are concentrated. — Martha Harbison And the Silicon Valley titans have grown so enormous that they have begun to hem each other in. Illustration by Mrzyk & MoriceauThe American tech giants have become less like companies and more like superpowers, creating a new world order that is increasingly hard to escape. Amazon is much more than a simple e-commerce site; Google is much more than a search engine. To take on Facebook’s expanding coalition of megaservices is implausible; the best a competitor can do is create some sort of service that might steal away time or advertising dollars. Unfortunately for us and their would-be competition, theirs are empires we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for them, they’re also stuck with each other. Read more from John Herrman.

A digital-native culture will just keep getting weirder.

 In organizing and galvanizing fans, the internet is giving them absurd levels of cultural power. Illustration by Mrzyk & MoriceauOnline fandoms have become like stateless nations, perpetuated through the imaginations and interrelations of those who enjoy and defend it. When their common cause comes under threat — through chart competition, cancellation or critique — they organize, often even resorting to using the tools of politics. Now the fandom template has begun to attach to more obscure or arcane media enterprises, like faceless meme makers and even podcasts. The profit model of the podcast world is arranged, through sites like Patreon, to capitalize on this type of fan relationship. But it’s a relationship that also comes with significant costs. Read more from Jamie Lauren Keiles. For teenagers growing up online, the internet is a playground of self-creation and reinvention. Illustration by Mrzyk & MoriceauThe prevailing belief used to be that we had real selves and fake selves, and we cast judgment on the fakes. But in the popularity of YouTubers like Antonio Garza, a makeup-tutorial maven, teenagers can see the rise of a new 21st-century way of being. You can put on just about any persona you want with little or no risk, since with a costume change and some cosmetics-removing wipes, you can simply make that persona go away. You can test out look after look after look, possibility after possibility. Arguably it is the dominant identity mode of our digital times, brought to us by teenagers who spend their days feeling like 10 different people at once and believe they can, and should, express them all. Read more from Elizabeth Weil.

Photo illustrations and video by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist whose work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Pierpaolo Ferrari is an Italian photographer and, along with Cattelan, is a founder of the magazine Toiletpaper, known for its surreal and humorous imagery. They want you to know that no animals were harmed in the making of these images — only humans.

Additional design and development by Jacky Myint.