Seven weeks ago, South Korea and the U.S. had the same number of virus deaths. Today, South Korea has fewer than 300, and the U.S. has more than 70,000.

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People walk through an alleyway in Seoul on Marh 24, 2020. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

On February 16, a Sunday, a 61-year-old woman with a fever entered the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, South Korea. She touched her finger to a digital scanner. She passed through a pair of glass doors and proceeded downstairs, to the prayer hall, where she sat with approximately 1,000 other worshippers in a large windowless room. Hours later, she exited the building and left behind a trail of pathogens that would lead to thousands of infections, triggering one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

By the end of February, South Korea had the most COVID-19 patients of any country outside China. New confirmed cases were doubling every few days, and pharmacies were running out of face masks. More than a dozen countries imposed travel restrictions to protect their citizens from the Korean outbreak, including the U.S., which had, at the time, recorded an official COVID-19 death toll low enough to count on one hand. …


The big will get bigger as mom-and-pops perish and shopping goes virtual. In the short term, our cities will become more boring. In the long term, they might just become interesting again.

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Photo: Joshua Dudley Greer

Last weekend, I walked a mile along M Street in Washington, D.C., where I live, from the edge of Georgetown to Connecticut Avenue. The roads and sidewalks were pin-drop silent. Movie theaters, salons, fitness centers, and restaurants serving Ethiopian, Japanese, and Indian food were rendered, in eerie sameness, as one long line of darkened windows.

Because the pandemic pauses the present, it forces us to live in the future. The question I asked myself walking east through D.C. is the question so many Americans are all pondering today: Who will emerge intact from the pandemic purgatory, and who will not?

In the past three weeks, I’ve posed a version of that question to more than a dozen business owners, retail analysts, economists, consumer advocates, and commercial-real-estate investors. …


For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity — promising identity, transcendence, and community, but failing to deliver

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Photo: Chris WIndsor/Getty Images


Big tech companies now trade at one of the smallest premiums in history

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Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images

On September 28, 2018, tech died.

That’s according to a widely circulated eulogy prepared by Vincent Deluard, a strategist at INTL FCStone, a financial-services company. “If technology is everywhere, the tech sector no longer exists,” he wrote. “If the tech sector no longer exists, its premium is no longer justified.” When the Financial Times got its hands on the document, it leaned into the death thesis, declaring: “The tech sector is over.”

In news reports, death has several definitions. When it applies to a person, it means the end of life. When it applies to a company or industry, it means the end of growth. Print is dead, live TV is dead, and Millennials killed American cheese; but you can still read a print newspaper with the TV on while eating a cheeseburger. …


The feature’s predictive powers make me feel … predictable, robotic, and un-singular

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Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

A specter is haunting Gmail — the specter of a completed sentence. My fingers tap out the beginning of a message, and a gray phantom appears, with eerie anticipation.

“Thanks for taking [a look!]”

“Tuesday’s no [good, sorry.]”

“Can’t tom[orrow but what about next week?]”

The spectral presence is a technology called Smart Compose. If you’ve used Gmail even once in the past few months, you’ve almost certainly noticed the function, even if you didn’t use it or know its name. Smart Compose is the more advanced kin of another new Gmail technology, called Smart Reply. That’s the name for the boxes that may appear under a new message suggesting a rote reply, such as “Thanks so much!” …


The American system has thrown them into debt, depressed their wages, kept them from buying homes — and then blamed them for everything

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Photo: southtownboy/Getty Images

When a staid American institution is declared dead, the news media like to haul the same usual suspect before the court of public opinion: the Millennial generation.

The 80 million–plus people born in the United States between the early 1980s and the late 1990s stand accused of assassinating various hallmarks of modern life. The list of the deceased includes golf, department stores, the McDonald’s McWrap, and canned tuna. Millennials tore up napkins, threw out mayonnaise, and mercifully disposed of divorce and Applebee’s before graduating to somewhat postmodern crimes: “Have Millennials Killed Serendipity?” …


If you’re going to worry about the economy, tumbling stocks are the least of America’s financial troubles right now

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Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

In December 2007, Larry Kudlow, then a talking head for the business network CNBC, proclaimed, “There’s no recession coming. It’s not going to happen.” That same month, the economy plunged into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

This week, Larry Kudlow, now the director of the National Economic Council, stood on the White House lawn and struck a familiar note: “I’m reading some of the weirdest stuff [about] how a recession is right around the corner. Nonsense,” he said. “Recession is so far in the distance, I can’t see it.”

Perhaps, as morning follows the rooster’s crow, an imminent recession looms behind Kudlow’s latest optimistic squawk. The outcome certainly seems possible if you’ve recently been torturing yourself by following the stock market. After the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 550 points on Tuesday, the past few weeks qualify as no mere correction, but as one of the worst stock meltdowns of the past few decades. …


Expensive travel leagues siphon off talented young athletes from well-off families — and leave everyone else behind

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Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

The state of youth sports in America is either booming or suffering, depending on which box score you’re checking.

You could follow the money. Kids’ sports is a nearly $17 billion industry, which makes it larger than the business of professional baseball and approximately the same size as the National Football League. Or you could follow the kids. The share of children ages 6 to 12 who play a team sport on a regular basis declined from 41.5 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2017, according to a recent report from the Aspen Institute. …


Each year, local governments spend nearly $100 billion to move headquarters and factories between states. It’s a wasteful exercise that requires a national solution.

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Photo: Ina Fassbender/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Amazon HQ2 saga had all the hallmarks of the gaudiest reality TV. It was an absurd spectacle, concluding with a plot twist, which revealed a deep and dark truth about the modern world.

Fourteen months ago, Amazon announced a national beauty contest, in which North American cities could apply to win the honor of landing the retailer’s second headquarters. The prize: 50,000 employees and the glory of housing an international tech giant. The cost? Just several billion dollars in tax incentives and a potential face-lift to the host city. Then last week, in a classic late-episode shock, several news outlets reported that Amazon would split its second headquarters between Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., …


Yoga pants, tennis shoes, and the 100-year history of how sports changed the way Americans dress

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Photo: Sutterstock/Katie Martin/The Atlantic

In 1997, a retail entrepreneur in British Columbia named Chip Wilson was having back problems. So, like millions of people around the world, he went to a yoga class. What struck Wilson most in his first session wasn’t the poses; it was the pants. He noticed that his yoga instructor was wearing some slinky dance attire, the sort of second skin that makes a fit person’s butt look terrific. Wilson felt inspired to mass-produce this vision of posterior pulchritude. The next year, he started a yoga design-and-fashion business and opened his first store in Vancouver. It was called Lululemon.

As a spiritual practice, yoga has been in existence for more than 2,500 years. But in strictly financial terms, Chip Wilson’s 1997 session may have been the most consequential yoga class in world history. In the past two decades, Lululemon has sparked a global fashion revolution, sometimes called “athleisure” or “activewear,” which has injected prodigious quantities of spandex into modern dress and blurred the lines between yoga-and-spin-class attire and normal street clothes. According to one survey, the share of upper-income teenagers who say that athleisure stores like Lululemon are their favorite apparel brands has grown by a factor of six in the past decade. (Incongruously, athleisure has grown in popularity among teens at the same time that American youth sport participation has declined…

About

Derek Thompson

Senior editor, business columnist @TheAtlantic. Adjunct @columbiajourn. Thursday afternoons @hereandnow. Metaphors. dthompson [at] theatlantic.

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