Greetings from the desk in my bedroom in south London, where we’re about to go back into semi-lockdown. There’s something about working and sleeping in the same room that makes me feel like a student again, only with more responsibility (a baby daughter) and a lot less partying (the highlight of my social calendar this week is an online pub quiz). I’ve been writing recently about the brutal power dynamics in supply chains, which push risk on to those least able to bear it. It’s an important subject, and an infuriating one. Perhaps that’s why a lot of the stories I’ve been drawn to this week are about change or escape, in one form or another. I hope you enjoy my selection of journalism from the FT and elsewhere. And if you’d like to receive Long Story Short by email every Friday, do click here.
1. ‘We are on the verge of a tremendous upset’
Like most of the world, I’m transfixed by the upcoming US presidential election, but the Senate race matters hugely too. Even if Joe Biden wins the presidency, he won’t be able to get much done unless the Democrats take control of the Senate. Lauren Fedor takes a deep-dive into South Carolina’s Senate race, where Republican veteran Lindsey Graham finds himself level-pegging in the polls with Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison, a black 44-year-old who has raised more money than any Senate candidate in US history. The state has been a Republican stronghold, but its demographics are changing as new people move in. As one Republican volunteer complained:
“They come down here for the lower taxes and the nice lifestyle, but then they bring their politics with them . . . they turn us into what they left.”
2. ‘Banks order staff back from the beach’
So much for my dream of gathering up my laptop and little family and doing my job from Barbados for a bit. City of London banks have ordered staff to stop doing their jobs remotely from abroad. They are to return to the UK, even if they are not needed in the office, according to the guidelines. Blame the killjoy lawyers and accountants, who say that employees who relocate can be considered to have a “permanent establishment” in the country they’re working from, with regulatory and tax implications. One senior manager said that, rather than forcing his subordinates to come back, he is simply reminding them that:
“The tax liability will be their own. That’s usually enough of an incentive without ordering them home.”
3. ‘Planning and the activist state are back’
I always enjoy Martin Sandbu’s thoughtful columns about economics. This one traces the shape of a new economic orthodoxy emerging from the rubble of the Covid-19 disaster, in the week that the IMF and World Bank — guardians of that orthodoxy — hold their annual meeting and set a new agenda. As he points out, crises have always been crucibles for new economic thinking, from the Depression, which led to Keynesian economics, to the inflationary 1970s, which brought free-market ideas to the fore. It’s in our power to shape what comes next:
“After 1945, the guiding assumption was, first, that the state knew best, then that the private sector was best. We are about to transcend both.”
4. ‘Coronavirus “red wall” highlights how class is lived in Britain’
Lynsey Hanley, a journalist who lives in Liverpool, has written a story on the geography of coronavirus cases in the UK and what it tells us about the distribution of working poverty. It’s a great piece of writing, angry and smart in equal measure. As she says:
“We know that in London rich and poor people live ‘cheek-by-jowl’ because plenty is written about it. Outside the capital it’s assumed that everyone is poor, and not only that, but they’re poor in exactly the same way. ”
5. ‘I have a new project’
On a whim in 2018, British artist David Hockney took a three-day road-trip to Normandy in northern France and bought a “higgledy-piggledy” house with an old cider press. This week the FT gave us a glimpse of what he’s been painting there: his pictures are a joyful riot of colour that cheered me up immensely on a grey London day. I defy you to get to the end of the article without a smile on your face. As Hockney tells critic Jackie Wullschläger:
“Of course I identify with the chain-smoking Monet. I love life, what’s the alternative, fearing death? We have much too much of it today. Love life!”
OTHER FT STORIES THAT HAVE CAUGHT MY EYE THIS WEEK
If you want to know why protests are spreading in Thailand, you have to read this piece by our Bangkok correspondent about the king and his billion-dollar fortune.
I don’t know how Emma Jacobs does it, but every few days she produces a deeply reported, must-read article on the world of work. This one is about the promise, and perils, of the “hybrid” labour force.
Covid-19 has had brutal consequences for young people entering the labour market, as this vivid piece highlights. What I found saddest was their sense of resignation: “It was kind of predictable,” one young woman said of her cancelled work placement. “What was lucky for me is I didn’t get my hopes up.”
Is the planet going to be saved by . . . flies? John Thornhill takes us into the world of “insect farms”, being hailed as the next agricultural revolution.
Samuel Brittan, the FT columnist who died this week aged 86, was a towering figure inside and outside the newspaper. This obituary captures his brilliance, and is enriched by the affectionate and funny anecdotes about him contributed by colleagues in the comment section.
Best of the rest
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING ELSEWHERE
My mustache, my self Wesley Morris grew a moustache during lockdown and it led him into a really interesting long piece about his blackness — with a good dollop of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (The New York Times)
Emily Oster’s pandemic parenting guidance is all about the data My husband and I really enjoyed Oster’s book about pregnancy. As an economics professor, she believes in just giving you the evidence. Here she is on parenting in a pandemic, applying the tools of her discipline to everyday life. (Bloomberg)
Broken windows It was so influential that I went back this week and re-read the original 1982 Atlantic article arguing for a “broken windows” theory of policing. It was interesting to see that, even at the time, the authors saw the danger inherent in it. (The Atlantic)
Before you go
The kids are (more than) all right I started following Kate Clanchy on Twitter recently. She’s a poet who does workshops with kids (and won the Orwell prize for political writing this year for her memoir about teaching). She tweets the poems her students write, and they’re amazing. This one is by Linnet, who is 17.
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