WE BUILT THIS CITY-STATE

A couple of weeks ago in our Independence Day edition of Signal, we offered a few reasons why we think cities might be the next wave of geopolitical entities to seek independence: they’re home to a growing share of the world’s people and economic activity; they’re increasingly on the front lines of major global challenges like climate change; and they’re increasingly at odds, politically, economically, and culturally, with their rural hinterlands. The more nation-states struggle to reconcile these tensions, the greater the chance that city-states will eventually emerge to take their place.


Interesting idea, but it’ll never happen, according to several readers who wrote in. Skeptics see two interrelated problems: resources and security. Geographically constrained cities have little hope of acting independently of national governments if the latter can restrict their supplies of food, water, and other essential supplies. And national governments would be unwilling to voluntarily give up the tax revenue and economic power that cities generate. National governments have armies, and cities don’t. You do the math.

All good points, but I can’t help but wondering whether technology will erode national governments’ advantages in coming years. Many security experts think that the future of military power lies less in expensive fighter jets and guided missile cruisers, and more in artificial intelligence and on the cyber battlefield. Military-grade cyber weapons are already widely available online, thanks to leaks of high-powered US hacking tools. And some observers are concerned that non-state actors may eventually be able to create powerful new weapons by combining readily accessible civilian technologies, like commercial drones and image recognition, in clever ways. How might a country’s calculus about letting a big city slip away change if that city had access to lethal swarms of AI-powered drones, or if its government could credibly threaten a crippling cyber strike against a faraway nuclear power plant? The question might sound far-fetched today, but will it still seem that way a decade from now?​​​

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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