Who Are You Calling a Communist?

When the red hammer and sickle banner was pulled from the Kremlin ramparts a final time 30 years ago, obituaries for socialism were written by the hundreds. Three decades later, it’s clear those prophecies couldn’t have been more wrong.

Depending on where you’re reading this, the word “socialism” has very different connotations. In Europe, it’s associated with being a social-democratic safety net. Across the Atlantic, many view it as little more than Red Scare socialism and on Sunday, leftist and far-right protesters clashed yet again in Portland, Oregon. What’s clear is that whether you’re in the U.S. or China, Latin America or Africa, the left is reemerging as a potent force.

Today’s Daily Dose introduces you to the next leaders of the global left, looks at the unlikely nations where labor movements are growing and examines how tech is aiding the crimson rise. And no, we won’t predict what the left will look like 30 years hence — the world’s learned not to.

THE NEXT LEFT ICONS

Tatiana Fernández Martí

With cropped, rainbow-colored hair and a confident smile, this petite 20-year-old has emerged as the bold young face of Argentina’s student movement. She joined the socialist Partido Obrero — Workers’ Party — at the age of 13, and in recent months has led calls for authorities to ensure that university campuses have the necessary infrastructure for students, teachers and other staff to attend college safely. University education is free in Argentina. Now Martí’s preparing for a bigger stage, contesting in upcoming primaries for the Buenos Aires state legislature.

Sara Nelson

This labor movement up-and-comer is the most powerful flight attendant in America. After getting hired by United Airlines in 1996, Nelson immediately became a union member. Now serving as international president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, she helped launch a revolutionary, plane-grounding strike in 2019 and helped secure $54 billion in COVID-19 relief that kept the industry afloat and protected aviation workers’ paychecks and benefits. Still, despite the work done by leaders such as Nelson, the U.S. labor movement continues to face obstacles. The biggest of these is to “regain membership in the private sector, where unions have become ghettoized with too small membership to impact workers as a whole,” Richard Freeman, Harvard economist and professor, tells OZY. “All other problems become resolvable if private sector union density starts rising.”

Rita Bosaho

Spain’s first Black female legislator emigrated from Equatorial Guinea as a child and became a national lawmaker in 2015. Since then, her success has inspired a small but growing number of African immigrant candidates to seek public office in Spain. Now her left-wing Podemos Party is in power in Spain, and she’s holding her government accountable to its promises, as director general for equality of treatment and ethnic-racial diversity at the country’s Ministry of Equality.

Pritam Singh

For 56 years, the island state of Singapore has been ruled by a single party. Now the 45-year-old Singh is plotting the ultimate socialist insurrection in a land that in many ways is a capitalist archetype, with low taxes and a business environment that companies rate as among the friendliest in the world. Last year, his Workers’ Party emerged from the margins of Singaporean politics to offer an unprecedented challenge to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Young voters have been drawn to the charismatic Singh, with his calm, crisp voice and the promise of a fairer society. Alas, the PAP prevailed, but with its smallest-ever majority. The Workers’ Party recorded its best performance, making Singh the country’s first leader of opposition. Read more on OZY.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada

A former rock singer and novelist, the 41-year-old was clearly in tune with Costa Rican voters when he comfortably won the Central American nation’s presidential election in 2018. But instead of partaking in the divisive politics dominating our times, he invited members of the opposition to join his government. It’s moves such as this that have made the country’s youngest president a poster child for the moderate, socially liberal left. Quesada has legalized same-sex marriage, taken on leftist autocrats like Venezuela’s Nicholás Maduro and driven an ambitious green agenda, including a plan to reduce to zero all carbon emissions — and not just net pollution — by 2050.

red rising 1

GLOBAL PINK TIDE

Taking on Bourgeois Beijing

For four decades, the city of Shenzhen stood as a symbol of the type of reforms that unleashed China’s economic miracle. But in 2018, the city where China set up its first special economic zone was in the news for a different reason. A workers group backed by Marxist students went on strike at a factory seeking better conditions and pay, exposing the hypocrisy of a so-called socialist state that in truth is wedded to private profit. Authorities swiftly cracked down on the protesters, yet they couldn’t fully stamp out the embers of anger. Amid an economic slowdown in recent years, labor protests have exploded across China. The years since the Shenzhen strike have seen 3,368 labor protests — including more than 1,300 since the start of the pandemic. The signs are clear: The Chinese Communist Party’s biggest threat isn’t America — it’s the country’s own working class.

Protests Popular

Union membership in America has steadily dropped over the past few decades. But the financial instability prompted by the pandemic, combined with better messaging by politicians in pursuit of a younger generation of voters, growing wealth inequality and a more pro-union presidential administration, may be turning the tide. Public approval of unions rose to 65% in 2020, up from 48% a decade prior. “[Unions’] popularity is going up because economic developments show that in a largely union-free environment, power and much money flows to capital,” Freeman says. Still, despite the growing popularity, efforts to unionize face roadblocks. “Most firms will go to war to keep unions out,” he adds.

The Forgotten 80%

They’ve been ignored for generations. Now, the women who constitute 80% of Pakistan’s at-home workforce, running cottage businesses that hold up much of the country’s economy, have had enough. They’re organizing like never before, forming trade unions and winning battles for better working conditions. So much so that the country’s mainstream, male-dominated labor unions, which have been on the decline for years, are now turning to these female labor activists for inspiration.

Courting Controversy

But the rise of the left globally hasn’t been without controversy or divisiveness. In South Africa, the Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical left party that advocates for the forced expropriation of land from mostly white farmers without compensation, has grown in popularity in recent years at the expense of the ruling African National Congress. In the country’s 2019 national elections, the EFF, led by the firebrand Julius Malema, saw its vote share increase sharply while the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, the principal opposition party, lost votes. Critics argue that the EFF’s central focus on race prevents it from challenging the ills of capitalism.

THE DISCREDITED LEFT

Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega was jailed and tortured, took on a U.S.-backed dictator, stared down U.S. presidents and led Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 — making him a folk hero for leftist movements in the region and beyond. But in his second stint in power since 2007, he has increasingly adopted the same authoritarian policies he once stood against. His wife is his vice president. His government cracked down brutally on student protesters in 2018. And now, ahead of national elections, his administration is arresting opposition leaders in a brazen attempt to ensure a comfortable majority for Ortega. The irony? Both the U.S., which has criticized Ortega, and Nicaragua’s despot, have blood on their hands.

Russian Communist Party

It’s been the main opposition party in Russia since the collapse of the USSR, absorbing socialists, voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union and many who are unhappy with the current regime. Yet it has repeatedly refused to seriously challenge the administration of President Vladimir Putin and has effectively served to legitimize the Kremlin’s sham democracy. But now, things are coming to a head. Putin, whose security forces have focused for the most part on more vocal opponents like Alexei Navalny, has in recent weeks cracked down on the communist party by barring some of its candidates from contesting elections. Is the fixed match between Putin and the Russian Communist Party over? And can the latter win back its credibility?

Europe’s Center-Left

For decades, the center-left social democratic parties of Western Europe were almost always in power — or the main opposition. Yet, since the Great Recession of 2008-09, the German Social Democrats (SPD), the French Socialist Party, the Dutch Labour Party and Greece’s Pasok have all seen their vote shares shrink dramatically, as far-left and ultra-right parties have eaten into their support bases. There are exceptions — like Podemos in Spain and the socialists in Portugal, who are in power — but the current pandemic-fueled economic crisis could threaten their rule too.

red rising 2

TECH-ING ADVANTAGE

Crypto-Socialism

The name may sound contradictory, but a growing number of left-wingers see blockchain as a way to stick it to the man while furthering their socialist political agendas. How? By using the technology to wire money in the form of a cryptocurrency to persecuted activists or by using it to fund protests — and avoiding capitalist banks and companies in the process. Some even believe that blockchain could help build a marketless socialist economy, using it and cryptocurrencies to distribute housing to citizens. Are these crypto comrades on the right track, or are their ideas too radical?

Gig Economy Movements

Not surprisingly, Big Tech doesn’t love unions. But among the companies’ employees, more are standing up for workers’ rights, though frequently with little success. Workers rallied to unionize at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama earlier this year, making headlines as the biggest effort by employees to organize in the company’s history. They ultimately lost a vote that would have allowed the warehouse employees to unionize. For gig workers, especially those who work for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, unionizing is even more crucial as they face inconsistent pay, competition and little job security or benefits. That’s what prompted many Uber and Lyft employees to participate in nationwide strikes and protests last month.

Tech-Based Organizing Apps

Twenty-first-century problems require 21st-century solutions. Some tech actors have actually stood on the workers’ side in the fight to be heard. Who are they? App developers creating platforms designed specifically for workers to communicate and organize, with no managers allowed. The startup Unit is one such unionizing upstart, targeting smaller, privately owned companies — particularly in retail — whose employees can fly under the radar of larger national labor groups. Others include apps like Frank and WorkIt, both of which are platforms for employees to safely communicate and discuss initiatives to receive better working conditions and pay.

The New Wolves of Wall Street

Attending Dartmouth College, viewed as a Wall Street feeder school, hasn’t tempted me to head down the profitable career path that is the world of finance. And yet it’s all around me: Friends meticulously prep for job interviews a year before the positions actually become available. Alums who go on to become analysts then find themselves sacrificing sleep, hobbies and anything resembling a social life. Cutthroat? Undoubtedly. Worth it? Depends on whom you ask. But today facing an era of change? You betcha. 

In today’s Daily Dose, we dive into Wall Street as it lives and breathes in this moment, the issues forcing much-needed change, the key players and whether Wall Street is still quite what it once was. Keep your eyes on the screen, because reading this newsletter is an investment you’ll want to make.

Insider Wall Street

Broadening Horizons, Helping New Communities: Wall Street has been historically a bona fide white boys’ club. Until now. Calls for greater diversity are ringing loud around southern Manhattan. In addition to big banks diversifying their workforce, finance trailblazers like Teri Williams are making crucial strides in helping communities that were in the past excluded from financial education. In June, actor Hill Harper also launched the Black Wall Street app, a digital wallet designed to empower Black investors looking to enter the crypto world, educate on financial well-being and keep money circulating within Black communities. 

Long Days (and Nights) at the Office: The survey leaked in March on the working conditions of Goldman Sachs’ junior analysts made for grim reading. But what’s being done to ease the load on employees, many of whom reported averaging 98-hour workweeks and drastic drops in mental and physical health? The likes of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Barclays are extending an olive branch by taking on additional hires, raising salaries, enforcing no-work-on-Saturday rules and even offering Pelotons, Apple Watches and luxury vacations to employees. But with the culture of overwork so deeply ingrained, will the changes be enough to solve Wall Street’s problems? Don’t bet on it. Goldman Sachs’ view on working from home? “An aberration we’re going to correct.” Ouch.

Rocketing Stocks: Big tech’s privatized space race is only beginning. From Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson exiting Earth’s stratosphere to Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos not long after, what has this meant for the moguls’ companies’ stocks? Well, it’s mainly good news: In the month leading up to Branson’s flight, Virgin Galactic stock rose 45% up to about $44 per share. But following Bezos’ Blue Origin flight, the e-commerce giant’s company, Amazon, faced a negligible stock market change. Nevertheless, as more rockets from private entities are set to soar above the planet, rocket stock is something to keep an eye on. 

Green ETFs: An $8 trillion market, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can be easily traded on a stock exchange while offering the benefit of being diversified. And as more young Americans are investing ethically, green ETFs, ones that invest only in socially and environmentally conscious companies, are on the rise. Wall Street’s Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management firm, has managed the world’s largest ETF provider, iShares, since 2012. Worth over $3 trillion, iShares includes green ETFs like the $6 billion Global Clean Energy ETF that, among its roughly 80 holdings, invests in renewable energy companies like Vestas Wind Systems and solar energy company Enphase. But despite ethical ETFs growing 223% in 2020, experts say it’s hard to “look under the hood” of ETFs, as funds don’t have to publish all of their holdings and can be deemed “green” without real sustainable changes made.

wall_inline

Wall Street Youngbloods

Sam Bankman-Fried: Just 29 years old and worth $8.7 billion, according to Forbes, the native Californian is the world’s richest person under 30. But you probably wouldn’t expect that from the shaggy-haired, shorts-wearing devout vegan. Bankman-Fried gave being a bank man (pun intended) a try, working as an ETF trader on Wall Street before moving to Hong Kong in 2018 to make his real fortune the way that many other young and daring entrepreneurs have in recent years: crypto. From there, the mogul soon launched the cryptocurrency exchange company FTX, which is now valued at $18 billion. Unlike competitors such as Coinbase, FTX serves as a trading platform for more complex derivative products, resulting in a predominantly wealthy user base of traders that exchange tens of millions of dollars daily. What’s next? Multimillion-dollar sports marketing deals — you’ll now find the NBA’s Miami Heat playing in the FTX Arena and FTX patches on all MLB umpires. 

Iseult “Izzy” Conlin: Sporting skinny jeans, Toms shoes and Ray-Bans to work, this millennial trailblazer is bringing technology to Wall Street’s slow-to-adapt $50 trillion bond market. Having seen bond trading still being conducted over the phone after being hired at Blackrock in 2010, the member of the mobile generation noticed the bonds market falling behind the times and in need of an “electronified” upgrade. Applying tech tools and shortcuts into her daily work, Conlin started saving hours a day before teaching her old-dog colleagues new tricks, eventually prompting Blackrock to implement a program in 2016 that matched young, tech-savvy hires with veteran traders. Now a managing director at financial services company Tradeweb Markets, Conlin is a leader in a new, less male-dominated generation of Wall Street, continuing to push bond traders to embrace the benefits of tech. Read more on OZY. 

Flori Marquez: Another woman making a name for herself in the finance world, Marquez co-founded the $3 billion financial services startup BlockFi in 2017 with hopes to bridge the complex world of blockchain with more traditional finance. While Bankmam-Fried’s FTX targets rich and crypto-savvy investors, Marquez’s emerging Wall Street company — though technically across the Hudson River in Jersey City  — is a more user-friendly platform for crypto trading, allowing investors to buy and sell a variety of cryptocurrencies on BlockFi’s mobile app, as well as apply for low-cost loans. Marquez last month secured a BlockFi partnership with Visa, launching the first-ever crypto rewards credit card. Aiming to expose more people to the world of crypto, “it’s an awesome way for people to gain passive exposure into this new asset class,” she tells Yahoo.

Jarrid Tingle: When Jarrid Tingle co-founded venture capital firm Harlem Capital with Henri Jacques-Pierre in 2015, the two worked for the Black-owned private equity firm ICV Partners. A side-hustle for Tingle until graduating in the top 5% of his class from Harvard Business School in 2019, Tingle’s aspirations were never about making money, but rather about being a changemaker for good on Wall Street. With Harlem Capital’s mission to invest in 1,000 women and minority founders in the next twenty years, Tingle is changing the face of entrepreneurship by expanding opportunities for other entrepreneurs from marginalized backgrounds. Having raised in total nearly $175 million from a plethora of diverse investors as well as giants like Apple and PayPal, Harlem Capital has become one of the largest Black-owned VC firms, with sights set on a billion dollars in funding by 2030 for lasting impacts and investments in minority trailblazers, companies and communities. 

Banks and Shops to Bank On

Public: Step aside, Robinhood. Public is similar to its biggest rival in that both apps offer commission-free trading and fractional investing for users. But the Wall Street-based company sets itself apart by making the app part investing space, part social media platform where users can follow other traders and see what investments they are making. An interactive experience, the platform creates a community welcoming to investing newbies, featuring resources to learn more about trading, like virtual talks hosted by expert traders. Though not quite as lucrative as Robinhood’s $32 billion valuation, Public isn’t doing too badly either, valued at $1.2 billion

Blend: Buying a house is one of the most important — and stressful — financial decisions of anyone’s life. But gone are the days of confusing paperwork and hard-to-navigate applications. Mortgage digital lending platform Blend is here to help. Used by banks such as Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, Blend focuses on customer-centric banking as its software powers mortgage applications, making buying a house less time-consuming and more transparent. Last month, Blend went public on the New York Stock Exchange, where it was valued at over $4 billion. The San Francisco-based startup’s CEO, Nima Ghamsari, hopes to prove to Blend’s users that the company is here to stay. 

Gaingels: David Beatty and Paul Grossinger aimed to bring more diversity into the venture market through VC firm Gaingels, whose mission is to invest in LGBTQ entrepreneurs and businesses. Today, the company has invested $300 million in hundreds of deals with companies, including household names like MasterClass, that have appointed members of the LGBTQ community in leadership roles. Gaingels has also pushed for the building of diverse leadership teams with its clients through recruiting and networking. “If change needs to be enabled from the top, the venture ecosystem ought to enable more diverse players to enter the pipeline and get to the top,” says Gaingels managing director Lorenzo ThioneBrex: A startup for startups? Brex was founded by the mischievous Brazilian duo of Henrique Dubugras, an iPhone “jailbreaker” at age 12, and Pedro Franceschi, who had to shut down his gaming company for patent violations at 14. The two saw while studying at Stanford University how challenging it was for young entrepreneurs with little to no credit history to get money from traditional banks to get their startups going. So the two dropped out in 2016 to create Brex, a credit card company for startups that offers approvals quickly and doesn’t require a personal guarantee.Instead, it mitigates risk by monitoring customers’ bank accounts and adjusting credit limits accordingly. The startup has exploded in popularity, attracting small and major names, from personal finance startup SoFi to New York e-commerce startup Boxed, all while garnering investments from venture capital firms. Just a few short years later, Brex is now valued at $7.4 billion.

wall_inline2

We’re Not in Manhattan Anymore

Miami: In downtown Miami lies Brickell, the city’s booming financial district. In recent years, it’s been coined “Wall Street South,” and with good reason: The skyscraper-filled neighborhood is the nation’s second-largest financial hub and home to dozens of hedge and private equity funds. Why Florida? Well, aside from offering milder winters and a lower cost of living than the tri-state area, it all comes down to taxes, or a lack thereof. No individual income taxes, no estate taxes, no capital gains taxes, not to mention being able to tap into a growing Latino market, it’s no surprise the Sunshine State’s Bicknell has become a prime spot for Wall Street bankers to relocate

Dallas: Ditch the Patagonia vests and throw on some cowboy boots — you’re in Dallas’ financial hub, aka “Y’all Street.” Maintaining offices in Y’all Street gives Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, UBS and others a stronger foothold in the South, a crucial move as many Americans flock to cities such as Dallas. And while the big banks are competitive over clients, real estate and talent, banks like Fidelity, Charles Schwab and JP Morgan Chase actually created the North Texas Investment Services Coalition, which works on shared goals for the Dallas firms. Seemingly at odds with New York’s Wall Street vibe, maybe it’s the Southern hospitality rubbing off on them. 

Dresden, New York: Sure, it’s in the same state as Manhattan, but this tiny village of just over 300 residents on the shores of Seneca Lake couldn’t be more different. That is, until it became an upstate lifeline to Wall Street. How did this happen? Just outside town on Seneca Lake’s shores, private equity firm Atlas Holdings bought power plant Greenidge Generation LLC in 2014, launching a massive bitcoin mining operation in 2020. The venture hasn’t been well received. The project’s been wreaking environmental havoc on the lake and surrounding community. With 8,000 computers operating 24/7 to solve increasingly challenging math equations and effectively “mine” virtual currency, it’s outrageously energy-intensive. And as Greenidge is a gas-powered plant, the mining is emitting serious amounts of carbon emissions despite movements from affected locals to cease operations.