I might be imagining it, but I think I’ve caught my dachshund stealing glances at the clock in recent days. It’s as if she — like most of us — can’t wait to leave 2020 behind. But what’s in store in the new year? As it turns out, 2021 promises to bring a rich bouquet of bold new ideas and trends, from virtual clinical trials to music label IPOs to humanist weddings. Today’s Daily Dose will get you prepped and, in true OZY fashion, keep you ahead of the curve for 2021.
Charu Sudan Kasturi, Senior Editor
1. Globalization’s Back
With a bang. The African Free Trade Area, covering 1.3 billion people, will take off on Jan. 1. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — featuring China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei — was consummated in November to represent nearly a third of the world’s population and economy. China is now willing to join a version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the U.S. once championed. President Donald Trump withdrew America from negotiations on the TPP, and the incoming Biden administration has not tipped its hand on how it will approach trade pacts.
2. Death Knell for Coal?
Japan’s largest private banks have all announced plans to cut investments in overseas coal-fired power plants. South Korea’s Parliament is mulling a ban on the use of taxpayer money on foreign coal projects. And China, Japan and South Korea have all recently announced plans to go carbon neutral in the coming decades. These three nations are the primary financiers of coal plants globally. Their decisions to dump the fossil fuel could end the United States coal industry’s dreams of exporting Appalachian and Wyoming coal.
China has dominated investments in Africa for years now, even drawing allegations of neocolonialism. Now, a stream of Japanese private venture capitalists is flooding African startups, offering the continent’s entrepreneurs and innovators an alternative to Chinese cash. Since 2017, three Japanese investors have pumped tens of millions of dollars into Africa. For them, it’s an opportunity to fix an image Japanese investors have long suffered from: that they’re risk-averse and slow.
For decades, China has been notorious for knockoff goods and adulterated food. Now, a new generation of wealthy Chinese people are willing to pay extra for technology-based authentication systems that allow them to track goods from their source. That’s spawning an industry of companies and platforms selling these services at a premium — and the pandemic has given them fresh impetus.
Startups like DoorDash and Airbnb aren’t the only ones raising money from the market. The world’s biggest music labels are turning to IPOs to bring in more cash. Warner Music Group’s June IPO earned it a valuation of nearly $15 billion. South Korean label Big Hit Entertainment’s dramatic IPO in October took its value to $7.6 billion and earned superhit boy band BTS — managed by Big Hit — $108 million in a day. Universal Music Group could go public in 2022.
It is the world’s fastest-growing economy and is expected to expand its GDP by 12 percent in 2021. Since the 2016 discovery of giant oil fields off its coast, Guyana has emerged as a potential future king of the oil world. But depending on oil to accelerate your economy can prove a double-edged sword because of the fluidity of crude’s pricing in the world market. Still, Guyana’s economy might well serve as an unlikely barometer for how the oil markets perform in 2021. And remember, even after a major spill, oil floats — it never sinks.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Vietnam’s relatively virus-free 2020 means it’s poised to become the economic star of 2021. In a year when the world’s most powerful economies shriveled to nothing, Vietnam’s economy has grown 2.4 percent, among the best in the world, and is forecast to balloon 6.8 percent in 2021.
Like Vietnam, Ghana acted early and decisively against the virus, swiftly restricting travel. The result? At a time the crisis is expected to send global investments crashing by 40 percent in 2020, Ghana has attracted foreign money as though it’s any other year. And while Zambia is defaulting on debts and giants like Nigeria and South Africa are in recession, Ghana’s economy is forecast to grow by 4.8 percent in 2021.
For decades, Polish migrants moved to Germany for a better life, drawn by the dream of making it big in Europe’s largest economy. Now the tables are turning. Poland, which survived the 2008-09 crisis relatively unscathed, is projected to witness the smallest 2020 dip in GDP of any European nation and to grow again next year. It sells the one thing a locked-down world can’t seem to get enough of amid the pandemic: video games. And the ripples of its economic success story are being felt beyond its borders. In parts of eastern Germany that feel neglected by Berlin, schools are now teaching Polish as a second language as German parents prepare their children to move to Poland for their economic future.
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The U.S. and multiple other nations have banned Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The Trump administration is also trying to ban the viral Chinese social media app TikTok (courts have blocked the efforts, keeping your viral dances safe so far). Domestically, Congress and state governments have filed suits against Google and are grilling other giants. Meanwhile, the European Union is desperately trying to make the continent less dependent on American and Chinese technology. If this past year was politically rough for Big Tech, 2021 promises to be tougher.
India’s ban on TikTok in June and America’s efforts to do the same spawned a series of copycats this year. Those include local startups like Chingari, and global rivals like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. Yet none of these have been able to convince popular TikTokers that they’re as effective. Users and independent analysts point to algorithmic specificities that allow the Chinese app to direct a wider range of viewers to videos than any of the newborn rivals can promise. Because of its scale, TikTok also commands the unrivaled attention of advertisers. Without all of that, popular TikTokers have been unable to regain their virality or revenue on these other platforms. Will 2021 be different?
They float by, then disappear. No, these aren’t mythical monsters — they’re the latest in drone technology. Except they’re not flying over remote terrains. From Boeing to the U.S. Navy, corporations and governments alike are now turning to drones as seafaring monitors that can help scientists uncover the mysteries of the oceans by staying there for months on end — without needing humans to do that — while also serving militaries as tools of spying.
Cryptocurrencies witnessed record gains in 2020 and were dubbed the new “gold” — a symbol of financial stability that’ll only grow in value in the long term — by banks like J.P. Morgan. Entering 2021, that’s good news for those into trading in cryptocurrencies. But it might be even better news for socialists. While blockchain and crypto have traditionally been most popular on the libertarian right, a growing cadre of socialists — from thinkers to governments like Venezuela — are seeing these technologies as weapons to propel their political movement, from helping fund protest movements to avoiding sanctions and increasing government accountability.
A gift from us to you. As we count down toward the new year, we’re bringing you some of our favorite episodes from The Carlos Watson Show in “odd couple” matchups and asking you to decide which conversation you found most interesting. Today: Check out the stories of entrepreneurs who have turned reality TV fame into commercial success stories — from Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi to Real Housewives’ Bethenny Frankel. Whose story was the most impressive? Check out the episodes here, and let us know which you pick by following The Carlos Watson Show on Instagram and voting in our Stories.
1. Open-Source Revolution
Should scientific research be available only to those with the money to pay for it? At a time when public awareness about the central role of science in our future has never been higher, a landmark movement to make most research published in prestigious journals available free to the public is poised for a 2021 breakthrough. Called Plan S, the project is backed by top researchers and major science funders, including the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All participants under Plan S must accede to requests from researchers or funders to make their published papers available for free starting in 2021. Dive in.
2. Virtual Clinical Trials
COVID-19 threw a wrench in the traditional method of clinical trials, in which participants usually travel to a site for an in-person evaluation. Some startups are instead building platforms for virtual clinical trials. These online trials are also being tested elsewhere, such as in Denmark. Clinical trials constitute the bulk of the cost and time that it takes pharma companies to bring drugs to market. If costs and time spent come down, virtual trials could also create the opportunity to make drugs cheaper.
The left wants Medicare for All, while the right wants a free market in health care. Now, a growing number of America’s biggest companies are building out their own private health care systems — not just insurance packages, but clinics, doctors, tests, labs, hospitals and more. They’re promising better quality than Medicare at rates that are subsidized compared to current private options. Amazon, J.P. Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, Walmart, Apple, Uber and CVS are among the players entering this field. As America performs a postmortem on its COVID-19 response, will this new model find takers?
It’s the big question that no one quite has the answer to. Top-tier sports games are returning across the globe, but mostly in highly sanitized bubbles with no fans in the stands. New Zealand, among the most successful nations against the pandemic, has allowed fans to return to its rugby and cricket games. But will it be the same when more densely populated nations that have been hit worse by COVID-19, such as the U.S. and India, also welcome fans back to stadiums en masse? Some NFL and college football games have been played in front of severely limited crowds, and the NBA is having limited fans in some cases. How these leagues bounce back could shape the future economics of major sports, heavily reliant — still — on stadium tickets.
2. Ultimate Test: The Olympics
Japan and the International Olympic Committee have committed to hosting the Summer Olympics in 2021 with crowds. But they don’t plan to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for foreign visitors arriving in Japan. Instead, they’re planning to depend on contact tracing apps to track any positive cases. It’s a bold gamble, filled with risks. What if there’s a surge in cases during the Olympics? What if Japan’s heath care system struggles to deal with that crisis? After all, the country has an aging population. Yet if Japan does manage to pull it off, it could serve as the clearest endorsement yet for the return of popular sports with crowds — even when not everyone is vaccinated.
With a California law forcing the NCAA’s hand on allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness — say, by appearing in commercials or selling their jerseys — the college sports governing body has turned to Congress for help on standardizing nationwide rules. But Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on whether and how to regulate the issue. Democrats have introduced a sweeping new bill that would bring college sports under federal oversight, with health and safety regulations, revenue sharing and scholarships for life. Republicans want something less obtrusive. As the NCAA aims to open up some revenue opportunities in 2021, athletes are finding their own path. While Mick Assaf’s former Notre Dame teammates are getting ready for the College Football Playoff, for example, he’s launched a platform for people to pay athletes to play video games with them. It’s not NCAA compliant … yet.
Humanist weddings — personalized ceremonies without religious connotations, tailor-made for couples who choose their own vows and the text that the celebrant reads aloud — are currently illegal across Africa except for South Africa. But if Uganda’s growing number of humanists have their way, these ceremonies could soon become routine in the East African nation, potentially leading the way for the rest of the continent. They’ve sought changes to Ugandan law to make humanist weddings legal, and are training humanists in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Sierra Leone in conducting weddings.
Upper castes have dominated — even appropriated — classical dance forms in India over the past several decades, labeling dancer communities from less advantaged castes prostitutes to banish them from the stage. Now, there’s a growing set of Indian dancers who are using their craft to ask tough sociopolitical questions about India’s classical dance repertoire and its accepted histories. They’re breaking with the traditionally apolitical nature of classical dance in India and forcing their audiences to confront past and modern challenges facing society — from casteism to climate change.
Could they be the future of online music concerts? As the pandemic has forced musicians around the world to adapt, some are turning to a new financial model that allows them to earn money from concerts they hold on Instagram and YouTube. With “geo-blocked” concerts, the live event is available only in a specific geography, and a link to the live concert is shared with ticket holders. British singer Laura Marling pioneered the concept this past summer.