China’s factories are back. But consumers aren’t.
The manufacturing giant is turning out steel and cellphones again, as its factories hum back to life. But empowering consumers might be harder, now that they are reluctant to spend after job losses, pay cuts and the threat of a resurgence of the virus.
Retail sales plummeted almost one-sixth in March from a year earlier. And satellite imagery shows that Chinese industrial areas emitted much less light this spring than they did a year ago — a sign that fewer building sites may be floodlit for 24-hour construction and that fewer factories may be operating around the clock.
Even a generation of young people accustomed to a strong economy, and known for their American-style shopping sprees, is now taking a thriftier approach.
What’s next: Economists have urged China to help consumers, which other countries have done with spending programs. Beijing has been reluctant to do so because of its debt concerns.
Quotable: “My spending power has suffered a cliff-like drop,” said one 29-year-old translator in Beijing. “When I find a job, I will start saving money, and I can’t live a wasteful life like before.”
India splinters over reopening
For five weeks, Indians have united in following a nationwide lockdown, the largest and one of the most severe anywhere.
But as the central government has started lifting restrictions in areas with few or no known cases of the coronavirus, officials are now struggling to persuade fearful residents, and their leaders, to consider a partial reopening.
Residents are afraid to go outside after weeks of harshly enforced restrictions. Divided state leaders are taking different approaches in the reopenings. Some local leaders fear that if they reopen too soon, they risk losing the ability to reimpose rules if the spread accelerates.
What’s next: India’s suffering economy will most likely move the needle, as the country’s public distribution system, which provides food and other handouts to hundreds of millions of people, has been severely stressed.
Quotable: “Those who outlive this will remember a time when people had an opportunity to earn money, but they feared the very people who would give them the currency note,” said one shop owner.
If you have 10 minutes, this is worth it
Seoul’s art world reopens
Museums and art galleries around the world are shuttered, hemorrhaging staff and asking themselves: What will it take to reopen? And what will this new art world look like?
Seoul, a dense metropolis of 10 million residents that has had only two coronavirus deaths to date, is offering one possible answer: Art galleries are reopening, but with social distancing in place and masks. Visitors at one recent opening, above, were required to write down their personal information for contact tracing.
Here’s what else is happening
2020 presidential election: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden, adding to a string of endorsements in recent weeks.
Snapshot: Above, scavengers in Indonesia who make a living picking plastic, metal and even bones from one of the world’s largest landfills face additional misery as the global economic slowdown closes recycling centers.
What we’re reading: This meditation in Elle on the Stanley Tucci Negroni video you’ve all seen. The bullet points will make you laugh.
Now, a break from the news
Listen: With Broadway closed, Ben Brantley recommends streaming “Take Me to the World,” a celebration for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. And here’s how the cast of “Sing Street” made a show from home.
We have lots more suggestions of fun and interesting things to do, or read, or cook, or watch on our At Home page.
And now for the Back Story on …
Taylor Lorenz covers internet culture for The Times. In the latest On Tech newsletter, Taylor talked to Shira Ovide about influencers’ power, the mix of opportunity and stress they face during the pandemic, and her STRONG FEELINGS that internet companies are failing us.
Shira: Why should we care about influencers?
Taylor: Influencers are part of a massive industry that drives retail, marketing, entertainment and more. Companies’ marketing deals with influencers are projected to be far larger than advertising sales for the entire newspaper industry in the United States. The products you see in Target and Walmart are often the influencers’ own products, use their names, are developed with them or are promoted by them.
People who say they don’t follow influencers might have scrolled through updates from an Instagram mommy blogger, taken a cruise after seeing someone’s YouTube review or bought needlepoint kits from a person they follow online. Those are probably all influencers!
How will this crisis change how we and social media stars behave online?
It might cull influencers who seem out of touch, like those showing off lavish lifestyles. More of us are likely to adapt what young people are already doing. They’re ditching the hyper-perfect aesthetic online, and embracing the chaos of livestreaming and TikTok, where humor and personality matter more than beautiful pictures.
How do you feel about people spending more time online now?
I worry about the lack of healthy boundaries, and internet companies don’t make it easy to escape. These sites need an option to pause activity, and a universal “away” message to signal that you’re taking a break. I deactivate my Twitter account on many weekends so people can’t message me. Many people do that with Instagram. That’s a sign that people want easier ways to tune out and come back.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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