THE CONVERSATION
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Photo of a quarantined traveler looking out the window of a hotel at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport
Coronavirus
Shabir A. Madhi

Omicron Guidance For The World From A South African Epidemiologist

A South African researcher of infectious disease sees specific steps that governments should and shouldn’t be taking in light of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.

South Africa reacted with outrage to travel bans, first triggered by the UK, imposed on it in the wake of the news that its genomics surveillance team had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2 since the pandemic first broke out.

The new variant – identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation and assigned the name Omicron.

The mutations identified in Omicron provide theoretical concerns that the variant could be slightly more transmissible than the Delta variant and have reduced sensitivity to antibody activity induced by past infection or vaccines compared to how well the antibody neutralises ancestry virus.

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Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face
China
Yan Bennett and John Garrick

Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

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When Singling Out The Unvaccinated Is OK
Coronavirus
Jonathan Pugh, Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

When Singling Out The Unvaccinated Is OK

Lockdowns can be justified on an ethical basis to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve.

COVID is surging in some European countries. In response, Austria and Russia are planning to reimpose lockdowns, but only for the unvaccinated. Is this ethical?

Some countries already have vaccine passport schemes to travel or enter certain public spaces. The passports treat those who have had vaccines – or have evidence of recent infection – differently from those who have not had a vaccine. But the proposed selective lockdowns would radically increase the scope of restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Lockdowns can be ethically justified where they are necessary and proportionate to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve.

Benefits vs costs

One benefit of a lockdown is that it can prevent a country's healthcare system – especially hospitals – from becoming overwhelmed. If that is the aim, though, there is little need to lock down people at low risk of being hospitalised, such as those who have received a COVID vaccine. But we might also exclude from lockdown young people (even if unvaccinated) who are at low risk of severe COVID (a recent Moscow lockdown took this approach). So this aim would only support a selective lockdown targeted at the unvaccinated elderly or the medically vulnerable, or both.

Alternatively, the primary aim of a lockdown may be to stop the virus from spreading. Since the young and old pose similar risks of onward transmission, this would not support an age-selective lockdown. Yet a lockdown justified on this basis perhaps also should not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. That is because vaccines reduce but do not eliminate transmission. The aim of reducing transmission might only support a lockdown of the entire population. And it is not clear that the benefit would be proportionate to the cost of such a lockdown.

There are unavoidable ethical trade-offs in our response to a resurgence of the pandemic

A quite different justification for both vaccine passports and selective lockdowns for the unvaccinated is that they might encourage people to have the vaccine. Indeed, John Swinney, deputy first minister of Scotland, claimed that the goal of the Scottish vaccine passport schemes was to increase vaccine uptake.

Clearly, if the goal of new lockdown restrictions is to get people to have the vaccine, it should only apply to those who have not yet been vaccinated. However, this is ethically dubious. Restricting individual liberty just to make someone act in a particular way often amounts to coercion.

When the stakes are high, it may sometimes be justifiable to impose some degree of coercive pressure to achieve public health goals, for example, to prevent harm to others. But the costs to individual autonomy are considerable, so coercive pressure can only be justified if it is necessary to achieve very valuable goals.

Other methods of increasing vaccine uptake without encroaching on individual liberty, such as education campaigns and the use of incentives, would be ethically preferable.

During the seven-day lockdown in Moscow, at the end of October 2021

Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/ZUMA

Inequality, freedom and COVID deaths

A common objection to vaccine passport schemes, which may also apply to selective lockdowns, is that they treat people unequally. For that reason, some people might be happy with locking down the whole population, but not a particular group – such as the unvaccinated or the unvaccinated elderly.

However, unequal treatment isn't always unjustified. Even if selective lockdowns treat people differently, this is not necessarily discrimination. We have previously suggested that in responding to this pandemic, we face a trilemma between liberty, equality and COVID deaths. Selective lockdowns are an illustration of this kind of choice. There are unavoidable ethical trade-offs in our response to a resurgence of the pandemic – we need to decide which ethical values we will prioritise, and which we compromise.

In areas where the virus is spiking, we can reduce COVID deaths and treat people equally by imposing a general lockdown, but that would involve a substantial cost to liberty. One that Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg isn't willing to take. Defending his country's selective lockdown, he said: "I don't see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering."

Alternatively, we could treat people equally and not restrict anyone's liberty. That might put healthcare systems at risk and lead to more deaths.

So selective lockdowns could be justified to prevent a health system from being overwhelmed. They may be unequal, but the alternatives are also unpalatable.The Conversation

Jonathan Pugh, Research Fellow in Applied Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford; Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Ethics, University of Oxford, and Julian Savulescu, Visiting Professor in Biomedical Ethics, Murdoch Children's Research Institute; Distinguished Visiting Professor in Law, University of Melbourne; Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

"Sheng-nu" No More - Revenge Of China's Unmarried Career Woman
China
Robert Kozinets and Chih-Ling Liu

"Sheng-nu" No More - Revenge Of China's Unmarried Career Woman

The frequent use of the Chinese term "Sheng-nu," translated as "leftover women," is a sign of the lingering stigma in China of women who don't get married. But financially successful women are turning the tables on the question of social status.

In China, if you are female, educated and unmarried by the age of 27, people might use a particular term – "Sheng-nu" – to describe your social status. It translates simply as "leftover women".

The label was deliberately invented to curb the rising number of single women in a traditional society which sometimes views not marrying as a moral transgression. Some even consider it a threat to national security.

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a photo of a baby bottle
Ideas
Sarah Steele

Ethical Questions Facing The For-Profit Breast Milk Market

New companies have been launched around the world that employ women to pump breast milk on contract. Yet it could lead to women pumping for profit, and even sacrificing the nutrition of their own child.

CAMBRIDGE — Over the last few decades, the demand for breast milk has grown. The message “breast is best" has driven parents and caregivers to buy breast milk. Even the unwell, bodybuilders and “clean eaters" are known to use it. Once limited to milk banks and peer-to-peer sharing, a new for-profit milk market has emerged.

Companies producing a range of breast milk products are popping up around the globe, including in India, Cambodia, the U.S. and England. These products include formula replacements – designed to be the sole source of nutrition – and other dietary supplements that complement or are added to formula.

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Autumn Foliage, A Bright Sign Of Global Warming
THE CONVERSATION
Marc Abrams

Autumn Foliage, A Bright Sign Of Global Warming

Climate change is visible in many ways across the world. In the U.S., tree species are migrating north and changing colors of their leaves as temperatures warm each year.

Fall foliage season is a calendar highlight in states from Maine south to Georgia and west to the Rocky Mountains. It's especially important in the Northeast, where fall colors attract an estimated $8 billion in tourism revenues to New England every year.

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smoke rises over buildings in Khartoum
Geopolitics
David E. Kiwuwa

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In
Society
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Photo of flowers in tribute to slain UK MP David Amess in ​Leigh-on-Sea on Oct. 15
THE CONVERSATION
James Weinberg

How Low Trust In Government Fuels Violence Against Politicians

The deadly stabbing of UK MP David Amess confirms this researcher's ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad.

The killing of British Conservative MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on October 15, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councillor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 attack on the Palace of Westminster that left police officer Keith Palmer dead and MPs in a state of shock.

Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

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Taiwan, Keeping Calm And Watching China
Geopolitics
Wen-Ti Sung

Taiwan, Keeping Calm And Watching China

Despite a recent record number of Chinese military jets approaching Taiwanese air space, both citizens and leaders in the island nation have developed a method for living with the threat of an invasion from China.

China has been flying a record number of military aircrafts into Taiwan's “air defense identification zone" in recent days, heightening regional concerns about the risk of military escalation or even an outright war.

Taiwanese people are largely alert, but not alarmed. So, why are the Taiwanese not losing their minds over what seems to be intensifying “drums of war"?

It comes down to familiarity with China's pattern of military pressure tactics, as well as a general alarm fatigue from decades of exposure.

Why is China flying so many jets near Taiwan?

Many Taiwanese see the Chinese military display as more of a show than a preparation for an all-out invasion. There are several reasons being China's "show of force" in recent days, pointing to short- and medium-term goals.

Domestically, the military pressure serves Chinese President Xi Jinping's propaganda and political agenda. Xi's defining political idea is promoting the "China Dream" to his people, which partly entails becoming "a strong nation with a strong army".

China had just had its National Day celebration on October 1, and a public show of force is a visual embodiment of that narrative. China's nationalist Global Times newspaper even went so far as to call the flight incursions a form of National Day "military parade".

Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party is at a key period in terms of its leadership reshuffle. Next month, it will hold its Sixth Plenum, an important meeting where party heavyweights will discuss and build consensus on forming a de facto shortlist for the next generation of party leadership (to be installed in late 2022).

At this critical juncture, as Xi faces significant internal dissent, a muscular show of force seems to be a natural instrument to generate pro-incumbent, rally-around-the-flag sentiment.

Xi will likely remain supreme leader no matter what. But such a nationalist display increases the chances his preferred proteges will be on the shortlist for other key positions just below him.

Shaping the China policy of Taiwan's opposition party

Taiwan's main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has also just elected a new leader after a party campaign focused primarily on Taiwan's policy towards China.

The new chairman, Eric Chu, who ran on an American-friendly foreign policy platform, won a humble victory with 45% of the votes in a tight, four-way race. Chu has since promised to be a unifier who will listen to other voices in his party, and has pledged to renew stalled talks with China.

As such, Beijing has good reason to impose military pressure at this moment in the hope of nudging the KMT's new policy in Beijing's preferred direction.

Notably, while Beijing sent a total of 149 military jets into Taiwan's vicinity from October 1–4, it reportedly sent only one on October 5 – the day the KMT's new leader assumed office.

Military threat against Taiwan faces diminishing returns

Another reason why Taiwanese people are not very alarmed by the increasing number of Chinese warplanes is simply the law of diminishing impact over time.

People are used to this type of low-intensity Chinese military provocation. In fact, they have been living in the near-constant presence of Chinese military and diplomatic pressure for over a quarter century.

In the run-up to Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996, China's People's Liberation Army conducted massive missile tests in the waters near Taiwan, which strongly hinted at a possible invasion.

Since then, China has frequently staged military exercises around Taiwan, including flying military jets into the island's vicinity. These are intended to underscore the risks of potential war and caution Taiwan against crossing Beijing's "red lines".

Chinese state television, for example, once published a video of the Zhurihe training drills of 2015, which included footage of Chinese soldiers assaulting a building that bore a remarkable resemblance to Taiwan's presidential office.

photo of a protest against China in Taipei

At a protest against China in Taipei

Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA

Is China really in a hurry to invade Taiwan?

This long-standing Chinese strategy of brinkmanship theatre has been a double-edged sword. It has encouraged pragmatism in Taiwan's pursuit of a stronger identity on the global stage, but it has also alienated many Taiwanese from Beijing.

For example, polls consistently show less than 10% of Taiwanese favour unification with China, and a negligible 2.7% self-identify as primarily "Chinese" in their national identity.

Then why does Beijing still resort to these alienating tactics, if unification is the ultimate goal?

One explanation is Beijing places a higher priority on deterring Taiwan's further movement towards independence than promoting unification, so it is willing to trade the latter for the former. In other words, Beijing may simply not be as zealous about pursuing unification in the near-term.

Instead, keeping an eye on the long game, Beijing is willing to risk short- to medium-term costs in losing hearts and minds in Taiwan. The hope is, in time, it can eventually regain the initiative. For this reason, being able to deter further movement towards independence may be sufficient to buy China much-needed time.

So what is Beijing's ultimate plan?

According to hawkish General Qiao Liang, the plan is "strategic patience".

This means waiting until the cross-strait military balance tilts further in China's favor, using the military option only when it can comprehensively overwhelm Taiwan and disincentivise or even deny American military intervention.

And politically, Beijing aims to use the gravity of its economy to attract Taiwanese youth opinion leaders and slowly build back Taiwanese support for eventual unification. In this approach, economic incentives replace soft power, which Beijing is lacking at the moment.

This is in line with Marxist logic, which is fundamental to Chinese communism. In this line of thinking, connections built on "infrastructure" (material and economic common interests) are longer-lasting than connections based on "superstructure" (ideational or emotional alignment).

The challenge for Taiwan and like-minded societies in the West is both to prove the resiliency of their shared liberal democratic values and build a concerted voice that prevents China from mistaking Taiwan for a soft target.

Only through closer cooperation with other like-minded democracies can Taiwan mitigate the risk of military escalation and ensure China's development will remain peaceful into the future. This is ultimately in the interest not only of the region, but China itself.The Conversation

Wen-Ti Sung, Sessional Lecturer, Taiwan Studies Programme, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

nsects sold at Zhongshan Road Street Food Night Market in Nanning, China
Society
Matan Shelomi

Dissecting The Ethics Of Eating Bugs

While bugs and insects have less of an environmental impact than other protein sources, the question remains of how to humanly harvest them.

What is the life of a cricket worth?

Insect farming is a rapidly growing industry, with hundreds of companies worldwide rearing insects at industrial scales. The global value of insect farming is expected to surpass $1.18 billion by 2023.

Farmed insects, or "mini-livestock," refers to insects such as crickets and mealworms raised for the sole purpose of being sold as food or animal feed.

These are not the fried tarantulas on a stick hawked to tourists or scorpion lollipops sold as novelties. High-protein insect powder can be used in foods from breads to buns, pasta and protein bars. Such products are already available in countries including the United, Switzerland and Finland.

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Art For All? You Can Now Own Micro-Parts Of Basquiat Or Banksy
Economy
Kathryn Graddy

Art For All? You Can Now Own Micro-Parts Of Basquiat Or Banksy

A new platform called Masterworks allows individuals to buy shares of specific artworks in $20 increments. The platform capitalizes on the democratization of online investing, but is also a variation on a model that dates back a century.

In the fall of 2018, a Banksy work, Love is in the Bin, sold for US$1.4 million.

Now the original buyer has put the work up for sale, and it's expected to fetch over $5 million – that would amount to a return of more than 250% on the original investment.

What if, instead of the art market's being the sole purview of the deep-pocketed, everyday people could buy shares of a pricy piece of art and sell the shares as they please? That's exactly what a new platform, Masterworks, seeks to do.

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