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Consider the following striking fact: Apple, the world’s most valuable company, owns virtually no physical assets. What does this tell us about about the changing shape of developed economies?

According to Martin Wolf, it is evidence of the rise of the “intangible economy” and the emergence of a capitalism without capital — or at least without capital as we once knew it (machinery, buildings and so on). In the case of a company like Apple, it is “intangible assets — integration of design and software into a brand — that creates value”.

Why does the rise of intangibles matter? Well, for one thing, Martin argues, it is accompanied by a growing gap between leading companies and the laggards. For another, it seems to contribute to deepening inequality. Think of the way intangible-intensive businesses — super-dominant tech companies like Apple, say — tend to cluster in thriving cities driving up property prices, as well as concentrating opportunity.

But technology is not destiny. And there is a good deal that policymakers can do to mitigate the worst aspects of an economy in which financing is hard (investment in intangible assets is risky) and uncertainty heightened. This is “a world in which many of the old rules do badly,” Martin, writes. “We need to re-imagine policy, carefully.”

French language wars: Anne-Sylvaine Chassany argues that the controversy over “inclusive writing” in France shows that deep divisions over questions of identity have yet to be settled.

Border skirmish: the apparently intractable dispute between Britain and Ireland over the status of the border after Brexit reflects, says Tony Connelly, radically different interpretations of the Good Friday Agreement.

Labour pains: everyone is worrying about whether the rise of the robots means there is going to be less work for people to do, says Sarah O'Connor. But just as important is how work will be distributed in the future.

Best of the rest

“She didn't want this come hell or high water”: inside Melania Trump’s secretive East Wing — Sarah Ellison in Vanity Fair

Odds are, Russia owns Trump — Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times

Ireland is miscalculating by asking the impossible of Britain. But there is a way out of this Brexit impasse — William Hague in The Telegraph

The EU and Africa have a unique opportunity to fashion a common future — Jean-Claude Juncker and Moussa Faki in Le Monde

Bemoaning the cost of national debt is missing the point — Simon Wren-Lewis in the New Statesman

What you’ve been saying

Irish should not pull any punches in Brexit talks — letter from Chris Huhne in London

“Sir, The Irish government is being far too diplomatic and polite about the UK-Republic border in Northern Ireland. The official Leave campaign repeatedly promised ahead of the June 2016 referendum that there would be no change to the border...It is up to the British whether we call time on the 17 impossible things we were told by the Leave campaign, but the Irish were not consulted and are entitled to defend their interests based on realities, not delusions.”

Comment by Everyman on Janan Ganesh’s latest column, Sluggish growth will test voters’ endurance

“The last seven years have been years of inward and outward national decline caused by a Conservative Party that craved a majority above any other imperative. No trick, no lie, no deception, no reckless gamble was out of bounds for Cameron in his obsessive quest and it has led to the weakening of the welfare state (with the ulterior aim of its evisceration) and the transformation of a country able to call on its partners, its friends and its allies to one which stands alone and has united the whole of Europe against it. The London Olympics created by New Labour seems as distant now as July 1914 must have seemed to those still standing in 1919. May has been a disaster since she entered Downing Street and opened her mouth to utter the first of many offensive inanities. She is a rancid politician whose achievements are entirely negative and who should have resigned in June but who must now be got rid of. When she falls, and with her, her Party and their insane Brexit, only then can the Country begin the arduous tasks of repair and recovery.”

Born and bred Briton asks: should I be deported? — letter from 

“Sir, I read with interest elements of the so-called UK citizenship test as expounded by Federica Cocco (“Lies, damned lies and citizenship tests” November 23). Being a native born to English Londoners in 1950 I have to say that I would fail miserably. Does this mean I’m not English and should be deported immediately?”

Today’s opinion

FT Alphaville: Productivity and the crisis of attention 

Free Lunch: The economic consequences of Brexit Economists learn more about the harm already caused

Instant Insight: A ‘no deal’ Brexit hinges on December’s EU summit Increasingly restless Conservative MPs might fo rce May to walk out of talks, writes Sebastian Payne

France’s language wars are politics by other means A row over ‘inclusive writing’ has mobilised the country’s right

FT View

FT View: The unfortunate exit of an exemplary Fed chair Janet Yellen has set policy wisely and managed the institution well

FT View: Weedkiller row sums up the EU’s image problem To fend off Eurosceptics, the bloc’s capitals must stop blaming Brussels

The Big Read

The Big Read: US tax reform: the return of trickle-down economics The White House claims tax cuts will lead to soaring wages, but others fear that surging deficits will crush the growth benefits

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