What Powerball escapism can tell us about the US economy

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The economy of the 2020s is hard to read. For example, are we in a recession? Technically no, but “technically” has some weight. Economists look at multiple indicators – GDP growth, employment, bond yields, wages, etc. – to find the answer.

Of course, there are other, less scientific but more entertaining methods of measuring economic health. As you know, there’s the Lipstick Index, which suggests that lipstick sales go up during lean times because it’s an inexpensive treat that makes people happy. Alan Greenspan, who produced the Men’s Underwear Index, showed that sales of boxers and briefs plummeted during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, before picking up as the economy recovered.

Another deeply unscientific indicator: The Powerball.

Watch here: The Powerball lottery jackpot is expected to grow to $1.9 billion before today’s drawing, the biggest lottery win ever.

Your odds of winning are tiny – about 1 in 292 million. You are more likely to be eaten by a shark. Or get struck twice by lightning. On the other hand, the odds that you exist on planet Earth are 400 quadrillion to one, so you’re already winning in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

The conventional wisdom was that even when times were lean, people would shell out lottery tickets, willing to risk a few bucks in hopes of making it big.

But in the Great Recession, state lotteries reported huge declines as despair set in for millions. By 2010, sales were picking up again, although people were still suffering from the downturn.

In this context, we can see this week’s Powerball record as a sign that people are seeking solace in a little financial escapism. The amazingly large jackpot tends to attract people who don’t normally buy lottery tickets.

Spending money on a bet where you’re practically guaranteed to lose isn’t a rational move, but it’s a fantasy that people can still afford to play. And as the cost of everyday necessities keeps getting higher, what’s a few bucks for a Powerball? Again, it may not be rational, but it’s undeniably human.

History suggests that there is a point of financial frustration and anxiety where even a $2 bet feels reckless. We’re clearly not that far yet.

According to Bloomberg News, Manhattan prosecutors seized nearly $3.4 billion in bitcoin from a real estate developer accused of stealing funds from dark web marketplace Silk Road more than a decade ago.

Investigators say the case represents the second-largest crypto seizure for the Justice Department.

It’s been just 10 days since Elon Musk took the reins of Twitter, fired his C-suite, dissolved its board of directors, fired thousands of employees and vowed to hollow out the platform’s user verification process.

The mood on Twitter is chaotic.

Over the weekend, a slew of celebrities and others with verified profiles attempted to poke holes in Musk’s mass verification plan, which would allow any user to pay $8 a month for the blue tick, historically reserved for people who were by the platform checked. This led to some ridicule from comedians, who changed their names and profile pictures to copy Musk’s, highlighting the flaw of a system that doesn’t actually, um, to verify who controls the account.

Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin both saw their accounts suspended or suspended as a result.

Musk, who previously said he would not change Twitter’s content moderation policy until a council was established, issued a decree on his account that said, “Any Twitter that deals with identity theft without a clear.” Specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently banned.” He later tweeted that the suspension would no longer come with a warning.

As Richard Lawler of The Verge put it:

“It’s an abrupt update from the person who just a few days ago tweeted ‘Comedy is now legal on Twitter’ after taking control of the company. Comedy is legal – as long as it follows the rules Elon says, which are subject to change.

As Musk figures out what exactly he plans to do with his $44 billion toy, many people are looking for less messy alternatives.

One is called Mastodon, a lesser-known network that has been around since 2016 and has a similar look and feel to Twitter.

But as my colleague Rachel Metz writes, there may not be a clear alternative to Twitter. “Mastodon is kind of a social media exit hatch in case Twitter gets unbearable,” says Rachel. But whether it can replicate the magic of Twitter when Twitter was good is up to the social media gods.