Numlock News: June 25, 2021 • Factories, Scapegoats, Solar Spies

By Walt Hickey

Paid Pals

The rich have figured out a way to take a Roth IRA — a simple retirement savings account, average worth of $39,108, where the benefits are not taxed provided they’re tapped into after age 59 and a half — into a tax subversion vehicle. In 1999, the maximum amount that you could put into a Roth IRA was $2,000 per year. ProPublica analysis of tax documents related to Peter Thiel found that the PayPal founder paid $0.001 per share, or a tenth of a penny, for 1.7 million shares of PayPal, an enormous stake acquired through the Roth IRA. According to those tax records, Thiel never contributed to his Roth again; a year later the value rose to $3.8 million, and after the sale of PayPal to eBay in 2002, the Roth was worth $28.5 million. Normally he’d owe the IRS 20 percent and California 9 percent, but because of the financial engineering with the Roth he didn’t owe a dime; In 2019, ProPublica reports Thiel’s Roth was worth over $5 billion.

Justin Elliott, Patricia Callahan and James Bandler, ProPublica

Rich

Respondents to an annual survey from Charles Schwab asking how much money is needed to be happy found that Americans in 2021 think it takes $624,000 in the bank to be comfortable, $1.1 million to be financially happy, and $1.9 million to be considered wealthy. That’s changed since last year, when Americans thought you needed $1.7 million to be happy and $2.6 million to be wealthy. Perceptions around what is wealthy can be weird; a 2019 survey found that just 13 percent of people worth over $1 million consider themselves to be wealthy. I mean, I guess you can always just sell yourself shares in a company you own for a tenth of a penny, it’s not like that hard to be rich.

Erin Lowry, Bloomberg

I For One Blame The Coronavirus

A team of researchers surveyed 191 people in relationships — 81 couples, 29 people participating in the study without their partner — to find out how satisfied they were with their relationship and where stress was coming from. They asked these people these questions in April and May 2020, and then again in November and December. They found that the couples who attributed stress to the pandemic, rather than their partner, tended to report higher satisfaction in the relationship. This is a new model for relationship health moving forward, where everyone agrees to blame couples issues — from forgetting to take out the garbage, or deciding where to spend Christmas this year, or who picks up the check at dinner — to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve earned it.

Tess Joosse, Scientific American

Get A Good Look

A new analysis of the 331,312 stars within 326 light-years of Earth found that only 1,715 of the stars have had an unobstructed view of Earth during the periods of human civilization where we may be doing things that are detectable. Indeed, 75 of the stars on the list can eavesdrop on the radio waves emitted by human sources. The 1,715 stars all exist on the angle where at some point in the past 5,000 years it was possible to see Earth pass in front of the sun, on some angle. For 313 of them, they’ve missed their shot, we’ve since moved out of their view. Fear not, as over the next 5,000 years, a further 319 stars will be able to see Earth, granting them an excellent opportunity to determine precisely who was responsible for the overheard Rock & Roll Mornings on New York's Classic Rock that’s been piped into their solar system for decades.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

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Bars

U.S. bar sales in May were up 30 percent over the same week of 2019. Part of that is bars have a more diversified business than they did pre-pandemic with some offering delivery options, but it’s also due to a rise in foot traffic. According to NielsenIQ, the average bar or restaurant is filling 5 percent more orders than 2019 levels, but those orders are an average of 24 percent more expensive than they were two years ago.

Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

Comeback

Pre-pandemic, 51 percent of business travelers took at least four business trips per year, and a new survey from Morning Consult found that figure dropped to just 31 percent during the pandemic. A third of business travelers did not travel at all since the start of the pandemic, and that’s been brutal for the hospitality industry because many airline and hotel balance sheets simply can’t work in the absence of reliable business travelers. The good news is that 58 percent of business travelers said they planned to travel for business at some point this summer, which would bring a needed boost.

Joanna Piacenza, Morning Consult

Factory

The #factory hashtag on TikTok has over 930 million views, a thriving subculture where workers or owners of manufacturing facilities post behind-the-scenes videos about how stuff gets made. One reason for this? Companies like Bioa Mall, which is a team of 30 people operating 200 TikTok accounts as an intermediary between Chinese manufacturers attempting to show off their gear and offerings, are responsible. It’s a way around Amazon, which can be a fickle business partner, and a chance to compete with the larger manufacturing operations that are choking out smaller operations. Bioa Mall’s network of video channels has accumulated over 2.4 billion views since launching less than a year ago. It’s a hard time for small business in China: in 2019, 6 percent of small businesses shut down, but last year, according to Tsinghua University, that rose to 19 percent.

Andrew Deck, Rest Of World

Last Sunday, I spoke to Stephanie Apstein who wrote “‘This Should Be the Biggest Scandal in Sports'” for Sports Illustrated with her colleague Alex Prewitt. We talked about the game-breaking scandal in baseball where pitchers have been using sticky stuff to get a grip on the ball, which has broken the game, and how the league attempted to fix it.

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