March 20, 2024

Today's Topics

Good morning! We’d like to wish everyone an extra happy Wednesday today, after news that the US has fallen out of the top 20 happiest countries for the first time in the history of the UN's World Happiness Report. Today we’re exploring:

  • Stick or twist: Will the Fed cut rates after its historic hiking cycle?
  • Identity: People don't identify with the generation they belong to.
  • iLobby: Apple, like the rest of big tech, wants to change the rules.
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The first cut is the deepest

Within a few hours of this email landing in your inbox, the Federal Reserve will announce its latest interest rate decision. A consensus has been built around a maintaining of the status quo, with the majority of economists expecting Jay Powell & co. to keep rates at their 23-year high of 5.25-5.5%.

However, even if rates stay put, the Fed might give clues on when the all-important cut might come: a big deal for everyone who has a credit card, a mortgage, a student loan or any other debt with a variable interest rate.

Waiting game

Battling inflation, the Fed embarked on a hiking cycle that's been unprecedented in modern times. As we entered 2024, a slew of traders were betting on a rate cut as early as March. Yet, with inflation exceeding forecasts in both January and February, a June rate cut has become the latest expectation.

The Fed's push, elevating its effective fund rate by 525 basis points in less than 18 months, filtered through to all dollar-denominated borrowing, but it had a particularly profound impact on currency markets, where depositors rushed to hold newly attractive high-yielding dollars; housing, which has left some homeowners paralyzed by “golden handcuffs”; and the Treasury’s own finances.

The task ahead remains a balancing act: avoid keeping rates high for so long that it stifles the US economy, but don’t cut prematurely and risk reigniting the inflation spark.

Zoom out: Japan hiked its interest rate for the first time in 17 years yesterday, ending its era of negative rates.

Identity crisis

Debates on the differences between the generations have arguably never been louder, with the loosely defined age groups creeping into discussions at workplaces, dinner tables and media coverage (our own newsletter included) for years. Gen Z’s entry into the workforce, for example, has inspired an almost innumerable catalog of longreads on everything from their use of language to their side hustles.

By their nature, those conversations often draw sharp lines between the groups… lines which, in reality, are often way more blurry. Indeed, according to new YouGov polling, just 39% of Gen Zers and 43% of millennials actually consider themselves as part of their much-discussed cohorts — and it’s not just the younger groups... 65% of the Silent Generation (those born before 1946) were either unsure which generation they belong to or identify with a different age group entirely.

Generation gaps

Interestingly, Pew Research Center — the source that many use for the “official definitions” of the generations — announced in 2023 that it would be changing the way it reports generational research moving forward, describing the field as a “crowded arena” which has been overrun with research that’s “more like clickbait or marketing mythology”.

In total, just 58% of the 13,038 Americans that YouGov surveyed actually identified with the generation that their age officially corresponds to, suggesting that generational gulfs might not always be as gaping as many would have us believe.

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After butting heads with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) on everything from iPhones to smart watches in recent years, Apple is increasing its lobbying efforts in Washington to get the agency’s rules rewritten, per the NYTimes.

Last year, the company was forced to remove a blood oxygen feature from its Apple Watch in the US after the ITC banned the product over patent infringements. Fines are something Apple can deal with, but the ITC’s ability to implement outright bans are more troubling for the iPhone maker, leading the company to lobby lawmakers to reshape the ITC’s focus towards what’s in the “public interest”.

How to spend money and influence people

While corporate America spending big to get the government onside might feel like a modern phenomenon, the practice actually dates back almost as far as the nation itself, with the first lobbyists reportedly hired back in 1792, when veterans from the Continental Army enlisted political influencers to lobby Congress for more compensation.

While the pharmaceutical industry has been the biggest spender on the lobbying scene for decades, Big Tech has been upping its government-bothering budget as scrutiny in the space has heightened. Last year, the 5 biggest consumer-facing tech companies parted ways with some $76m in the pursuits of their political interests per data from Open Secrets. In fact, Apple’s $9.86 million spend last year looks relatively frugal in comparison to Meta and Amazon, whose outlays both topped $19 million each.

More Data

• YouTube's kingpin, MrBeast, is set to host a new show on AmazonPrime with the largest prize in television history: a whopping $5 million for the winner.

• The length of night and day were roughly equal yesterday, as we welcomed the Spring Equinox.

Hertz continues to hit post-pandemic speed bumps, with the car rental company now onto its 5th CEO in 4 years.

Encyclopædia Britannica, the maker of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is eyeing a $1 billion valuation for its IPO this year.

• After more than 80 years of fostering creativity, Joann, the cherished arts-and-crafts chain, has filed for bankruptcy.


• Check out The Pudding's "Flipbook Experiment": Help draw the longest flipbook animation ever.

• Visual deep dive into the declining productivity of Congress.

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