Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of September 7, 2020.
Make sure to check back as we update these stories.
Drowning in debt: For the first time since World War II, the national debt is set to equal the entire gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP is the total value of all goods and services produced by the economy. The national debt is how much the federal government owes, typically through the issuance of bonds, known as Treasury bills. The national debt is not the same as the national deficit, which is the difference between what the government takes in as revenue each year, primarily through taxes, and what it spends on its budget. The government covers the deficit by issuing bonds, which add to the debt. The current national debt is currently about $20 trillion, a number that could increase to $33 trillion by the end of the decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
- The takeaway: In the aftermath of Covid-19, the federal government has gone on a spending spree totaling more than $3 trillion, to prop up the economy and its millions of unemployed workers and struggling businesses. That spending, in addition to recent tax cuts, have added to the national debt. An excess of public debt makes it difficult for the government to continue investing in the economy, and there’s a danger that when interest rates go up, it will be difficult to pay back the bonds.
Let’s not get political: Facebook said it will ban new political ads in the week immediately prior to the November presidential election, in an effort to prevent misleading information and potential civil unrest. The social media platform is responding to criticism that it doesn’t vet political ads that are misleading, or provide false information meant to suppress or alter voting behavior. For example, some recent deceptive ads claim that you can catch Covid-19 from voting.
- The takeaway: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vocally defended allowing all types of ads on the platform, including ones that lie or are misleading. Facebook’s ban is reportedly very narrow, letting political advertisers submit new ads until October 27, 2020. The change comes as Russia reportedly ramps up a disinformation campaign meant to confuse voters via social media, and as President Trump has increased rhetoric about a rigged election, and amid his campaign messaging in North Carolina urging voters in the state to vote twice, which is against the law.
Gaga for groceries. Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods, opened the first location of the grocery chain to operate entirely online last week in Brooklyn, New York. The store is located in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, but is not open to the public. Instead, it will serve solely as a fulfillment center for online grocery orders. Amazon reportedly hired hundreds of employees to work at the new location and to make deliveries.
- The takeaway: The opening of this online-only store is a response to the massive increase in online grocery shopping in recent months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon reported that online grocery sales tripled between the second quarter of 2019 and 2020. Amazon’s online grocery delivery capacity also increased by more than 160%.