☕ Phantom debt

How a walk in a labyrinth can clear your mind...
May 12, 2024 | View Online | Sign Up | Shop
The Phillie Phanatic offers flowers to his mother Phoebe for Mother's Day during a game between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies

Happy Mother's Day! Rich Schultz/Getty Images



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The wackiest headlines from the week as they would appear in a Classifieds section.


ISO RELOCATION TIKTOKERS: The Indonesian government is recruiting influencers to hype up a new capital city it's building from scratch to get young people to move there. Alternatively, it could open a Sephora and accomplish the same thing.

STREET SYMBOL ERASER: A council in North Yorkshire, England, decided to remove apostrophes from street signs due to potential confusion in its databases. Some locals aren't too happy about it, even going as far as to grammar-graffiti the apostrophes back onto the signs.


BIG APPLE FRANKFURTER: A 65-foot-long hot dog that doubles as a confetti cannon was dropped off in Times Square like a small-town soprano hoping to make it big. The sculpture will remain in the square until June 13, when it will be replaced by the worst person you know asking if you thought it was a sandwich.

BIG DONATION: After failing to find a buyer, former Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder donated his $34.9 million mansion to the American Cancer Society. It's the organization's largest gift in its more than 110-year history.

DOUBLE WIN: A Massachusetts woman won a $1 million lottery prize twice in 10 weeks, which proves that when you're on a roll…you have to keep it going.

For sale

SURPLUS SEEDERS: Forget a used car—you can probably snag a great deal on a combine right now. Farm equipment suppliers have a glut of unsold tractors due to falling crop prices.

GRUYERE BEHIND GLASS: A dairy in Philadelphia opened the city's first 24-hour cheese vending machine. Not interested unless Whiz is one of the options.

BANANA BAG: Uniqlo's popular crescent-shaped shoulder bag is the cheapest item ever to be listed on the Lyst Index, a site usually filled with trendy shoes and designer jewelry. The bag costs under $20.—MM




Photo of the week

This photograph shows a police dog from the RAID french national police unit specialized in the search of explosives inspects a Boston dynamics dog robot Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

It's you vs. the dog they told you not to worry about. A French police dog that specializes in detecting explosives met a robot dog from Boston Dynamics at the unveiling of the training and innovation center for sustainable logistics and shipping professions in Marseille. Hopefully, the real dog will be able to stay on the payroll in some sort of advisory capacity.

The Crew



Dept. of Progress

Hey Arnold saying Hey Arnold!/Paramount Global

Here are some illuminating scientific discoveries from the week to help you live better and maybe even achieve everlasting revenge.

AI ethicists warn you may be haunted…with ads. The ghost of Hamlet's father asked him to avenge his death, but the deadbot of your loved one may…ask you to purchase boneless chicken wings with a unique promo code. At least that's what AI ethicists at the University of Cambridge are worried about. In newly published research, they lay out how digital advertisers could market products to users with the voice, likeness, and mannerisms of their deceased loved ones who sign up to be virtually recreated after their death as a comfort to their families. Their paper warns that survivors might be spammed into oblivion with unsolicited ads and digitally "stalked by the dead."

T. Rexes were not that smart. A team of Earth sciences researchers from across Europe and Canada published a rebuttal to a year-old paper that claimed T. Rexes were baboon-level smart due to the large quantities of neurons in their brains. The new research found that the earlier report of T. Rex brain size was greatly exaggerated, which means the neuron count was also off. "It's not good practice to predict intelligence in extinct species when neuron counts reconstructed from endocasts are all we have to go on," the lead researcher said. In other words, "​​You know what they say about small arms...small brains."

CRISPR gene editing improves rare blindness. A clinical trial run by an ophthalmologist from the Oregon Health & Science University found that gene editing treatment enhanced the vision of 79% of participants with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic form of retinal degeneration for which no FDA-approved treatment exists. "Our patients are the first congenitally blind children to be treated with gene editing, which significantly improved their daytime vision," one of the researchers said. If larger trials prove successful, someone should let MrBeast know for a future video.—HVL




Why 'phantom debt' is haunting the economy

Debt ghost Scooby-Doo/Warner Bros. via Giphy

The golden age of the infomercial might be over but the phrase "just four easy payments of $29.99" is as relevant as ever. Most online shopping now comes with a buy now, pay later button allowing you to break up a payment into four installments with (almost) no strings attached.

While buy now, pay later (BNPL) reduces friction when purchasing, it's giving some economy watchers the same uneasy feeling you get from putting off a chore for too long. As Americans' budgets buckle under the weight of inflation and higher interest payments, some worry BNPL is more of an invisible burden than a boon, Bloomberg reports.

Beware the "phantom debt," a Wells Fargo economist recently warned, referring to the BNPL industry's short-term loans, which go largely unaccounted for by those tracking Americans' debt load. That's because, unlike credit cards and auto loan providers, Afterpay, Affirm, Klarna, and other BNPL providers don't usually report transactions to credit scoring agencies.

Since consumers must keep their debt under control for the US economy to chug along, let's unpack what's going on with BNPL now, instead of putting it off for later.

The pluses of payment procrastination

A descendant of layaway loans, BNPL exploded during the pandemic as everyone went on an online shopping spree, and the practice is still popular.

  • The top five BNPL providers in the US loaned out over $24 billion in 2021, a 1,000% increase from 2019, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Americans took out a record amount of BNPL loans over the holidays last year, representing 7.5% of all online spending during the merry season, per Adobe Analytics.

BNPL providers charge businesses for enabling customers to spend more than they would if they had to pay upfront. But they insist it's a win-win since users get loans that usually come with no interest or fees, in contrast to the exorbitant APRs on credit cards.

They say that they're often spotting cash to people with low credit scores and no fancy piece of titanium to swipe. Plus, their customers aren't typically saddled with jaw-dropping levels of debt: Average outstanding balances ranged from $150 for Klarna to $641 for Affirm, Bloomberg reported, compared with an average credit card debt of $6,501, per Experian.

The strings attached

Many people are struggling with BNPL loans, with 43% of users saying they were behind on payments, according to a Harris Poll conducted for Bloomberg. That's consistent with the fact that credit card delinquencies are also rising.

While often advertised as fee-free, BNPL loans incur late fees and other penalties for missed payments, which can be painful for shoppers already in dire straits.

  • Almost three-quarters of BNPL customers have a household income below $75k, according to the Philadelphia Fed. And a third of people who used BNPL did so because their credit cards were maxed out, according to a survey by C+R Research.
  • For others, BNPL purchases can get them closer to reaching their limit, as many shoppers end up making their payments with a credit card.
  • Unlike credit cards, BNPL doesn't have the advantage of helping users build credit.

Regulators also warn that some BNPL users are "loan stacking," or borrowing from multiple BNPL providers, which makes it more difficult for them to keep track of overall debt and manage payments. They've warned traditional banks entering the BNPL space to tread cautiously, since borrowers might have no credit history and be more prone to taking on excess debt.

Despite the debt's elusiveness, the threat may not be alarming. Wells Fargo notes that BNPL is still a small part of Americans' overall debt. Meanwhile, BNPL's growth has slowed, Sherwood reports, citing the Bank of America Institute.—SK





Do you have a recommendation you want to share with Brew readers? Submit your best rec here and it may be featured in next week's list.

Cook: A Dutch Baby looks fancy but it's really just a giant giant pancake.

Eat: It's past time you make use of your cookbook collection.

Outside: Wilderness survival tricks that could save your life (but probably just your camping trip).

Watch: Hacks, a sharp comedy starring Jean Smart, has made its best season yet.

Light: Take control of your mood lighting with LED remote-controlled light bulbs.

Analyze: How alternative is your music taste? Find out with this tool. Thanks to Helen from Dallas, TX, for the suggestion.

Drip: Check out our merch bundles for some deep discounts on Morning Brew shirts, sweatshirts, and more.




Place to be: Inside a labyrinth

The Trinity Hospital garden includes a labyrinth patterned after the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France Joey Mcleister/Star Tribune via Getty Images

It's a big world out there. In this section, we'll teleport you to an interesting location—and hopefully give you travel ideas in the process.

The next time you go on a mental health walk, consider taking a path that's been around for centuries and has way fewer people on rollerblades.

Labyrinths have existed for at least 4,000 years and have become a popular way to reduce stress by integrating the mind and body. Walking has well-known benefits for improving mental health (even if those walks feel stupid), and losing yourself in a labyrinth can enhance those benefits.

  • Labyrinths are a global phenomenon, but perhaps the most famous ones in the US are at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
  • There are two—one indoor, one outdoor—and the cathedral offers a quarterly candlelight walk.

There are also many inclusive labyrinths. The Labyrinth Company says it has built more than 2,000 that are wheelchair-accessible.

Labyrinths vs. mazes: A labyrinth has a winding yet continuous path that will guide you to the center, while a maze is designed to trick participants into going down an incorrect path, which will likely have the opposite effect of a stress-alleviating labyrinth journey.

Find a labyrinth near you: The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator has an abundance of options for your mindfulness pursuits.—DL




Crowd work

Last week, we asked: What's the worst piece of advice you've ever received? Here are our favorite responses:

  • "I was told the best way to make friends in college was to go onto the lawn with a Frisbee and just throw it. Whoever picks it up = new best friend. Perhaps for the athletically inclined, this would work. I, on the other hand, hit two different people in the face. They rightly did not want to strike up a conversation after that."—Samantha from Arizona State
  • "When I was 16 and learning how to drive, my dad told me to never use the turn signal when changing lanes, because it shows weakness."—Festus from Anaheim, CA
  • "My Drivers Ed teacher was convinced the world was going to end on NYE 2000 and advised me to skip college and just have fun for the next four years."—Scott from College Park, MD
  • "When I worked in radio back in the late '80s/early '90s, a fellow DJ told me that my voice wasn't deep enough and recommended that I start smoking to get a deep voice. Fortunately, I did NOT follow that advice and stayed in the business for 15 years before changing careers (not because of my voice, but because of the pay)."—Lee from Jacksonville, FL

This week's question

What's the name of a sports team that doesn't exist, but needs to?

Matty's response to get the juices flowing: "Chicago needs a professional bowling team called the 'Logan Spares,' ideally composed of only residents from the Logan Square neighborhood."

Share your response here.




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Written by Dave Lozo, Matty Merritt, Cassandra Cassidy, Sam Klebanov, and Holly Van Leuven

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