Today's Topics

3 charts for you today exploring:

  • It's Twitter vs. Trump as the social media giant begins to censor some of Trump's tweets.
  • How launching stuff to space is getting cheaper and cheaper.
  • Why, on one particular measure, economic uncertainty has never been higher.
Earlier this week social media platform Twitter slapped a "fact-check" label on one of Donald Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots. That sparked a swift response from President Trump, who has now signed an executive order that seeks to limit the legal protections social media companies enjoy for content that users post.

Neither Trump nor Twitter probably want this relationship to break down. Twitter unarguably gets more traffic to its site thanks to Trump, and Trump uses it more than any other tool to disseminate thoughts, ideas and even policies.

Indeed, Trump is using Twitter more than ever these days. We've updated our chart that counts how many times @realDonaldTrump has tweeted, and he's on track to tweet more than 1,100 times in May – close to his most ever in a single month. That amount of tweeting works out to more than 36 tweets per day, or about one every 40 minutes.

This is just the beginning

It seems Twitter isn't backing down just yet, and in the last few hours have censored another one of Donald Trump's tweets, this time for 'glorifying violence' while commenting on the protests in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd.

The spat between Twitter & Trump seems likely to intensify after the latest censoring, but specific vendettas aside, it does raise the question again of how to moderate content on social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg has taken the other side of the coin, going on Fox News to reiterate his view that Facebook shouldn't be the "arbiter of truth" when it comes to content online.

SpaceX tried to send 2 astronauts to space this week. In the end bad weather put the whole thing on hold, but it didn't stop 150,000 people gathering in the hope of seeing the launch.

Sending 2 astronauts to space may feel like a bit of a backwards step when we were landing guys on the moon more than 50 years ago, but it's actually an enormous change for 2 reasons:

1) It's a private company doing this (SpaceX), not a government.

2) SpaceX is lowering the cost of getting stuff to space dramatically.
Thanks to a paper from the NASA Ames Research Center, we know that back in 1957 it cost almost $1m to send a kilogram of mass into orbit with the Vanguard rocket. Then, throughout the 60s and 70s, the cost was reduced by a factor of about 20x, as substantial technological and managerial efficiencies were made.

From then on however, the era of the Space Shuttle (1981-2011) actually saw little progress on cost-efficient launches, with launch costs stubbornly high until SpaceX came along. SpaceX's Falcon 9 was able to launch a kilogram into orbit for just $2,700. The Falcon Heavy can reportedly do it for just $1,400 – a 40x reduction in costs relative to the Space Shuttle era.

How much cheaper could it get?

Elon Musk (Founder & CEO of SpaceX) thinks cargo costs could come down another 10x on the Falcon 9, which would be somewhere around $270 per kilogram. If possible, purely hypothetically, that would mean someone weighing 75kg would "cost" about $20k to be launched into orbit. Hopefully it goes without saying that humans are a little different to just "stuff", but you get the idea.
You hear a lot about 'economic uncertainty' in the media, but rarely is it ever quantified. That's partly because it's difficult to do so. Sentiment surveys would be one way, or analysing language another, but perhaps the simplest is to look at forecast dispersion; which is to say how far apart are economists forecasts from each other?

Agree to disagree

Thanks to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, we've been able to chart that 'forecast dispersion' for US real GDP all the way back to 1970. It shows that forecast dispersion for the upcoming quarter has never been higher – economists all expect it to be bad – but there's far from a consensus on just how bad.

Data Snacks

1) According to a recent survey just 49% of Americans have said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if available. 31% were unsure and 20% said they would not.

2) A 258 year-old bottle of cognac has sold for £118k ($145k). The auction house said "it should still taste good".

3) TikTok's parent company Bytedance produced more than $3bn of net profit on $17bn of revenue last year.

4) A '5GBioShield' USB stick costing more than £280 ($345) has gone on sale in the UK, promising to use a 'quantum holographic catalyzer' to protect you from 5G. The scam has now been picked up by authorities trying to halt its sale but the website is still hilarious.

5) Analysis from the FT reveals that the UK has suffered the second-highest death rate from COVID-19 of any country, with ~60,000 more deaths at this time of the year than would usually be expected.

6) An entire Swedish village has gone on sale for $7m.

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