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What our staff bought in September

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All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

Here's what made it into our shopping carts this past month.

Here’s what made it into our shopping carts this past month.

Image: bob al-greene / mashable

If you follow Mashable Shopping’s coverage, you know that we live to bring you the best product recommendations we can find based on countless hours of online research. But, what about the stuff that we buy for ourselves? The stuff that made it into our shopping carts? Well, we’re here to tell you about those things, and we’ll be back every month to do so again.

Here’s what the staff bought in September 2020.

“Somehow, by the grace of the gamer gods I was able to secure a preorder for the PlayStation 5. Now I’m basically just hoping it’ll ship on time so I can play Spider-Man: Miles Morales as soon as possible.” —Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

Hades has quickly become a contender for my personal game of the year, and picking it up on the Nintendo Switch was definitely one of the best purchases I made this month. I don’t want to say how many hours I’ve put into it so far because it would probably be alarming, but I’m showing no signs of stopping. It’s just too good.” —Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

Some soon-to-be destroyed shoes

“I desperately needed some new skate shoes, and I’ve always been partial to using Nike Blazers. They’re all leather and pretty durable, so it’ll take some time before I end up completely tearing them apart. I really like having the extra ankle support, too, which also acts as a shield for when my board predictably whips into my ankles.” —Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

A new couch for a new apartment

“This month I bought an absolute shit ton of stuff because I’m moving, but no need to talk about my random oven mitts and dishware sets. I bought a couch by myself for the first time and this is quite literally the largest purchase I have ever made. I’m moving into a studio, so I wanted something in between a loveseat and a large couch. Unfortunately, that means I had to custom-make a couch which resulted in a long shipping time, but I made the perfect one on Interior Define’s website (shoutout to Facebook ads for leading me to the site). I opted for a 74-inch two-seater with pearl performance basket weave upholstery. Can’t wait to have somewhere to sit in December!” —Miller Kern, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

“No surprise, a studio apartment in New York has a tiny ass kitchen. I got this cart to give me a little extra counter space for cooking and somewhere to keep my microwave and random kitchen accessories.” —Miller Kern, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

“I may not have a couch for three months, but I’ll at least have some seating thanks to this cute little bistro dining set.” —Miller Kern, Shopping Reporter 

What our staff bought in September

“Super Mario 64 was one of the very first video games I ever played, so I couldn’t miss out on Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Switch. Hopefully I don’t suck at it as much as my 8-year-old self did.” —Haley Henschel, Freelance Deals Writer

What our staff bought in September

“All of the cool places to buy bathroom stuff want you to commit to monthly refills, but I wasn’t sold on the hip subscription model until Bite. (I’ve actually been using Bite’s Toothpaste Bits for a few months, but I wanted to wait until my official first refill to recommend it. I’m recommending it now.) The idea of chewable toothpaste freaked me out, but knowing that I no longer wanted to contribute to the heap of plastic tubes in landfills was a powerful push. Switching to toothpaste tablets has been my favorite low-waste transition of the year: They taste great, foam like regular toothpaste, and look much cuter on your counter than a crusty tube.” —Leah Stodart, Shopping Reporter

What our staff bought in September

“I purchased these Qinline reusable bags because I was on the hunt for something reusable to avoid using disposable plastic bags. I had only heard about the brand Stasher but they were a bit more expensive than I would like to pay for reusable storage bags. After a quick search online I found these Qinline bags. They come in different sizes, have cute colors, are environmentally friendly, and are a great price. They also work amazingly, and now I’m obsessed and want to store all my food in them.” —Lauren Hernandez, Director of Social Media

What our staff bought in September

A really nice rug

“I bought a 5′ x 7′ Dakotah Sumac Rug from Ruggable and I could not recommend it more. The rug comes with a no-slip base as well as a detachable and washable top, which is a huge bonus for parents and pet owners. While Ruggable’s rugs are a little bit more expensive than other shops, the ability to wash it in my washing machine made the extra cost worth it. I was a little nervous that the ends would curl or the rug would detach from its base but so far I haven’t experienced either. While it did take a few weeks for my order to ship, it showed up in a box and was simple to put together. All around it was a great experience.” —Brian Koerber, Deputy Culture Editor

What our staff bought in September

This boot came across my timeline on social media, as so many things do — but unlike most of the products in my targeted ads, I was struck by the quality and aesthetic immediately. Though $119 for boots is out of my normal price range (I did get 15% off for my first purchase, and free shipping), I took that as a sign the company wasn’t mistreating its labor or falsely advertising cheap knockoffs. I did some research about the brand’s integrity and customer service and felt good to make a purchase. The boots are comfy and gorgeous, but I especially love that Inkkas explains the cultural origins of fabric in its design — and the company plants a tree for every purchase.” —Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter

What our staff bought in September

“Hey, remember pedicures? My feet definitely don’t. And despite getting around almost exclusively in woolly socks and Ugg boots in my house all through the socially distanced Australian winter, my callused heels got a bit beyond the old moisturizer-and-overnight-socks routine or even BabyFoot. I am deeply lazy so I skipped past the drugstore pumice stone and grabbed one of these. It’s like a little spinning power sander for your feet — my boyfriend and I now both sport seal-sleek soles. It’s way more fun and way less effort than a manual callus remover or rasp, and if you’re ticklish, the fact that you can use it in the shower when your skin’s already softened might help.” —Caitlin Welsh, Mashable Australia Editor

What our staff bought in September

“For years I have made French press coffee using a stovetop kettle, like my ancestors throughout the ages. Finally, I upgraded to an electric kettle and I couldn’t be happier. All those hours waiting for water to boil, whether it’s for coffee or soup or mac and cheese … why didn’t I do this ten years ago?” —Sascha Segan, Lead Analyst, Mobile for PCMag

What our staff bought in September

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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