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The options trading interfaces on E-Trade (L) and Robinhood (R). Illustration: Axios

To understand why Robinhood is so popular, it's best to think in terms of game design.

Why it matters: While other brokerages sell ultra-sophisticated investing tools or boring things like retirement planning, Robinhood makes an addictive mobile-native game.

As Matt Levine wrote in November:

"You can analyze Robinhood as a mobile gaming company. It makes an app that you can download to your phone, and then you can play a game on the app. As with many mobile games, there are in-app purchases, and you can end up spending a lot of money on the Robinhood game. The game is of course a stock-trading game. The purchases are stocks."

What they're saying: Noah Brier, of the indispensable Why Is This Interesting daily newsletter, this week compared E-Trade's option trading interface to Robinhood's.

"The former makes options look like a very serious thing you can lose a lot of money on. The latter resembles rating a YouTube video."

The bottom line: When a professional investor like Leon Cooperman says that the Robinhood mania will "end in tears," he's absolutely right on a literal basis: Bad design decisions might well have cost a young man's life. But if what he's talking about is total investment returns, he could be making a category error. People are attracted to games because of the enjoyment of playing them much more than because of the pleasure they get from any winnings.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Sep 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

Retail traders drove Snowflake and Unity Software's IPO surges

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The story of last week's Snowflake and Unity Software IPOs had little to do with data warehousing or 3D game development, and lots to do with dizzying "pops" after pricing.

What happened: The Robinhood effect.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.

The consumer's massive "war chest"

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Economists expect the pace of economic growth to cool off now that government transfer payments like stimulus checks and emergency unemployment benefits are in the rearview mirror. But evidence suggests that the U.S. consumer is sitting on a lot of financial firepower that could be a key driver of growth in the quarters to come.

Why it matters: U.S. consumer spending is massive, representing about 70% of GDP.

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