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The Best Business Writing 2013

The Best Business Writing 2013

Dean Starkman
Martha M. Hamilton
Ryan Chittum
Felix Salmon
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  • Book Info
    The Best Business Writing 2013
    Book Description:

    An anthology Malcolm Gladwell has called "riveting and indispensable," The Best Business Writing is a far-ranging survey of business's dynamic relationship with politics, culture, and life. This year's selections include John Markoff ( New York Times) on innovations in robot technology and the decline of the factory worker; Evgeny Morozov ( New Republic) on the questionable value of the popular TED conference series and the idea industry behind it; Paul Kiel ( ProPublica) on the ripple effects of the ongoing foreclosure crisis; and the infamous op-ed by Greg Smith, published in the New York Times, announcing his break with Goldman Sachs over its trading practices and corrupt corporate ethos.

    Jessica Pressler ( New York) delves into the personal and professional rivalry between Tory and Christopher Burch, former spouses now competing to dominate the fashion world. Peter Whoriskey ( Washington Post) exposes the human cost of promoting pharmaceuticals off-label. Charles Duhigg and David Barboza ( New York Times) investigate Apple's unethical labor practices in China. Max Abelson ( Bloomberg) reports on Wall Street's amusing reaction to the diminishing annual bonus. Mina Kimes ( Fortune) recounts the grisly story of a company's illegal testing -- and misuse -- of a medical device for profit, and Jeff Tietz ( Rolling Stone) composes one of the most poignant and comprehensive portraits of the financial crisis's dissolution of the American middle class.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53517-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Business, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Dean Starkman

    Compiling the Best Business Writing series each year reliably brings the pleasures of the eclectic and unexpected. But it also can deliver deeper insights into troubling undercurrents in American business life.

    Editors get lucky that way sometimes. The great American editor Samuel S. McClure had one of the great “who knew?” moments a century ago while putting to bed the January 1903 issue of his eponymous magazine. Until then, McClure’s had been an eclectic general-interest magazine, publishing fiction by the likes of Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle and historical narratives about Lincoln, Napoleon, and other figures.This time, reading over...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Part I. On the Ground

    • 1. The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class
      (pp. 2-33)
      Jeff Tietz

      Every night around nine, Janis Adkins falls asleep in the back of her Toyota Sienna van in a church parking lot at the edge of Santa Barbara, California. On the van’s roof is a black Yakima SpaceBooster, full of previous-life belongings like a snorkel and fins and camping gear. Adkins, who is fifty-six years old, parks the van at the lot’s remotest corner, aligning its side with a row of dense, shading avocado trees. The trees provide privacy, but they are also useful because she can pick their fallen fruit, and she doesn’t always have enough to eat. Despite a...

    • 2. The Great American Foreclosure Story: The Struggle for Justice and a Place to Call Home
      (pp. 34-94)
      Paul Kiel

      Sheila Ramos’ grandsons, ten and thirteen, started crying. They wanted to know where the house was. There wasn’t one. There was only a tent.

      They had flown from Florida, after Ramos had fallen hopelessly behind on the mortgage for her three-bedroom home, to this family-owned patch of rural land on Hawaii’s Big Island. There, on a July night in 2009, they pitched a tent and, with no electricity, started a new life.

      If Ramos were in her twenties, living off the land might be a marvelous adventure. Hawaii is beautiful, and the weather is mild. In the nearly three years...

  6. Part II. Bad Medicine

    • 3. Bad to the Bone: A Medical Horror Story
      (pp. 96-121)
      Mina Kimes

      On November 16, 2011, Georgia Baddley, a seventy-year-old woman living near Salt Lake City, received a shocking call from a special agent at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agent told her that the government had come across new information about her mother’s death.

      Baddley was speechless. Eight years before, her eighty-three-year-old mother, Barbara Marcelino, had unexpectedly died during spine surgery. At the time, Baddley didn’t question what had happened; surgery was always risky for a woman of that age. She was horrified when the agent told her that the surgeon had injected bone cement into her...

    • 4. Prescription for Addiction
      (pp. 122-131)
      Thomas Catan, Devlin Barrett and Timothy W. Martin

      Jaclyn Kinkade, a twenty-three-year-old doctor’s-office receptionist and occasional model, was a casualty of America’s number-one drug menace when she over-dosed and died, alone, in a tumbledown clapboard house in Dunnellon, Fla.

      The drugs that killed her didn’t come from the Colombian jungles or an Afghan poppy field. Two of the three drugs found in her system were sold to Ms. Kinkade, legally, at Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark shops, the two biggest U.S. pharmacies. Both prescription drugs found in her body were made in the United States—the oxycodone in Elizabeth, N.J., by a company being acquired by generic-drug giant...

    • 5. Anemia Drugs Made Billions, but at What Cost?
      (pp. 132-150)
      Peter Whoriskey

      On the day Jim Lenox got his last injection, the frail fifty-four-year-old cancer patient was waiting to be discharged from the Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He’d put on his black leather coat. Then a nurse said he needed another dose of anemia drugs.

      His wife, Sherry, thought that seemed odd, because his blood readings had been close to normal, but Lenox trusted the doctors. After the nurse pumped the drug into his left shoulder, the former repairman for Washington Gas said he felt good enough to play basketball.

      The shots, which his cancer clinic had been billing at $2,500 a...

  7. Part III. Big Business

    • 6. Making the World’s Largest Airline Fly
      (pp. 152-165)
      Drake Bennett and Mary Jane Credeur

      Last July, fourteen months after United and Continental Airlines announced they were combining to form the largest carrier in the world, the merged airline took one of the thousands of steps required to integrate its fleet: It harmonized the coffee. Just as each carrier had its own logo, slogan, and peerage of frequent-flier status levels, each served its own blend of joe. Continental’s coffee was from a company called Fresh Brew, United’s was from Starbucks.

      “The new United,” as the merged airline called itself, had to choose. With one food-service supply chain, it made no sense to maintain two coffee...

    • 7. Gusher
      (pp. 166-190)
      Steve Coll

      In late February, President Obama proposed, not for the first time, that Congress end four billion dollars’ worth of subsidies for oil and gas companies. “They can either stand up for the oil companies, or they can stand up for the American people,” the president declared during one of his weekly radio addresses not long afterward. He seemed to be signaling that he will be running for president this year, as he did four years ago, in open opposition to the American oil industry: “These are the same oil companies that have been making record profits off the money you...

  8. Part IV. Bad Business

    • 8. Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle
      (pp. 192-219)
      David Barstow

      In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

      The former executive gave names, dates, and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits...

    • 9. Chesapeake and Rival Plotted to Suppress Land Prices
      (pp. 220-233)
      Brian Grow, Joshua Schneyer and Janet Roberts

      In e-mails between Chesapeake and Encana Corp, Canada’s largest natural-gas company, the rivals repeatedly discussed how to avoid bidding against each other in a public land auction in Michigan two years ago and in at least nine prospective deals with private landowners here.

      In one e-mail, dated June 16, 2010, CEO Aubry McClendon told a Chesapeake deputy that it was time “to smoke a peace pipe” with Encana “if we are bidding each other up.” The Chesapeake vice president responded that he had contacted Encana “to discuss how they want to handle the entities we are both working to avoid...

    • 10. Fear Fans Flames for Chemical Makers
      (pp. 234-248)
      Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe

      Dr. David Heimbach knows how to tell a story.

      Before California lawmakers last year, the noted burn surgeon drew gasps from the crowd as he described a seven-week-old baby girl who was burned in a fire started by a candle while she lay on a pillow that lacked flame-retardant chemicals.

      “Now this is a tiny little person, no bigger than my Italian greyhound at home,” said Heimbach, gesturing to approximate the baby’s size. “Half of her body was severely burned. She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital.”

      Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s...

  9. Part V. Media and Marketing

    • 11. His. Hers.
      (pp. 250-263)
      Jessica Pressler

      “Isn’t it fun?” says Christopher Burch, stepping through the lime-lacquered doors of the Soho flagship of his new store, C. Wonder, and looking out at the candy-colored floor, where customers browse a vast array of merchandise to the songs of sixties girl group the Marvelettes. “This is my music,” he says. “It’s so me.”

      There’s a note of paternal pride in his voice. As a venture capitalist and the head of J. Christopher Capital, Burch, who is fifty-eight, with white curly hair, crinkly eyes, and a Santa Claus demeanor, has had a hand in launching close to fifty brands, which...

    • 12. Top Five Ways Bleacher Report Rules the World!
      (pp. 264-279)
      Joe Eskenazi

      Last year, sportswriter King Kaufman stepped up to the lectern at a symposium held on the Google campus. In a fourteen-year haul at, Kaufman earned a reputation as one of the best and most cerebral sports journalists on the Internet. But his subject that day was his new job, improving the content quality at Bleacher Report—an outfit with a reputation almost directly opposite Kaufman’s own.

      The San Francisco–based site is an aggressively growing online giant, tapping the oceanic labor pool of thousands of unpaid sports fanatics typing on thousands of keyboards. Launched in 2008, Bleacher Report meteorically...

    • 13. Why India’s Newspaper Industry Is Thriving
      (pp. 280-303)
      Ken Auletta

      The square that borders the Dadar Railway Station is the largest of sixty-five newspaper-delivery depots in Mumbai. At four a.m., forty trucks and vans packed with newspapers and magazines have parked and slid open their back doors; the trash-strewn streets are otherwise deserted, and the loudest noise comes from the cawing of crows. During the next few hours, 231,000 newspapers will be unloaded, half of them published by Bennett, Coleman & Company, Ltd., India’s dominant media conglomerate. Venders cluster around the back of each truck, handing up wads of rupees to the driver in exchange for their daily stacks of newspapers...

    • 14. The Frequent Fliers Who Flew Too Much
      (pp. 304-314)
      Ken Bensinger

      There are frequent fliers, and then there are people like Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom.

      Both men bought tickets that gave them unlimited first-class travel for life on American Airlines. It was almost like owning a fleet of private jets.

      Passes in hand, Rothstein and Vroom flew for business. They flew for pleasure. They flew just because they liked being on planes. They bypassed long lines, booked backup itineraries in case the weather turned, and never worried about cancellation fees. Flight crews memorized their names and favorite meals.

      Each had paid American more than $350,000 for an unlimited AAirpass and...

  10. Part VI. Big Think

    • 15. Trade-offs Between Inequality, Productivity, and Employment
      (pp. 316-325)
      Steve Randy Waldman

      I think there is a trade-off between inequality and full employment that becomes exacerbated as technological productivity improves. This is driven by the fact that the marginal benefit humans gain from current consumption declines much more rapidly than the benefit we get from retaining claims against an uncertain future.

      Wealth is about insurance much more than it is about consumption. As consumers, our requirements are limited. But the curve balls the universe might throw at us are infinite. If you are very wealthy, there is real value in purchasing yet another apartment in yet another country through yet another hopefully-...

    • 16. The Naked and the TED
      (pp. 326-346)
      Evgeny Morozov

      The new pamphlet—it would be too strong, and not only quantitatively, to call it a book—by Parag and Ayesha Khanna, the techno-babbling power couple, gallops through so many esoteric themes and irrelevant factoids (did you know that “fifty-eight percent of millennials would rather give up their sense of smell than their mobile phone”?) that one might forgive the authors for never properly attending to their grandest, most persuasive, and almost certainly inadvertent argument. Only the rare reader would finish this piece of digito-futuristic nonsense unconvinced that technology is—to borrow a term of art from the philosopher Harry...

  11. Part VII. Adventures in Finance

    • 17. Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Coupons
      (pp. 348-355)
      Max Abelson

      Andrew Schiff was sitting in a traffic jam in California this month after giving a speech at an investment conference about gold. He turned off the satellite radio, got out of the car and screamed a profanity.

      “I’m not Zen at all, and when I’m freaking out about the situation, where I’m stuck like a rat in a trap on a highway with no way to get out, it’s very hard,” Schiff, director of marketing for broker-dealer Euro Pacific Capital Inc., said in an interview.

      Schiff, forty-six, is facing another kind of jam this year: Paid a lower bonus, he...

    • 18. The Tale of a Whale of a Fail
      (pp. 356-369)
      Matt Levine

      Hi! Would you like to talk about the London Whale? Sure you would. The amount of misunderstanding of our poor beleaguered beluga is staggering, so I figured we could try to embark on a voyage of discovery together. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Along the way we’ll talk a tiny bit about the Volcker Rule. I am going to try to talk very slowly and simplify things so if you are pretty financially sophisticated you could skip this post (I’ve linked to some better things to read at the end), or just get really angry at me in the comments....

    • 19. Case Against Bear and JPMorgan Provides Little Cheer
      (pp. 370-375)
      Bethany McLean

      Last week, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who is the cochairman of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group—which President Obama formed earlier this year to investigate who was responsible for the misconduct that led to the financial crisis—filed a complaint against JPMorgan Chase.

      The complaint, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages (but says that investors lost $22.5 billion), alleges widespread wrongdoing at Bear Stearns in the run-up to the financial crisis. JPMorgan Chase, of course, acquired Bear in 2008.

      Apparently, this is just the beginning of a Schneiderman onslaught.

      “We do expect this to be a...

    • 20. How ECB Chief Outflanked German Foe in Fight for Euro
      (pp. 376-385)
      Brian Blackstone and Marcus Walker

      As Mario Draghi watched euro-zone markets disintegrate in late July, he scribbled two sentences into the margin of an otherwise routine speech for London investors, changing the course of the three-year-old euro crisis.

      “Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro,” the European Central Bank president jotted. “And believe me, it will be enough.”

      The ECB had long resisted using its most powerful tool—its printing press—to save struggling European governments from the debt crisis. The Bundesbank, Germany’s influential central bank, warned of dark consequences if the ECB tried that. Now...

    • 21. From The Trouble Is the Banks
      (pp. 386-395)

      To: Lloyd H. Dean, Wells Fargo

      Dear Lloyd,

      In May 2007, I became the first person in my immediate family to get a degree, at age 38. I graduated owing more than $100,000 in private student loans. Payments were more than $1,100 per month. My 74-year-old retired father is the cosigner for most of these loans, but in September 2008, my dad lost $70,000 of his pension with the banks’ collapse.

      In December 2009, after just one year in the workforce, I was laid off due to cut-backs. For most of 2010, I wasn’table to find steady employment In January...

    • 22. Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs
      (pp. 396-401)
      Greg Smith

      Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost twelve years at the firm—first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for ten years, and now in London—I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people, and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

      To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about...

    • 23. Death Takes a Policy: How a Lawyer Exploited the Fine Print and Found Himself Facing Federal Charges
      (pp. 402-420)
      Jake Bernstein

      Joseph Caramadre has spent a lifetime scouring the fine print. He’s hardwired to seek the angle, an overlooked clause in a contract that allows him to transform a company’s carelessness into a personal windfall. He calls these insights his “creations,” and he numbers them. There have been about nineteen in his lifetime, he says. For example, there was number four, which involved an office superstore coupon he parlayed into enough nearly free office furniture to fill a three-car garage. Number three consisted of a sure-fire but short-lived system for winning money at the local dog track. But the one that...

  12. Part VIII. Brave New World

    • 24. How Companies Learn Your Secrets
      (pp. 422-443)
      Charles Duhigg

      Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002 when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?”

      Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing...

    • 25. Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future
      (pp. 444-457)
      Bryan Gardiner

      Don Stookey knew he had botched the experiment. One day in 1952, the Corning Glass Works chemist placed a sample of photosensitive glass inside a furnace and set the temperature to 600 degrees Celsius. At some point during the run, a faulty controller let the temperature climb to 900 degrees C. Expecting a melted blob of glass and a ruined furnace, Stookey opened the door to discover that, weirdly, his lithium silicate had transformed into a milky white plate. When he tried to remove it, the sample slipped from the tongs and crashed to the floor. Instead of shattering,it bounced....

    • 26. Skilled Work, Without the Worker
      (pp. 458-469)
      John Markoff

      Drachten, the Netherlands—At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers. That is the old way.

      At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.

      One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed...

    • 27. I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
      (pp. 470-493)
      Mac McClelland

      “Don’t take anything that happens to you there personally,” the woman at the local chamber of commerce says when I tell her that tomorrow I start working at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. She winks at me. I stare at her for a second.

      What?” I ask. “Why, is somebody going to be mean to me or something?”

      She smiles. “Oh, yeah.” This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who’s worked for Amalgamated. “But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to...

    • 28. In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad
      (pp. 494-513)
      Charles Duhigg and David Barboza

      The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

      When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

      Two people were killed immediately and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black...

    • 29. How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking
      (pp. 514-526)
      Mat Honan

      In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

      In many ways, this was all my fault. My accounts were daisychained together. Getting into Amazon let my hackers get into my Apple ID account, which helped them get into Gmail, which gave them...

  13. Permissions
    (pp. 527-532)
  14. List of Contributors
    (pp. 533-540)