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The Best Business Writing 2014

The Best Business Writing 2014

Dean Starkman
Martha M. Hamilton
Ryan Chittum
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  • Book Info
    The Best Business Writing 2014
    Book Description:

    A breakout success, our anthology of the year's best business investigative writing includes provocative essays on the ongoing collapse of American middle-class jobs under the weight of maximizing shareholder values (Washington Post); the underground networks of financial exchange that insulate Russia from diplomatic consequences and real economic pain (New York Times); the shady practices and libertarian ethos of the new Silicon Valley (Frankfurter Allgemeine,London Review of Books); and the implications of Sheryl Sandberg'sLean-In(The Baffler), the most talked about career-advice book of the year.

    Additional articles cover London's long history of embracing corrupt foreign money (Vanity Fair); the crimes and misadventures of the young founder of Silk Road, the wildly successful online illegal goods site known as the "Ebay of vice" (Rolling Stone); the secret dealings of an elite Wall Street society (New York); the real failings of the Fed during the 2008 economic crisis (The Atlantic); the PIMCO fund controversy (Wall Street Journal); the brilliant campaign behind J. Crew's brand transformation (Fast Company); the decline of the funeral business (Philadelphia); the political plans of the Koch brothers (TheNew Yorker); the Amazon tax fight (Fortune); and the science of junk food (New York Times Magazine).

    Contributors include:Russell BrandGregg EasterbrookJesse EisingerSusan FaludiBen JudahLucy KellawayDavid KushnerJane MayerEvgeny MorozovMatthew O'BrienKevin RooseRebecca SolnitAshlee VanceJia Lynn Yang

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53917-3
    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

    It is a commonplace to observe that journalism is going to hell in a hand basket. Its business model collapsing thanks to the intertubes, the newspaper industry—the backbone of American journalism—is half the size it was a decade ago, with more than 15,000 reporters out on the street, in PR, or curating cat videos. The magazine business isn’t doing much better. Yes, new digital-news organizations have arrived with different models, new forms, and fresh thinking. But these are, still, small players in the scheme of things—yes, even Buzzfeed—and the amount of labor-intensive fact gathering and painstaking...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Part I. Silicon Culture

    • 1. Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley
      (pp. 3-15)
      Evgeny Morozov

      If Ronald Reagan was the first Teflon President, then Silicon Valley is the first Teflon Industry: no matter how much dirt one throws at it, nothing seems to stick. While “Big Pharma,” “Big Food,” and “Big Oil” are derogatory terms used to describe the greediness that reigns supreme in those industries, this is not the case with “Big Data.” This innocent term is never used to refer to the shared agendas of technology companies. What shared agendas? Aren’t these guys simply improving the world, one line of code at a time?

      Something odd is going on here. While we understand...

    • 2. Diary: Google Invades
      (pp. 17-25)
      Rebecca Solnit

      The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury-coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and...

    • 3. Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not
      (pp. 27-55)
      Susan Faludi

      The congregation swooned as she bounded on stage, the prophet sealskin sleek in her black skinny ankle pants and black ballet flats, a lavalier microphone clipped to the V-neck of her black button-down sweater. “All right!! Let’s go!!” she exclaimed, throwing out her arms and pacing the platform before inspirational graphics of glossy young businesswomen in managerial action poses. “Super excited to have all of you here!!”

      “Whoo!!” the young women in the audience replied. The camera, which was livestreaming the event in the Menlo Park, California, auditorium to college campuses worldwide, panned the rows of well-heeled Stanford University econ...

    • 4. Dead End on Silk Road: Internet Crime Kingpin Ross Ulbricht’s Big Fail
      (pp. 57-76)
      David Kushner

      On October 1, 2013, inside the science-fiction section of the Glen Park library in San Francisco, one of the Internet’s most-wanted men sat typing quietly on his laptop. He’d allegedly assumed multiple identities and made nearly half a billion dollars in under three years. He was said to be as grandiose as he was cold-blooded, championing freedom while ordering hits on those who crossed him.

      None of the geeks milling around the stacks that day, nor even those closest to Ross Ulbricht, suspected that the slight, pale twenty-nine-year-old was, according to prosecutors, the notorious hacker known as Dread Pirate Roberts....

  6. Part II. Brave New Economic World

    • 5. A Tale of Two Londons
      (pp. 79-99)
      Nicholas Shaxson

      Up until the eighteenth century, Knightsbridge, which borders genteel Kensington, was a lawless zone roamed by predatory monks and assorted cutthroats. It didn’t come of age until the Victorian building boom, which left a charming legacy of mostly large and beautiful Victorian houses, with their trademark white or cream paint, black iron railings, high ceilings, and short, elegant stone steps up to the front door.

      This will not be the impression a visitor now gets as he emerges from the Knightsbridge subway station’s south exit. He will be met by four hulking joined-up towers of glass, metal, and concrete, sandwiched...

    • 6. London’s Laundry Business
      (pp. 101-103)
      Ben Judah

      London—The city has changed. The buses are still dirty, the people are still passive-aggressive, but something about London has changed. You can see signs of it everywhere. The townhouses in the capital’s poshest districts are empty; they have been sold to Russian oligarchs and Qatari princes.

      England’s establishment is not what it was; the old imperial elite has become crude and mercenary. On Monday, a British civil servant was photographed arriving in Downing Street for a national security council meeting with an open document in his hand. We could read for ourselves lines from a confidential report on how...

    • 7. How Technology and Hefty Subsidies Make U.S. Cotton King
      (pp. 105-135)
      Robert Smith

      From NPR News, this isAll Things Considered. I’m Robert Siegel.

      I have before me right now a fairly ordinary-looking but, in fact, unique T-shirt. It’s gray, and on the front of it there’s a picture of a squirrel holding a martini glass. But where the olive should be inside the drink there is, in fact, an acorn. What makes this 100 percent cotton T-shirt unique is that we know everything about how it was made.

      Our Planet Money team commissioned the shirt. Then they followed the manufacturing process around the globe. It was touched by people in rich countries...

    • 8. Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life
      (pp. 137-151)
      Andrea Elliott

      She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

      Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire...

    • 9. Russell Brand and the GQ Awards: “It’s Amazing How Absurd It Seems”
      (pp. 153-159)
      Russell Brand

      I have had the privilege of scuba diving. I did it once on holiday, and I’m aware that it’s one of those subjects that people can get pretty boring and sincere about, and sincerity, for we British, is no state in which to dwell, so I’ll be brief. The scuba dive itself was nuministic enough, a drenched heaven; coastal shelves and their staggering, sub-aquatic architecture, like spilt cathedrals, gormless, ghostly fish gliding by like Jackson Pollock’s pets. Silent miracles. What got me, though, was when I came up for air, at the end. As my head came above water after...

    • 10. Maximizing Shareholder Value: The Goal That Changed Corporate America
      (pp. 161-170)
      Jia Lynn Yang

      Endicott, N. Y.—This town in the hills of upstate New York is best known as the birthplace of IBM, one of the country’s most iconic companies. But there remain only hints of that storied past.

      The main street, once swarming with International Business Machines employees in their signature white shirts and dark suits, is dotted with empty storefronts. During the 1980s, there were 10,000 IBM workers in Endicott. Now, after years of layoffs and jobs shipped overseas, about 700 employees are left.

      Investors in IBM’s shares, by contrast, have fared much better. IBM makes up the biggest portion of...

  7. Part III. Frenzied Finance

    • 11. One Percent Jokes and Plutocrats in Drag: What I Saw When I Crashed a Wall Street Secret Society
      (pp. 173-179)
      Kevin Roose

      Recently, our nation’s financial chieftains have been feeling a little unloved. Venture capitalists are comparing the persecution of the rich to the plight of Jews at Kristallnacht, Wall Street titans are saying that they’re sick of being beaten up, and this week, a billionaire investor, Wilbur Ross, proclaimed that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.”

      Ross’s statement seemed particularly odd, because two years ago, I met Ross at an event that might single-handedly explain why the rest of the country still hates financial tycoons—the annual black-tie induction ceremony of a secret Wall Street fraternity called...

    • 12. Here’s Why Wall Street Has a Hard Time Being Ethical
      (pp. 181-185)
      Chris Arnade

      My first year on Wall Street, 1993, I was paid fourteen times more than I earned the prior year and three times more than my father’s best year. For that money, I helped my company create financial products that were disguised to look simple, but which required complex math to properly understand. That first year I was roundly applauded by my bosses, who told me I was clever, and to my surprise they gave me $20,000 bonus beyond my salary.

      The products were sold to many investors, many who didn’t fully understand what they were buying, most of them what...

    • 13. How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008
      (pp. 187-197)
      Matthew O’Brien

      It was the day after Lehman failed, and the Federal Reserve was trying to decide what to do. It had been fighting a credit crunch for over a year, and now the worst-case scenario was playing out. A too-big-to-fail bank had just failed, and the rest of the financial system was ready to get knocked over like dominoes. The Fed didn’t have much room left to cut interest rates, but it still should have. The risk was just too great. That risk was what Fed chair Ben Bernanke calls the “financial accelerator” and what everyone else calls a depression: a...

    • 14. Gross vs. El-Erian: Inside the Showdown Atop the World’s Biggest Bond Firm
      (pp. 199-205)
      Gregory Zuckerman and Kirsten Grind

      Newport Beach, Calif.—Tension increased at Pacific Investment Management Co.’s headquarters here last summer. The bond market was under pressure, losses grew, and clients pulled billions of dollars from the firm. Bill Gross, who cofounded Pimco in 1971 and is largely responsible for building it into a behemoth overseeing almost $2 trillion in assets, struck some of his colleagues as testier than usual. He argued openly with Mohamed El-Erian, Pimco’s chief executive—something employees say they rarely had seen.

      Mr. Gross—by his own admission, a demanding boss—had long showed respect for Mr. El-Erian and indicated that the younger...

    • 15. Secret Currency Traders’ Club Devised Biggest Market’s Rates
      (pp. 207-221)
      Liam Vaughan, Gavin Finch and Bob Ivry

      It’s twenty minutes before four p.m. in London, and currency traders’ screens are blinking red and green. Some dealers have as many as fifty chat rooms crowded onto four monitors arrayed in front of them like shields. Messages from salespeople and clients appear, get pushed up by new ones, and vanish from view. Orders are barked through squawk boxes.

      This is the closing “fix,” the thin slice of the day when foreign-exchange traders buy and sell billions of dollars of currency in the largely unregulated $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market, the biggest in the world by volume, according to the Bank for...

    • 16. Lunch with the FT: Meredith Whitney
      (pp. 223-231)
      Lucy Kellaway

      Meredith Whitney arrived early for lunch at the Wolseley, and so, alas, I didn’t see Wall Street’s most notorious analyst making her entrance. I bet the other diners stared, though. They may not have known that this was the woman who predicted the U.S. banking crisis, but they couldn’t have failed to clock her fishnet-clad legs, one ending in a patent leather high-heeled shoe with a diamante buckle, the other in a blue-and-pink trainer.

      When I get there, the portion of Whitney visible above the starched white tablecloth looks exactly as a woman known as the “dollar dominatrix” ought to....

    • 17. How the Case Against Bank of America CEO Fizzled
      (pp. 233-238)
      Jesse Eisinger

      The regulatory cloud has lifted for Kenneth D. Lewis. Last week, the former head of Bank of America received a modest penalty, paid for by his former employer, and a temporary ban from an industry he is no longer a part of.

      In this seminal financial crisis investigation, regulators put on a master class in how to take a strong case and render it weak.

      It’s worth recounting the story from its beginning.

      Bank of America was an unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of banks tacked together with spit and Excel spreadsheets. As the world economy imploded in the middle of...

  8. Part IV. Unhealthy Business

    • 18. Use Only as Directed
      (pp. 241-271)
      Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller

      During the last decade, more than 1,500 Americans died after accidentally taking too much of a drug renowned for its safety: acetaminophen, one of the nation’s most popular pain relievers.

      Acetaminophen—the active ingredient in Tylenol—is considered safe when taken at recommended doses. Tens of millions of people use it weekly with no ill effect. But in larger amounts, especially in combination with alcohol, the drug can damage or even destroy the liver.

      Davy Baumle, a slender twelve-year-old who loved to ride his dirt bike through the woods of southern Illinois, died from acetaminophen poisoning. So did tiny five-month-old...

    • 19. Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business
      (pp. 273-291)
      Jonah Engle

      The first time she saw her mother passed out on the living room floor, Amanda thought she was dead. There were muddy tracks on the carpet and the room looked like it had been ransacked. Mary wouldn’t wake up. When she finally came to, she insisted nothing was wrong. But as the weeks passed, her fifteen-year-old daughter’s sense of foreboding grew. Amanda’s parents stopped sleeping and eating. Her once heavy mother turned gaunt, and her father, Barry, stopped going to work. She was embarrassed to go into town with him; he was covered in open sores. A musty stink gripped...

    • 20. The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food
      (pp. 293-321)
      Michael Moss

      On the evening of April 8, 1999, a long line of Town Cars and taxis pulled up to the Minneapolis headquarters of Pillsbury and discharged eleven men who controlled America’s largest food companies. Nestlé was in attendance, as were Kraft and Nabisco, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Mars. Rivals any other day, the CEOs and company presidents had come together for a rare, private meeting. On the agenda was one item: the emerging obesity epidemic and how to deal with it. While the atmosphere was cordial, the men assembled were hardly friends. Their stature was defined by...

    • 21. League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
      (pp. 323-382)
      Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada

      ANNOUNCER: Tonight onFrontline, the epic story of football’s concussion crisis.

      HARRY CARSON, AUTHOR,Captain for Life: These players come down with dementia.

      ANNOUNCER: A majorFrontlineinvestigation of what the NFL knew and when it knew it.

      STEVE FAINARU,Frontline/ESPN: The level of denial was just profound.

      BETH WILKINSON, NFL’S ATTORNEY: We strongly deny those allegations that we withheld any information or misled the players.

      DR. MICKEY COLLINS, UNIV. OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CTR.: We don’t know who is at risk for it. We don’t know if concussion in and of itself is what causes the abnormalities.

      ANNOUNCER: A decades-long...

  9. Part V. Creative Destruction

    • 22. How Jenna Lyons Transformed J.Crew Into a Cult Brand
      (pp. 385-399)
      Danielle Sacks

      Jenna Lyons is in her corner office sucking on an iced coffee as if it were manna. The room looks like a cross between a boudoir and an artist’s loft, with a peach fur draped over a white leather eames chair. The industrial windows stretch up and up, like Lyons’s legs, which are punctuated by a pair of metallic, sparkled three-inch stilettos. But the coffee just isn’t cutting it. “I’m so hungry. I haven’t eaten in ten days,” says the executive creative director and president of J. Crew, not hyperbolically. “I was like,errrr! errrr!with every pair of pants,”...

    • 23. The Mysterious Story of the Battery Startup That Promised GM a 200-Mile Electric Car
      (pp. 401-425)
      Steve LeVine

      At the end of November 2012, Atul Kapadia and Sujeet Kumar hosted the staff of their startup company for a holiday lunch of Mexican food at a Palo Alto, California, restaurant. For days, the pair—the CEO and CTO, respectively, of a lithium-ion-battery company called Envia Systems—had awaited an e-mail from General Motors.

      It was to contain a deal rare to an industry newcomer—a contract worth tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to provide the electric central nervous system for two showcase GM models, including the next-generation Chevy Volt. Untested small suppliers almost never get in...

    • 24. The Death of the Funeral Business
      (pp. 427-439)
      Sandy Hingston

      Over the summer, my ninety-eight-year-old Aunt Elizabeth passed away, after a long, full life.

      In the wake (heh) of her memorial service, I got a letter from her daughter, my cousin Stephanie. It had a chart of our family’s two burial plots at Hillside Cemetery in Roslyn, showing who’s interred in which graves, and . . . well, let me just quote:

      The original cemetery contract entitles one burial to be made in each grave without additional charge. . . . This is called the “first right.” But if someone decides to be buried in one of the seven graves...

    • 25. Declara Co-Founder Ramona Pierson’s Comeback Odyssey
      (pp. 441-451)
      Ashlee Vance

      As a twenty-two-year-old marine, Ramona Pierson spent most days stuck in an office at the El Toro air station near Irvine, Calif. She excelled at math and was doing top-secret work, coming up with algorithms to aid fighter attack squadrons. Pierson enjoyed the covert puzzling. She was also an exercise addict: After clocking out each day, she would head off for a thirteen-mile run. Her male counterparts were impressed enough with the workout regime to nominate her the fittest person on the base.

      At about four p.m. on a weekday in April 1984, Pierson finished her work, went home, leashed...

    • 26. A Toast Story
      (pp. 453-464)
      John Gravois

      All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stare—blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar café—was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.

      The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked...

  10. Part VI. The Politics of Business

    • 27. Washington’s Robust Market for Attacks, Half-Truths
      (pp. 467-479)
      Michael Kranish

      Even by the contemporary standards of bare-fisted attack ads, the unlikely assault on the president of the Humane Society of the United States seems particularly brazen.

      “Is Wayne Pacelle the Bernie Madoff of the Charity World?” the ad says, comparing the leader of the nation’s largest animal welfare group to the swindler serving a 150-year sentence for losses of $65 billion in the world’s most notorious Ponzi scheme. As a narrator speaks, an image of Pacelle is shown morphing into Madoff.

      Then the attack widens. The Humane Society, the narrator says, “gives less than 1 percent of its massive donations...

    • 28. He Who Makes the Rules
      (pp. 481-513)
      Haley Sweetland Edwards

      In late 2010, Bart Chilton, one of three Democratic commissioners at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, walked into an upper-floor suite of an executive office building to meet with four top muckety-mucks at one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

      There were a handful of staff members present, but it was a pretty small gathering—one, it turns out, that Chilton would never forget.

      The main topic Chilton hoped to discuss that day was the CFTC’s pending rule on what are known as “position limits.” If implemented properly, position limits would put a leash on speculation in...

    • 29. A Word from Our Sponsor
      (pp. 515-527)
      Jane Mayer

      Last fall, Alex Gibney, a documentary filmmaker who won an Academy Award in 2008 for an exposé of torture at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, completed a film calledPark Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream.It was scheduled to air on PBS on November 12. The movie had been produced independently, in part with support from the Gates Foundation.Park Avenueis a pointed exploration of the growing economic inequality in America and a meditation on the oft en self-justifying mind-set of “the 1 percent.” As a narrative device, Gibney focuses on one of the most expensive...

    • 30. Amazon’s (Not So) Secret War on Taxes
      (pp. 529-547)
      Peter Elkind and Doris Burke

      The online retail giant has waged a lengthy and tenacious campaign against state sales taxes on Internet purchases—which Congress may finally be ready to mandate. But even when Amazon loses, it wins.

      In August 2010, Cheryl Lenkowsky, an auditor for the Texas state comptroller, sent a letter to a top tax executive at Amazon. com’s Seattle headquarters. At that point, Amazon had been selling a wide array of merchandise to Texans for fifteen years without collecting a penny of sales tax from them. Tax-free shopping was a delight for customers, a vital competitive edge for the company—and a...

    • 31. How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers
      (pp. 549-560)
      Gregg Easterbrook

      Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated byForbesat $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.

      Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 561-566)
  12. Permissions
    (pp. 567-570)