The Best Business Reads of March

The month’s most interesting stories from around the web

One of our favorite stories in March investigates the economics of the Star Trek universe. (Mike Blake / Reuters)

Another month has gone by, and The Atlantic’s business editors have once again gathered their favorite thought-provoking stories about money and economics from around the Internet.

This month’s selections includes a diverse array of publications, formats, and story topics, including (but not limited to): Bobby Jindal, the economic utopia of the Star Trek universe, crazy election promises,  and how gentrification led to one young man’s death.

If you’re just catching up, check out our roundups from earlier this year, which you can find here and here.

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Death by Gentrification: The Killing That Shamed San Francisco

Rebecca Solnit | The Guardian

On what would have been his 30th birthday, Alejandro Nieto’s parents left a packed courtroom in San Francisco, shortly before pictures from their son’s autopsy were shown to a jury. The photographs showed what happens when 14 bullets rip through a person’s head and body. Refugio and Elvira Nieto spent much of the rest of the day sitting on a bench in the windowless hall of the federal building where their civil lawsuit for their son’s wrongful death was being heard.

. . .

Nieto died because a series of white men saw him as a menacing intruder in the place he had spent his whole life. They thought he was possibly a gang member because he was wearing a red jacket. Many Latino boys and men in San Francisco avoid wearing red and blue because they are the colours of two gangs, the Norteños and Sureños – but the colours of San Francisco’s football team, the 49ers, are red and gold. Wearing a 49ers jacket in San Francisco is as ordinary as wearing a Saints jersey in New Orleans.

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If Elected President

Adam Davidson | Planet Money

Candidates can promise almost anything in a presidential campaign: Free puppies! Everyone gets a jet pack! A lot of it won't actually happen. But today, we put practical concerns aside, and imagine a world in which the candidates' promises actually come true. A world where college is free, and there's no more IRS.

Would you want to live there?

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Welcome to the Next Housing Crisis: Chronic Undersupply of Homes for a Growing Country

Matthew Yglesias | Vox

A decade after the collapse of the housing market set into motion a series of events that brought the national economy to its knees, the country is mired in another housing crisis.

We're out of the frying pan of speculative excess and into a subtler and more insidious problem of chronic undersupply. A country that's always prided itself on open spaces, abundant housing, and ample opportunity now has too few homes and is building too few to keep up with its needs. That's the bad news.

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Why Jean-Luc Picard Never Carried a Wallet

Eric Grundhauser | Atlas Obscura

The exact economics of the Star Trek universe (excluding the recent J.J. Abrams films, which are set in an alternate timeline, and thus outside the scope of the discussion, nerds) are a bit vague, and vary quite a bit between some of the series and movies. But in each iteration, the 23rd- to 24th-century world of Star Trek is, as Saadia’s book puts it, “an economic utopia.”

During the first Star Trek series, which ran from 1966-69 and spawned every iteration thereafter, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the crew of the USS Enterprise existed in what amounted to a galaxy-spanning trade system. However, even in its initial conception, the world of Star Trek was a world where money no longer existed (at least within the United Federation of Planets, of which Earth is capital).

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Welcome to Dilley

Chris Gregory, Natalie Keyssar, Jake Naughton, and Alejandro Torres Viera | Black Box

In one such town, Dilley, Texas, as night falls, the warm tendrils of the evening sun rake across the dusty landscape and an unforgiving glow builds to take their place. Thickets of huge lights burn brighter and a radiant bruise blooms in the sky, visible for miles along I-35. The source of the bright lights, and intense national controversy, is the country's largest immigrant detention center: the benignly named South Texas Family Residential Center (or as its detractors call it,"baby jail"). At capacity, it houses some 2,400 women and children, most of whom are seeking asylum after fleeing violence, poverty and bleak futures with no end in sight.

. . .

Operated by the multibillion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, CCA now runs Dilley. Each detainee at Dilley earns CCA roughly $300 per day — at capacity, that's upwards of $260 million per year.

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What’s Your Worth?

Allison Behringer | The Intern

“I’ve decided I’m going to ask my boss, James, for a raise.”

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Battered by Drop in Oil Prices and Jindal’s Fiscal Policies, Louisiana Falls into Budget Crisis

Chico Harlan | Washington Post

Louisiana stands at the brink of economic disaster. Without sharp and painful tax increases in the coming weeks, the government will cease to offer many of its vital services, including education opportunities and certain programs for the needy. A few universities will shut down and declare bankruptcy. Graduations will be canceled. Students will lose scholarships. Select hospitals will close. Patients will lose funding for treatment of disabilities. Some reports of child abuse will go uninvestigated.

. . .

In Louisiana’s capital, on a university campus just seven miles north of the government offices, is perhaps the most acute evidence of the funding cutbacks — and the mounting concern about what will happen next. At Southern University and A&M College, a historically black institution along the Mississippi River, mold spreads across building walls, and rats scurry through dormitories. Eighteen buildings have roof leaks; in two, raw sewage occasionally belches onto the floor. An entire section of the library is off limits because of a perpetually broken fire alarm.

“One elevator has been broken since 2013,” said Taysia Marie, a junior nursing student. “I’ve never seen it working.”

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Barney Frank Is Not Impressed by Bernie Sanders

Isaac Chotiner | Slate

I am disappointed by the voters who say, “OK I’m just going to show you how angry I am!” And I’m particularly unimpressed with people who sat out the Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014 and then are angry at Democrats because we haven’t been able to produce public policies they like. They contributed to the public policy problems and now they are blaming other people for their own failure to vote, and then it’s like, “Oh look at this terrible system,” but it was their voting behavior that brought it about.

So it seems like you’re saying Bernie’s voters have a slightly unrealistic sense about the political process. And that this is driven—

I didn’t say slightly.


Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out. It is harder to get things done in the American political system than a lot of people realize, and what happens is they blame the people in office for the system.

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What Gawker's New Contract Means For The Freelance Workforce

John Paul Titlow | Fast Company

As more and more of the workforce goes freelance, questions about how to fairly compensate workers continue to loom. Often, startups come up with innovative new ways to distribute tasks and serve customers more quickly than these labor-related questions can be answered. Increasingly, the result of this tension is litigation.

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The SoHo Effect

Roman Mars | 99% Invisible

From Boston and Washington DC to Seattle and Denver, you can find places like LoDo, SoDo, SoMa, SoWa, all tracing their AcNa lineage back to SoHo, short for South of Houston Street in Manhattan (note: London’s Soho is not an acroname).

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As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops

Claire Cain Miller | The New York Times

“It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” Ms. England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”

A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar, according to a complex formula used by Professor Levanon. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points.

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Shut Up and Sit Down

Joshua Rothman | New Yorker

People who fetishize leadership sometimes find themselves longing for crisis. They yearn for emergency, dreaming of a doomsday to be narrowly averted.

. . .

Our faith in the value of leadership is durable—it survives, again and again, our disappointment with actual leaders. Polls suggest that, even though voters who support Trump are frustrated with the people in charge, they aren’t disillusioned about leadership in general: they are attracted to Trump’s “leadership qualities” and to an authoritarian view of life. In a sense, they’re caught in a feedback loop. The glorification of leadership makes existing leaders seem disappointing by comparison, leading to an ever more desperate search for “real” leaders to replace them. Trump’s supporters aren’t the only ones caught in this loop. Schools that used to talk about “citizenship” now claim to train “the leaders of tomorrow”; academics study leadership in think tanks and institutes; leadership experts emote their way through talks about it on YouTube. According to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey, two-thirds of executives say that “leadership development and succession management” constitute their No. 1 “human capital priority”; another study found that American companies spend almost fourteen billion dollars annually on leadership-training seminars.