The Best Business Reads of June

The month’s most interesting stories about money and business from around the web

This month, a story from the Pacific Standard uses the price of sushi to illustrate the vast inequality in one city. (Fred Prouser / Reuters)

Updated July 1, 2016

It’s once again time for The Atlantic’s Business section editors to compile a list of the best things they’ve read (or listened to) in the past few weeks.

This month, several best-loved stories had a similar theme: Examining troubling inequalities that have become so commonplace that most people hardly even notice them. June’s list of readings offers several reminders that access to food, housing, free time, and even summer camp are deeply unequal. There’s also a great radio piece that can help explain what was perhaps the biggest, and most confounding story of the month: Brexit.

And if you’ve missed previous months’ roundups, you can find them here, here, and here.

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Making a Killing

Evan Osnos | The New Yorker

High-profile massacres can summon our attention, and galvanize demands for change, but in 2015 fatalities from mass shootings amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.

None of that has hurt the gun business. In recent years, in response to three kinds of events—mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and talk of additional gun control—gun sales have broken records. “You know that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there’s a shooting somewhere, sales spike like crazy,” Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told me.

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Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City

Nikole Hannah-Jones | The New York Times

When the New York City Public Schools catalog arrived in the mail one day that spring, with information about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new universal prekindergarten program, I told Faraji that I wanted to enroll Najya in a segregated, low-income school. Faraji’s eyes widened as I explained that if we removed Najya, whose name we chose because it means “liberated” and “free” in Swahili, from the experience of most black and Latino children, we would be part of the problem. Saying my child deserved access to “good” public schools felt like implying that children in “bad” schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural — a result of decades of housing discrimination, of political calculations and the machinations of policy makers, of simple inertia. But I also believed that it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system, and I was determined not to do what I’d seen so many others do when their values about integration collided with the reality of where to send their own children to school.

One family, or even a few families, cannot transform a segregated school, but if none of us were willing to go into them, nothing would change.

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Episode 704: Open Office

Adam Davidson | Planet Money

When we tell the story of the open office, we often begin with tech startups. Open offices feel nimble, informal, and social—just like startups, right? And then older companies saw the results from Silicon Valley, and they wanted in. To grow like a tech company, why not look like one? So the open office spread. Now, 70 percent of American offices are open plan. That's how the story goes.

But the idea to tear down the walls did not come from Silicon Valley.

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More Time to Unwind, Unless You’re a Woman

Tyler Cowen | The New York Times

The average workweek for full-time American workers isn’t anywhere close to Keynes’s predictions. Current estimates are 34 to 47 hours, depending on what exactly is being measured and how part-time labor is treated.

The trend isn’t moving in the Keynes direction either: The workweek hasn’t been falling much since World War II, if at all. To the extent that leisure time has gone up, it is mostly because household chores are done more efficiently and because some people have lost their jobs.

Keynes probably underestimated how much safer and more pleasurable many jobs have become, but he made another, perhaps even greater, miscalculation. He failed to foresee a significant shift that underlies these statistics. Women are working far more than they once did, and probably more than they would choose to do, if they were able to balance their work and family lives freely.

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In New York City, What’s the Difference Between a $240 Sushi Roll and a $6.95 Sushi Roll?

Greg Rosalsky | Pacific Standard

Kappo Masa is located on Madison Ave. in the Lenox Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side, sandwiched between Central Park and the luxury apartment buildings of Park Avenue. Across the street are multimillion-dollar art galleries, the Carlyle Hotel (with rooms ranging from $400 to $15,000-plus per night), and Vera Wang Bride, a store for the designer’s wedding dresses (the starting price of one is $2,900). Wang is a regular at Kappo Masa, and so are many other locals. They can, after all, afford it. With a median household income of an estimated $217,070 per year, the blocks around Kappo Masa are some of the richest in New York City.

Fifty blocks north of Kappo Masa and across the Harlem River we find a very different economic reality, and a very different market for fish. The South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven is the poorest neighborhood in the city. In fact, with a median household income of $19,536 a year and a poverty rate of near 50 percent, Mott Haven and its neighbor, Port Morris, represent the poorest zip code in the poorest congressional district of the entire U.S. In some areas of Mott Haven and Port Morris, a typical household could save for an entire month, without paying rent or any other expenses, and they still wouldn’t have enough for a single dinner date at Masa.

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A Radical Idea to Compensate Black Homeowners Harmed by Racial Bias

Emily Badger | Washington Post

Decades of official government policy, lending practices and silent preferences have sorted blacks and whites into separate housing markets in America. They have enabled whites to build wealth through homeownership, across generations, in ways that compound the racial wealth gap in America. And in this divided housing market, black wealth was destroyed at a much higher rate during the housing bust.

The home mortgage interest deduction, meanwhile, further distorts the housing market, piling benefits on the rich and encouraging people who were already well-off to buy even bigger homes. So why not restructure the deduction — which needs doing anyway — to recognize some of housing's racial disparities?

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Episode 59: Felix Salmon Explains the Brexit

Joshua Topolsky | Tomorrow Podcast

Why would anyone do this? Why was any of this even on the table? Is this whole thing legally binding? Will Scotland and Northern Ireland leave the UK in the dust? Can Americans finally feel superior to the Brits for the first time in decades?

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Good News at the Washington Post

Christopher Payne | New York Magazine

After years of layoffs, buyouts, and battered morale, the Post’s newsroom has its swagger back. Under Bezos, the paper has grown by 140 journalists and has won two Pulitzers. Its aggressive coverage of the 2016 presidential race frequently drives the news cycle and so infuriated Donald Trump that he has banned its reporters from his campaign. Most significantly, in business terms, since Bezos bought it, traffic to has more than doubled. When it briefly beat out the New York Times in November, to celebrate, the Post ran house ads proclaiming itself “the new publication of record.”

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The Families That Can’t Afford Summer

KJ Dell’Antonia | The New York Times

Most American schools take a 10- to 11-week break during the summer. The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. For the rest of us, the children are off, the parents are not. We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.

In 2014, parents reported planning to spend an average of $958 per child on summer expenses. Those who can’t afford camps or summer learning programs cobble together care from family members or friends, or are forced to leave children home alone. Self-care for 6- to 12-year-olds increases during the summer months, with 11 percent of children spending an average of 10 hours a week on their own. In July 2014, a South Carolina woman was arrested when she left her 9-year-old in a park while she worked. Parents afraid of being at the center of a similar incident may be more likely to park their kids in front of the TV.

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Angola’s Greatest Escape

Stephie Grob Plante | Racked

"Getting selected to be in the crafts show is like running for political office," an inmate trustee named Lionel tells me. "It can take years."

For Lionel, it took two. He's a military veteran, which made him eligible to serve in the prison's honor guard. That eventual membership, in turn, granted him direct entry into the craft show. For non-veterans, there's no set route. The key prerequisite across the board is an untarnished behavioral record, not just to get into the craft fair and sell your work, but to earn access to the hobby shop to create that work in the first place. Inmates in good standing are permitted hobby shop access during their free time; free time itself is only attainable after an unspecified amount of time served, which varies from inmate to inmate.

It's a huge privilege for inmates to gain entry to the arts and crafts fair, and there's a host of reward motivations at play. For starters, the festival provides them their sole opportunity to interact with the general public.

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The New Normal

Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel | Invisibilia

This week, new Invisibilia co-host Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel talk to oil workers in the deep south who tried a social experiment to transform the entrenched macho culture of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. In the process of this shift, they massively improved the safety and productivity of the rig, and also transformed the notion of what a Southern oil man is like.

Our second story involves a grand experiment in shifting a social norm, this time of an entire nation. In the 1990's McDonald's decided to open the first ever McDonald's in Moscow, but were impeded by the social norms around smiling and customer service in Russia. In this story Alix follows the story of Yuri, one of the first McDonald's employees, as he comes to unlearn what his teachers in school taught him: that people who smile at strangers are idiots.

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Tim and Eric’s Joke Empire

Max Abelson | Businessweek

Tim and Eric are figuring out a new method of comedy production. Depending on which subreddit stream you’re reading, they’re either geniuses or pointlessly nihilistic and digressive. But their ability to pump out content—from their Super Bowl advertisement for Loctite superglue to 15-minute segments of Check It Out!—while enticing household comedy names to make cameos is allowing their fiefdom to grow.