The Best Business Reads of July

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

This month, a story from Stitcher investigates the narrative of the underemployed, college-educated barista.  (Fredy Builes / Reuters)

It’s the end of the month, which means The Atlantic’s Business section editors have once again compiled a list of the best things they’ve read (or listened to) in the past few weeks.

Among other topics, this month picks include a look at why Americans have reacted so deeply to Marie Kondo’s cleaning philosophy, whether or not Hillary can satisfy devotees to Bernie’s economic plan, and a deep dive into the unsolved murder of a banker in Puerto Rico.

If you’ve missed a recent roundup, you can find them here, here, and here.

Food Fight

Malcolm Gladwell | Revisionist History

Bowdoin College in Maine and Vassar College in upstate New York are roughly the same size. They compete for the same students. Both have long traditions of academic excellence. But one of those schools is trying hard to close the gap between rich and poor in American society—and paying a high price for its effort. The other is making that problem worse—and reaping rewards as a result.

“Food Fight,” the second of the three-part Revisionist History miniseries on opening up college to poor kids, focuses on a seemingly unlikely target: how the food each school serves in its cafeteria can improve or distort the educational system.

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Marie Kondo and the Ruthless War on Stuff

Taffy Brodesser-Akner | The New York Times

People had an unnaturally strong reaction to the arrival of this woman and her promises of life-changing magic. There were people who had been doing home organizing for years by then, and they sniffed at her severe methods. (One professional American organizer sent me a picture of a copy of Kondo’s book, annotated with green sticky notes marking where she approved of the advice and pink ones where she disapproved. The green numbered 16; the pink numbered more than 50). But then there were the women who knew that Kondo was speaking directly to them. They called themselves Konverts, and they say their lives have truly changed as a result of using her decluttering methods: They could see their way out of the stuff by aiming upward.

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Demand Curve

Brooke Unger | 1843

So why does Hermès starve the market for Birkins, when it could sell many more, and so make much more money? Hermès says that the constraint is the availability of high-quality skins and people qualified to work with them. Hermès’s leather-goods division (métier, in company parlance) hires 200 craftspeople a year and takes two years to train them. The limit on the number of bags that can be made is therefore a natural one. Like gold and Bitcoins, Hermès suggests, Birkins are mined, not simply made.

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Fences: A Brexit Diary

Zadie Smith | New York Review of Books

What have you done, Boris? What have you done, Dave? Yet within this tale of our solipsistic leaders, thoughtlessly lighting a fuse, there is contained a less pleasing story of our own Londoncentric solipsism, which seems to me equally real, and has formed a different kind of veil, perhaps just as hard to see through as the blinding personal ambition of a man like Boris. The profound shock I felt at the result—and which so many other Londoners seem to have experienced—suggests at the very least that we must have been living behind a kind of veil, unable to see our own country for what it has become.

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Could Hillary Become the Champion of the 99 Percent?

Gideon Lewis-Kraus | New York Times Magazine

Much of the left, including the significant bloc that rejected Clinton in the primaries in favor of Bernie Sanders and his call for “revolution,” finds Wong and her allies delusional in their hope that “Rewriting the Rules” might be realized in Democratic Party practice. But the Sanders and Trump insurrections revealed an appetite for economic populism that no one in either party establishment had quite anticipated. Now Roosevelt and other progressive groups are wagering that a mandate for economic overhaul might already exist, and that it might even be carried out by the woman who always was the party’s near-certain nominee. Wong herself believes that the financial crisis radically destabilized the politics of the American economy, possibly for decades to come, and that 2016 might well mark the early commotion of a genuine political realignment.

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The Strange Story of a Murdered Banker in Puerto Rico

Today, almost everyone in San Juan banking circles has a theory about the murder. Some believe only Colombian hit men could pull off such an assassination. Others say Spagnoletti had enemies in the U.S. who caught up with him. His widow, Marisa, revealed her own theory in a 2013 lawsuit: She said he was killed because he uncovered fraud at the bank and fired an executive he suspected of embezzlement. Doral’s lawyers called her claims ridiculous, and after Marisa admitted in a deposition that she had no evidence, she withdrew the suit.

Since then, new details of the killing have emerged. And according to former Doral executives and people working on the criminal investigation, the widow was onto something. “Let’s use our common sense for a second,” says María Domínguez, who was in charge of an investigation into Doral as first assistant U.S. attorney in San Juan until she retired last year. “This guy was brought by the bank to put the house in order. He starts uncovering certain things that are irregular at the bank. He starts to take corrective action. These circumstances strongly suggest a financial motive to get this guy out of the way.”

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Why Your Company Needs More Ceremonies

Patti Sanchez | Harvard Business Review

We often use ceremonies to celebrate good things: big promotions, business victories, and so on. But they can be just as powerful when used to acknowledge difficulties, mark dark passages, and help those affected by change move on. It’s important to take a moment in difficult times to communally honor those who have made sacrifices or experienced hardship in the course of change.

Sometimes, a dose of levity can help. As part of his effort to get developers at Apple to transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, Steve Jobs held a mock funeral at the 2002 Worldwide Developers Conference. With sad music playing in the background, Jobs placed a large box labeled “Mac OS 9” into a coffin on stage and then delivered a eulogy for the operating system that had been “a friend to us all.”

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The Loneliness of Being Black in San Francisco

Thomas Fuller | The New York Times

“You get the feeling that people are thinking, ‘You’re still here?’” said Barbara Gainer, a probation officer and a jazz singer. She lives in the western reaches of the city, a neighborhood that was once predominantly black but now is mostly Asian-American, a segment that now makes up 34 percent of the city’s population, up from 13 percent in 1970.

Ms. Gainer says she is regularly asked if she wants to sell her house; her mailbox fills up with solicitations. The inquiries were flattering at first because they reminded her of the value of her property, but now she feels singled out. She remembers one couple in particular who approached her four or five times about selling. She tried to dissuade them.

“I said: ‘Even if I sold you my house and you gave me this big price, why would I do that? Where would I live?’”

The reply stunned her: “You should go to Antioch. That’s where your people go.”

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The Well-Educated Barista

Jody Hoff | Stitcher

Imagine your morning coffee run: You walk in, you put in the order,  say hi to the cashier, then you pay. After a few minutes your name is called, you pick up your latte or espresso and then you’re out the door.

But did you ever stop and think about that person behind the counter making your coffee? How did they end up there?