The news was bad, even heartbreaking, but the writing about those events was good to great.
In The Best Business Writing 2013, a compilation of stories about the impact of business practices and financial-world workings on the American public, 29 articles shock, educate and dismay, never comforting the reader.
Previously published in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Wired, ProPublica, The New Yorker, Mother Jones and elsewhere, this collection largely reflects the persistent damage of the financial collapse of 2008.
“The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class,’’ from Rolling Stone, profiles men, women and children living in cars and vans in a Santa Barbara church parking lot. Author Jeff Tietz doesn’t mince words about their predicament:
“There is no moral or substantive difference between a hundred-year flood and the near destruction of the global financial system by speculators immune from consequence. But if you and your spouse both lose your jobs and assets because of an unprecedented economic cataclysm having nothing to do with you, you quickly discover that your society expects you and your children to live malnourished on the streets indefinitely.
“That kind of truth really screws with people’s heads,’’ says social worker Nancy Kapp to Tietz.
“The Great American Foreclosure Story: The Struggle for Justice and a Place to Call Home’’ visits a Florida grandmother with custody of three children who runs a lawn business and pays her bills until a fraudulent subprime mortgage and medical bills send her into a financial tailspin, in 2007. Bureaucratic snafus arising from outsourcing and downsizing of office personnel prevent her from modifying her loan to stay solvent. She loses her home.
On the other side of the spectrum, Max Abelson’s Bloomberg story, ”Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Coupons,’’ tells us that Wall Street’s cash bonus pool “fell by 14 percent last year (2011) to $19.7 billion, the lowest since 2008.’’ That shrunken pool compels the head of an executive search firm to eliminate ski trips to Aspen and to shop around, with coupons, for the best price on a box of Wheat Chex. A real-estate investor, who spends $17,000 yearly on the maintenance of two dogs, must sell his two motorcycles and settle for a lesser car -- a 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, “the Volkswagen of supercars.’’
The stories are cyclical in theme: Bethany McLean’s “Case Against Bear and JP Morgan Provides Little Cheer,’’ published by Reuters, details the case against Bear Sterns, charged with widespread wrongdoing, specifically for pocketing refunds owed to customers who were sold bad mortgages. JP Morgan Chase acquired Bear in 2008.
As Reuters reported recently, JPMorganChase and “the government entered a preliminary $13 billion settlement to end investigations into whether the bank misled investors when it bundled subprime mortgages into bonds before the financial crisis. The largest U.S. bank (Chase) said earlier this month it has set aside $23 billion over time to pay for legal issues.’’