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Our Best Economics Stories From This Past Year

The most important reads from our coverage of health care, manufacturing, prison systems, and more.
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Flywheel production at the Ford motor plant in Highland Park, Michigan.

Flywheel production at the Ford motor plant in Highland Park, Michigan.

Broadly speaking, “economics” can be defined as a “term referring to the scientific study of human action, particularly as it relates to human choice and the utilization of scarce resources.” An admittedly vague definition, for an especially sweeping subject.

Not surprisingly, the same sense of expansiveness applies to economics reporting: Anything from housing to health care to prisons can be nestled under the econ umbrella. With that in mind, 2016 brought with it another collection of excellent stories from Pacific Standard writers, covering a wide range of subjects. From a deep dive into the future of altruism, to a first-person look at the unique hardships of life in the service industry, to a well-reasoned call for a Universal Basic Income, these stories explore the many ways money and the things it can buy shape our lives.

The need for these stories remains urgent. A large part of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising victory can be pinned on Americans’ economic anxieties. And those worries aren’t entirely unfounded. Most low- and middle-income Americans still haven’t reached pre-Recession income levels, insurers continue to pull out of markets, and the Rust Belt is all but dead. Yet still, there’s reason for hope, namely the fact that the economy is growing at a steady clip as unemployment continues to shrink.

This is all to say: There are lot of variables that go into judging a nation’s economy, and it requires quite a bit of reading to get a fuller picture. Well, here’s a good starting point.


“This is the best, most beautiful sign in all of Miskolc! We will win by a landslide with just this sign alone!”

“If spending capacity is limited, what we are saying is, save some of your hard-earned cash since we are bundling Internet access with products that you need and buy already.”

America’s money bail system isn’t just unconstitutional — it’s a fundamental engine of injustice.

The Silicon Valley creation myth isn’t completely accurate.

How does one enjoy or profit from a world-class city when the things that make it notable — sweeping vistas, an apartment near public transit, quaint Victorians nestled in the hills — are as far from one’s own reality as the fog is from the Mission?

Take one or two fancy universities or big corporations out to the woodshed for credentialing exploitative internships, and the rest will get in line.

“Wages stopped growing and then high school graduate wages fell through the floor. That sets the stage for what happens after that.”

Even free-market libertarians love the UBI — it eliminates government bureaucracy, reduces some of the employment disincentives built into current social safety net programs, and is less market-distorting than, for example, minimum wage laws.

The vast majority of people who are uninsured are uninsured because health insurance is too expensive.

If Cuba is a colorful fantasy that lasts and lasts like a Life Savers lollipop, Puerto Rico is a nuisance, like a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

The idea that simply handing out cash could effectively alleviate poverty once seemed ludicrous — until scientists began proving that it works.

“Right now, society is deeply steeped in a consumeristic culture. We’ve been sold the American dream, one that requires accoutrements to fulfill our lives.”