Best columns: Business
Our silly obsession with factories
Binyamin Appelbaum The New York Times Magazine
“Why are politicians so obsessed with manufacturing?” asked Binyamin Appelbaum. Donald Trump recently visited Pittsburgh, where he vowed to revitalize the U.S. steel industry. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that more than 80 percent of Pittsburgh’s jobs “are now in the service sector, roughly on par with the national average.” Tech, health-care, and financial firms are putting down roots in the city. Nostalgia in politics is, of course, “nothing new.” For the better part of the 20th century, politicians tripped over themselves to promise aid to farmers struggling with urbanization, just as they vow to help factory workers today. But instead of trying to “turn back time” and put people back to work in factories, politicians should focus on improving the conditions of jobs Americans actually do now. There were 64,000 steelworkers in the U.S. last year, and 820,000 home health-care aides. Many of these aides live close to the poverty line, making an average of $22,870 annually, and they struggle alongside tens of millions of other workers in retail, fast food, and caregiving who receive meager benefits. We will likely never re-create the conditions that made the post–World War II manufacturing boom possible, but we can try to replicate the “formula that created the middle class.” Higher wages and better worker protections are a good place to start.
America’s abysmal airports
Adam Minter Bloomberg.com
World travelers agree: American airports are terrible, said Adam Minter. To find a U.S. city on the SkyTrax annual customer rankings of the world’s best airports, “you’d need to scroll all the way down to No. 28, where Denver International is slotted.” That’s easy to understand if you’ve ever traveled through the gleaming airports of Singapore, Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur, where travelers enjoy “butterfly gardens, jungle trails, and soundproofed, WiFi-enabled snooze cubes.” Part of the problem is money. Even as air travel has surged, spending on aviation infrastructure in the U.S. has actually declined, from $21 billion in 2004 to $13 billion in 2014. But even with more investment, most airports here will never match the best-loved international hubs, like Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon, and Tokyo Narita, if only because of geography. Unlike those airports, which compete for “wealthy longhaul passengers” who shop and spend freely on international layovers, most U.S. airports primarily serve domestic travelers. But “that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.” Privatization of airports, which has lagged in the U.S., might bring in investors willing to make improvements in exchange for longterm leases or even ownership. Encouraging publicprivate partnerships, like the recently inked $4 billion revamp of New York’s infamously bad LaGuardia Airport, is another option. Anything to make traveling in the U.S. “a less miserable experience.”