Bill Ackman’s SPAC May Have Found a Dance Partner

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The late anthropologist David Graeber popularized the notion that, as he saw it, many workers waste their lives on meaningless tasks that they know have little social value. The theory, which used a barnyard epithet to describe socially useless jobs, struck a chord and was embraced by some academics and politicians to criticize the modern economy. But the theory itself might be B.S., according to a new empirical study that questions Graeber’s methods.

Very few jobs are “intrinsically and objectively” B.S., the lead researcher, Magdalena Soffia of Cambridge University, told DealBook. Graeber said that people are increasingly driven to useless jobs in fields like engineering, law and finance by student debt and “managerial feudalism.” Valuable and fulfilling work includes manual labor, public service and the arts, he posited, but these don’t pay well. The new analysis, which tested five of his hypotheses against extensive data sets from the E.U., showed workers did not feel nearly as bad about their jobs as Graeber believed, whatever they did for a living, and that the share of people who said their work was useless was “low and declining” over time.

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Hedge fund managers and corporate lawyers topped Graeber’s B.S. jobs list. (He was, after all, “the house theorist of Occupy Wall Street,” The Times wrote in 2011). But few people in the new study felt the futility he described. Ultimately, only about one in 20 felt they had a B.S. job, even though all experienced some frustrations. For those, there are fixes, Soffia said: “We are not doomed. There is a lot that can be done to improve the quality of existing employment.”

“Empiricism always wins,” said Louis Hyman, the director of the Institute for Workplace Studies at Cornell. He calls the research, which he was not involved in, a “meaningful contribution.” Graeber’s theory was catchy, Hyman said, but it distracted from more important questions about work: Are people paid enough and do they have power? Do they feel like a machine or a person? Can work provide a stable life? As businesses and lawmakers puzzle over a labor shortage, those issues are especially pressing. It’s not work itself that’s B.S., but certain conditions can be, Hyman said.

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Deals

  • Getir, one of the biggest on-demand grocery delivery apps, has raised $550 million at a $7.5 billion valuation. (FT)

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  • Jeff Skilling, the former C.E.O. of Enron, has launched an energy investment firm staffed with ex-consultants from McKinsey. (Reuters)

  • KKR agreed to buy a stake in the French software company Cegid, which is backed by Silver Lake, deepening a bond between the two private equity giants. (Reuters, FT)

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Politics and policy

  • President Biden added more companies to a Trump-era blacklist of businesses linked to the Chinese military. (NYT)

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  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is being investigated for potential campaign finance law violations. (NYT)

  • The Justice Department is said to be examining a Democratic lobbying firm for work it did for Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden was a director. (Politico)

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Tech

  • Facebook will no longer keep up posts by politicians by default if their content breaks its rules. (NYT)

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  • Twitter unveiled a subscription service that allows users to undo tweets, among other features. (NYT)

Best of the rest

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  • Millennials are doing worse financially than the generation before them in almost every measurable way. (Bloomberg)

  • A major commercial landlord in a British coastal town is offering free rent for two years as part of an experiment in postpandemic redevelopment. (NYT)

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  • A forthcoming government report won’t confirm the existence of U.F.O.s — but it doesn’t rule them out either. (NYT)

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