In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reviews David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs.”
In the course of Graeber’s diagnosis, he inaugurates five phyla of bullshit work. “Flunkies,” he says, are those paid to hang around and make their superiors feel important: doormen, useless assistants, receptionists with silent phones, and so on. “Goons” are gratuitous or arms-race muscle; Graeber points to Oxford University’s P.R. staff, whose task appears to be to convince the public that Oxford is a good school. “Duct tapers” are hired to patch or bridge major flaws that their bosses are too lazy or inept to fix systemically. (This is the woman at the airline desk whose duty is to assuage angry passengers when bags don’t arrive.) “Box tickers” go through various motions, often using paperwork or serious-looking reports, to suggest that things are happening when things aren’t. (Hannibal is a box ticker.) Last are “taskmasters,” divided into two subtypes: unnecessary superiors, who manage people who don’t need management, and bullshit generators, whose job is to create and assign more bullshit for others. …
Graeber comes to believe that the governing logic for such expansion isn’t efficiency but something nearer to feudalism: a complex tangle of economics, organizational politics, tithes, and redistributions, which is motivated by the will to competitive status and local power.
My view is that what Graeber describes is a reflection of growing “corporate correctness,” the tendency
- to structure and regulate everything, and often in an incompetent way;
- to focus on appearance rather than content (think of power point);
- to avoid responsibility by forming commissions and commissioning reports; and
- to replace common sense by a mentality of box ticking, buzz wording, and bull shitting.
Of course, corporate correctness transcends the corporate sector. Universities and the public sector are leading the way.
The Economist reports about conflicting strategies among important Bitcoin players; the struggle aligns pragmatists against libertarian ideologists. It also reports about attempts by competing crypto currencies to strengthen corporate governance:
Tezos, another blockchain, will … not only have regular votes on competing proposals for how to change the system, but a more scientific approach to evaluating them and a way to compensate the developers for coming up with ideas. If their proposals are accepted, they will get paid in Tezos coins. The approach appears to have resonated within the crypto world: when Tezos closed its ICO earlier this month, it had raised a record $232m.
On Alphaville, Izabella Kaminska comments on the pecking order induced by initial coin offerings (ICOs).
All of this raises an important point about actual shareholder rights within these structures. Say a legally-incorporated institution with actual shareholders dishes out an uncapped amount of tokens promising a share of revenues or dividends via the ICO process. Do shareholders’ rights to those revenue/dividends trump rights of the token holders? And if so, how does that square with the way risk is distributed through these systems? As Unseth notes, more often than not, it’s the token holders taking the bulk of the early concept risk, yet the inferiority of their ranking relative to shareholders kind of sees the latter receiving a free lunch.
In a Bank of Finland discussion paper, Bill Francis, Iftekhar Hasan and Qiang Wu argue that there is evidence for academic economists to be useful after all. Academics on the board of directors “are valuable advisors and effective monitors.” The authors write in the abstract:
Directors from academia served on the boards of around 40% of S&P 1,500 firms over the 1998-2011 period. … We find that companies with directors from academia are associated with higher performance and this relation is driven by professors without administrative jobs. We also find that academic directors play an important governance role through their advising and monitoring functions. Specifically, our results show that the presence of academic directors is associated with higher acquisition performance, higher number of patents and citations, higher stock price informativeness, lower discretionary accruals, lower CEO compensation, and higher CEO forced turnover-performance sensitivity. Overall, our results provide supportive evidence that academic directors are valuable advisors and effective monitors and that, in general, firms benefit from having academic directors.
The rules of procedure (PDF) of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Bern. An overview of the rules governing the academic programs.