As earnings season is on us, it is worth asking: does business create value these days the way it once did? One sign it does not is a significant decline in the formation rate of US firms over the past few decades. Economists Peter Orszag and Jason Furman have argued that investment and innovation have taken a back seat to profits derived from economic rents. Political factors also increasingly appear to play a major role in driving corporate profits, as new regulations help incumbent firms, another strike against economic efficiency. What’s going on? Surprisingly, one of the more convincing explanations comes from an anthropologist who has looked beyond narrow economic reasoning to examine the actual social or psychological functions served by many of the jobs in today’s service and knowledge economy. David Graeber of the London School of Economics argues in a recent book that the prevailing myths about the efficiency of capitalism blind us to the fact that much of economic reality...

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