Jobs

Why Do So Many Modern Jobs Seem Pointless?

An investigation into why people are working more without accomplishing more

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Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, by David Graeber, Simon & Schuster, 333 pages, $27

During the last century, everyone from John Maynard Keynes to The Jetsons predicted that in the future, technological advances would drastically cut down the number of hours the average person would need to work to keep the economy going. Why didn't that happen?

In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, suggests it did happen. Not that people are working fewer hours, but that fewer of those hours are actually needed.

Graeber argues that much, perhaps most, of the waged labor in the world's industrialized nations consists of "bullshit jobs": jobs that are "so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify [their] existence." These are not to be confused with "shit jobs," which are unpleasant and poorly paid but often produce some obviously useful good or service. On the contrary, bullshit jobs may be well-paid and fairly easy, yet people nevertheless tend to find them extremely demoralizing, as evidenced by testimonials Graeber has collected from workers around the world. Contrary to the widespread presumption that people seek maximum financial return for minimum effort, Graeber finds that people will often quit a bullshit job for a lower-paying and more labor-intensive one if the latter offers greater scope for meaningful personal agency.

Many bullshit jobs exist "only or primarily to make someone else look important" or to solve problems arising from a "fault in the organization" or "the damage done by a superior." Graeber points to polls in which 37 to 40 percent of respondents felt their jobs made no "meaningful contribution to the world." Add the unneeded aspects of needed jobs, and Graeber estimates the total "bullshitization" of the job market at "slightly over 50%."

While it's a commonplace that the "service" sector has dramatically increased at the expense of traditional industry and agriculture, Graeber points out that this does not mean we are seeing an explosion of "waiters, barbers, salesclerks, and the like." The proportion of such jobs has remained small and steady. The growth in the service sector consists primarily of such positions as "administrators, consultants, clerical and accounting staff, IT professionals, and the like." While not all such jobs are bullshit, this is the place where "bullshit jobs proliferate," he says. (As an academic, I can testify to the relentless increase, within the academy, in both the numbers of administrative staff and the weight of bureaucratic burdens they place on faculty.)

In particular, Graeber identifies the financial sector as a major generator of bullshit jobs, inasmuch as the "overwhelming bulk of its profits comes from colluding with government to create, and then to trade and manipulate, various forms of debt." Eliminating unneeded or harmful tasks would drastically cut the amount of labor needed to sustain the economy.

Criticism of make-work often focuses on the public sector, but Graeber maintains that the problem is at least as pervasive in private industry. As Graeber notes, this thesis will meet with resistance from many libertarians, who expect inefficiency from government but not from markets. Graeber summarizes what I'll call the First Libertarian Response: "Since competing firms would never pay workers to do nothing, their jobs must be useful in some way that [we] simply do not understand."

In reply, Graeber challenges his critics to explain how employees who spend most of their workdays surfing the internet or creating cat memes are secretly fueling profits. He also points to cases where such a job goes unfilled for months or years with no adverse consequence—or, in extreme instances, where the holder of a job stops coming to work and no one notices. A six-month bank strike in Ireland, he notes, caused far less economic disruption than a 10-day strike of garbage collectors in New York two years earlier. (The Irish coped by circulating checks as though they were cash.)

Graeber is right to be unimpressed by the First Libertarian Response. But as he himself notes, a different response is available: to grant that private-sector bullshit jobs exist but argue that they're the "product of government interference." Graeber is extremely dismissive of this Second Libertarian Response—so much so that he apparently forgets about it a few pages later, when he claims that "doctrinaire libertarians…always insist" on the First Response. But before he forgets the Second Response, he characterizes it as the product of a naive "faith" in the "magic of the marketplace" and objects that it's "circular" and "can't be disproved." Since "all actually existing market systems are to some degree state regulated," he writes, it will always be possible to assign the results one likes to the market and the results one dislikes to the government.

This response is surely too quick. Disentangling the contributions made by different components of a social system is difficult, but it's hardly impossible; otherwise there'd be no such thing as social science.

But Graeber does have more, and better, to say to the Second Libertarian Response. While the proportion of administrative staff to faculty has been mushrooming at both public and private colleges, "the number of administrators and managers at private institutions increased at more than twice the rate [that] it did at public ones"—135 percent at the former from 1975 to 2005, compared with 66 percent at the latter. Declaring it "extremely unlikely that government regulation caused private sector administrative jobs to be created at twice the rate [that] it did within the government bureaucracy itself," Graeber concludes that the "only reasonable interpretation" is that "public universities are ultimately answerable to the public" and "under constant pressure to cut costs," while "private universities are answerable only to their board of trustees," generally made up of "creatures of the corporate world" who find it "only natural" that administrators should enjoy a retinue of flunkies.

Yet Graeber's explanation is perfectly compatible with the Second Response. If libertarians are right, then market discipline is the best form of accountability. It might still be true that democratic oversight is second best, or at any rate better than nothing. When government-granted privileges enable nominally "private" firms to largely insulate themselves from competition, it's no surprise at all, from a free market standpoint, that public institutions subject to relatively robust forms of democratic oversight can be more efficient than private institutions subject to relatively weak forms of market discipline. A healthy jackal may well prove stronger than a very sick lion.

Graeber seems to assume that the only form the Second Response can take is one that sees big business as the victim, rather than the beneficiary, of regulation—one where "increases in government regulation" have "forced corporations to employ armies of box tickers to keep [the regulators] at bay." This is a rather odd assumption for Graeber in particular to make. After all, he is familiar with the left-libertarian Kevin Carson and even cites his work favorably (ironically, only one page before his line about what "doctrinaire libertarians" all believe). According to Carson's analysis, insulation from competitive discipline turns favored firms into islands of central planning, protecting executives from the cost of inefficient decisions.

Moreover, unlike many critics of libertarianism, Graeber is well aware of the enormous gap between a free market and the "entanglement of public and private, economic and political" that dominates our economy, with government playing the role of "guaranteeing private profits" so that "economic and political imperatives have come to largely merge." He even explains that by "capitalism" he is referring "not to markets," which have "long existed," but to the relatively recent "relation between some people who owned capital, and others who did not and thus were obliged to work for them." By his own lights, then, Graeber is not entitled to dismiss the Second Response as casually as he does.

On Graeber's analysis, unneeded jobs are protected by the perception that eliminating them would throw people out of work. That Jetsons vision of reduced working hours was supposed to benefit the workers, not impoverish them. Graeber notes that while, as an anarchist, he generally prefers bottom-up grassroots solutions to social problems rather than top-down public policy solutions, he nevertheless favors a tax-funded universal basic income as a way to relieve the working class's reliance on bullshit jobs. But calling upon the state for assistance is always a risky strategy for anarchists; those who subsidize the piper call the tune.

Whatever the blind spots in his analysis, Graeber's liberatory vision of a de-bullshitized future of work should serve as a useful corrective for those who are too quick to take the case for free enterprise as a validation of the perversities of the existing employment market.

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155 responses to “Why Do So Many Modern Jobs Seem Pointless?

  1. When I worked in the public sector, management assumed there would be slackers that they couldn’t fire so they added billets to their units. There wasn’t enough work if everyone was productive.

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  3. 80/20 rule. 80% of the work is done by 20% of the employees.

  4. This phenomenon was fully explained by PARKINSON’S LAW, by C. Northcote Parkinson (1958)

    “Work expands so as to fill the time and task force allowed for its completion”

    This is expanded upon by two corollaries;

    Officials (or, by implication, any desk worker) make work for each-other

    and

    Official wish to multiply subordinates, not rivals.

    1. In the days before computers, the factory bosses were basically content with a once-per-week set of stats: How many widgets were produced, and how many of them were bad or broken.

      After computers were made affordable and powerful, we now need a full-time of factory “workers” who spew out 20 set of charts and graphs for each widget produced!

      1. One of the problems is that it is difficult to measure productivity in many jobs. It is easy if you are in a factory; number of things produced per hour factoring in quality. But, how productive is a lawyer or an accountant? That is harder because numbers don’t measure quality. What is more “productive”, forty hours of grunt work reviewing documents or ten hours spent researching a really novel idea that greatly advances a client’s cause? It is hard to say and hard to measure.

        The other factor that is frequently neglected is that intelligence is often overrated. I don’t need the smartest worker. I need a worker smart enough for the task. Any intelligence beyond that is of diminishing marginal returns. And the fact is, most jobs do not require anything more than average or maybe above average intelligence.

        1. exactly John as a drafter, on many commercial projects I spend far more time doing code interpretation and documentation then actually drafting. More than once a client has asked you spent this many hours on such few drawings but then I explain the research time behind it but they still don’t always get it. hence I avoid commercial projects now except for the few experienced clients who understand.

        2. This is why many jobs that now require a “degree” were performed just as well in the past by people with no more than an HS education. And some required even less education. So we end up with RN’s doing jobs that used to be done by LPN’s and NA’s for much less money. This is likely true throughout the entire health care system today. And why we have the world’s highest health care costs.

          It should be noted too that during WW2 (when there was no other choice) almost every nation involved were using people with much lower levels of education and training without the former skilled people who had been performing these tasks in “peacetime”.

        3. It is very easy to predict the productivity of a lawyer, John, It’s called billable hours. If a client is willing to pay for the work, it’s productive.

          1. As someone who has worked in big law… that’s actually a crappy way of measuring productivity. If I spend 10 hours working on research and writing a brief, half of which I’m half-asleep on because I’m focusing so much on HOURS WORKED, and Jane the Associate does the research and writes the brief in 5 hours, because she actually focused on the job, am I really more productive than she is?

  5. I don’t claim that markets, or everything “private”, are perfectly efficient.

    I claim they’re more efficient than government.

    I’ll take bulkshit jobs over entire businesses and bureaus that shouldn’t exist in the first place, with charters that are pointless and damaging.

    Ok: on the one hand, the assistant IT guy is doing all the work while his manager plays CandyCrush.

    On the other: drug war.

    Not even comparable.

    1. Agreed.
      I see no need for me to duplicate your work.
      Well done, sir.

    2. You nailed it.

    3. It goes right along with all the “necessary” agencies whose methods are inefficient, such as the income tax code. I have seen estimates that income tax payers spend the equivalent of 3M full time jobs (6B hours) preparing income tax forms.

      Every government regulation not only involves government bureaucrats, it requires private bureaucrats to deal with the government bureaucrats. Worse, since the number of private bureaucrats does not scale linearly with the size of the organization, small businesses are hit proportionally harder, favoring big businesses. This favors inefficiency and discourages bottom level innovation.

      1. And that’s why fewer, more straight forward, and possibly higher marginal tax rates would make more sense.

        We should really probably only have like MAYBE 2 or 3 types of taxes. Sales, property, MAYBE income, MAYBE tariffs, and that’s about it. Depending on how you want to “structure” things simple taxes on those couple items could replace EVERYTHING else.

    4. Agreed.

      Piss off, Long Rod!

    5. Nowhere did Roderick Long say that the inefficiency in the private sector is comparable to the monstrosity of the drug war. So nice strawman.

      Also, we must distinguish between efficiency, the degree to which an entity violates rights and causes human suffering, and the degree to which an entity distorts the marketplace. Those are three different things.

      As for efficiency, yes, businesses are more efficient that government. However, I would argue that the bigger a business gets, the closer it gets to government levels of inefficiency. The bigger a business gets, the more entrenched the management becomes and the less adaptable the organization becomes to change. Also, the bigger the business gets, the more internal transactions take place for which there is only an imperfect price mechanism. Thus, the business cannot accurately measure the cost of these internal transactions, as opposed to external transaction that are subject to market prices.

      1. Maybe, but GM has been getting its ass handed to it by Honda and Toyota and should be out of business (except for government saving it).

        Government just keeps printing more money.

  6. Why Do So Many Modern Jobs Seem Pointless?

    That’s, coincidentally enough, what people ask when they’re talking about Jarbanka. Or Kellyanne.

    1. Actually Jarvanka. With a V that the pussygrabber would grab.

  7. Would the twenty four hour news cycle qualify? Little actual news but enough staff to talk about it all day.

    1. It’s no accident that so many of the worthless losers in the JournoList are getting laid off and these fucking fake libertarian losers here at Reason can no longer get that job at the TImes, the Post, or the Atlantic that most of them so desperately crave.

      1. I don’t think those Atlantic jobs are as prized as the Big City Daily ones.

    2. There is actually a lot of news, and a lot of in depth reporting and investigation that could be going on. The new organizations do what they do because people prefer screeching heads over getting informed.

  8. In reply, Graeber challenges his critics to explain how employees who spend most of their workdays surfing the internet or creating cat memes are secretly fueling profits.

    In reply to his reply, I would dare him to find such conditions in an environment where onerous labor laws an a litigious environment (both conditions created by who else? Da state!) don’t exist. Setting aside the few times people do find themselves not knowing what to do next, which does not mean ipso facto their jobs are BS, the private sector is not known for giving away charity just for fuck’s sake.

    It’s easy to engage in buhwhataboutism when someone attacks your cherished icons (like the state) but you better be prepared to do the hard analysis and not merely come back with false equivalencies. Whether YOU like it or not, Graeber, the State IS the primordial ooze from which all bullshit jobs are created.

    1. This kind of criticism of the private sector has a very “labor theory of value” flavor.

      1. I don’t think anyone from the outside can judge whether a business is overpaying or not getting enough productivity from its workers. If the business is profitable, it by definition is. As far as individual workers are concerned, the business is in a postion to know things that the outsider cannot. Maybe the guy goofing off all day is also the guy who comes up with the best ideas and is the most efficient? There is a famous quote regarding military officers by the Prussian General Von Moltke the Elder that I think applies to all organizations. Von Moltke said there were four kinds of officers three of which had value and the fourth that must be eliminated from all organizations. The three which had value were

        Smart hard working officers who did the bulk of the staff work and made any staff run,
        Smart lazy officers – were valuable for their strategic thinking and willingness to question processes where the Smart hard working officers would not and just grind through, and
        Dumb lazy officers who were valuable to fill nonessential jobs and since they were lazy could be counted upon not to get bored or do any damage.

        The forth type of officer who was to be avoided at all costs was the dumb, hard working officer. These officers because of their work ethic did real damage to any staff.

        An effective organization must have a mix of the first three. There is more to an effective organization than everyone grinding away at the task.

  9. I’m confused about why the existence of bullshit jobs is so bad. It’s not a market failure, but a market win. We can, feed, clothe, and house millions of people who essentially do nothing useful all day. These people can focus on leisure time and meaningful hobbies. Governments can’t do this when they control the means of production.

    1. Said leeches can go do that on their own nickle.

      1. If they aren’t being paid by taxes, it’s none of your business.

        1. Around 24 million out of the roughly 115 million that exist in the country ARE paid for by taxes. 24 million federal, state, and local government employees. Almost 1/4 of ALL jobs.

          1. That’s why he said “if”.

    2. BUT the counterargument is that if they were doing actual productive jobs, instead of useless jobs, then the whole society would be richer and more prosperous.

      There is the notion of productive jobs and unproductive jobs as well. In short some jobs produce NEW value, bring new wealth into the world. Other jobs merely distribute that value around doing ancillary semi useful-ish things.

      For instance productive jobs are mining and outer resource extracting, manufacturing, intellectual property, farming, etc. They create new value from “thin air” by adding value.

      A barber, barista, or accountant do not. They are “useful” or “nice” jobs much of the time, or indeed even needed in the case of an accountant… But they don’t create new wealth. They merely redistribute that which is already there.

      The best way to think about it is imagining a town (or country) where the entire population consists only of productive jobs, versus non productive. A town of miners, manufacturers, farmers, and inventors could actually exist and be economically sustainable… A town of baristas, barbers, and accountants could not exist, because they create no new wealth.

      1. BUT a town of farmers, manufacturers, baristas and barbers could. Some non productive jobs that can export their work (like an accounting firm) can bring value into a given area to cheat the system, but the rule above still holds technically.

        An interesting idea is that the modern wests economy is inherently fragile because we have a higher ratio of unproductive jobs to productive ones than in the past, so a single productive job lost ripples through the economy harder than in the past. Seems valid enough to me.

      2. How do you count barbers & baristas as redistributors? The product of a barber is an improvement to your appearance. Baristas are part of an experience the customer enjoys. How is that improvement & experience not new wealth? Where are the miners, mfrs., etc. going to get their hair cut?

        1. Are you being a wise ass, or serious? I can’t tell. In case you’re serious.

          You missed the point.

          Many non productive jobs ARE NICE. Some you could even argue are necessary. But they do not, in the strictest sense, produce new wealth from thin air.

          Can a town of only Barbers and baristas exist? No. A town of only farmers and miners COULD exist. If you think about it in that way, you can usually figure out what category something might fall into.

          1. That’s not how an economy works, but. A hundred years ago, almost everyone was a farmer. Was the world richer then?

            1. LOL

              Actually, that’s EXACTLY how the economy works. You clearly completely missed my point genius.

              Some jobs can ONLY exist if other jobs that create new value exist first. You cannot have massage therapists and baristas without farmers, miners, inventors, etc.

              We’ve glossed over the fact that our economy is in fact less robust than it has ever been, in that we have fewer people working in productive industries than ever before… But the fundamentals are the same as they have ever been. A small ripple in our productive industries causes proportionally more job loss than in the past, because so many more service jobs are reliant on ever fewer productive jobs.

              As I said elsewhere some forms of “non productive” jobs can be traded across international boundaries, like high end accounting work or whatever… Which turns them into pseudo productive jobs for all intents and purposes.

              But I don’t know why I am even wasting my time writing this days after the fact, when you don’t even want to understand the principle anyway…

      3. You have no clue what an accountant does, do you? Try running a mine with bad accounting. No tracking of labor, the amount of ore extracted, the market prices for such ore. Should the mine be closed? Should we add another shift? Should we allow people to work overtime? How many workers should be hired? What sort of investment in tools, labor, and equipment will be needed vs. how much money will we get from extracting the ore?

        Oh, you didn’t mean real miners, you meant a dipshit with a shovel hoping to pull something valuable out of the ground, trade it at a market, and not starve to death.

        How many subsistence farmers exist in the US? How many farms exist in urban environments in the US? Most people aren’t involved in subsistence living. To say their work adds no value is silly.

        Take your labor theory of value back to Moscow.

        1. You and Chipper, don’t understand economics, or are just being difficult.

          The key question is, does a job create something of value or directly contribute to creating something of value, or is a leisure service.

          The cost accountant working at the mine, because his work directly contributes as part of the production team. His barber, while a fine person and surely a hard worker, does not produce wealth. He relieves the accountant or his family from having to cut hair with scissors and a bowl. The barber probably does a better job … and certainly provides more leisure time to the cost accountant. But nothing of lasting value is created by the barber.

          A tax accountant on the other hand, does not produce wealth. Unlike the cost accountant, he is not part of a team that produces something, he is like the barber. He probably does help the client keep more of his money, but in the end, he did a better job than the cost accountant probably would have done and the cost accountant ended up with more leisure time because he did not do it himself.

          The guy who runs the roaster in the New England Coffee plant produces something and creates wealth, the barista does not.

          None of this denigrates those who have service jobs like the barber or the barista, they perform work that makes someones life easier. But no wealth has been created.

          1. Exactly! This guy gets it!

            I am mind boggled sometimes by how many people don’t understand this very simple concept. It seems to be largely left out of MOST discussions of economics for some reason too… I suspect because the western world has lost so many productive jobs, and we’re essentially dependent on filler service jobs to maintain full employment…

            But whether anybody likes it or not, a certain percentage of the population MUST participate in creating NEW value, otherwise all the other “nice to have” jobs cannot exist. The question in the modern world is how FEW of these jobs do we really need to keep everything from collapsing in on itself? Because we’re MIGHTY thin on productive jobs in the 1st world nowadays…

    3. No, these people cannot focus on leisure & hobbies. That’s the problem. The best they can do is goof off, doing not what they really want to do, but what remains that won’t make it obvious they’re not working. If the economy were working well enough, they’d be paid for that time & could just take it off.

  10. Now the UBI crap will start…

    1. Pretty sure that already started a while ago.

    2. UBI is the wrong way to put it.

      This is the better way–

      How long does it actually take you to do your job each week? Get that number in your head, okay? Now imagine that you worked that much, but got paid what you’re getting paid now.

      Call it Value Based Income.

    3. Well get the antibiotics going now before too much inflamation sets in.

  11. “Since competing firms would never pay workers to do nothing, their jobs must be useful in some way that [we] simply do not understand.”

    Most days I end up with 2-3 hours of work to be done over an 8 hour period. The rest of the 8 hours is spent being readily available in case something comes up.

    1. Exactly. We are in a development lull at work right now. Some weeks I am purely, “in case shit happens”. I can fix it quickly. I know the processes, the flows, the fixes. Bringing someone in to replace me at a much lower cost, can become a problem “when shit happens”. How do you even train someone on things that weren’t expected? And if there is new development in a year, I require no training to start working on it. So while some would say that writing this, while being paid, is an inefficiency, it’s not. You can’t discount people who are trained for bad things that may never happen. And with automation, that is going to be an increasingly common job. I make up work for myself sometimes. Converting code to a different language for no reason other than it forces me to review old code.

      1. It still ultimately depends on how big teams are, what kind of cross training people have, how often work ebbs and flows, etc.

        The truth is there is a LOT of bloat at LOTS of companies. It’s just inefficiency in some cases. In other cases there might be legitimate “if shit happens” reasons. It depends.

      2. Call it the Wichita Lineman problem. Most of the time you don’t need too many guys actually running power and phone lines into houses. But when there’s a big storm and thousands of people are without power, you need a LOT more, quickly, and yet it’s a skilled job so you can’t just grab a dozen random oiks and tell them to do it.

    2. Yes, the “being available” in a nutshell is the economics of the firm. It would be less efficient to assemble everyone you needed just in time. But I’m sure this type of doing nothing, although it is substantial, is not what’s meant by “bullshitization”.

    3. And sometimes this is an excellent investment for the company. Think of it like the fire department, you don’t have a fire all the time, but when you do a entire team is required. So you employ them with a minimum to do, except when you REALLY need them for a fire.

  12. “As an academic”

    Lol. BS example.

  13. Anyone that has had to deal with a federal agency that operates as an umbrella over an entire industry knows that these jobs exist to keep a bureaucrat employed collecting data that is never used.

    1. There is a fed statue, from the Carter years, that states that fed gov cannot demand info from anyone unless it can justify the use. This led to the demise of the ICC and my business. It cost me big $$$ but I agreed.

  14. What a great article. I would just add that so many full time jobs should be part time. It reminds me of the time I was on a committee to hire a school superintendent. The last candidate said to us immediately “Why are you hiring a full time superintendent? This is a 10 hour a week job.” It was good advice and we should have hired him.

    1. Yep. And businesses, governments, or private institutions of whatever kind that happen to have sufficient cash flow to cover these inefficiencies typically just do dumb stuff like that without a second thought.

      I had a friend who basically did MAYBE 10 hours A MONTH for almost 2 years. He was maybe 10-20 hours a week for years before that. He worked as an employee for a contractor that had a contract with Boeing for certain computer hardware related stuff. He was making 70 something grand a year for almost 2 years as the hardware he was maintaining was basically retired and not used anymore. But the fact that this modest couple hundred grand a year Boeing was paying for this stuff to be dealt with was nothing to Boeing, nobody ever cared to renegotiate down to part time, or anything else. They weren’t even locked in or anything, it was annual renewals by that point. So it was pure not giving enough of a shit to request a drop in fees as the actual work had lessened.

  15. In the private sector, competition creates an incentive to become more efficient that does not exist in the public sector. You will usually have some excess capacity to cover ad hoc exigencies, surges in work demand, covering vacations, etc. There is no doubt that BS tasks exist but they usually don’t survive in perpetuity unless you’re talking public sector. People are always looking to find a better way.

    1. The occasionally spate of mass corporate layoffs is a push for remaining management to find those efficiencies.

    2. The private sector even in its ideal state is still like a state of nature. Nature and natural selection do not produce perfect results. Natural selection rewards better results and anything that is good enough will survive. The same is true of businesses in the private sector. They don’t have to be perfect or even that good. They just have to be good enough to survive. And the larger the organization, the larger the margin of error for being good enough. A business that has ten employees can’t afford to have an unproductive employ. One unproductive employee means 10% of its labor force is unproductive. A business with 10,000 employees can have 50 unproductive employees and still not have the problems that the small business has with one unproductive employees.

      So the private sector is hardly perfect. It is full of all kinds of inefficiencies and lunacy just like government. Yes, government is much worse because government has the power of law to just coerce people when all else fails. But, I think people way overrate the efficiency of the private sector especially large corporations. Most large corporations blunder along and succeed in spite of themselves.

      1. I agree, but as long as they have competition there is at least an incentive to be more efficient.

      2. I agree with the way you put that. Anything that is good enough to survive survives, even if it’s BARELY good enough to survive.

        I’ve known a lot of thoroughly useless people who worked for many years in corporate environments, where I know they couldn’t have been any more useful than I had seen out of them. I once hired a semi retired VP from a mejor telecom, he’d done 30 years in management at MCI… I’m not joking when I say that he was one of the most incompetent people I have ever known in my life. Your average 12 year old could handle basic tasks better than him. But the fact that he muddled his way through a useless college degree, had a decent vocabulary, and a nice soft, middle manager voice was enough to get him to VP by the time he retired. It blew my mind.

        1. My dad worked for 40 years at AT&T. Retired a midlevel manager. I am biased, but my dad is still the smartest person I have ever met and I have met some very smart people. But he didn’t make VP. And as your example show, though it was MCI but AT&T was no different, plenty of very stupid people did. It is the nature of life I guess.

          1. That’s the thing, big businesses DO have lots of smart and talented people. Sometimes they make it high up the chain of command. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, they’re the ones who keep the places afloat!

            I obviously don’t know your dad, but perhaps he didn’t make it higher because of politics. He didn’t kiss enough ass, or he wasn’t enough of a back slapper type. Maybe he was a great technical person at whatever he did, but wasn’t that great at managing teams. It could have been purely because he always had people above him who feared promoting him, as they thought he might take their job. Luck can have its place too. I have ZERO CLUE.

            But what I do know is that the MORON Tom who worked for me for awhile wasn’t fit to be a friggin’ janitor. And somehow by dumb luck he managed to weasel his way into a position he definitely should not have held. If that kind of thing can happen even ONCE, something is very wrong with the “system” so to speak. LOL

            But the market doesn’t have to be perfect to work better than the alternative. That’s the bottom line.

  16. Based on this review, there seems to be a lot of hand-waving going on.

    People feel that their job is useless and doesn’t advance mankind. So what? Most people are economically ignorant and think that the only jobs that contribute to society are health care professionals, teachers, and emergency personal. However, a lot of those jobs can only exist if we actually create economic value. The jobs that produce economic value tend to be those that people find useless because actual work is done at a very specialized level due to the division of labor. Anyone remember “I, Pencil”? That book explained that no one could actually create their own pencil, and that pencils were produced as the result of many different people from all over the world doing specialized tasks.

    1. If people think that their jobs do not advance mankind, they are likely losing touch with what matters. Someone who mows the grass or fixes your car or provides some other valuable service or good is doing one of the things which enables us to have a civilization and is doing more to advance mankind than some doofus living the good life in the global doogooder industrial complex ever will.

      I think, however, people mean more than that. I think they mean they don’t feel like their job contributes to anything including the mission of the business. And there, I think they have a point.

  17. As (I thought) I understood markets, inefficiencies, if not handled by competition, are dealt with by recessions. Recessions are something people have been trying to suppress for all my life, and with great vigor since the post-Reagan economy, to the point where supposedly bright people were claiming the end of the business cycle, right up to the Bailout fiasco..
    And I suspect private universities are well-insulated from recession.

    1. Recessions are when a major reallocation of resources happens.

      And this is where financial markets come into play. People say that those markets are useless, but they’re not. They are a means for reallocation of resources on the fly, and can help to prevent major reallocation in the form of a recession.

      Assuming the resources in question are bought and sold in a market. Can’t say that about universities.

      1. +1 Recessions find things auditors cannot

        Recessions are painful but as you point out they serve a valuable function of reallocating resources away from unproductive endevours.

  18. as an anarchist…he nevertheless favors a tax-funded universal basic income as a way to relieve the working class’s reliance on bullshit jobs.

    Now that’s bullshit.

    1. That is not so much bullshit as just a complete nonsequiter. Is it too much to ask that people have views that are internally consistent?

      1. Indeed a nonsequiter, but calling bullshit on bullshit just has a really nice ring to it.

    2. You beat me to it. Exactly the point I was going to make. How you combine anarchism with “tax funded” anything is, to put it charitably, a little hard to figure.

  19. I haven’t read this book (and have no inclination to). But from what I gather it is complete non-scientific treatment of some issue–probably created by the author to sell a book.
    Anecdotal data seems to be his go-to source. ” I once knew a guy who though his job was bullshit and he said his fellow workers felt the same.” wow. impressive. the survey question about saving the world is only a bit utopian. /sarc/
    He is a typical academic, captive to his messed up world. I’ve consulted to many private sector companies and bullshit jobs don’t last long. In academia I think they do.
    This is at best an opinion piece and falls far short of any standard of social science research/analysis. No tenure for you!

    1. The best wisdom is often the wisdom of crowds. If everyone’s job was so meaningless and awful, people would be quitting and finding other things to do. The fact that they are not is pretty strong evidence that the annecdotes are not tellig the full story.

      My father gave me a great piece of advice once. He said that the more a job pays the harder and more miserable it is likely to be. If a job were fun and rewarding and all of the rest of that bullshit, they wouldn’t have to pay people very much to do it. Indeed, I have friends who have much more interesting and fun jobs than I have like being a travel writer or coaching an inner city high school debate team. None of them make very much money doing what they do. Those jobs are fun and interesting and don’t require a lot of pay to attract good candidates. Jobs that are hard and nasty do.

      1. Those jobs are fun and interesting and don’t require a lot of pay to attract good candidates. Jobs that are hard and nasty do.

        If a job is hard and nasty, but doesn’t require much skill, it’s probably being done by some Mexican for ten bucks an hour.

      2. No. The point of there being so much BS work is that if people quit those jobs, there are no other jobs to do. The author doesn’t say everyone is so unhappy doing BS jobs, just that the BS is a drag on the economy & acc’ts for the fact that leisure time &/or productivity hasn’t increased as much as projected. I haven’t read the book, but I get that from this review, & I think the thesis is at least partly correct.

    2. I dunno man… Bureaucratic creep exists in large businesses damn near as bad as government. The difference is every decade or 3 when they get to the brink of economic collapse they clear things out and get efficient again… Then the process starts all over. I’ve known a lot of people who did jobs that were useless or close to it. Lots of others who didn’t have to work anything close to the number of hours they were paid for.

      Private business isn’t perfect, but it’s “good enough” if they turn a profit.

  20. “…this thesis will meet with resistance from many libertarians, who expect inefficiency from government but not from markets.” This assumes a free market that doesn’t exist. What we have today is a mixed economy – with more government in the mix than private enterprise.

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  22. They are not just ‘bullshit’ jobs, they are actually harmful. These are the people who are responsible for providing live fodder for the mental illness industry and even the prison industrial complex. For example, mid level management at private universities spends their time creating new rules to convince kids they are mentally ill or to get them in trouble for imagined slights. In public schools, they target vulnerable kids with the ‘autism’ diagnosis and then subject them to ‘treatment’ which of course is really mass shooter training. But the solution isn’t a UBI. This will only make the problem worse. The solution is simply to recognize the truth about ‘bullshit’ jobs and slowly phase them out. Which actually we are doing. There are lots of shows these days about exposing corruption in various industries and exposing the variety of cults (e.g. Tulsi Gabbard). Keep up the good work!

  23. “market discipline is the best form of accountability”

    I’m sure this is a huge comfort to certain participants in the free market of child sex slaves.

    The goal of civilization should be to figure out how humans can spend less time toiling and more time hanging out and having fun. Anything else is one or another ancient religious horseshit work ethic being imposed on us, and I’m sure we all agree that this is a form of oppression.

    1. We get it, Tony: your socialism is all because you can’t pay for nice things.

      Why should you work for your own needs, when you can’t afford your prostate massager? That’s unfair! Rich people have prostate massagers!

      And that’s why socialists always have the high moral ground, as AOC states. No whiffs of religiosity in that, no-sir-ee.

      1. The question is why should people work when they don’t have to? Because you’re a Calvinist moral boob? Because it offers some measure of control over the very people you preach should have maximum individual freedom? Think about where your ethics come from.

        1. Because slavery is wrong?

          1. I don’t recall anyone advocating slavery in any form.

            1. Of course not, because it’s too obviously morally reprehensible.

              But what magic rainbow farts are going to be laboring so you can have a life of leisure? Having your time and your labor forced to serve someone else’s leisure…slavery.

              Anyway, your ideas don’t lead to the Lazy Drifter’s Paradise.

              They lead to the Workers’ Paradise.

              Now is time for me to tell you: you’re being accidentally ironic, and amusing.

              1. Slavery is forced servitude without pay. The cops and judges and whomever else you think are perfectly legitimate taxpayer-salaried agents of civilization are not, in fact, slaves, by any definition. Neither are other government workers whose work I might value.

                Unless your definition of slavery is so broad that only anarchy is permissible, in which case I suggest you smear walls with shit as other crazy people seem to enjoy doing.

                1. Don’t be ridiculous. If a worker has to give his pay away by force, that’s slavery: it fits your definition.

                  The entire idea of being forced to work for someone else without pay is what makes slavery so horrible. You want to wiggle around the law of slavery to avoid the spirit, and tell me that I need to think about where my ethics come from? Please.

                  I’m just waiting for most people to realize that the abolition of slavery goes farther than plantations from 100 years ago that don’t exist, just as slaves had to wait 100 years for the Bill of Rights to apply to them.

                  In a way, I’m one of the few, real progressives there are.

                  And your silly references to cops and that go only so far as minarchism aren’t nearly enough to justify confiscated incomes from other people going to pay for your dildos, I don’t care how much you love ass fucking.

                  1. So cops are slaves, but they’re a necessary evil because you like hanging on to your shit? Let’s be clearer about our terms, because in my book slavery is never permissible, no matter how much you love your Insane Clown Posse and Coldplay vinyl collections.

                    1. Yeah, and it’s not surprising that, in books like yours, “wage slavery” is a thing.

                      I’m sorry: “wage slavery” is real, but someone having to actually work and not get paid is… just life the way you like it? Just good policy?

                      Now is the time for strict, legalistic definitions?

                      Please.

                    2. Tony, you already CAN basically not work and support yourself.

                      The truth is we HAVE arrived at that point in history. People just CHOOSE to work more, and have way more shit.

                      Live the standard of living your grandparents grew up with, and you can probably work like 10 hours a week and cover all your shit. You’ll only have maybe 2-3 pairs of pants, cook all your own food, live in a very small house, etc… But it’s an option.

                      YOU want to have a baller lifestyle without work… Which we’re not there yet. The funny thing is, in 50 years when you could easily have the lifestyle we have now working 10 hours a week, most will still choose to work more so they can have 6,000 square foot houses and EVEN MORE SHIT. Most likely anyway, if the commies don’t ruin the world first.

                    3. Now who’s deflecting?

                      Are government employees slaves or not?

                    4. Are you really “oppressed” if we don’t figure out a way to get yo your free black dildo?

                    5. I see you’ve conceded the argument, as was entirely predictable by your stupid premise.

                    6. By all means, declare victory.

                      Why work for it, when you don’t have to?

                    7. Here: I’ll do you a favor:

                      Government employees, while they have some income taken, are paid completely by taken income. Therefore, in any realistic way, they exist solely on income taken from others.

                      Therefore, they are not slaves.

                      I’m not ignoring you because you’re devastating.

                      I’m ignoring you because you’re irrelevant.

                    8. By one means or another, money tends to change hands. Taxation is the way we pay for civilization. If you think it’s inherently evil, you are advocating anarchy, in which case, see above for advice on how to spend your days.

                      Since we like civilization, taxes can’t be evil, and so just because you don’t like a particular use of tax dollars doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate. You’re not god-emperor. Spread the word to fellow libertarians.

                    9. No, I get it:

                      Taxes have to be good.

                      And you’re “oppressed” if we don’t figure out a way for you to avoid work.

                      Because, civilization needs work, and kicking back while other people work for you is actual, real oppression.

                      I’m sorry, but you’re not God, and you can’t make the world work without work.

                      You’re not “oppressed”.

                      You’re “lazy”.

                      You’re a lazy, selfish person. And we really shouldn’t let lazy, selfish people decide policy.

                    10. And we really shouldn’t let lazy, selfish people decide policy.

                      Glad to meet a fellow opponent of Trump.

                    11. He really broke you people, didn’t he?

                    12. You want to seize privately owned wealth and give it to poor people with the express goal of enabling them to no longer be compelled to work or do anything they don’t want to…

                      …and you think we’re the anarchists.

                      “Forcibly giving poor people access to wealth so they don’t have to work” isn’t the opposite of anarchism.

                      It is anarchism.

                      WE, the libertarians, are the ones who believe in hierarchic, unequal ownership of wealth. And in poor people being compelled to work in order to get it.

                      You may recall that was what you were condemning us for a few comments back.

                      We’re the hierarchists.

                      You’re the anarchist.

                    13. Also, we had to shoot a few million conscripted, frightened German and Japanese teenage boys in the face a few decades back.

                      Doing so was the way we paid for our civilization’s continued existence.

                      That did not make shooting millions of teenage conscripts in the face a “good thing”.

                      Just a necessary evil.

                      And you know what we do with necessary evils?

                      We try to minimize them as much as possible.

                      And no, that is not proof, in itself, that taxation is one such “evil”.

                      Just proof that the argument you made on taxation’s behalf was stupid.

                    14. Awww fuck it! Let’s just bring back slavery, but when we amend the constitution we’ll make it so that only people who believe in socialism/communism can be enslaved. I mean they CLEARLY are fine with the general principle of stealing other peoples labor, so they shouldn’t have a problem with it, right?

                      Plus they’re getting EXACTLY what they want… Free room and board! Free healthcare, because a slave owner doesn’t want to lose that capital investment! What more could they want? 🙂

        2. A lot of people are happiest when doing productive and worthwhile work. I don’t think it’s obvious that the key to a happy society is more leisure time and less to do.

          1. Yeah, they’re spending their leisure time, or freedom, choosing to do what you call worthwhile work. I’d probably choose to build and furnish a castle if I had total freedom, but I might sneak in a great American novel or two. The point, of course, is freedom, which is what you people claim to be all about until someone who’s not a gazillionaire actually asserts a desire to be actually free.

            1. Every person in America is free to read a great American novel or two.

              They just shouldn’t be free to burglarize a nearby mansion to come up with their rent while they do so.

              Outsourcing that trespass to the IRS does not change the practical mechanics or societal outcomes of that trespass in the slightest.

              Just as every man in America is free to marry a beautiful, intelligent, vivacious woman. (Or man/other).

              They just aren’t free to physically threaten or incapacitate her (or him/xerm) in the course of doing so.

              Outsourcing that trespass to a state agency wouldn’t change the practical mechanics or societal outcomes of that trespass in the slightest, either.

              And it’s true that as a result, many people will never actually marry the girl (or boy/thingamajig) of their dreams. Indeed, most won’t.

              That doesn’t make failed suitors “oppressed”, either.

              Liberty isn’t “being able to do whatever you want”. It’s being secure from trespass, however little you may possess to have trespassed upon. And acquiring that, requires the defeat of people like you.

    2. Tony, did you not get that the author of the reviewed book, & practically everyone here, agrees that should be the goal of civiliz’n? What made you think otherwise?

    3. So long as it’s legal, Tony has no problem with child sex slaves.

      He has said as much before.

  24. A significant portion of those hours are about feeding governments.

  25. “In particular, Graeber identifies the financial sector as a major generator of bullshit jobs, inasmuch as the “overwhelming bulk of its profits comes from colluding with government to create, and then to trade and manipulate, various forms of debt.” Eliminating unneeded or harmful tasks would drastically cut the amount of labor needed to sustain the economy.”

    I thought that was the most interesting and counter-intuitive quote of Graeber’s here. My impression is that among the commenters here, the financial industry is seen as the pinnacle of productivity.

    1. Ah, well. Let me clear they up for you:

      You couldn’t be more wrong about the people here.

      1. Do you agree with Graeber here? That the financial sector is rife with unproductive, bullshit jobs? How do you account for the high salaries among the financial sector if they don’t reflect their productivity?

        1. You can have an industry that has so much money floating around, they can be burdened with tons of useless regulation, and the accompanying jobs, and STILL turn a healthy profit. Maybe the bankers would be making EVEN MORE money if they didn’t have to have 100,000 useless regulatory compliance employees?

          Or perhaps they were just able to raise consumer costs to account for the added regulatory burdens, and keep their previously high salaries intact.

          It would all depend.

          But it doesn’t necessarily have to do with “efficiency” per se.

          1. “Or perhaps they were just able to raise consumer costs to account for the added regulatory burdens, and keep their previously high salaries intact.”

            Regulations are not a burden. Why would the finance industry want to burden itself? Regulations are written and shepherded through legislation by the industry itself to reduce competition. It’s part of a process called regulatory capture. More money doesn’t amount to less bullshit, as I understand Graeber.

    2. “My impression is that among the commenters here, the financial industry is seen as the pinnacle of productivity.”

      You impression? It’s wrong.

      Mostly because, among the commenters here, there is no one metric for productivity that is seen as equally applicable to all vocations.

      1. Define your metric, then maybe we can have a discussion.

        1. “Define your metric”

          Graeber does that for me. He says bullshit jobs are pointless, unnecessary and pernicious. He doesn’t seem to be interested in productivity. I had the impression that work in the financial sector was held in high esteem here. Almost as highly as work in the STEM field. Certainly higher than government work or work in the media or academic fields, our society’s bastions of wrong think. Commenters here are always making disparaging remarks about people in these sorts of fields. Workers in the financial sectors are pretty much ignored. I assumed this was because financial work was seen as anything but a bullshit job.

          1. Doubling down on your previous babble is fine.

            But you still have not defined your metric. If you wish to use one from Graber then specify his definition of productivity.

            Which appears nowhere in this article.

            Or did you not understand anything I said?

          2. A good banker may be productive… The 5 regulatory compliance officers who handle useless paperwork all day are not.

            That simple enough?

            1. “useless paperwork all day are not”

              It’s not useless. It’s bullshit. It’s useful for keeping the competition down to a friendly few.

    3. Put down the crack pipe. The financial industry has taken repeated beatings around here – the commentariat was not supportive of the bailouts.

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  27. One the one hand, I get paid a ton to do work that has little meaningful outcome.

    On the other hand, man as a species is both lazy and needs a purpose (your mileage may vary). One of the reasons we have political activists is because they don’t have to spend 8-12 hours a day hunting and foraging. One can live pretty comfortably – healthcare excluded – in many, many zip codes outside of cities. But what do you do with your time if you don’t punch a 9-5? People go crazy and need a purpose. I think some people get that which is why the tax code is 10,000 pages instead of 100.

  28. Why would anyone listen to an anthropologist at a college explain business? This guy vastly underestimates how much government impacts what businesses do. As a former executive at public companies I saw it every day. Too many accountants? Not if you want to be able to keep up with the huge amount of accounting requirements foisted on us by the likes of Sarbanes-Oxley (with personal criminal penalties even when breaking rules unknowingly). Too many consultants? The majority of consultants I used were to protect the company by pointing to “expert advice” if we were to run afoul of the myriad rules regarding employee benefits, labor management, accounting rules, etc. And it makes no sense for every company to hire experts in these areas. The regulations are too long and complicated.

  29. IMO we have a lot of bullshit jobs in the way this guy means, pointless box checkers… But we also have a lot of pretty bullshit jobs that are ostensibly semi useful, but still pretty bullshit.

    Things like the rise of baristas and dog walkers are pretty damn useless. At least at the scale we have those kinds of jobs now.

    IMO this is because we have a few highly productive industries that bring in a lot of cash, but we have outsourced other types of productive employment, and so have created these more or less frivolous jobs just because we need people to do SOMETHING. Since wages on the low end are so low, why NOT pay a hipster to walk your dog when you make $150K a year?

    If you read my post above about productive vs non productive jobs, I do think this type of thing leaves us with a fragile economy though. In an economy where 50% of people do productive work, losing 5% of those productive jobs might cost you 10% unemployment… In our economy where probably 70-80% of jobs are non productive, you lose 5% and it will cause a much larger ripple.

    1. I’m trying to figure out what criteria you’re using when you list baristas & dog walkers. Is it because there are few people who can afford their services, i.e. whose time or taste is valuable enough to make it worthwhile employing them? So therefore there are few people who can be their clients? That seems to have no bearing on the present discussion, because the # of baristas & dog walkers is low. They seem to be fully employed, the market clearing for their services.

      As wealth increases, the proportion of services that are frivolous will increase, because when you get down to it, life is frivolous. All value is subjective. Once you fill people’s basic needs, the rest is just increasing their enjoyment. You already have a bathtub? Why not make the experience more enjoyable via whirlpool equipment? You raise the biz of dog walking; heck, anything to do w pets is frivolous. That’s what “pet” means! A dog walker’s service is no more frivolous than their veterinarian’s, because the dog itself is unnecessary.

      1. Oh, so you were serious on your post above.

        So productive and non productive isn’t even about whether or not a job is useful or needed. Many are useful to varying degrees.

        It’s actually about the math. Some jobs produce “new wealth” out of nothing via labor. A farmer takes seed/dirt/water and turns it into plants that are more valuable than the inputs. That is NEW value appearing. Same with a miner, factory worker, or an inventor that creates a new concept that has large economic value. Value is being added, new wealth appears as if from thin air.

        A retailer might be a good example of not creating new wealth. They are simply buying, marking up, and selling something. It is a useful service, BUT it did not really create new wealth, it simply helped to distribute already extant wealth, while taking a cut. Right?

        Do you get what I mean there?

        Fragility works like this. Imagine a town of 100 where half the people do productive jobs. They do business with each other, AND with the non productive service oriented jobs, like retailers and baristas. This would work fine.

        Now imagine a town of 100 where only 10 people do productive jobs. There’s less new value being created, but this MIGHT possibly still work, as everybody is still buying/selling back and forth with each other.

        1. More Marxist nonsense. The guy walking the dog is freeing up time for the farmer or miner, or accountant, or engineer, to put their time to better use. The guy cooking food is adding value by saving people time. Even the dreaded investment banker is helping resources get allocated more efficiently.

          That provides value.

          Based on your horse shit philosophy, a guy digging ditches is adding all kinds of value, whether or not anybody else wanted or needed ditches to be dug.

          But look, he created something that wasn’t there before – a ditch!!!!

          1. You clearly don’t get my point… I’m ANYTHING but a marxist. This is simple reality.

            I will say it one more time:

            Some jobs create new value from scratch… Others shuffle around existing value. That is not to say that the shufflers are not nice to have, or their work is completely useless… Merely that they do not provide the source value in the labor force.

            As a mental exercise ask yourself if an entire civilization could survive with ONLY those types of jobs. If the answer is NO (Cooks, baristas, dog walkers, etc COULD NOT be the sole jobs in a society), then those jobs are usually secondary types of jobs that are dependent on OTHER types of jobs for their existence.

            Digging useless ditches does not count, because it is useless… But a useful irrigation canal does in fact create new value in the long term. This whole thing doesn’t mean that those jobs are completely useless, merely that they are secondary jobs to all of the primary jobs that they depend on. A farmer can exist without a barista, a barista cannot exist without a farmer. You can’t have posh service jobs without some industries creating actual new wealth. God. I don’t see how this is so hard to grasp.

      2. Imagine now that 5 productive workers lose their jobs in each instance. In town #1 that’s a 10% drop in the people creating the new wealth. So those 5 people, and perhaps 5 service people will lose their job, as the economy is arranged in such a way that every service job is supported by about 1 productive job.

        It is what the “system” is used to so to speak. But perhaps the town might even just adjust slightly, and fewer than 5 service workers might lose their jobs, as the economy is very robust with new wealth creation.

        But if 5 productive people lose their job in #2, that is 50% of the productive workers. This means it may well throw 45 service workers out of work, as half the wealth creation is gone in the town. Maybe they can rejigger things a bit too, and only lose 35 or 40 jobs, but with half the new wealth gone, it will hit them far harder than in town 1, despite it being the same number of workers being lost.

        Make sense? Our economy used to be like #1, but now it’s more like #2. The fewer jobs you have creating new wealth, the more fragile the economy is, because baristas are dependent on those wealth creators for their employment, but not as much the other way around.

        The real economy is far more complex of course. But we’ve essentially stabilized our economy with more people being reliant on a smaller number of net wealth creators than in the past.

      3. What I was also kind of getting at is that we only have so many baristas and dog walkers BECAUSE we’ve lost a lot of our more productive, higher paying, wealth creating jobs. Like manufacturing or mining. We’re still doing well in other ones of course, and SOME service industry jobs can be exported, which turns them into pseudo productive jobs for our nation, despite not being one internally, like accounting services.

        If our economy were stronger and more robust, wages would be higher, and those people would not be available for such lowly and ultimately very low value types of work. The hipster would be working in a factory making $40-50K a year equivalent 50 years ago, instead of $25K a year walking dogs.

        It has turned out this way because of a lot of policy choices over the years, and just general competition from abroad. But it has undoubtedly left our economy less robust than in the past due to having a higher proportion of non wealth creating jobs. You cannot have an entire economy of retailers and baristas!

      4. More frivolous jobs as we’re wealthier does make some sense as a concept, but if there are more productive jobs available in theory such jobs should be outcompeted in the market to the point of being very rare or nonexistent. Also if our economy were hyper strong, wages would be pushed up even for bullshit jobs.

        I hope that all makes sense… The general concept of productive jobs vs secondary jobs that depend on them is a well established thing. Some have also wrote on the robustness concept. I don’t know that I explained it well, but I hope I did.

        I still think the best way to think about it is imagine an entire economy with ONLY certain types of employment, and ask if it would be economically viable in a vacuum.

        This is actually what has fundamentally killed/shrunk small towns around the country. They lost their original industries (logging, mining, manufacturing, etc) and without those source wealth creating jobs, none of the service jobs can exist either… So they shrink or disappear, as the barber, barista, and accountant can’t just keep trading money back and forth forever, as none of them create new wealth or bring wealth in from outside the community to any great degree.

        1. Maybe they should dig ditches and magically create wealth.

          Yes, when a town is dependent on one company or industry and they bolt, a lot of people lose out. That has jack shit to do with whether a grocer in a mill town is providing value by providing a market where people have access to a wide variety of goods – a worthless, non value added pursuit according to you and your comrades.

          1. GOD YOU’RE FUCKING RETARDED.

            I’m not a commie you idiot. I’m probably one of the most hardcore right-libertarians on this site.

            I’m simply stating a FACT that secondary jobs, service jobs and other similar things, are dependent on REAL SHIT getting done for their existence.

            A Retailer in a town cannot exist without farmers growing the crops, processing the crops, transporting the crops, and ditto for any manufactured goods. Such jobs can make life nice, or cushy, or whatever… But you cannot have a retailer BEFORE you have all the productive jobs that enable the retailer to exist.

            This doesn’t mean they’re not providing a useful service, only that they are not the source of new wealth creation economically, they are merely redistributing wealth by perhaps greasing the skids and making things nicer/more efficient/whatever as a middle man.

            This is pretty simple shit here dude.

  30. One does not need to criticize free markets to argue that the “private sector” has a lot of BS jobs. The private sector must react to and deal with the mess created by government.

    A great example is the tax preparation industry. Tax preparers can and do save their clients extraordinary amounts of time and money, thus providing value. But the fact that these savings are there to be found is solely a consequence of the arcane, insane tax code. Eliminate the tax mess and the entire industry would go away.

  31. One does not need to criticize free markets to argue that the “private sector” has a lot of BS jobs. The private sector must react to and deal with the mess created by government.

    A great example is the tax preparation industry. Tax preparers can and do save their clients extraordinary amounts of time and money, thus providing value. But the fact that these savings are there to be found is solely a consequence of the arcane, insane tax code. Eliminate the tax mess and the entire industry would go away.

    1. something something 2 certainties in life….

  32. It’s possible that starting in 1975, gov’t foisted onto private colleges the BS jobs the gov’t colleges already had. But I don’t think that would acc’t for all of the increase in admins. he cites.

    The BS jobs in colleges are mostly the teachers, as I experienced doing it (but already knew to some degree). College is a racket. It’s 90% BS. It delivers as product the mere document’n that a student has gone thru it?whatever “it” is. Credentialism is partly a product of gov’t (disallowing many employee-filtering heuristics), but largely of the zeitgeist.

    Of course it’s not only higher ed that’s BS; it’s just the most blatantly so. Ed in gen’l is vastly bloated, & would remain so even if all admins. were got rid of.

  33. “The regulations are too long and complicated.”

    Too long for small companies. Big companies, those who are responsible for writing and shepherding the regulations through legislation, have every reason to appreciate these rules. If nothing else it keeps their legal departments busy and strangles smaller competition.

  34. Graeber notes that while, as an anarchist, he generally prefers bottom-up grassroots solutions to social problems rather than top-down public policy solutions, he nevertheless favors a tax-funded universal basic income as a way to relieve the working class’s reliance on bullshit jobs.

    An ‘anarchist’. Who is not only in favor of government solutions to other people’s problems, but seeks to solve those problems through government enforced redistribution of income.

    Okay.

    Maybe the author could have led with that tidbit. And saved us all the, well you know, bullshit.

    But, maybe the bullshit is his job.

    Maybe the last libertarian at Reason should have turned out the fucking lights.

  35. So I guess “fireman” is a bullshit job– 95% of the time those guys sit around doing nothing!

    I guess “salesman” is a bullshit job– 90% of their sales calls amount to nothing!

    I guess National Security Council staffer is a bullshit job– I was told once by a reliable authority that 9 days out of 10 those guys just sit around playing cards! Of course, 1 day out of 10, I wouldn’t want that job for all the money in the world.

    The fact that someone sits around doing nothing a great deal of the time at work does not mean their job is pointless or wasteful.

    In Scott Adams’s The Dilbert Principle, his question number 1 for idiot bosses was: “Do you believe anything you don’t understand must be easy to do?”

    Lots of jobs are surely bullshit, but I’m not going to rely on Graeber to point them out for me.

    1. Then there are people who can do in 15 hours what a lesser person requires 40 hours to do. Guess who gets punished when the disparity is found out? Hours are not a great way of measuring productivity.

  36. Projection much there, Long Rod?

  37. Tying together several other comments and adding a new concept, since no one else has discussed risk.

    The modern corporation is extremely risk averse and does not accept or permit risk taking. Accordingly, most departments are staffed for their worst day, even if that day only comes once a year.

    The discussion of Parkinson’s Law above explains this pretty well. Those people have to do SOMETHING all day, not just to keep occupied, but to stay skilled and familiar with their jobs, so a lot of daily work for the workhorses is below their mean skillset; “make-work”.

    Leading and controlling a team that is underutilized but reliable provides political capital for middle managers (anyone who supervises others, but whose incentives are not aligned to profitability) so everyone goes with it.

    1. The cushiest job (until it becomes the least-cushy job) is the one where you’re a contractor whose role is to take the fall for a client’s incompetence. As long as they do their jobs right, you don’t have to do shit. As soon as there’s a political threat or challenge, guess who gets thrown under the bus!

  38. ” … there’d be no such thing as social science.”

    There is such thing as social science in the same sense that there is a ‘science’ of bee-keeping, or a science of seduction. Karl Marx actually was a scientist under this definition. As was Freud. And look what they gave us.

    1. ” As was Freud”

      Freud was a medical doctor who studied the nervous system in Vienna at the end of the 19th century. He then went on to develop psychoanalysis, ‘the talking cure,’ or ‘the Jewish science,’ as he half-jokingly put it.

      By the way Hitler’s father took up the science of bee-keeping after he retired from his customs post.

  39. Holy shit this is the most boring book review in history.

  40. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:
    In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely

    Apparatchiks are a self conscious class of people sucking the blood out of all institutions.

    1. It’s not that the jobs are pointless. It’s just that the point of the jobs is to further the power of the Apparatchiks, as opposed to the supposed mandate the Appartchiks were hired to serve.

  41. Don’t think there’s bullshit jobs in corporate enterprise? Ever wonder why cashiers, store associates, wait staff robotically ask you to fill out satisfaction questionaires? Some top corporate meeting touched on customer satisfaction, which led immediately to metrics – how will we measure it? And then to how will we encourage, reward good customer service? In the end, those in contact with us, hammer us with requests for positive reviews of their performance so the corporation can crank out endless metrics on customers bored enough to waste their time filling out forms; then their managers can receive a financial bonus for good metrics – and we can suffer reduced satisfaction. The list of crap corporations grind out is endless – and I’m talking very successful businesses.
    I noticed in 2008 when 10 – 15% of the work force was laid off that I had no trouble getting products or services. It made me wonder how many jobs could just melt away and it would make no difference.

  42. A very thoughtful article, wading into a critical question. As the free market, capitalism and automation take us closer and closer to human Valhalla, where less and less little real “work” is necessary, what happens to our social fabric? UBI is a simple answer, and it’s always the one people come up with. But are bullshit jobs any worse than no jobs at all?

    There are a few walks of life where people can go without income, and still feel gratification: medicine, science, religion, the arts. That’s probably about 5% of us. The other 95% needs to feel that they’re earning a living and providing for themselves and their family, doing something of recognized value. What happens to those people when the choice is a bullshit job or no job at all with UBI? Big challenge for mankind.

  43. The lack of thoughtfulness on the part of some of the commentators is disappointing. In a truly free market, as technology and automation advances, human labor will become increasingly non-essential. That’s a very big deal. Granted, there are plenty of bullshit jobs created by government and large corporations, and that’s a reflection of their parasitism and sloth. But the problem is MUCH deeper than that.

    1. Yup. People who don’t see the massive tsunami coming to the labor force are idiots. This is going to make the first industrial revolution look like nothing, mainly because it is hitting cognitive tasks too, which didn’t happen much back then.

      I think we’ll muddle our way through it one way or another, but things are going to look VERY different 100 years from now than the way they do now.

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