On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant, David Graeber
To Robert, it seems not quite right, but there is something here which hits a nerve and is correct. There are what we used to call lower-case J obs. Which don’t really make their holders feel very good and don’t result in creation of much of anything. There is also lots of time captured by employers in which employees don’t really do anything at all. This is all exacerbated by the fact that every worker in the world now has what is essentially a television set on their desk. But Graeber lumps too much together. Most jobs are not “unnecessary,” regardless of whether they are good jobs. They would be missed. But not much. For Robert, there seems to be something especially pernicious about jobs in which the primary function of the employee is to organize and move information. Not create it or anything physical. This is the 21st century problem. This is the soul-sucking problem that is lurking here.
“But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.
It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.”