An amusement in David Graeber’s new book

It’s called “Bullshit Jobs.” An analysis of jobs which don’t need doing but which are done by those adding no value just because.

This written by the man who insisted, in an earlier tome, that Apple was founded by disgruntled IBM veterans.

Strangely, his list of bullshit jobs does not include “Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics.”

Odd that, really.

34 comments on “An amusement in David Graeber’s new book

  1. Most if not all of such jobs, plus the BS element of otherwise nice jobs, being a function of crazy regulation of course.
    Mysteriously he doesn’t mention that.

  2. “One day, the wall shelves in my office collapsed. This left books scattered all over the floor and a jagged, half-dislocated metal frame that once held the shelves in place dangling over my desk. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action.”

    So, in the very first paragraph, the boy Graeber reveals that he’s a lazy, arrogant, cunt.

  3. Well, seeing as they don’t seem to be able to produce a newspaper, enough people wish to pay for to cover the expense of doing so, s’pose you’d have to put Guardian journalist pretty high on a list of bullshit jobs.

  4. This is a Chesterton’s Fence thing. Before you say a job is unnecessary, it’s worth asking why it exists. That doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it, but it didn’t magically appear. Someone thought it was a good idea. Find out.

    “Doormen are the most obvious example. They perform the same function in the houses of the very rich that electronic intercoms have performed for everyone else since at least the 1950s. In some countries, such as Brazil, some buildings still have uniformed elevator operators whose entire job is to push the button for you. ”

    So, no, doormen aren’t a bullshit job. They do all sorts of tasks in a building, but their biggest job is acting as a disincentive to robbers. That doesn’t mean they’re particularly tough guys, but they’re tough enough to make people think twice.

    “These are people whose jobs have an aggressive element but, crucially, who exist only because other people also employ people in these roles. The most obvious example of this are national armed forces. Countries need armies only because other countries have armies; if no one had an army, armies would not be needed. But the same can be said of most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers and corporate lawyers.”

    Well, yeah. So not useless.

    “Magda’s job required her to proofread research reports written by her company’s star researcher-statistician. “The man didn’t know the first thing about statistics, and he struggled to produce grammatically correct sentences. I’d reward myself with a cake if I found a coherent paragraph. I lost 12lb working in that company. My job was to convince him to undertake a major reworking of every report he produced. Of course, he would never agree to correct anything, so I would then have to take the report to the company directors. They were statistically illiterate, too, but, being the directors, they could drag things out even more.”

    So actually, the company has a “star researcher” whose name sells things, but you do the real work. Neither of the jobs are bullshit.

    “We’re all familiar with box-ticking as a form of government. If a government’s employees are caught doing something very bad – taking bribes, for instance, or shooting citizens at traffic lights – the first reaction is invariably to create a “fact-finding commission” to get to the bottom of things. This serves two functions. First of all, it’s a way of insisting that, aside from a small group of miscreants, no one had any idea that any of this was happening (this, of course, is rarely true); second, it’s a way of implying that once all the facts are in, someone will definitely do something about it (this usually isn’t true, either).”

    Yes, those are bullshit jobs. Let’s stop them shall we, Guardian Writer?

    “These fall into two groups. Type one comprises those whose role consists entirely of assigning work to others. This job can be considered bullshit if the taskmaster believes there is no need for their intervention, and that if they were not there, underlings would be perfectly capable of carrying on by themselves.”

    Name one person who thinks that? Even when I had 3 people working for me who were easy to manage, there were still decisions to be made. You still needed a manager.

  5. ‘Although we may suspect our jobs are pointless, and despite automation offering the potential to work less, social norms condition everyone to believe work is what gives us our value as human beings.’ …While many retirees can’t believe their luck when hanging up their spurs, others fail to cope with the lack of purpose and rapidly deteriorate.

  6. BG–Writing leftist shite seems to give many worthless creeps a purpose all across the Western World.

  7. Tenant pays rent, tenant pays council tax. Every time there’s a change of tenancy some admin bod at the council has to bill the landlord for the empty period, set up an account when the next tenant is notified and chase the previous tenant for any arrears using tools like court summonses, attachments of earnings, benefits and bailiffs .

    If the landlord was always billed, the tenant pays ( higher ) rent to the LL, the LL pays council tax. Admin only required by council bod when ownership changes. Chasing arrears is easy because you can put a charging order on the property if required.

    The extra jobs because of the way we do it now are bullshit jobs.

  8. “That doesn’t mean they’re particularly tough guys, but they’re tough enough to make people think twice.”

    I noted long ago that a even a Chihuahua’s bark discourages bad guys.

  9. ‘But the same can be said of most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers and corporate lawyers.’

    Lobbyists exist because of excessive government power. They are a reaction, not a cause.

    Ibid corporate lawyers.

  10. Whilst amusing, some of his examples clearly demonstrate a lack of real world experience. This is a subject upon which most people, with a bit of intelligence and common sense, could have a field day.

    But instead, we get all sorts of nonsense, including this:

    I should add that there is really only one class of people who not only deny their jobs are pointless, but also express outright hostility to the very idea that our economy is rife with bullshit jobs. These are – predictably enough – business owners and others in charge of hiring and firing. No one, they insist, would ever spend company money on an employee who wasn’t needed.

    All the people who are convinced their jobs are worthless must be deluded, or self-important, or simply don’t understand their real function, which is fully visible only to those above. One might be tempted to conclude from this response that this is one class of people who genuinely don’t realise their own jobs are bullshit.

    In which he appears to fail to understand that there are substantial differences between large organisations (with hierarchies of management, including HR departments) and the vast number of smaller owner run (and directly managed) businesses? My guess would be that he has never in his life been anywhere near the latter?

  11. @WM

    Yep, Chesterton’s fence.

    “In some countries, such as Brazil, some buildings still have uniformed elevator operators whose entire job is to push the button for you.”

    Most of the non-workplaces in the rich-world UK I’ve been that have lifts, the lifts stink of urine. Do manned Brazilian lifts smell of urine? Are the lift floors littered with discarded food wrappers, household junk, dog faeces, druggie needles? Are there people who own or use these lifts who would rather their kids can take the escalator unaccompanied and it be safe, and who dislike the smell of urine? If that marginal benefit outweighs the marginal cost of hiring a guy in uniform to stand in the lift, then job done.

    “Countries need armies only because other countries have armies; if no one had an army, armies would not be needed. But the same can be said of most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers and corporate lawyers.”

    This is frankly barmy. Does the esteemed author think that companies (which only exist by virtue of certain legal formalities) can engage in trade, often by way of contracts (ie a legal agreement) or if anything goes wrong, deal with the incursion of a liability in tort, without having some legal bods to work out what their legal responsibilities/strategies/remedies need to be? I get that the lawyer numbers are self-perpetuating – if the other guy in the room has brought his lawyer, you need to make sure you’ve brought yours, and so on – but how does he think modern trade, commerce and industry could work without lawyers? And for “modern” read anything in the previous 2000 years and quite possibly earlier – for however long as people engaged in commerce have had trade disputes that weren’t settled by physical violence. PR gurus may be a bit more recent – really only needed in the era of mass media – but in the aftermath of a complete corporate cock-up, we quickly discern which companies have invested in decent PR teams and which have come up painfully short and made an even bigger mess of things.

    Similarly publicists and marketing. The more publicists your rivals have maybe the more you need to get heard above the noise, but aside from that – suppose the author has had a stroke of genius and invented a brilliant new product. How are customers going to hear about it? You tell your mates, they tell theirs, it’ll be around the world before you know it? Funnily enough if the author tried marketing their book that way I’m pretty sure they’d see the benefits of having professional marketers pretty quickly. (Awaiting comment from Tim Newman!)

    There’s a huge arrogance to “if I have never done a job or hired someone to do that job and don’t understand what that job does, it must be bull”.

  12. @Bernie G

    “While many retirees can’t believe their luck when hanging up their spurs, others fail to cope with the lack of purpose and rapidly deteriorate.”

    There’s something in that. I could afford, justabout, to retire today. That alleviates financial pressure on me – being self-employed I have to chase my own work, so my situation might be more precarious than someone in a stable job. If my existence was hand to mouth, client payment (often late) to client payment, it’d be potentially rather unpleasant. That on the contrary I could quit working tomorrow if I so chose, provided I tightened my belt accordingly, is rather liberating.

    But I don’t actually want to do it because I really don’t know what I would fill my time with! And until I have sorted that out, I’m better to keep ploughing on for now and thereby improve the potential standard of living when I do call it quits. In practice I think I’m likely to just wind things down slowly and ease myself out of it. A sudden dramatic stop sounds rather unhealthy.

  13. At least two people have pointed out that he is a professor of Anthropology. And their comments are still there. Are the Mods busy or improving?

    “I worked as a museum guard for a global security company in a museum where one exhibition room was left unused. My job was to guard that empty room, ensuring no museum guests touched the, well, nothing in the room and ensure nobody set any fires.

    Ensure nobody set any fires. You know some people might consider this an important job. It may be unfortunate for the person doing it but in the crime ridden sh!thole Britain has become, it is probably very necessary.

    If he cannot tell that he has no business writing this book

  14. Bongo: so you’re now getting the landlord to be an unpaid administrator of whether the tenent is in or out of work, what their income is, single, not single, in a exempt category, sharing with somebody, bonking somebody, all personal details to which the natural response from any sane tenant to a landlord asking this is “F*** ***”.

  15. MyBurningEars: I’d love to give up my job so that I would have enough time to work.

  16. @jgh: no. There’d be no more work for the LL beyond determining if he wants to take the tenant, and if the tenant has an ability to pay.
    What your thinking about is Council Tax reduction and other discounts and exemptions which would not exist under the simplified scheme ( LHA, and student support would have to rise accordingly ).

  17. DMcDF,

    From more years experience than I care, doing something like fixing a shelf in a university without calling the official shelf-fixer is a disciplinary and you can’t do it because insurance, elfnsafety, and union rules.

    Same goes for changing light bulbs. There are people from Estates to do that.

  18. Großer – you are correct on this I’m sure but what was interesting in DMcDF’s extract was that the books were all over the floor because our hero, David Graeber, is too heroic to collect up the fallen books and put them in piles pending the works department man’s arrival.

    Of course it’s true that not all professors of anthropology have studied potty-training and it’s that lacuna which exempts them from tiresome chores¹ which less well-qualified people might take in their stride.

    It’s terrible when one’s sense of self-importance gets in the way of serving one’s best interests.
    __________
    1/ Experience suggests that people with books care about the books they have and prefer them not to be stacked any old how like tins of baked beans.

  19. “doing something like fixing a shelf in a university without calling the official shelf-fixer is a disciplinary …”: in the long ago I made a living for a while pootling around chemical plants devising cunning plans to improve them. I was under the strictest instructions never to be caught in possession of a tool – meaning a screwdriver, spanner, stillson, voltmeter, or what have you. Them’s tradesmen’s tools.

    But, lo: on night shift, when nearly all the fitters and so on had pissed off home, people would open their lockers where we all – managers and operators alike – kept our own little stocks of tools. Funny old world.

  20. MBE – Sounds like a good plan, winding down slowly. Truth is there’s no right or wrong way, it’s whatever works for you. I’m a congenital idler. When I quit I ceremoniously burnt my suits in a skip. Of the two lads that worked alongside me, one found a new challenge in the same industry and is still working, the other became regional head of a large charity. My next door neighbour is 75 and still works fulltime, Asia this week, Africa the next.

  21. @Bernie

    Good for you! Demob happy by the sounds of it.

    “My next door neighbour is 75 and still works fulltime, Asia this week, Africa the next.”

    Don’t think I have the energy or stamina for that even now, let alone the motivation. My childhood piano teacher apparently still gives lessons for pocket money to top the pension up now she’s approaching 90, but that’s at least a more sedentary career.

  22. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action.

    Revealing the previously unknown fact that Anthropologists tend towards the free-enterprise, get on and just do it end of the political spectrum. Who knew?

    As for creating non-jobs and denying it, the master is, of course, the State.

    There are Murphyesque levels of lack of self awareness here. Still, at least he appears to be an actual professor, so give him credit for that.

  23. Metaluna eh Biggie?

    Once again they call on you to save an ailing planet. It brings tears to the eyes. Tho’ not mine.

    You must be up for the EU Legion d’Lenin medal by now. Or the Iron Bru Cross with Coke Leaves or summat.

  24. Winding down is going to be my way.

    Small business owner with good team in place. The next couple of years should allow me to work 30 hours distributed pretty much as I want. 3 days off mid-week for skiing; don’t go in this morning ‘cos I want to plant the potatoes… Work from home some days…

    Then we’ll see. I see me going well over retirement age (hence the boy in bilbaoboy) but not at the pace of a 40 year old. However if Michelle Pfieffer comes calling all bets are off!

  25. @Fecksie,

    I’ll be off saving London week after next, so I can guarantee to bring a tear to even your jauncided eyes.

  26. The only real bullshit jobs are those that exist because the government requires them to exist. Although as we transition to 2nd world low trust nations with the help of all the diversity, there will be a huge increase in previously unnecessary security jobs in all forms.

  27. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action.

    A revealing comment about him. No doubt he considers himself a Progressive and Good Person, but with the important caveat that he isn’t disabled in some way it’s interesting that he didn’t actually pick the fucking books (his books) up himself, but assumed it to be the task of some flunky WHO PROBABLY VOTED BREXIT ANYWAY.

  28. Indeed, Mr Black. As government shifts its interest to all things non government related, the cost of private security skyrockets.

    I heard a few years ago that the cost of private security in the U.S. actually exceeds the cost of government security – police, jails, etc.

  29. London is beyond saving Biggie–unless you plan to stab them all.

    Sad Dick Cahn would probably give you grant tho’.

  30. When I finished in the Merchant Navy in the mid 80’s my first job ashore was at a brewery on London, where I supervised a dozen fitters, electricians, plumbers and instrument technicians on shift. Never was there a job that was not a bullshit job, trying to keep 12 ne’re-do-wells doing what they were paid to do but with them attempting to not do it.
    I managed to get transferred to another brewery in the group in Yorkshire, where once again I was supervising fitters, electricians and a plumber, 4 in this case. And never was a job nothing more than a bullshit job. The guys has a completely different work ethic, I found that the majority of the work would have been completed before I had even been informed the job needed doing. I was a token supervisor, supervising people who didn’t need it. Eventually the bosses seemed to agree with me, as after a couple of nights of the long knives all of the shift engineering supervisors positions became redundant. That’s the best thing with a bullshit job, when someone up the tree knows it’s one, it goes.

  31. Funnily enough if the author tried marketing their book that way I’m pretty sure they’d see the benefits of having professional marketers pretty quickly. (Awaiting comment from Tim Newman!)

    Indeed. Don’t try self-marketing a book if you expect to sell any copies.

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