Basically, David Graeber has just invented the B Ark

Sean Illing
Give me some examples of bullshit jobs.

David Graeber
Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful.

A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all.

And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence. But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off.

And we could add anthropology professors to the list….

25 thoughts on “Basically, David Graeber has just invented the B Ark”

  1. Don’t even say it secretly. But I bet he also agitates for more regulation – blissfully ignorant of the fact that complexity is a subsidy to the well-educated and well-connected.

  2. You could eliminate soldiers, but one day you might find you wish you hadn’t. Which is not to say I am in favour of corporate lawyers (though I broadly am, as long as we have corporations and lawyers), just that it’s not always immediately obvious who you need when you walk out of your door on a wet Thursday.

  3. Academia really is fucking awful in places. I mean this guy is just a bullshit artist. I doubt he’s ever met a corporate lawyer, has no idea about middle management. Companies hire them under pressure to create more jobs? Where’s the evidence for that?

    “You’d work 12 hours a day during harvest time and in the off-season you’d work two or three hours.”.

    That’s just horseshit. It ignores how people used to live. A peasant would be doing a ton of things to support themselves. Keeping animals, bees, fishing, preserving meat, picking berries. They’d trade a bit for rent or services from others.

    The real bullshit is the public sector in general and particularly this nonsense. Because you, the public have no idea these twerps are taking your money. It’s why I’m a minarchist. Privatise the fuck out of everything and strip the rest down to core.

  4. If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence.

    I’m asking the following in a serious rather than sarcastic way.

    Is it simply not obvious to him what problems would ensue if corporations were no longer able to obtain legal advice?

    Aside from how they are supposed to manage contracts etc, does he think that corporations should no longer be subject to the law?

    If he does think that corporations are supposed to follow society’s laws and regulations, the thousands and thousands of pages worth, how does he think they will do that if they do not have anyone on board who understands them?

    What is the name for a professional expert in law who works for a corporation? Is it, perchance, “corporate lawyer”?

    He is either being monumentally thick and/or utterly inexperienced in the real world (hence only able to see effects in fields where he either has expertise or there are public-facing aspects to the role that he has a grasp on the immediate consequences of), and/or he is being disingenuous and just wants to downplay the impact of abolishing vast swathes of employment, and/or he’s a genius who perceives some deeper truth that I cannot grasp.

  5. Interested
    “September 11, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    You could eliminate soldiers, but one day you might find you wish you hadn’t. Which is not to say I am in favour of corporate lawyers (though I broadly am, as long as we have corporations and lawyers), just that it’s not always immediately obvious who you need when you walk out of your door on a wet Thursday.”

    Its like the old advertising joke – ‘I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half’.

  6. a) i suspect the writer has zero idea what corporate lawyers actually do day-to-day, and
    b) everybody hates lawyers until they really, really need one.

    My profession is another one where people don’t actually know what we do in general, but our absence would seriously hinder the people that we do it for, and who know exactly what it is we do.

  7. If the tax laws were less complex, we’d need fewer accountants. Likewise if there were fewer laws in general, we would have fewer lawyers. Even the Diversity Consultants and Compliance Officers and most of HR only exist because somewhere there’s a law (or case law) which requires their services.

  8. These types of jobs are usually a response to something, deadweight seems to be when the issue goes away, but the job doesn’t and that’s much more likely to happen in public service.
    A diversity officer is just a response to having to deal with stupid rules and quota’s and protect organisations reputation, for some the cause of that is worth the cost. Used to work with a decent HR guy and he said most of his work involved keeping the company out of court/tribunal as expecting the managers to deal directly with all the union crap would be counter productive

  9. Without the EU, unemployment rates would be higher in the short term at least. All those risk assessments and method statements don’t write themselves. And all that bumpf in corporate reports about diversity and climate change and who gets paid what by gender and how much tax gets paid where…. Someone has to compute and write this nonsense. The requirement to do so comes from government. If you don’t comply, there are penalties. Does he not know this?

  10. Lawyers are important, sure, but anyone with much exposure to corporate lawyers knows that they do like to supplement the useful work with a whole lot of creating useless work for them and their peers. The profession, as a whole, is rewarded for failure with more work. And at the big end of things, word doesn’t seem to get round and cripple the offenders.

    See also the tax and legal side of the big accountancy firms. Clients come and go, win and lose, but those guys always get paid.

    I don’t blame them for it. But I don’t love the, for it either.

  11. The dead tree press believed this and got rid of their editors. So, now, flaky Guardian writers get printed without oversight.

    The company saves money on middle managers. Circulation continues to decline.

  12. He’s right, you know. I consult for startups and turnarounds. All too often one of my clients turns a corner of some kind — perhaps they get a big contract or acquire a hot new product line. Next thing they have hired themselves an HR person or a chartered accountant because that’s what all the big successful companies have. i don’t complain. I just jack up my hourly rate 100%.

  13. Maybe they hire the HR person because they used to have time to do everything, and now they don’t with business growing?

    More likely the owner is sick of working 80 hour weeks and hires someone to do some of it now he or she can afford it.

    My boss hired someone to do HR and Admin work because he was sick of all the bullshit he was having to deal with personally without one. He didn’t 100% need one, but he’s happier with one.

  14. It’s true. All that law and tax advice and stuff. You don’t need it.

    Far better to read an article in one of the Sunday supplements or maybe listen to your mate down the pub.. It’s not like there are thousands of pages of tax law and commercial law, not like businesses ever fail or business partners ever fall out or deals end up in dispute, not like it makes any difference how a business or a transaction is structured from a tax perspective.

    Isn’t this usually the bit of the discussion where John77 says there’s no need for advisors cause he can do it all himself?

    I guess what anthropology professors can’t get there head around is that hard-nosed businesses are prepared to pay good money for services anthropology professors don’t think they need but don’t need the services of anthropology professors.

  15. “Next thing they have hired themselves an HR person or a chartered accountant because that’s what all the big successful companies have.”

    I don’t know about HR, but maybe the company is of a size where the law requires its accounts are audited. For which you need a qualified accountant.

  16. I see corporate lawyers are being discussed as if they’re lawyers employed by corporations. Not strictly true is it? Corporate lawyers are lawyers who specialise in corporate law. Some work for corporations. Others work for legislators & regulators. And all have an interest in making corporate law as complex as possible to provide employment for corporate lawyers.

  17. bloke in spain said:
    “Corporate lawyers are lawyers who specialise in corporate law”

    Actually they’re generally not.

    Having worked in the corporate law department of a big law firm, corporate lawyers spend very little time actually advising on company law. Yes, they do some of that, usually forming companies, writing their constitutions, dealing with voting rights, that sort of thing, but it’s a minority of their time.

    Most of their paid time is spent writing and negotiating contracts, so it’s contract and commercial law, not company law. In a big department there might be a couple of people who specialise in and really know actual company law, but it’s fairly esoteric and not needed much. Being able to write and negotiate a good watertight warranty in a contract (or, if on the other side, amend one so that the buyer doesn’t realise that it’s actually worthless) is usually much more important.

  18. @Bloke on M4

    Even if it were true that peasants in the past only worked a few hours, that was because they didn’t spend money on electronics, decent water, modern health care etc.
    I would rather work longer and have doctors to treat me when I get ill, rather than what they had in the middle ages.

  19. I do believe David to the extent i’ve heard this sentiment before. Their job is meaningless and “no one would notice” before. This was a friend who is a commercial business lawyer at a 30th party Her department is in negotiating and drawing up retail leaseholds.

    my take was and is that – she expressed this as
    a) i don’t want to talk shop and you wouldn’t be interested if i did.
    b) yes i’m paid well, more than a nurse, probably more than a doctor but kind of hard to justify it without talking shop.
    c) perhaps if i declaim there are more worthy professions out there, you’ll accept a small token of my underlying virtuousness.
    d) if i can actually propagate this enough a professor will gestate a theory which will ultimately lead to the elimination of the bourgoisie, and we can all be happy workers again.

  20. David,

    Agreed. But we also worked more hours. This “we worked less hours” might have been true if you considered someone’s prime job, but people specialised less. They’d have worked a farm but also caught fish, grown food in the garden.

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