Recent Items

The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Posted on by

Yves here. I’m going to reverse my normal convention when I have a cross post but have something to add. Here I first offer you a MacroBusiness post (which in the layered ways of the Web relies heavily on an article by David Graeber) and natter afterwards.

By Leith van Onselen, Chief Economist of Macro Investor, Australia’s independent investment newsletter covering trades, stocks, property and yield. You can follow him on Twitter at @leithvo. Cross posted from MacroBusiness

Back in the early-1930s, renowned economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that technical innovations and rising productivity would mean that advanced country workers would be able to work only 15 hours and still enjoy rising living standards.

In a highly amusing, but also somewhat depressing article in Strike! Magazine, David Graeber asks why Keynes’ prophecy has not come true and instead we find ourselves working a range of meaningless “bullshit jobs” that many of us hate:

There’s every reason to believe he [Keynes] was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Graeber goes on to describe how these so-called “bullshit jobs” are concentrated in “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers”:

Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away…

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 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…

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.

As for the reasons behind these “bullshit jobs”, according to Graeber:

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger…

My view is that there is light at the end of the tunnel in all of this. Many of the manual jobs that have been replaced by technology and robots were downright tedious and often dangerous, and arguably the administration jobs that have replaced them – the 21st century equivalent of last century’s production lines – are safer and easier. Real wages and living standards are arguably higher for lower paid workers today than were 70 years ago, even if inequality has risen.

That said, I strongly believe that most people work longer hours than they should and consume too much, and many would benefit from increased free time to spend with family or relaxing. It is also a reason why I am such a strong advocate for more affordable housing, principally through freeing-up the supply-side. It would be a lot easier for people to cut back on work if they weren’t burdened paying-off some of the world’s biggest mortgages or paying high rents.

**********

Yves here. I disagree with almost all of this discussion.

First, if you look back historically, the idea that the lower classes needed to be kept busy for their own sake was presented in moralistic terms but was in fact ruthlessly economic. The whole point of making the peasants work instead of faff around and drink was to enable them to be exploited by the newly-emerging entrepreneurial class.

This section comes from important piece by Yasha Levine that summarized the book The Invention of Capitalism by economic historian Michael Perelman:

One thing that the historical record makes obviously clear is that Adam Smith and his laissez-faire buddies were a bunch of closet-case statists, who needed brutal government policies to whip the English peasantry into a good capitalistic workforce willing to accept wage slavery…

Yep, despite what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. See, English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in shitty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too. Using Adam Smith’s own estimates of factory wages being paid at the time in Scotland, a factory-peasant would have to toil for more than three days to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes. Or they could make their own traditional brogues using their own leather in a matter of hours, and spend the rest of the time getting wasted on ale. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?…

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

This pamphlet from the time captures the general attitude towards successful, self-sufficient peasant farmers:

The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant. . . . In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days, are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion in- creases by indulgence. And at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.

Yves here. In other words, a big part of the capitalist exercise is to find or create workers to exploit. Graeber has the story backwards. The moral fable (idleness is bad for the perp and putting him to work is thus a moral undertaking) was not, as Graeber suggests, because lazy people are proto-insurrectionists. It is that people who are self-sufficient and have time on their hands on top of that drove the early capitalists nuts. They were exploitable resources lying fallow, no different to them than a gold vein in the next hill that the numbnick farmer/owner was unwilling to mine because he liked the view and was perfectly content grazing sheep.

A second problem with Graeber’s discussion is the idea that leisure is a good thing given how we now have society ordered in America> (trust me, this statement is not as nutty as it seems when put that baldly).

Keynes’ little problem in envisioning a future with comparatively little work in it (as in the remunerated and sometimes disagreeable sort) was that he was an upper-middle class Englishman whose idea of how the world should be ordered was based on growing up in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Aristocrats and the well educated believed in the importance of leisure (having free time and an interesting social circle was a class marker, to set them apart from the grubby shopkeeper or his more successful cousin, the striving industrialist). It’s important to recognized this deep-rooted difference in values, even in a society that led the Industrial Revolution, and how America has (remarkably) managed to impose some of its workaholism on much of the rest of the world. Here, for instance, is Wikipedia on de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America:

In America, in contrast, landed elites were less likely to pass on fortunes to a single child by the action of primogeniture, which meant that as time went by, large estates became broken up within a few generations which, in turn, made the children more equal overall….Overall, in the new democracies, hereditary fortunes became exceedingly difficult to secure and more people were forced to struggle for their own living.

This rapidly democratizing society, as Tocqueville understood it, had a population devoted to “middling” values which wanted to amass, through hard work, vast fortunes. In Tocqueville’s mind, this explained why America was so different from Europe. In Europe, he claimed, nobody cared about making money. The lower classes had no hope of gaining more than minimal wealth, while the upper classes found it crass, vulgar, and unbecoming of their sort to care about something as unseemly as money; many were virtually guaranteed wealth and took it for granted. At the same time in America, workers would see people fashioned in exquisite attire and merely proclaim that through hard work they too would soon possess the fortune necessary to enjoy such luxuries.

So Americans have managed to wind up with the worst of all possible worlds. We’ve come to believe in the virtue of working hard, to believe the capitalist PR used to justify the enclosure movement and the reduction of independent peasants to wage slaves. Look at how hard people in the 1% or the 0.1% work. CEOs put in silly hours. So do hedgies and PE fund overlords. Now their well-paid subordinates may slog harder. However, their duties, like Machiavellian politics, hiring and firing, preparing for Important Meetings with Important People and Making Big Decisions, sure beat flipping burgers. But they don’t enjoy Keynes’ leisure either.

I submit the problem comes from our American version of capitalism. Paul Krugman a few years back took issue with how US pundits often demonized French economic performance. Krugman said it was simple: we preferred to consume houses. They preferred to consume vacations. By contrast, my impression is few really rich Americans are good at loafing (by contrast, in my one day in Monaco, it seemed that’s the only thing that that sort of international rich tax evader did). They seem to need to defend the legitimacy of their elite standing by Doing Stuff (which they often confuse with Doing Good).

Now to the point about bullshit jobs. What exactly is a bullshit job? Well, it’s not clearly defined, but it’s the opposite of “pursu[ing] their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas.”

I posit that this is simply Graeber’s class bias showing. He’s an academic and a member of what is commonly referred to as the creative classes. Ergo, just as Keynes thought everyone should have a life like his (but with more time for drinks and conversation with his intellectual set) so too Graeber believes that most people are keen to let their inner artist out. Yet if you take Myers-Briggs at all seriously (it’s based on Jungian psychology), one of its polarities is “intuitive” versus “sensing”. Intuitive people are the creative types, they like hanging out with imaginative people and are impatient with procedures if they can see a faster way to get things done. By contrast, “sensing” types are literal-minded. They like step-by-step processes and are very uncomfortable with violating them (for instance, neither of my parents, both very good cooks, could imagine deviating from a recipe).

Now there is no denial that left unchecked, over time organizations generate more busywork. This insight goes back to C. Northcote Parkinson who observed that one of the two factors that made bureaucracies grow, regardless of whether their duties increased, was that officials make work for each other. Think of how much time in organizations is spent in meetings, communications, or politics.

But Graeber is basically arguing that certain types of work, such as administrativa or telemarketing, are inherently “bullshit”. I might be forced to concede on telemarketing, simply because there’s now so much going on I can’t imagine any telemarketer can actually get a human to answer the phone and talk to them. (Some of the sectors he points out as having exploded, such as financial services and health care administration, are direct or indirect beneficiaries looting, so we’ll leave them out, since as Simon Johnson has pointed out, average pay has also skyrocketed in financial service, so we don’t need to trouble ourselves overmuch about the quality of their work lives).

But again, I think he’s got the premises wrong. It’s not the job content but the job conditions. We’ve had a long-term project underway to take the dignity out of work in the US.

Look at how workers are bereft of dignity. It used to be that only factory workers punched a time clock. Most of them were (at least in the post war era) protected by unions, and there was some logic in the regimentation (factories are large complex operations where everyone needs to work in a coordinated manner. Downtime is expensive. So having mechanisms to pressure the workers to respect the demands of the work environment can be justified from an enterprise survival standpoint.

By contrast, all sorts of petty humiliations are foisted upon mid and low level office and retail workers, many of which simply seem to be to reinforce the internal hierarchy and remind the employee he has little power. Cube farms. Regimentation of work hours for the convenience of the bosses (when for many jobs, significant portions of the work can be done autonomously). Week to week changes in schedules for businesses that don’t have big changes in hours and are not at survival risk (McDonalds, Walmart and other big box retailers). While upper white collar workers now are allowed more latitude (but in return for being expected to be on call for extended hours), middle management, admin, and retail workers are subject to vastly more intensive supervision and productivity benchmarking, moving them towards the standing of early garment workers who were paid on piecework.

So I’d argue that the “bullshit” comes from the devolving worker-employer social contract, and not from the work itself. I enjoyed having a paper route when I was a kid. People really did expect to get their newspapers by a certain time so delivering it conscientiously made a difference to them and the newspaper. I made enough money as an early telemarketer that I thought it was OK (as it was tolerable as opposed to terrible, but that was also because people back then answered the phone and most of the time were pleasant even if they made it clear they weren’t going to talk to you). But perhaps more important, those jobs are bullshit not simply because managers often treat the people who work in those jobs as labor fodder, but people like Graeber look down on them. People in those positions are treated as having no or little status.

By contrast, when I lived in Australia, all the people who worked at checkouts in grocery stores seemed pretty happy. That was confirmed by a buddy taking a buyout from her Wall Street firm and working at the cheese counter at a major department store for four months before moving to New Zealand. She really enjoyed the job, the not having to worry when she left work, talking to customers about cheese and food, and having simple tasks she could do well. And even though the pay was much lower, she still could cover all her living expenses and have some leisure/play money left over. I attribute that to Australia having a high minimum wage and being fabulously egalitarian (the clientele at my pub ranged from an pensioner who could only afford one beer a month, former drug addicts who had become social workers and data entry clerks to a nationally famous radio host and the CEO of one of the 150 biggest companies).

Similarly, on a recent thread, one commentor seemed almost stunned at the idea of having all the students clean a school, as they do in Japan. I imagine that some of the surprise was that cleaning is regarded as menial work here, and in America parents would likely squawk if their precious children were made to stand in for janitors. But the reader seemed to be taken by the idea that cleaning a school would convey to the students that when they get it dirty, they are making work for people, which might be them in six months. But there’s another message, that the community take care of itself, and no work is too lowly.

I’ve done time in the New Age, and one of the groups I was involved with for a while had residential retreats. To keep the price down, the group leader would have the members of the group clean the bathrooms and do kitchen duty. This was on rotation, everyone was required to clean toilets and do dishes a certain number of times. I never minded it precisely because everyone did it, in fact, there’s a certain satisfaction in cleaning things that I found in that setting that is somehow missing in my normal life (probably because I am time stressed and “blogging” or “dealing with my out of control inbox” or “exercising” or “foraging” are all More Important than cleaning, so cleaning is low priority, steals time from those pressing tasks, and is therefore done by me infrequently and resentfully and is farmed out to a cleaning person who astonishingly enough seems happy to do the work).

Finally, and this may be a reflection of being too deeply acculturated as an American, lots of leisure does not sit well with many people. That may be due to the fact that societally many of us have shallow social networks and therefore not enough people to hang out with were we can play. I found this to be true in my consulting days. I’d get done with a project and have lots of time on my hands (you can only spend so much time marketing, and too much is counterproductive, it makes you look desperate). In New York, if you are a professional, saying you aren’t up to your eyeballs in work is tantamount to saying you are a loser. And busy professionals make for terrible friends, truth be told. They cancel appointments on no notice, which also means you can’t do anything that requires an advance commitment (forget about season tickets, for instance). And when you see your buddies, quite often they are so stressed that they spend a lot of the evening venting. That’s fine for good friends now and again, but when the bulk of your recreational life consists of playing amateur therapist, it can get tiring (particularly since nothing fundamental changes and you are left not knowing what to do with their frustration). And I was never willing to play the overbooking time, which meant I got less social activity than I wanted.

I did manage to find some fellow deviants to hang out with, but even so, it was not so hot having that much open time (and don’t say I should have travelled. The problem with being between projects is you have NO idea when the next one might come in, and you don’t want to give yourself presents in the form of costly trips unless you’ve had a a long enough run of consistent billings that you feel you are really ahead of the game economically). But I don’t thinks this is just personal or NYC. My great uncle, who was the biggest lobster buyer in Maine in his heyday (which I assume meant in the US too) also hauled traps and kept hauling traps a half day without a winch until he was 85 (he was mystified as to why he could no longer haul traps a full day). One of my father’s cousins is a nurse, still working close to a full schedule even though she is over 70 (she does not need the money and looks terrific for her age). By contrast, a lot of men get depressed when they retire because they don’t have hobbies or interests to occupy them (Graeber’s idea that they are bursting with creative projects that they would rather have been doing seems wanting in a lot of cases).

In general, people who work beyond retirement age have longer lifespans on average than people who don’t. Individuals who like their work, such as Federal judges, virtually have to be carried out feet first.

So the bullshit tasks are not intrinsically bullshit. Work is work because you are paid to do it. There’s a certain amount of coercion even if you pretend to like the work (talk to book authors, I doubt you will find many who say they love writing books. They are more likely to like having written a book, which is a different state of affairs). But my belief is that the “bullshit” that Graeber bemoans is simply another face of income disparity. As wage gaps widen, the people who do lesser-paid work are seen as having less intrinsic worth as humans. The not surprising corollary is anyone who has work that is stigmatizing, even if subtly (cube farms!) is likely to resent it.

Print Friendly
Twitter108DiggReddit9StumbleUpon0Facebook408LinkedIn5Google+9bufferEmail

292 comments

  1. Goin' South

    Again, Graeber has managed to peel the onion to find a very sensitive layer of fundamental beliefs and attitudes, thereby provoking what promises to be a great discussion. I hope he drops by to engage.

    My overall impression of your piece, Yves, is that you misperceive Graeber’s point to some extent. As you recount some of your own job history, I don’t think Graeber would ever call delivering newspapers a “bullshit job” (though it might depend on the newspaper). Consulting, on the other hand… And how could he disagree that even bullshit jobs can lead to insights that lead to very meaningful work, like writing important books and running great blogs?

    He’s talking about the real social utility of jobs, not their social status or intellectual content.

    Likening Graeber to some dandy was off-base, though. He comes from a working class background and doesn’t even carry an Ivy pedigree. Field work as an anthropologist is hardly like playing croquet or polo. Writing a book like Debt may not be mining coal, but as you well know, it’s not lounging on the deck of your crewed yacht either.

    I take his piece as part evangel for those who feel their professional/management jobs are bullshit and part prod to the rest of us to think about the relationship between work and being human. The prod part is clearly working.

    1. digi_owl

      Yep. The first thing that came to mind when reading the bit from Graeber was Marx’s “socially necessary labor time”.

  2. Robert Dudek

    I do not feel you have represented Graeber’s view in full. His test for a bullshit job is what would happen if that job disappeared in a puff of smoke. Doctors would be missed; telemarketers not at all.

    Your paper delivery job is one that DG would regard as non-bullshit because it does add value to others. No service job that provides a needed service is regarded by DG as a BS job. And it is far from accurate to say that the BS jobs are low paying jobs. Near the top of DG’s list is hedge fund managers.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not true.

      The telemarketing job I had was essential to the sales of the business I was working for at the time. I did a second telemarketing job (different company) that took the better part of six weeks obtaining information to develop a cost adjustment for Federal payments to Legal Aid offices.

      As much as I despise it as intrusive, telemarketing is a sales channel. It’s an alternative to direct mail. It’s way way overdone these days to the point of making it a useless channel, but no sales and marketing, no business for many businesses. The junk mail in my inbox is similar. As much as I hate that too, I actually do get occasional useful offers, and in the last year, I bought one product (not cheap either) that I learned about solely by virtue of a junk mail message.

      So your and Graeber’s hostility to telemarketers is based on being imposed on by them, not on their value to businesses. I gotta tell you they are still important to businesses, and if they were made to go poof, they’d need to find other ways to reach consumers (door to door? I used to sell newspaper subscriptions door to door. Would you rather have THAT? Or network marketing, like the way they sell Tupperware and back in the day, insurance, aluminum siding, encyclopedias? Having your un or underemployed friends hit you up personally to buy stuff? I tell you, you might come to yearn for the days of telemarketers if that was foisted on you)

      Similarly, pension fund investors would disagree with you and Graeber all day. They deem many hedge fund strategies to be essential both from a diversification and an asset class perspective. You may disagree, but you are not the customer. If customers deem it to be essential, who are you to second guess? The enterpreneur’s definition of what it takes to have a business is customers.

      Now I personally don’t think hedgies are that valuable. I think you could get rid of 2/3 of them and we’d have an increase in societal value. Ditto telemarketers. But the fact that there are too many of something and most of it is done badly or for self serving motives does not render something to be bullshit. There are too many actors too. In fact, the creative activities that Graeber celebrates already have too many people who want to engage in them. That’s why they have power law payoffs. The few at the top really rake it in, but when you get below that, there are so many willing to do it for so little (some for true love of the discipline, others out of the fantasy that they’ll be the next Tom Cruise/Julia Roberts, and the fallback is making a hundred thousand a year on TV commercials) that people on the bottom rungs will work for nothing or close to nothing.

      And I have to tell you, the way medicine is practiced in the US, much of it is bullshit. Mammograms. PSA tests. The use of MRIs as diagnostic tools for orthopedic surgery (you will inevitably find all sort of abnormal-looking stuff in an MRI, an MRI can be used to justify all kinds of dubious orthopedic surgeries). Why do you think the US medical system is so overpriced? Go read Maggie Mahar’s Money Driven Medicine. The short answer is that US doctors way overtest and overtreat because they are on a piecework system. Our lousy and high cost health care admin isn’t the biggest culprit, it’s our treatment regime.

      1. Goin' South

        I think you’re still missing the point, Yves.

        “The telemarketing job I had was essential to the sales of the business I was working for at the time.”

        The point is not whether the job is useful to the business. The people who sit in a medical insurance company cubicle all day denying claims are useful to the business. They produce negative social utility.

        Yes, Graeber is poking a bit at anything related to advertising, but in general, he’s right. We’d be better off without it, just as we’d be better off without hedge fund managers and Goldman CEOs and white shoe law firm lawyers.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are missing my point, which I put in the post, which is you need to parse out the looting. Back in the 1980s, when Goldman was a partnership and had co-chairmen and Wall Street was criminal only at the margins, the job of a Goldman co-chairman was not socially negative. Ditto with telemarketing. When it was done only occasionally, to sell products that took a bit of explaining, it could also be value added.

          White shoe law firms do mergers (largely not socially value added) but they also help companies do licensing deals, review stock and bond underwritings, and handle litigation. Again, it isn’t that white shoe firms are bullshit, it’s that the scale of their activity has grown beyond the socially optimal point. As has medicine in the US, BTW.

          As for hedge funds, you can find virtually all the techniques of modern finance in the Bronze Age, including venture capital, futures, options, loan syndications, and loan sales (precursor to securitizations). So are you so sure modern finance is bullshit? Or with allowing rich people to put their money with a risk-seekgin investment manager? What is bullshit looks to be the rents they extract and how large the activity has become, not the activity per se (and the scale results from exploiting bad incentives of the people in charge o the money, who these days are not rich individuals giving it to a Soros, but pension fund and insurance companies and endowments).

          And I have to tell you similarly, in an insurer, all day you need people to watch out for fraud. Again, it’s not a bullshit job if it were defined and done honestly. It’s that a traditionally important function, denial of fraudulent or improper claims is now being used as a pretext by insurers to perpetrate insurance fraud (denial of legitimate claims). The job you described is NOT bullshit. It’s fraud.

          The real issue is whether you want to be able to conduct commerce at long distances. If you do, you are going to have all sorts of complexity and intermediary parties and frictions, and that in turn leads to opportunities to abuse information asymmetries and principal-agent problems, vastly more than if you were dealing only with local parties. We’ve allowed agents who should be held to account (like mortgage trustees who should have fired servicers and also made sure that the mortgage securitizations were done correctly) to shirk their duties. If you want to point to the system-wide problems, I’d start there, with the bad incentives and how they came to be.

          1. Akaison

            I agree with you.

            I am a lawyer who represents small and mid size companies.

            I’m sure the economy would work less effectively without business lawyers.

            Despite what we are told, most people do not instinctively understand risk, much less legal risk. Nor in a complex economy can we avoid these issues as a part of the mechanism to create progress.

            If one is, for example, working in house for a stem cell start up, there are many legal hurdles necessary to bring a product safely to patients. It doesn’t just happen because scientists want it to happen or patients need the product and nor should it for many reasons including safety.

            1. Mikael Olsson

              And yet you have not lifted your head and looked outside your country’s borders. Are lawyers necessary for companies today in the USA? Yes. They are. But it is a constructed necessity. Nearly all other countries “need” a fraction of the amount of lawyers the USA “needs”.

          2. Goin' South

            You point out a number of good examples. I’d argue that your post and this comment thread is a useful and presumably intended byproduct of Graeber’s original piece.

            We’re also invited, I think, to look beyond this current socio-economic system and think about the social utility of jobs in a less constrained context.

            For example, not far beyond the realm of current experience, Lambert argues frequently and ardently for Single Payer health insurance. Can’t we infer from that line of argument that all jobs in the health insurance industry are “bullshit jobs.” If everyone was truly entitled to health care services without regard to ability to pay, then there could be no fraud on the consumer end. No worker would be put in the position of denying health care to someone else because of fine print exclusions. No government bureaucrat (or 3 or 4) would be necessary to look over the shoulder of the health insurance claim evaluator. No lawyers would be necessary to represent the insurance company when they decide to challenge a bureaucrat’s ruling. Ad infinitum.

            Graeber’s piece also helps us see why a proliferation of rules results in a bevy of “bullshit jobs.” Obamacare will perhaps set a new record for “bullshit job” creation.

            Your point about the complexities of a global, technologically advanced world can’t be denied, but Graeber’s post invites us, it seems to me, to recognize that the proliferation of bullshit jobs and the death of leisure result from choices made mostly by our elites/bosses. While some administrative labor may be necessary, while there may inevitably be some “friction,” there could be a hell of a lot less if things were done differently.

            1. TimR

              Contra Yves (though she makes good points) I think it is the “content” of the jobs that’s bullshit. Many people are employed to enforce and maintain the pyramid hierarchy. The top 20%, say, are all about (in a big brush sense) enforcing the status quo, and spreading bullshit over everything. Media. Finance. Academia. Agriculture. Science (corrupted by money and service to power.) Pharma. MIC and Security. Medicine. Insurance. So all that white collar stuff. Then all their “cube farm” peons (so the rest of the top 50%.) Then, the people on the very bottom, blue collar and services, do useful work for all of society.

            2. Don Levit

              Goin’ South writes:
              If everyone was truly entitled to health care services without regard to ability to pay, then there could be no fraud on the consumer end. No worker would be put in the position of denying health care to someone else because of fine print exclusions.
              You make some sense here, if we could all agree on what “truly entitled” meant, and if we also thought ability to pay was not related to the level of services.
              Truly entitled can mean different things, so attorneys would be needed to ferret out the inconsistencies.
              If people were entitled to services without the ability to pay, the natural law of economics which has held for thousands of years would have to be reversed.
              So, if someone is unable to pay, what do we do – require everyone to pay?
              Or, do we lean on the providers to provide their services pro bono?
              If I understand your idea of human nature – that people will not overuse that which they may not have any monetary recourse for, and that people are willing and able to provide charity at an unlimited level – as long as the person was “truly deserrving,” well then God needs to make humans in a different fashion than He has done for 5774 years.
              Don Levit

              1. F. Beard

                well then God needs to make humans in a different fashion than He has done for 5774 years. Don Levit

                You demonstrate a superficial and erroneous knowledge of Scripture so the rest of your so-called wisdom is highly suspect.

                Hint: Since a generation is at least 15 years then a 1000 generations is 15,000 years minimum, not 5774 years.

                1. Don Levit

                  We are in year 5774 of the Jewish calendar – soon to be 5775.
                  Adam and Eve lived 5774 years ago.
                  Don Levit

                  1. F. Beard

                    He is the Lord our God;
                    His judgments are in all the earth.
                    Remember His covenant forever,
                    The word which He commanded to a thousand generations,
                    The covenant which He made with Abraham,
                    And His oath to Isaac.
                    1 Chronicles 16:14-16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

          3. Susan the other

            The MBS “trustees” seem to have been in on the securitization scam from the beginning. Most of them are banks. The banks put together the securities, failed to securitize them, and sold them to investors with a trustee in place who wouldn’t blow their cover because that trustee was another big bank doing the exact same thing. I mean, how can that many “trustees”,possible all (100% of them?), have screwed up all of the securitizations? There doesn’t seem to be a single “trustee” out there who wanted to put the notes in the trusts. The question why? needs to be investigated. But it will never happen. Because the entire securitization industry is bullshit. Or probably laundering money.

          4. Klassy!

            Glad you said that, because in the system we have now what is the alternative? OK every claim? Yeah, that’s a great idea. It is not like health care providers are particularly modest with their charges now. Or that they are moderate about telling you what you need to have done.

          5. sgt_doom

            Overall I agree with Ms. Smith’s posting and comments, but fundamentally disagree with her about hedge funds.

            Hedge funds are inherently about speculation, and one of the few things Adam Smith and I are in agreement about is our antipathy to speculators.

            Hedge funds, private equity leveraged buyout firms, and jobs offshoring are the three principal ways they have dismantled the American economy while enriching themselves!

      2. Dan Kervick

        Yves seems dead on to me. The jobs Graeber is talking about are only “bullshit” from the point of view of the person doing the job who might hate it, but is willing to do it only because he has little bargaining power and hates not having money even more. But they are not at all bullshit from the point of view of of the person who is paying that person to to the job. They created that job because whatever enterprise they are engaged in needs it to produce whatever it is that enterprise produces. And that’s why they are paying money for the work.

        I wish Graeber would pull his head out of the idyllic clouds and get with the concept of exploitation. He seems to have no idea about how even the most elementary industrial processes are organized or any feel for the details of how material value is produced in our society. He seems not to get the fact that all of that wonderful and pleasant meaningfulness that he enjoys (along with relatively few other people) floats on on a support structure composed of masses of menial labor. Everywhere he goes to give a lecture and chat with other academics about life in the noble savage rain forest or tundra he studies, there is some person who cleans the toilet he craps in. And the toilet need to be cleaned! That’s not bullshit. But it’s a shitty job.

        Capitalism isn’t going around manufacturing meaningless work for people to do just to fill up their time. It is manufacturing lots of jobs that contribute to the prosperity of society. But some people are paid peanuts for their role in that massive effort of production so that others can enjoy splendor.

        1. Yalt

          My own contribution to the wealth of certain extremely wealthy individuals had negative social utility, quite independently of the degree to which I felt exploited while performing my duties.

          There’s a reification problem in the argument here, a vagueness in the specifications of subject and object that allows a sort of bourgeois fog to form over the topic. I wasn’t paid by capitalism to perform some socially useful function; I was paid by a specific entity to perform some function useful to them. To get from the latter to the former requires a leap of faith–a leap so natural in a world governed by neoclassical economics that it’s hardly perceptible, but a leap nonetheless.

    2. lolcar

      It’s the zero-sum nature of a job when looked at as a part of the system as a whole that makes it BS – advertising, telemarketing, consulting, lawyering, human resources, finance all fit that mold potentially. (Not to say that the socially useful levels for these activities are zero, just much much lower than they are today.)

      1. political economist

        Thank you for making this point. IF this is not Graeber’s point it certainly was a major theme of Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital. Capital is corrupting large by focing poeple to be wage slaves. This was true from the beginning as Michael P highlights in his book but also today. BUT the point is not just that the workplace and work are unsatisfyinb but that the work is irrationally driven by profit not by human needs and fundmental desires. Wars, destruction of the environment, imprisonment and other forms of social control are all related to the concept of “bullshit jobs”–or whatever you want to call the work a majority of people do.
        PSychologists may be able to put people into different categories but creativity is not genetic. People come alive when given opportunites!

      2. nonclassical

        …isn’t it the switch from manufacturing based economy (no panacea for workforce) to paper debt (Hudson-Black-Kevin Phillips) that is involved in all this angst? 2001, “financial services” amounted to 19% of U.S. economic activity=profit$…by 2007, 41%.

        Blame for this fact (Phillips-”American Dynasty”-”American Theocracy”) involves
        those who benefitted from transition…Bush I was uncomfortable with said transition…Phillips shows what has happened historically-Spain, Netherlands, Britain, all suffered economic fallout.

        Capitalism today is rushing towards ever worse-marginalizing workers as CONTRACT WORKERS-to even avoid employee status-avoiding healthcare mandates, overtime, HR necessities, vacation or travel expenses for employer,
        etc, etc…pay to be nothing but % of profit$ generated…

        ..think it’s bad now..? Phillips does discuss (“American Dynasty”) contrast between Bush I economic history and “W”-first ever “MBA” president=financialized mentality…neither Bush I nor his cohort-lawyer James Baker were pleased with “W”-Cheney economics…attempted on several occasions to put Middle-East (after Iraq invasion) back to “bidness”…

        Let’s remember Kevin Phillips was Nixon’s Krauthammer…

      3. Montanamaven

        My reading of Graeber’s work, especially “Revolutions in Reverse” (free on line), one of his central themes is that for hundreds of years we have things backwards. Our priority has been making stuff for humans rather than having as our primary task, the nurturing of humans and the planet. This is also a theme of John Perkins in his books. He tells the South American story of the Eagle People and the Condor People. The Eagle People build machines that conquer the earth while the Condor people care for the earth and all living things. For the last 400 years it is the Eagle People who have dominated. We have a chance, it is told in legend, to unite the two and have them more in balance.
        The central theme of what kind of system should we have is what Graeber writes about. He asks us to think of an alternative to TINA; he asks us to change the story. It is basically a feminist perspective, he says. Most people yearn for meaning in their day to day lives. Children of the wealthy and the bourgeoisi get to have jobs in the arts and non-profits, he notes. While working class children lately have turned to the military to find work with purpose.
        The I.W.W. (the Wobblies) lobbied for shorter work days rather than more pay. In leisurere a person can create whether it is shish kabob, a song, or talk of revolution. The powers that be do not want us to have leisure. They prefer to negotiate wages and thus keep control of our time. (Trying to remember where I read this theory. But one place, oddly enough, was “Faces Along the Bar” a history of the saloon from the 1880s to 1920s. )
        Without going into too much detail, I work in the movie/television industry. My job could be eliminated if movie studios and producers shared the profits with the actors and the crew. But that doesn’t happen,so ergo the middleman. I personally would be happy to go back into the actual creative side from whence I came. But I worried about growing old and needed to pay the rent. If we knew we would be taken care of in old age what interesting lives we all might be able to lead.
        I

  3. scott

    Idleness could spawn proto-insurrectionists, and it cold also prompt some teens to drive around and shoot someone in the back.

    1. ambrit

      Dear scott;
      Around here, the Deep South, drive by shootings, rarer here out in the country than urban environments, (a function of population density?) do happen. Usually the result of inter group status competitions or “recreational pharmaceutical” sales competition. I’d suggest that a bit more ‘focused’ idleness, as in non-violent conflict resolution training, would be a very socially positive outcome. How to accomplish that? Well, the traditional methods were woven into the social fabric: churches, family, extended kinship groups, and good old fashioned group play among kiddies. The best way, to my thinking, to learn to navigate a social group, is to be involved in one. The present atomization of our culture is producing the precisely opposite result.
      All politics is local. So, drive by shooting could be framed as a manifestation of “local politics” by other means.
      BTW, what happened to the “Confirm You Are Not A Spammer” box?

  4. YankeeFrank

    I don’t think you are getting the point of what a bullshit job is Yves. A bullshit job is not janitor or whatever other job some might consider “lowly”. A bullshit job is one that adds nothing to the satisfaction of human needs and desire. Telemarketing is a bullshit job because if telemarketers disappeared tomorrow the world would not miss them. That’s why Graeber uses as his primary example the corporate lawyer. The reason we don’t have more leisure time, and rest assured most of us DO want more leisure time, is because so many of us are caught up in bullshit work that doesn’t do anything to provide for the needs, or even the desires, of humanity. If someone loves PR than by all means, go for it. But most people who work in what I’ll call the meaningless professions don’t really like them. And of those that do, I’d say at least some of them are suffering from a work ethic form of Stockholm Syndrome — getting pleasure out of work simply because it validates that they are not layabout losers.

    You may think that it is classist to desire leisure time. I think that for most people who don’t really like the work they do, they would like more leisure time to be creative, relax, hang out with their families or friends, get into a hobby, learn something new… whatever. As long as its not that damn job. And I didn’t take Graeber’s point to be that people should work only 15 hours per week whether they wanted to work more or not. Its about having the option. We are not all career-oriented types.

    And I might object to my child cleaning her school but not because the work is lowly. Its because children have more important things to do at school than clean, and do we really want to emulate the work and community model of the Japanese after all? Children learn to clean as their parents think its important. I had many chores as a child I had to do, and so will my kids. But I don’t want their schooling to be mixed up with cleaning. I have no disrespect for janitors either. I think that us middle class types can get way too defensive of the working class sometimes and see insults where they do not exist. I don’t think janitors want their children spending hours of their time at school cleaning either.

    You are clearly someone who loves their work. That is great. But not all of us are satisfied working 40-60 hours per week on the same set of tasks, no matter how scintillating they are. A world where we had the option of working half or less the hours is a better world. The reason we don’t live in that world is because the upper classes don’t want to give up their control of our lives and because there are so many outright pointless jobs.

    1. Goin' South

      I’ll second all that.

      Work should be of value in two ways. Without ordering them according to importance, work should satisfy one’s personal need to be creative and productive and/or it should produce some real social utility.

      And those two goals might not be met by the same work/job. One might be a very useful garbage man during that 15-hour week and play metal rock guitar during another 10 hours a week in a way that brings great satisfaction to you but not your listeners.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Please see my comment above.

        You are wrong on telemarketers. They are valuable to the businesses that employ them. They are a nuisance to you. That does not make them socially useless. As I indicated, you’d probably hate what would replace them at least as much. And I can assure you if the telemarketing industry were to shrink by 90%, you’d probably not judge it anywhere near as harshly, which suggests that telemarketing is not inherently bullshit. It may seem inconceivable to you, but when telemarketing wasn’t a big industry (as in not oversaturated) most people took the call and listened to it in its entirety, and genuinely considered the product. They didn’t regard it as a big imposition because those calls were not so common as to be a nuisance, and the telemarketing operation was costly enough that the company would actually buy good quality lists so the person called would often perk up when you described the product. If you want a basis of comparison, in the 1970s, it was a lot less unpleasant than waiting tables. I’m sure it’s the reverse now.

        It’s much more like a really really bad case of overfishing. They’ve destroyed the critical resource, which is your willingness to listen to information about a product [that should be but these days isn't] targeted to you.

        If you are going to have commerce beyond businesses serving a clientele that you get via word of mouth, you need marketing. Most marketing sucks, some more than others.

        In fact, I would argue that telemarkers are in the same category as Big Data, which is now being celebrated and is a fixation of the creative end of the technology class. Big data invades your personal space (uses your info) in a way that is analogous to a telemarketer intruding on you.

        So they both impose a cost on you (intrusion, loss of privacy) that you don’t feel you are adequately compensated for. But that does not make their jobs not valuable to the business that uses them. In fact, precisely because they are both perceived to be useful and valuable, other remedies are needed (better privacy protections).

        Shorter: the issue with telemarketing is NOT that it’s bullshit, it’s that it violates your boundaries and you understandably don’t like that.

        1. YankeeFrank

          Obviously telemarketing has use for somebody. Its just that the “use” here is highly questionable. I’d argue that any product or service that can’t be sold via word of mouth and regular, non-invasive advertising is a product we don’t need. Most products that are of use to humanity sell themselves. I don’t need an advertisement to buy bread. Or clothes. Or a computer.

          Telemarketing is a noxious and pointless job. Jobs that reduce quality of life while offering no social benefit are bullshit.

          Also, in defending the financial landscape as it existed 40 years ago, we ignore alternative social arrangements that could be better. Why must all the focus be on money? If people didn’t need money for a basic standard of living the world would look much different. If money was only needed for luxuries or extras, we could do away with most of consumer finance.

          And if people didn’t need to be paid for work because their basic needs are met without money we could form all sorts of communal arrangements to create new inventions or services because we wouldn’t even need employment relationships. For example, if I had a great idea for some software I wanted to develop, my goal would be to convince enough other engineers of the benefit of my idea and we could all work together to develop it. The main cost of development, labor, wouldn’t exist unless we wanted it to. And we could all focus on developing the product cheaply and efficiently, because all the relationships would be voluntary. Money would be an option for people who wanted to purchase non-necessities: they could work more than their 10 hours per week to get that money, if and when they wanted it. Or they could produce their own extras.

          My point is that Graeber, and many of us here, are not thinking just about questioning bullshit jobs, but the underlying fabric that enabled them in the first place.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Computers and microwave ovens and cellphones, all those things you claim don’t need to be marketed, would never have gotten to the scale of industry where the price point was attractive to you without marketing. The idea that these would be meaningful businesses ex marketing is spurious.

            1. psychohistorian

              I disagree with your perspective on the necessity of marketing and its relative efficacy and value to our social organization.

              The myth of capitalism has everyone having perfect information about availability and relative value. We know that is more possible now with the internet but not being striven toward because marketing is effective in spite of the product being unnecessary, bad for you, bad for the environment and a waste of resources.

              And a side benefit of marketing is that it can be used in conjunction with Big Media to totally BS the general public into believing almost anything including things against their best interest.

              Marketing used by the plutocracy is what got us where we are, and it ain’t pretty.

            2. Goin' South

              Re: your disparaging remarks about creative types, etc., again, Yves, you misunderstand what Graeber has written. He’s not writing about dilletantes for whom I share your disdain. To quote him from his piece:

              “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 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.”

              What was your book and this blog other than your own project, vision and set of ideas? Would such socially valuable output have been possible if you’d been working 50-60 hours as a consultant? Can you see the plausibility of even Graeber’s most tenuous point about people with leisure becoming thorns in the side of the elite?

            3. anon y'mouse

              i still contend that no one *needs* a microwave oven. things that can be reheated in them can also be heated in a toaster oven. things that can only be made in a microwave are nasty and bad for you, usually. normal food cooked in one tastes like alien soylent green plastic.

              one might as well eat the plastic container the food was stored in.

        2. charles sereno

          A telemarketer is paid to tout a product regardless of its quality or utility. The number of those who are lucky enough to work at promoting products they believe are truly useful and beneficial for their particular targets are minimal.

        3. washunate

          “…if the telemarketing industry were to shrink by 90%…”

          I think that’s exactly the hornet’s nest Graeber’s is poking. He’s not saying that all work is BS, that 100% of the hours worked are wasted. Rather, he’s saying that greater than 0% of the hours worked are wasted.

          1. ScottS

            No, Graeber is making an argument on a difference in kind. Yves is making an argument on a difference in degree. Yves is correct that marketing is necessary for business, and that the unpleasantness is either necessary or, absent the rule of law, fraud. Ditto finance. I feel that Graeber is (or should be) making the argument that a vast majority of business that marketing is working for is questionable.

            My gut feeling is that most jobs are in the entertainment industry whether you realize it or not (Facebook?), since technology has obviated the need for the majority of people to toil for basic needs. That’s not necessarily bad. But it is quite obvious to me that we have a distribution problem — no one should starve when we have excess food.

            We are in the post-scarcity phase of development, and we need to update our economic models to reflect that. Since we simply don’t need the vast majority of people to toil simply to survive, why force them? It’s a relic of a time when resources where scarce. Frankly, economics is the study of distributing scarce resources and has nothing to say when resources are no longer scarce. Economists are only good at manufacturing scarcity to keep their sinecures.

            When I can live my whole life comfortably without a day’s work, then I will have the power to dictate the terms of my employment and finally be free of the cube farm.

            And for some intellectual sugar, here is a cute story about a fisherman debating a businessman on the value of a full-day’s work:
            http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2010/09/08/the-fisherman-and-the-businessman/

            1. washunate

              I completely agree that marketing is important. (personally, I’m a product [prisoner?] of the ’4 Ps’ wing of bschool – product, price, place, promotion). If I gave off the opposite impression, my apologies. For example:

              http://www.netmba.com/marketing/mix/

              What I read Graeber saying (ie, IMO) is that many of the hours spent “marketing” aren’t actually producing anything valuable – they’re not actually making and distributing a valuable good or service. It’s like direct to consumer advertising of drugs that are illegal for consumers to buy or TSA signs about airport security to see something, say something. Just because security is in the name of the TSA doesn’t mean that TSA employees actually provide security.

              Just because marketing is in the name of telemarketing doesn’t mean that all telemarketers are actually engaged in marketing. Indeed, the fact that telemarketing (!) seems to be the one people are latching onto shows just how deeply into the layers of the onion Graeber has pierced. Telemarketing has been the butt of jokes about the idiocy of our system since the last millennium. It’s about as relevant as classified ads now that the internet has finally broken the anti-competitive monopolies of local newspaper circulation. My understanding is that the fastest growing segment of phonebanking in general is debt collection, pretty much the perfect example of all that is wrong with our predatory system.

              Here’s a link to the article to make sure we’re discussing the same details:

              http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20130820174826479

              He speaks of a ‘massive reduction in hours’, the ‘ballooning’ of what he terms an administrative sector, references Keynes’ 15 hour work week, and so forth. I would argue it’s pretty clear that he’s not talking about all hours worked, just some of them. He is explicitly exploring the subjective nature of what work produces a socially valuable output and what doesn’t. The notion of abandoning all marketing is absurd; the notion that we spend too many hours on “marketing” is fundamental.

              The thought exercise near the end of eliminating an entire line of work is quite interesting. He introduces it with the acknowledgment that it is difficult to produce objective data on exactly how much the system is skewed against those doing valuable work. Hence the thought exercise.

              The fact that this extreme hypothetical of eliminating every last telemarketer, for example, isn’t that absurd is a testament to just how many wasted labor hours exist in our world of work, particularly the financial predators, healthcare cartels, military/intel/police/security contractors, and associated support (PR, telemarketing, academia, media, prisons, debt collection, lobbying, etc.).

        4. from Mexico

          Yves Smith said:

          Shorter: the issue with telemarketing is NOT that it’s bullshit, it’s that it violates your boundaries and you understandably don’t like that.

          Let me throw something out here. I don’t know if it’s what Yves is driving at or not, but maybe it’s germane.

          It seems to me when Graeber makes his list of “bullshit jobs,” he’s not using what the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “scientific thinking,” but on the contrary he’s using “moral thinking.”

          Haidt asserts that human beings almost never use “scientific thinking.” (And if I recall correctly, I’ve seen Yves make similar assertions.) “Studies of everyday reasoning show that we usually use reason to search for evidence to support our initial judgment, which was made in milliseconds,” Haidt writes. “But I do agree with Josh Greene that sometimes we can use controlled processes such as reasoning to override our initial intuitions. I just think this happens rarely.” http://www.edge.org/conversation/moral-psychology-and-the-misunderstanding-of-religion

          Amitai Etzioni elaborates in The Moral Dimension:

          We radically depart from this [neoclassical decision-making] model here and argue that the majority of choices involve little information processing or none at all, but that they draw largely or exclusively on affective involvements. Thus, for most Americans, the question of whether to work in the United States or in Mexico or even Canada is not mainly a question of relative wages or tax rates, but largely one of national, cultural, and social identity. Choices either entail no deliberation at all (the “right” choice is “self-evidnet”), or entail a rather different process, e.g., evoking a value or weighting among them.

          [....]

          Normative-affective factors influence the selection of means in many areas excluding logical-empirical considerations…in such a way that logical-empirical considerations play a relatively minor or secondary role to normative-affective factors.

          [....]

          When the author suggested to a young, successful Wall Street banker that he look for a place to live in Brooklyn Hieghts (one subway stop away from his workplace) rather than in the much more expensive, distant, mid-Manhattan, the banker recoiled in horror: “To live in Brooklyn?!!” he exclaimed, rejecting out of hand the suggestion to “at least have a look.”….

          College, career, and job choices are often made only with normative-affective prescribed sub-contexts. For example, to begin with, whole categories of positions are not considered at all by most young people who plan their job education and career; these categories range from becoming street vendors to funeral parlor directors; similarly, traditional males did not consider work in “feminine” occupations. And people set on becoming white-collar workers do not consider blue-collar jobs, even when they pay more.

        5. Crazy Horse

          Yves, telemarketers may be valuable to the businesses that employ them, but are the businesses that employ them valuable to society? Do you really think that what society needs is to be sold more plastic throwaway crap or ponzi scheme financial “investments”?

          And if every bucket shop hedge fund were permanently disbanded, never to speculate on the price of rice in the Sudan again, and all the officers sentenced to only hold janitor jobs for the rest of their lives, would society be worse off?

          40% of “economic” activity in the USA is in the financial sector. Can’t get much more bullshit than that.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      No I don’t love my work. I am constitutionally incapable of doing anything half way and there are way too many things that someone should debunk and I can’t even begin to get to them all. And am pissed off about the state of the world and how powerless we all seem to be. Do you think it’s pleasant reading every day about how the world is moving towards authoritarianism and neofeudalism and the bad guys keep winning? What I do is unrewarding psychologically, taxing physically, and it is not attractive financially. I suffer from low-grade case of PTSD between the horrible things that happen every day and how many people make demands on my time that I can’t even begin to deal with adequately.

      1. YankeeFrank

        I’m sorry Yves, I was referring to your vocation in finance, which you seem to really have enjoyed seeing as how you are so insightful about it. And I do love your work, I just think that this piece has missed the tone and relevance of Graeber’s piece.

        In fact, in the 5 years I’ve been religiously reading your work, there are only two calls I can think of that you were even mildly wrong about. This one and your criticism of Elizabeth Warren running for senate. She has maintained her visibility and relevance much better than she ever would have without winning her senate seat. Though you weren’t entirely wrong there either — other than bringing issues into the media spotlight at times what good has she actually achieved as a senator?

        Not too bad for 5 years of constant work. And I’m sorry you don’t enjoy parsing the news but how could you given that you have a conscience? It really feels like a daily onslaught from the government these days. Everyday its some new draconian imposition on the people all while the powerful skate by on golden rails for all the destruction and misery they’ve wrought. Times are bad and getting worse. The system is teetering on the brink and everyone feels it. I won’t be surprised if this fall the wheels come off.

      2. YankeeFrank

        And I’ll add that I don’t think any of us that appreciate your work wouldn’t understand if you took 6 months off to travel or whatever you’d rather do. We’ll be here when you get back, and I’m sure we could find enough volunteers to fill in with the news and guest postings.

      3. Dr. Pitchfork

        Hey, no whinging in the comments! j/k

        Seriously, I know what this is like. I’ve never told anyone this, but blogging the GFC nearly sank my PhD. It isn’t just the time spent, but the feeling that you’re losing the war.

        Although I gave up blogging a year and a half ago, I almost gave up hoping altogether this spring. Then the Snowden leaks happened. I’m actually hopeful about our political situation for the first time in about 10 years.

      4. Norman

        BRAVA to you Yves, I do believe this is the first time that I’ve heard someone in your position, say what you put in print, about what your job brings to you in the demand department. Again, BRAVA for your sharing the insight.

      5. fritter

        Good for you. Most of the places I’ve worked were full of people who would be scared to say they didn’t have the greatest job in the world (manufactoring is not what it used to be). I sat in a meeting recently where management said we should just be happy to have a job; Its never good to be the only person in the room laughing..

        You do good work bringing light into a dark world. I can’t imagine anything harder (save becoming a Snowden or Manning). The emotional toll of slugging off all those predefined narratives is PTSD territory. I salute your sacrifice, there are too few light bearers..

        1. H. Alexander Ivey

          Let me second this. Yves, thanks very much for your post. You hit the depth of the argument here, and uncovered David Graeber’s BS (BS being a person speaking, not to commit fraud, but to make said person appear important). I quite agree with your analysis and applaud your tenacity in responding to those who confined their remarks to the surface of Graeber’s argument.

          1. Lambert Strether

            Harry Frankfurt’s definition of BS:

            It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

            I do not think Graeber is a bullshitter, and I’ve tangled with him in the past. Let’s not use use “bullshit” as a synonym for “wrong” or “I disagree with.” Bullshit is far more pernicious than mere error, or even lying.

      6. anon y'mouse

        the product of all of that stress and work is something that I enjoy, and has helped me understand the world somewhat. but I can’t help thinking that it is NOT worth your quality of life.

        none of us can tell you what to do, but stick with what your talents and enthusiasm tell you and skip the rest. perhaps turn this purely into a link-sharing space about relevant news, and allow the posters to provide those links and analysis themselves.

        don’t burn yourself out over it. you seem to be suffering the fate of Cassandra. and “fate” is what seems to be going on lately. I don’t see how any of us can turn this tide, even if we are made aware of it by your contributions.

      7. susan the other

        Please do not say you are discouraged. You are the smartest blogger out there, the most objective and rational and the best informed. You give us a steady diet of information on reality. If you are down because it is all so depressing it is a mark of your compassion, and passion. I absolutely love you.

      8. F. Beard

        Do you think it’s pleasant reading every day about how the world is moving towards authoritarianism and neofeudalism and the bad guys keep winning? Yves Smith

        What? Do you think a wicked culture is stable? The wicked will have their comeuppance, unless they repent first.

        “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 4:1-3

      9. DolleyMadison

        I find myself in tears, or in a rage or despair almost every day “about how the world is moving towards authoritarianism and neofeudalism and the bad guys keep winning.” I want so badly to change this world for myself, my children and their children. You Yves, are one of the “good guys” who give me hope that I am not truly powerless to do so. I do not know what I would do if I thought there were not like minded souls like you and the devotees of NC, collectively screaming at the naked emporers. Thank you and keep it up.

        1. Moneta

          Maybe we are due for inspiring stories. Every day we should have an inspiring story on someone who is doing the right thing and how they are doing it.

          There are many Mother Teresas out there. Let’s find them.

      10. David U

        well thanks for doing the unpleasant work, Yves.

        ps. do you select the animal photographs; that part has to be a little bit fun?

      11. Phaedras

        As a longtime reader I also wanted to post my gratitude for the light you shine into the darkness. NC has become a beacon that reassures me that I am not the only one paying attention and horrified by human behavior.
        I know why the bad guys keep winning. They are unafraid to crush people and it is a truth of the universe that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to build and maintain and very little to destroy.
        I have to believe therefore, that everything counts, especially the people who have the courage to call out the destruction. So much of this crisis has been largely invisibile to the people most affected by it. This space you have created, have brought into being colors in those lines in way that can be seen and understood. I am immensely grateful and hope that you will see reward for the amazing work you do.

      12. JC48

        Yeah–it sure is a sucky world. My husband & I are amazed at the information you impart…and your following isn’t half bad either! NC seems unique and brilliant.

      13. Sublimejah

        Yves, We feel the same way. Trying to make sense of the crap that happens to the regular working people everyday is beyond frustrating. Much of the work that my husband and I have done over the years passing laws and regulations to sheild working people have been undone by cruel and illogical folk. The mistake I think all of us are making is trying to make sense of this crappy system, there is no logic unless you consider predation to have a logic, which by definition does not, predation is the act of preying or plundering it is not a system, there are no principles, no order, just getting over on the weaker, or in our case the trusting public. Until we depose some of the chief predators we will live in this illogical hell for awhile. The concept of absurdism came after WWII. People in that era believed that there must not be a God after seeing the horrors of WWII,they could not believe man could be so cruel and destructive to his fellow man. I think the crash and its effects are warlike, we are shell shocked. We are all doing what we were told, working hard, etc. etc. but there is no reward, there is only more work and usury.Until some force changes this condition we will continue to suffer pyschological and physical ills of war.

      14. jonboinAR

        …Besides, Lambert can fill in (wink) while you take your sabbatical. He can select an assistant or so, such as Hugh (wink). JUST DON’T LET THE ‘SITE GO AWAY!!!!

    3. Moneta

      Everyone loves to blame the upper class and the 1% but the blame goes through the entire population.

      When I was a kids, I lived in a nice burb with a nice middle class life where moms stayed home.

      But over time the moms got bored. They wanted more out of life. So some got divorced and looked for men who had more to offer, many went back to work and a large number of them moved to a new development to get a McMansion.

      Given the choice between more leisure and getting a bigger life, most people will choose a bigger life.

      1. washunate

        The data do not support that contention, though. The vast majority of workers are working as hard as they are merely to stay afloat, not to live large.

        Are you familiar with wages? You might be shocked to learn just how little actual workers in the real economy make. The median annual wage is about $27K.

        1. Moneta

          I’m not taking about those making ends meet. They work because they need to.

          I’m talking about those with a good life where a good life is still not enough. And a few decades ago, there was a big middle class that still wanted more.

          Once the basics are covered, people look for meaning. But most look for it in all the wrong places… usually consumed by materialism.

          My mom went back to work looking for recognition… mostly ended up working for jerks who enjoyed tormenting her. She’d find a good boss, then soon after, there would be a restructuring and she’d be stuck with a weasel.

          1. washunate

            Hey, sorry, maybe I misinterpreted. I thought you were making a claim that this applied to most people.

            I wholeheartedly agree that some people want more, which always seems to be not quite enough.

      2. nonclassical

        really, Moneta…??

        You’ve been challenged before, and often to SHOW US your “opinion” in dollars and cents?

        Is your claim that the VICTIMS of Wall $treet economic disaster broke the U.S. economy?? All your scapegoats had nothing to do with economic destruction, as you are well aware…having never been able to follow the $$$$ to in any way show us such..

        on the other hand, I am happy to, yet again, show you exactly-2001, Wall $treet
        “derivatives” valued around $2 trillion-but by 2007 economic disaster, over $600 trillion-here’s that documentation:

        http://www.nextnewdeal.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/raj-revised-testimony1.pdf

        and here’s lucid explanation of:

        http://www.nextnewdeal.net/what-congress-did-not-want-you-read-robert-johnsons-testimony-otc-derivative-market

        (from Johnson’s testimony): DERIVATIVES ARE A LARGE PRESENCE IN CAPITAL MARKETS

        “OTC derivatives markets are vitally important because of their size, and because of where positions are concentrated in relation to other vital functions of our economy/society. Derivative contracts have become an enormous proportion of the total notional credit exposure in U.S. and world financial markets. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) survey, the outstanding notional amount of derivatives is over 454 trillion dollars at mid year 2009. The Bank for International Settlements puts the number at nearly $800 trillion worldwide. Using ISDA data, that is over 30 times U.S. GDP. According to the flow of funds data from the Federal Reserve, total credit market debt outstanding is just under $53 trillion dollars. Derivatives are not a minor dimension of U.S. or international capital markets. They occupy a dominant position.”

        …you never have-never will follow the $$$$ to in any way prove your “opinion”…prove me wrong?

        1. Moneta

          The problems did not start in 2001.

          The bankers are a huge problem but people were not forced to sign their lives away. I tried to talk people out of leveraging their lives away but they laughed at me as if I was a loser.

          There is a mass delusion that has been going on for a very long time.

          It takes 2 to tango.

          1. sgt_doom

            Moneta’s comments in response are nonsensical: the junk paper and insurance swindles (unlimited number of naked swaps sold/purchased against bad debt) has nothing to do with a 3% mortgage foreclosure (which President Obama recently and falsely explained was the “cause” for the economic meltdown)! That is the US Chamber of Commerce fictional talking point!

      3. rps

        Betty Friedan describes women’s dissatisfaction as the “Problem That Has No Name.”
        “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban [house]wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”

        During WWII, women had entered the workforce due to the shortage of working men. This small window of earnings opportunity gave women economic independence. Doing the work of men and paid breadwinner wages was an extraordinary time for women to have independent lives without the need to “ask” for an allowance from their fathers and husbands. However, the war ended and women were fired and replaced by the returning men. It was the woman’s “patriotic duty” to return to their pumpkin shells -their husbands or fathers home. These same women poured the same energy and unfair frustrations of a limited life in the privileged-male paradigm into the raising of their daughters to change the system.

        Freidan’s Problem-with-no-name, I suggest -was the unspoken truth -women are second class citizens in the patriarchal capitalist model; even today, it categorizes womens “work” (raising a family/house management) as a valueless/wageless occupation. The breadwinner was her master in determining her work performance worthiness by “providing” her with an allowance or “pin” money. Other than that, there are no monetary rewards and minimal social safety nets; and why the average divorce woman with children -even today are more likely to fall into poverty.

        Most importantly, the majority of jobs available for the 19th and 20th century educated middle-class woman were wife and mother or volunteer (code for unpaid women’s work) social work. Early twentieth century women activists such as Virginian Orie Latham Hatcher, a Vassar graduate, North Carolinian Smith graduates Nell Battle Lewis and Gertrude Weil, had returned to their communities and instituted progressive educational measures, social reform, and launched organizations and clubs that were beneficial to community, family, and the women’s movement. And of course Jane Addams, a graduate of Rockford Female Seminary and founder of Hull House in Chicago.

    4. nonclassical

      Yankee-”marketing” in all facets involves propaganda:

      http://vimeo.com/61857758 (Adam Curtis-”The Century of Self”

      “Century of Self” and “The Trap”, by Adam Curtis..”Showed corporate ameriKa
      how to manipulate consumers”..

      ..difficult to separate “worker” from “consumer”…connection is integral…

    5. Garrett Pace

      “I might object to my child cleaning her school but not because the work is lowly. Its because children have more important things to do at school than clean”

      Yes, yes – our children have prospects, and we want them to be spending their lives doing higher-level busywork, so let’s find someone who’s time isn’t worth as much – a poor person with limited prospects, and pay them a pittance to clean up after our children.

      1. anon y'mouse

        well, it’s been a long time since I saw that documentary. I don’t think it was “toil the day away cleaning the school” but more like “weekly school cleaning day”.

        your view of the above is dead-on.

        also, Japanese people engage in school for much longer hours than we do, as they have after school-school. I guess it keeps them off the streets and from being hoodlums, and primes them for that work-to-deathism that is guaranteed in their future employment.

      2. Harold Quinn

        I had an argument with my significant other over this very topic the other evening. One of our friends, who is normally very conscientious and dedicated to her family and community, decided to move her children out of public school and into a privately-run charter school. I was intensely disappointed about this, since she did a lot of work at the public school they attended which probably will go undone due to the underfunding and stigmatism of public education.

        My girlfriend responded that our friend’s first duty is to making sure her children have the best opportunity they can for their future. My response – “What about the children that won’t have access to the same opportunity?” – fell on deaf ears. She was into Ayn Rand when she was younger, and she still has this mentality that the have-nots have only themselves to blame for their lot.

        I disagree with that outlook. It’s my position that people who have more power, influence and wealth have a bigger responsibility to make sure what they do does not harm others than the people who have less.

        It’s only when we take care of our worst off that society (and humanity) has the best chance to make true progress.

        1. Goin' South

          On top of the very valid moral, empathetic argument, there is also the question about what about the quality in which her children will live as adults. Abandon the public schools because you have the money or time to do so? If things are that bad, what kind of world will children inherit? Can they build the walls of their walled community high enough?

          Re: building walls for protection, check out Octavia Butler’s Parable series of apocalyptic science fiction.

        2. jrs

          The parents that sacrifice their kids for some greater good (ie kid is unhappy and not learning anything school but have to keep them in the public school), will have kids that spend decades in therapy, looking for the elusive. But I think it’s very important we keep all our therapists employed, not like that’s a BS job or antyhing …

    6. jrs

      Amen!!! Why should we all have to work long hours basically for the 1% but rationalized as being for the workaholics. We aren’t all workaholics, why do we have to have a society organized for only one personality type? (because that personality type best fits in with the power structure – I know but it stinks).

  5. John in Boulder

    There’s so much to comment on here it is daunting! To be brief, when I was working in DC it was a culture who bragged about not seeing their kids for three weeks and wouldn’t leave work before 7 PM Friday for fear their money would be expropriated. Moving to Colorado, the workplaces were empty by 3 PM Friday and the folks back in DC, still at work, were wondering why no one was answering the phone at the Denver office.

    When my nephew visited me in Boulder I took him to lunch and as we lingered into the afternoon he noted that most of the patrons were lingering with us and commented “I don’t think anyone works here!”

    My point I guess is that DC and probably NY are the worst of the culture of workaholics and the farther away you get from those places the better off you’ll be. And in places like Colorado where there are other things to do, people do them. Finally, places like Boulder where you mix a high number of intellectuals and bohemians the pace of the place can be downright European.

    I will definitely use Krugman’s line about the French consuming vacations…

    1. Juancito

      I used to work as a line cook at truck stop on I-25, now I do corporate law. There is no question in my mind which is the bullshit job, but at least I can take a long lunch every now and then.
      The point is that bullshit isn’t necessarily bad, it just is what our society values. Don’t over think it, take the job if you want it. Just don’t lose sight of who is really doing useful work.

      1. WorldisMorphing

        lol
        So let me get this straight: Let’s bullshit ourselves collectively, but let’s not bullshit ourselves personally.

        Damn.., you must be one of them’ creative type. Twisted, but creative, I’ll give you that…

      2. Doc at the Radar Station

        The point is that bullshit isn’t necessarily bad, it just is what our society values.

        Thanks for that comment. The trouble is that our *values* are misplaced. We’re all disconnected from each other and our experiences. I think that most “bullshit” is bad, however.

    2. Moneta

      It’s hard work to shuffle paper and skim the market, no one wants to pay taxes. Imagine if DC and bankers worked part-time and collected the same pay… there would be a revolutions. LOL!

      That’s why I am sure things will get worse… NY and DC work longer and longer hours to skim more and more of the real producers.

      1. nonclassical

        Moneta,

        ..given 2001, “financial services” generated 19% of U.S. economic activities, but by 2007, 41%, and today nearly 50%, WHO ARE the “real producers”, and of what???

        Realize, “jobs” are not produced by “financial services”…(except lobbyist-Clinton era, 400 “K-Street” lobbyists-today, over 40,000….

    3. Crazy Horse

      I suggest you escape the frantic pressure of your job in Boulder as soon as possible to preserve your mental health. Try the island of Bequia in the Caribbean, or a small city in Ecuador if you really want to experience life at a human pace. (LOL)

      1. from Mexico

        @ Crazy Horse

        I was thinking along the same lines. Places like Mexico, which are predominately Catholic, were not so much influenced by the Protestant work ethic and, culturally speaking, are more laid back.

        1. Moneta

          You should see Quebec. Socialist province that is currently intoxicated with home equity.

          It’s going to get ugly when they find out it’s Monopoly money… my prediction is a return in separatism when that happens.

          1. Moneta

            I forgot to mention that when the English took over, they let the Catholic church rule the French colonists since they did not feel like doing it.

            The Church went overboard and the boomers essentially rejected religion. Now, nearly no francophone couple gets married.

            My francophone friends would always laugh at my mother’s protestant work ethic: “Say what?! You’re going on a trip? So on top of not making money, you are going to spend some?”

            Meanwhile, in the plateau, in a downtown Montreal park, some women drink wine while their kids are playing in the structures.

          2. Inverness

            I understand the point you’re making, but I’d be shocked if there separatism made much of a comeback. That era is over.

            1. Moneta

              You’ll see, you’ll be shocked. When money goes away, they’ll be blaming “les maudits Anglais”.

              ;-)

              1. Inverness

                “Les maudits anglais” are always getting blamed for something ;) Sometimes they’re to blame, sometimes not.
                That will continue to be the case, that’s for sure. But the Quebecois are also aware that their own house isn’t in order — Montreal still lacks a mayor, Laval’s had to step down. That’s how corrupt parts of this province are! And that’s a provincial issue.

    4. Workfromhome

      I was so glad to read your comment, perhaps for an odd reason.

      I work from home on the west coast, and many of the people I work with work in the outskirts of DC, and they work insane hours, and they seem to be in constant fear of being fired. I had a VP call me on Christmas to ask me to run a report, and he was calling me because another VP was harassing him. And none of it was so they could actually take any actions based on what the numbers said, they just were doing it out of neurosis/habit. It just seems nuts!

      My concern is: what if this is the new normal everywhere!? I remember working for a different employer here locally, and things seemed to be much more laid back, but what if all of that has changed in the last few years?

      Your comment gives me hope that those in and around NY and DC truly are exceptionally insane when it comes to work hours, and I needn’t necessarily fear that those conditions are recreated everywhere in the US.

      1. Eric L

        “And none of it was so they could actually take any actions based on what the numbers said, they just were doing it out of neurosis/habit. It just seems nuts!”

        Right. The mental dispositions and habits formed from working years in these sorts of jobs — constantly moving from one task to another, under stress, during most of the waking day — can’t be turned off like a light switch. Even when people like the idea of sitting on the porch, the boat, the beach, or whatever, they often can’t do it for long. They’re “bored” very quickly. But, arguably, this is a neurosis that prevents them from enjoying their lives.

      2. Ed S.

        Workfromhome:

        Spent 10 yrs in DC and now into my 8th in Silicon Valley. It’s a complicated issue but I think that in industries where it’s difficult to value output, there is a tendency to value input. So in DC, where it’s INCREDIBLY difficult to value output, input is valued (and so people “work” absurd amounts of time — “can’t really demonstrate what I do is of any value, but I put in 80 hours a week doing it”)

        And the expectation of constant contact: it’s the new normal. It’s the modeled behavior — marketed to us as the way to succeed. If you’ve watched Mad Men, think about people lining up for the elevator at 8:50am and 5:20pm. That schedule has gone the way of the Selectric.

        How does this play out in real life? Anecdote: a former employee of mine moved to a new job and in her evaluation she was criticized for not checking her email enough WHILE ON VACATION.

        Technology allows employers to “own” people in a way that hasn’t been seen the heyday of the HMS Bounty.

        1. Goin' South

          I have no NYC experience. Never interested. But I have a little DC experience during which it appeared to me that one reacted to that town in one of two ways:

          1) Get me the hell out of here!

          2) I will do anything to stay here!

          Those who had reaction #2, in my limited experience, spent most of their hours at the workplace playing office politics with little regard to the value of work output. And my experience was in a GC office in one of the most liberal unions around then and now.

  6. Yes, but

    Thanks as usual for your thoughtful comments here, Yves.

    I agree that an important distinction between meaningful work and bullshit work has to do with wages and conditions, not only the content, or what one is involved with producing etc.

    But I think you dismiss Graeber’s views too easily. To my sensibility, his perspectives are more general and philosophical, though they have lots of practical applications and possibilities. I hear his sentiments as a sort of philosophical compliment to Gar Alperovitz’s work, maybe.

    The point about free time isn’t so much that everyone is just bursting at the seams w/ creativity, and if only they had the time to pursue their interests, like a few extra hrs per week, the world would be radically different in just a few yrs. No doubt some would start coops and write novels while others would drink more or lay around and masturbate. People are really diverse. We’re capable of vast cruelty as well as amazing generosity and self sacrifice.

    The interesting question is about system and institutional design: what kinds of situations encourage creativity, sharing, generosity, kindness, etc; and what encourages the opposite, or other qualities? Clearly, our system doesn’t do enough to encourage the best, and often (or typically) rewards the worst. Bust the issue is about how to best tap into and encourage human potential. And it’s true that, as corrupt, inefficient etc as our system is, if the rewards were distributed equally, every household of 4 could earn 100 grand per yr w/ one individual working 20 hrs per week. That’s just based on GDP, which has it’s problems. But the point is that the problems, even w/ this limited view, have to do with distribution, with politics, more than w/ economics per se.

    In other words, it’s not just about being paid more or less to telemarket or flip burgers or whatever. Wages and conditions are totally important and worth fighting for, of course. But the issue is really more fundamental, as I see it. How can we start institutions, build new corporations or community run coops or whatever that really serve society and the planet, and are truly democratic, etc. How can we build institutions that encourage solidarity, creativity, curiosity, what benefits community/ the general public etc instead of selfishness, isolation, profit etc?

    When we start to consider what is a bullshit job, and what would meaningful work look like, I think we have to consider these–and other–questions.

  7. Yes, but

    Thanks as usual for your thoughtful comments here, Yves.

    I agree that an important distinction between meaningful work and bullshit work has to do with wages and conditions, not only the content, or what one is involved with producing etc.

    But I think you dismiss Graeber’s views too easily. To my sensibility, his perspectives are more general and philosophical, though they have lots of practical applications and possibilities. I hear his sentiments as a sort of philosophical compliment to Gar Alperovitz’s work, maybe.

    The point about free time isn’t so much that everyone is just bursting at the seams w/ creativity, and if only they had the time to pursue their interests, like a few extra hrs per week, the world would be radically different in just a few yrs. No doubt some would start coops and write novels while others would drink more or lay around and masturbate. People are really diverse. We’re capable of vast cruelty as well as amazing generosity and self sacrifice.

    The interesting question is about system and institutional design: what kinds of situations encourage creativity, sharing, generosity, kindness, etc; and what encourages the opposite, or other qualities? Clearly, our system doesn’t do enough to encourage the best, and often (or typically) rewards the worst. Bust the issue is about how to best tap into and encourage human potential. And it’s true that, as corrupt, inefficient etc as our system is, if the rewards were distributed equally, every household of 4 could earn 100 grand per yr w/ one individual working 20 hrs per week. That’s just based on GDP, which has it’s problems. But the point is that the problems, even w/ this limited view, have to do with distribution, with politics, more than w/ economics per se.

    In other words, it’s not just about being paid more or less to telemarket or flip burgers or whatever. Wages and conditions are totally important and worth fighting for, of course. But the issue is really more fundamental, as I see it. How can we start institutions, build new corporations or community run coops or whatever that really serve society and the planet, and are truly democratic, etc. How can we build institutions that encourage solidarity, creativity, curiosity, what benefits community/ the general public etc instead of selfishness, isolation, profit etc?

    When we start to consider what is a bullshit job, and what would meaningful work look like, I think we have to consider these–and other–questions.

  8. Yes, but

    Thanks as usual for your thoughtful comments here, Yves.

    I agree that an important distinction between meaningful work and bullshit work has to do with wages and conditions, not only the content, or what one is involved with producing etc.

    But I think you dismiss Graeber’s views too easily. To my sensibility, his perspectives are more general and philosophical, though they have lots of practical applications and possibilities. I hear his sentiments as a sort of philosophical compliment to Gar Alperovitz’s work, maybe.

    The point about free time isn’t so much that everyone is just bursting at the seams w/ creativity, and if only they had the time to pursue their interests, like a few extra hrs per week, the world would be radically different in just a few yrs. No doubt some would start coops and write novels while others would drink more or lay around and masturbate. People are really diverse. We’re capable of vast cruelty as well as amazing generosity and self sacrifice.

    The interesting question is about system and institutional design: what kinds of situations encourage creativity, sharing, generosity, kindness, etc; and what encourages the opposite, or other qualities? Clearly, our system doesn’t do enough to encourage the best, and often (or typically) rewards the worst. Bust the issue is about how to best tap into and encourage human potential. And it’s true that, as corrupt, inefficient etc as our system is, if the rewards were distributed equally, every household of 4 could earn 100 grand per yr w/ one individual working 20 hrs per week. That’s just based on GDP, which has it’s problems. But the point is that the problems, even w/ this limited view, have to do with distribution, with politics, more than w/ economics per se.

    In other words, it’s not just about being paid more or less to telemarket or flip burgers or whatever. Wages and conditions are totally important and worth fighting for, of course. But the issue is really more fundamental, as I see it. How can we start institutions, build new corporations or community run coops or whatever that really serve society and the planet, and are truly democratic, etc. How can we build institutions that encourage solidarity, creativity, curiosity, what benefits community/ the general public etc instead of selfishness, isolation, profit etc?

    When we start to consider what is a bullshit job, and what would meaningful work look like, I think we have to consider these–and other–questions.

  9. middle seaman

    The percentage of the population producing goods has declined substantially in the developed world. Goods include not only cars and machine tools, but also TV programs. Graeber bullshit job sexist on many levels and in many sectors of the economy. Many companies have a middle manager for every 5-7 works. Managing of this sort is bullshit. A lot of consulting jobs amount to pure bullshit.

    We also have endless numbers of overworked and badly paid workers. Our, US, minimum wage combined with high unemployment creates modern slave labor. It really doesn’t matter whether the work is bullshit or not.

    In summary, Yves’ and David’s perspectives don’t really contradict each other. They are orthogonal and valid.

    1. Moneta

      Some people say grace at dinner.

      I don’t, instead I wonder how many millions of years of energy went into producing my 1000 calories and getting them onto my plate.

      Never have we needed so little people to produce stuff, but never has stuff offered so little bang for the energy it took to get it there.

      1. nonclassical

        ..quit “wondering”-follow the $$$$, study history of imperialism=exploitation, and figure it out:

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1400075173

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1567510523

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1576753018

        http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Money-Masters-Universe-Cult/dp/0132790076/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377188804&sr=1-1&keywords=satyajit+das

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=0671623192

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=0805079831

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=0670032646

        http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=067003486x

        ….history is undeniable…and Phillips was Nixon’s Krauthammer…

      2. anon y'mouse

        the grace you’re saying is like Japanese who say “itadakimasu” before meals. it supposedly means to recognize how that food got to you.

    2. charles sereno

      Yves’ and David’s views are potentially additive in a creative dialog. Here are 2 terrific people with great ideas and, importantly, a sense of urgency (and near despondency) about implementing them at the present time.

      1. Susan the other

        Yves says bullshit jobs are usually fraud – and we know she wants the fraud cleaned up, as do we all. Graeber seems to skirt the fraud issue by saying bullshit jobs are pointless at best and sometimes pure exploitation. Both of them are right because we do not have a functioning economy. It all fell apart ten years ago. If we had a functioning economy it would be equitable. All people would have a decent living wage; there would be no Wall Street exploitation; no millitary sucking us dry; no grifting congress, no lying gonif for a president. So I think what we have is a bullshit economy.

  10. salvo

    I’m not sure Graeber meant ‘bullshit jobs’ as you described it, that’s for he put the words in quotes. He didn’t mean they are ‘bullshit’ because of being of a low social value, but because they are made to keep people subordinate, in increasing authoritarian structures: they are essentially a means of control. That’s somewhat how Foucault describes the necessity for the upper class to retain the impoverished peasants in working houses. That’s also the inherent moralistic pathos which motivated the birth of the modern psychiatry: control over the worker’s body.

    1. mikkel

      This is how I read him too. I find Yves anecdote about Australia puzzling.

      I’m an expat American that has lived in NZ for a few years and one of the things I love about it is how little BS there is…particularly because of egalitarianism. Except for a few crusty Brits (that seem to stick around) and whingeing Yanks (who don’t), nearly everyone is keen to do a practical job to either cover their basic needs or simply pass the time. There are lots of people with professional (even upper executive jobs) that get home and tend to sheep. I knew the owner of a vineyard who had one low level employee who was a nuclear scientist (from the UK) and one who was a physician.

      Doing nothing, particularly going outside for a hike [tramp] is seen as sublime. It’s hard to get into a conversation with a kiwi and have it not turn to tramping.

      Inequality is on the rise and with that, there is apparently an increasing amount of BS, which people are concerned about. NZ (and especially OZ) have a Faustian bargain because they are intent on increasing competitiveness on the global level in order to maintain necessary imports, but globalization is so inherently BS that it conflicts with the core essence of the country.

      I’m really glad that Yves pointed out how what is meaningful is personality type sensitive, which a lot of people overlook, but the common theme is that non-BS jobs are largely self directed and connect with physical or creative reality instead of paper pushing or ego stroking.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        My Oz story is to point out that how jobs are perceived is a function of how they are regarded in the society in which they sit. Being a grocery checkout person or working at a cheese counter is pretty much the same job in NYC and in Sydney. Yet the people in Oz seemed much more satisfied with them. Why? First, they got a living wage. Second, Australians don’t identify people with their jobs (and the status of their jobs!) the way we do in the US.

        1. Inverness

          That reminds me somewhat of Quebec. You have waiters hanging out with professors, and a lot of people relaxing in the park. Many seem to work part-time. The minimum wage is only $10 an hour, so not on par with Australia. Yet it is remarkably status-free considering it’s in North America.

        2. Emma

          “Yet the people in Oz seemed much more satisfied with them. Why? First, they got a living wage. Second, Australians don’t identify people with their jobs (and the status of their jobs!) the way we do in the US.”

          Probably because we’re larrikins off convict stock, and Americans are wowsers off Calvinist stock…

          Why should white collar workers be expected to be cut from a finer loftier cloth than blue collar workers?

        3. mikkel

          Definitely and also people are genuinely empathetic. When a cashier asks how your day has been they listen for a response and if you ask them back they might very well go into a protracted story. It’s not just meaningless pleasantries.

          But what I was trying to get at is that I feel this is the case because almost everyone goes around doing what they see as genuine work or they are upfront about the absurdity of their work.

          I had a job interview for making software used to map geological formations and the two interviewers played out a bit:

          “Now if you you’re going to work here, you need to understand most of our clients are mining companies in Australia and Canada.”

          “Yes, we enable bad people.”

          “But our software can also be used for mapping hydrology and help society figure out how to use limited water resources better!”

          “Yeah but we just do that for moral rationalization. The mining people pay the bills.”

          “Well yes, but mining is a boom-bust industry and water is becoming increasingly important, so maybe soon it’ll be used for more good than bad.”

          “Plus we could be even worse! We could be weapons manufacturers or bankers ruining the world economy!”

          Then they both looked at me and I said.

          “So you mean you could be Americans.”

          “Exactly.”

  11. Moneta

    I have a very simple explanation:

    1. There will always be a significant number of individuals for whom enough is never enough.
    2. As long as there are large wealth discrepancies between nations and immigration is legal, cheaper labor will flood in.
    3. There will always be a significant number of workers who are available to work the extra hours to make ends meet or to get ahead.

    4. With capitalism looking for growth, competitive forces will never let the work week drop to part-time with full time wages…that would shrink profits

    5. With a higher educated workforce paying for its own education, we generate a bigger pool of competent wage slaves.

  12. Moneta

    And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen
    ———
    I guess it is quite perplexing if you think what we have is pure capitalism. But it is not. The US is the biggest socialist country in the world. A country where the government interferes in a large number of industries.

    That’s what deficits and printing have done.

    With pure capitalism, chances are we would not even be 1 billion on this planet.

    But humans are social animals. We can’t evade politics so pure capitalism will always remain utopia.

      1. Moneta

        Socialism is an economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy.[1] “Social ownership” may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these
        ——-
        It is a pretty wide definition.

        With food stamps, medicaid, SS, deficits, printing… I’d say the US has one of the biggest social nets in the world.

        The problem in the US seems to be that social policies always seem to come in through the back door because Americans have a syncope when they hear the word socialism.

        The argument should be more whether or not the US practices a good form of socialism not.

        1. Moneta

          When you start seeing privatization of state assets and PPPs, you will realize how socialist the US really was.

    1. nonclassical

      Moneta blaming VICTIMS of Wall $treet economic disaster, yet again, for Wall $treet economic disaster…

      follow the $$$$, Moneta-government doesn’t have it…government is busy (QE1,2,3) at $80 billion per month, bailing out Wall $treet and those they sold phony “securities” to…

      nice “capitalism”=”privatized profit$-socialized risk$”….

    2. Dan H

      “Pure capitalism” only exists for the split second of competition between parties that may or may not have had equal footing on entry. Competition ends and a winner remains who now has advantage. There is nothing harder to take away than advantage. Our system is the perfect illustration of “pure capitalism” because our system is a heaping pile of self interest trying to insure itself. Belief in “pure captialism” is utterly infantile.

      1. Moneta

        Pure capitalism would mean that there 0 state ownership of assets. The US still has loads of assets owned collectively.

        For some strange reason, Americans take them for granted like the air they breathe.

  13. par4

    It seems to me that most of the planet has a terminal case of the “yellow metal sickness”. That’s another disease that the First Nations weren’t infected with until the Europeans arrived.

  14. Inverness

    I disagree with Yves that there are some that don’t benefit from a lot of free time. It’s a question of indoctrination — the Protestant work ethic, which dictates what is meaningful and productive.

    Most Americans are afraid of idleness, but would benefit from it. It isn’t a question of some people not being creative — all humans have creativity. Yet there is so little to encourage it. Part of the post-retirement boredom many feel results from a culture which doesn’t promote creative hobbies. One of the lessons from the film “Waiting for Guffman” is that community theater is a wonderful outlet for even untrained and less able actors, because adults need to play.

    When being busy with work equates status, it is not surprising that many would be ashamed to indulge in hobbies.Dana Spiotta wrote a novel called “Stone Arabia” which featured a musician who never made money off of his art, but produced it out of pure love. Many of the reviews of the book decried this character as a loser, and not a real artist because his audience was mostly very small. These reviews were telling, and the author gently suggested that he was indeed a real artist, but our culture has grown very intolerant of bohemians.

    So only those considered gifted people are permitted to create, or those who at least get a paycheck for it. That’s sad — imagine telling your five-year old that he isn’t creative, because he won’t earn money doing so.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think you are missing my point. I had a long discussion of how Americans are deeply indoctrinated to work. Look at how Graeber actually proves the point. His alternative to working at a bullshit job is not not working (loafing, drinking and shooting the shit with friends, playing cards or other games), it’s WORKING ON CREATIVE PROJECTS! He’s just replacing working for the man with respectable independent creative class activity. Leisure IMHO is NO required activity.

      And the research actually does show that people who work in what are normally retirement years live longer on average.

      With shallow social networks, people need to be able to amuse themselves. You spend more of your time alone. In societies with deeper social networks, you just go hang out.

      And having a hobby IS work. Gardening is work. Woodwork is work. My father to prepare for retirement had to go cultivate hobbies so he could busy himself in retirement. He approached it as a new form of work. It’s just that it’s work where you have control over your work environment, the hours, the pacing, the end product.

      And I find this exhortation of being creative to be a lot of pressure. The implication is if you don’t like to paint, can’t play an instrument, or don’t want to write a novel/poem/play, you are a loser. This is just another status issue. There are lots to people who actually aren’t terribly creative or talented, who don’t find that a draw. Oh, and many of them wind up in business.

      1. Moneta

        Oh, and many of them wind up in business.
        ———
        I work from home and have a few hobbies. If I did have a social network I would loaf and talk and drink. But I don’t. Most around me are stuck in the daily grind, married to their consumerism and not remotely interested in the kind of conversations I would like to entertain.

        I used to make friends easily, until I started to understand how the system really worked. It has changed my entire value system and has made it hard to connect with people. Once, when I was going through my internal turmoil, I told a good friend that I did not even know which values to instill in my children anymore to help them lead a fulfilling life. She looked at me as if I had horns growing out of my head.

        I often wondered what people do with their free time until I tried to make my house perfect once and realized how much work it took. So when I visit someone and their house is impeccable, I know that they spend all their leisure time shopping and managing it.

        1. Inverness

          Moneta, I agree that when society is shallow, it’s true that friendships aren’t so rewarding, and it can be challenging to find enough people willing to discuss/critique what’s wrong. If you like to talk politics and criticize capitalism, it can be tough to find enough company.

          1. Don Levit

            Inverness and Moneta:
            I can empathize with much of what you are saying. I believe we are put here for a purpose, a particular mission.
            That mission could be many things, but one thing I fervently believe is not our mission: the ability to pay our bills.
            The ability to pay one’s bills is a means to an end, not an end.
            The ability to pay one’s bills provides time to do good deeds.
            But, even if some one was unable to pay his bills, doing good deeds is still necessary and vital to be a functioning human being.
            The overriding purpose for my existence, is something I have to continually remind myself of. It gives me hope to continue.
            If you lose your wealth, you’ve lost something.
            If you lose your health, you’ve lost a lot more.
            If you lose your resolve, you’ve lost it all.
            DonLlevit

        2. just_kate

          Moneta – your comment really resonates with me, thank you for sharing. I hardly relate to anyone in my social circle anymore and have given up trying to engage them. I even had to stop having serious conversations with a dear family member because she told me I’ve been “radicalized by negativity”. The NC community has become a refuge for me and I’m truly grateful for all Yves efforts.

          1. Moneta

            A few years ago my mother kept on wondering what she did wrong to instill such negativity. Then the US real estate market crumbled and then she started hearing that people in her entourage were refinancing and buying BMWs and trips with the proceeds and she finally saw that I was a realist.

            She tells me to just not talk about finance. I tried to explain that money plays a central role in a person’s worldview, their values, the choices they make. I can listen and empathize, but rarely is there a connection.

            That’s why I am here too. Even if I know I am right, I still need some form of validation. We humans are a weird species!

      2. maria.alameda

        Yves is right. Retirement and leisure are more enjoyable in societies with stronger social ties.
        I remember my own grandmother having girlfriends over for cherry liquor and fig jam at 4pm. They would do this every day and take turns about hosting. They had social clubs and everyone baked and brought food for everyone else to enjoy. Not to mention the fact that all retired folk was taking care of the grandkids as well.
        Something has gone awefully wrong in our advanced modern lifestyle….

        1. from Mexico

          I think many people are so thoroughly immersed in their own culture, and the cultural blinders are so effective, that they just can’t get their minds around what Yves is saying.

        2. jrs

          And people would have stronger social ties IF they worked less!!! (for the equivalent income). This seems so totally obvious to me I don’t know what to say. People barely have TIME to maintain social ties in this society. Is less working a panacea for lack of social ties? No. But I think it would help a lot.

      3. anon y'mouse

        if you didn’t have work, what would you do with your time?

        or is this blog what you would do?

        I don’t think that Graeber is insisting we replace enforced work with self work, unless we wish to.

        perhaps, given enough time, you would discover some craft that you would enjoy. perhaps not, and then you could do whatever else you enjoyed. like reading books, and watching the wildlife.

        perhaps social networks would not be so shallow if people had time and energy to properly socialize, instead of as you point out above –madly venting their never-ending personal problems over a round of drinks & dinner– then rushing back into the mad fray.

        given enough free time, perhaps a lot of mental illness and societal dysfunction would go away. heck, people DO need something useful to do in all that free time. but useful does not and perhaps should not be equal to “productive economic usage”.

        1. Moneta

          In more laid back cultures, people spend a lot more time in the kitchen enjoying food.

          Less processed junk coming from cold big boxes.

          1. jrs

            Yea they might have time to eat better, to exercise, to be more politically active (uh I realize I’m probably not describing the readers here – but it’s a pretty apathetic society isn’t it?), to not buy the more wasteful thing just because it’s time saving. Etc.

      4. susan the other

        I have news for you. “Creative” people are bullshit too. The arts, commonly the stronghold of soi disant (your excellent term) creative types, is a human stew. Always simmering, artists always wanting to make it big or fighting like any other capitalists for position. And creativity itself is not exclusive. Creativity emerges as good decision making, whether you are painting a canvas or putting together a big investment deal.

        1. Charles LeSeau

          You’re right about a huge number of artists, of course.

          I’m a classical pianist/composer and a fair classical painter. I take the former very seriously, but have to tell people I’m a hobbyist because it’s not my profession – so I guess that’s all I am. I do these things for nobody else, I share them with nobody else, I do not try to hit it big or sell them. (Why would I anyway in a place like America, where the majority of people asked will visibly struggle and usually fail to name just 10 classical composers if asked to? Who would I perform for?) It is all purely for self edification and for the true pleasure of working on beautiful and challenging things.

          There are many like me, and part of the problem in selling art is exactly that it is selling – and not necessarily selling art, but rather selling youthful good looks, outgoing social personalities, and cool appeal over anything particularly musical or artistic. I know some people who made it big in the corporate rock & roll world and moved out of my home town to LA – fully household names now – and they know about as much about even simple music theory as I did when I was 14, i.e. next to nothing. The guitarist/singer I remember giving an impromptu “music theory” lesson and describing to a group of sycophants that an A major triad was A-Db-E, clearly not understanding that it’s a sharp key, not flat; nor understanding the nature of triadic intervals as being based on thirds, thus teaching the simplest thing wrongly. I think about him and his crappy formulaic tunes a lot when I hear people hint that money = merit, because he’s a total hack.

          You have to get contacts, schmooze, make sure your work is known and displayed, etc. If you’re looking for the big time, an agent or manager is involved. I have such a frigid antipathy to this type of thing that I have never sold or tried to sell a single piece of art, and I despise performing music publicly for much the same reasons Glenn Gould did.

          I have a friend with psoriasis. His skin disease makes him something of a freak to normal people. His talent is incredible – he paints in 7-layer Flemish technique that he learned from a Russian master – but he doesn’t dare play the schmooze game or even see people at all. He hates even grocery shopping in the US. Sad.

          1. anon y'mouse

            every time i’m in the grocery store, i’m like the Grinch remarking on the tootinkas and the tantoofas driving him crazy with noisenoisenoise.

            in the grocery, it’s all winkingblinking lights and blearing colored tabloid sheets, and shiny plastic everywhere.

            at those times, i know why insane shooters go on sprees.

            ((yes, its ME, NSA people! no, i don’t even like guns.))

            1. Charles LeSeau

              I’m the same. I hate grocery stores. You get blasted with crap music, for one. When I look at the odious magazines at the checkouts and realize what they are and why they’re there (aimed at women, on the assumption that it is women who shop in a household, and thoroughly pitching fashion and petty gossip about movie stars, their relationships with other movie stars, and their beach bodies – i.e. literally pitching superficiality), I feel very uneasy. I once had to go outside for a few minutes while they were playing Faith Hill’s This Kiss. So obnoxious.

              The result of living in a culture that is like this is something I remarked about to a friend the other day: That while I have paid literally no attention to Michael Jackson my entire life, I nevertheless have been forced to know about him, can name tunes of his and all sorts of worthless addenda about his life, etc…

              My painter friend with the skin disease just shuns all human contact now. He’s been made to feel a total freak in this society, and despite being very capable and intelligent he had trouble finding work, so he finally had to get a job where he works at home. He has to eat, so he’s forced to go to the grocery store or market. Needless to say, he goes in the off hours, often at 5:00 a.m., and boogies through it.

              1. Moneta

                These big grocery stores all go with the culture of fast food. Ironically, they have gotten so big that you can’t shop fast anymore. Se we’ve started going to smaller shops where you can go in and out in a minute. Food is costing us more now but we are avoiding crappy restaurants.

                Plastic food does not really promote the celebration of slow eating with friends and family.

  15. craazyman

    faaaak I once briefly met an actor who had to dress up as a piece of shit on a stage once and sing and dance.

    There was also a dude in a chicken outfit handing out flyers near Times Square. I think even Brad Pitt did that once in LA before he got famous.

    Then there’s the nail salon girls. All oriental from somehwere. I feel bad for them, in there shaving away at nails. Some are really hot! Sometimes I think of walking in and saying “you, there, come with me and you can make sandwiches while I watch football and surf youtube, then you can sleep with me and have babies.” Then I think “maybe tomorrow, what would I do if they said “OK”? faaaaak.”

    Once there was a guy in there shaving somebody’s finger nails. He looked like he could be an investment banker — late 20s, trim, buff, clean cut.

    You ever see the people getting their nails done? Faaak, it just looks like soemthng you’d see in a book by Carl Marx.

    It’s never the job itself, it’s always the job in society. And then it’s the society, and then it’s each person in their mind making decisions about how to be. Or not even making them, running on autopilot, running the pilot wave, not even knowing or seeing or feeling. It’s beyond any form of inquiry. It’s either for God or the Boogeyman, but its not for us to know until we get across the Big River and look back at it all and then what? You’ll just look at it and say “faaaaaaaak.”

    1. craazyboy

      Holy Cuticles, craazyman, There’s more to fingernails than you may think. Check out these back scratchers.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=extreme+nails&rlz=1T4GGLL_enUS386US387&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=TxUWUouHBoreigKw4IDQCA&ved=0CEwQsAQ&biw=1384&bih=838

      These nail salon chicks may be part of the creative class, even though they are just oriental women. Probably still don’t get paid anything, but hey, everyone knows the big money is in massage!

      1. craazyman

        I know I know. I won’t do it anymore though because they’re so young and I’m more spiritually evolved than I used to be. Amazing how inexpensive it was though. faaak. who needs a girlfriend unless you like getting nagged?

        1. craazyboy

          Holy Schmolly, craazy. Sorry to hear that. I think they gotta pill for “spiritually evolved”, tho.

          But damn straight about the nagging. There seems to be no happy ending to all that!

    2. Susan the other

      Where have you gone Andy Warhol, the nation turns it lonely eyes to you? Somebody should do a tribute to Warhol and do “Bullshit” as a 6 hour movie starring Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein in their best business suits and ties standing behind a bull in some barnyard in upstate NY hosing off its butt and splashing themselves and laughing. Taking turns combing the crusted shit out of the tail tassle and then licking the comb like Wolfowitz. And then maybe having a fun water fight and hosing each other down. There could be 24 variations on this theme to fill the full 6 hour screening.

      1. Andy Warhol's Ghost

        Actually, I think I’d have them just stand there staring at the behind of a large, placid bull in a muddy pen for most of the six hours. They could breathe, sigh, shift their weight a little, but basically staring fixedly. Then, with about a minute to go, one would ask the other, ‘Are we done here?’ There would be no answer and the movie would fade. Or start over.

  16. myshkin

    Very interesting discussion. I did a little paper route work and never liked it. Now despite pay walls, much of it comes for free over the internet, perhaps there isn’t enough work to go around these days. Paper delviery is no longer exclusively adolescent domain and is now, at least where I live, done by adults with massive delivery routes. Certainly I agree that much work is imposed as an exercise of both power and exploitation.

    It is said that most people at the end of the their lives, when asked, say their biggest regret is having spent too much time at the office and not enough time with friends and maintianing friendships.

    A certain amount of work for the collective, as Yves notes, functions to give perspective about proper behavior in the commons and about the range of labor experience. What is clear to me is that most spend too much time working. There are some who love what they do and enjoy their 6o hour weeks but there are many with bullshit jobs, however you define it, you know it when you’ve got one. The choice to work a sustainable and survivable three-day week of max 8 hour days, should be there, particularly in a socio-economic system where over production and over consumption are tearing the planet and society apart.

    Very sorry to hear that Yves does not like her work, it is however greatly appreciated.

    1. craazyman

      being a paperboy was the least bullshit job I ever had. The other no-bullshit jobs were hod carrier (in case anybody doesn’t know, that’s the dude who hauls bricks to bricklayers) and cement crew worker in 98 degree summers.

      Those were all no bullshit jobs. Two of them were macho jobs that I didn’t mind actually at all. The paperboy was the most prestigious, because I was ‘the paperboy” at that age when you looked with pride at your canvas paperbag with the paper’s name stenciled in big letters everybody could see.

      They dropped the papers off under a streetlight every morning. My streetlight and my corner. At 6 a.m. in the dark. You’d pop the stack by ripping the plastic binder and release the papers and fold them and pack them and set out on foot.

      Not like now where they drive by and throw a paper out a car window like a Frisbee. No. You’d place the paper inside the storm door or tuck it folded in the metal clasp under the mailbox. Then you’d walk away and hear the door open and see somebody in pajamas take and and close the door.

      That’s the way it used to be. Not like now where it’s a projectile that lands on the lawn or the street. Thrown by a man who doesn’t care where it lands or if it even hits the yard. There’s probably a reason for that and it might be a good one. It’s not like it used to be.

      There was a man who went downtown and picked all the papers up and dropped them off for us on the street corners from his white panel van. He wasn’t old but he was old enough that it was hard to believe he’d ever been young. He must have driven that white panel van right out of his momma looking just the way he did then, but in miniature. He didn’t get older, he just got bigger. Until the van was ready to bring the papers I delivered.

      That wasn’t a bullshit job in my mind. But I can’t imagine the women in the nail salons with their fingers haughtily stretched out to be served, I can’t imagine them with the paper man. They’d want somebody with a bullshit job overwhelmed by extreme unction, somebody whose very life is dedicated to wanton destruction, somebody fundamentaly insane.

      The paper man wasn’t insane. He might have been like the bus driver I knew of through my friend the poet, who drove the bus reciting all of Hamlet in his mind. He might have liked flying kites or fiddling with radios. He seemed quite serious to me, an authority who ensured papers were delivered so people could open their doors in pajamas and know what happened all over the world. That’s probably not a bullshit job. I don’t think he minded it, to be honest. you could do a lot of good thinking driving around by yourself in the early morning under the streetlights. Lots of people would like to do that, and lots of women wouldn’t mind if their husbands did that. They may be in purgatory but they probably won’t be in hell. That’s something to think about at the nail salon with your hand stretched out like a divine command pointing.

  17. Spring Texan

    One thing that is demoralizing about many jobs now is that even if they do have intrinsic worth, you are forced to spout bullshit to get and keep them.

    I heard an NPR radio piece a while ago explaining that while retail businesses located in malls would like to hire the minority applicants nearby, many were unemployable. A non-profit was attempting to “coach” applicants to make them employable.

    Example given was, when asked why they wanted a retail job, the unsuitable and unemployable might be so dumb as to answer, because I want to earn money or because I need a job. It was taken for granted that no business could hire such a dud, first they needed to learn to spout nonsense about how wonderful an entity they perceived the retail business to be and how they would be SO motivated to work there, to even get their foot in the door on being hired.

    This stuff brings a person down and didn’t use to be such an absolute necessity.

    No, how could a mall business POSSIBLY hire someone who could give an answer like that on an interview?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think you’ve gotten to the real point more crisply than I did earlier. Many jobs that have or could have a significant amount of legitimacy (including being a doctor in the US) have been distorted into something a lot less socially valuable.

    2. Klassy!

      My grocery store was recently remodeled. Besides becoming more class stratified with way more space given to high end/higher margin items such as fancy cheeses, “artisanal” breads, and cupcakes and basic items given the shortshrift (occasionally they do have powdered sugar. If you get there the right day) they now have frequent overhead announcements for employees to gather up for “meetings”. No doubt they are helping the peons find their passion.
      But I bet what they would really like to find is adequate staffing and time to complete their tasks and provide good customer service. I’ve been told as much by employees. That and a living wage.
      The chain has also announced plans for a total self service check out as you shop using your smart phone. I am sure all of us now can realize our dream of being non paid check out clerks.

    3. anon y'mouse

      yes, it’s not enough to need work. you have to grovel and pretend you have “passion” for something that, although vital to business functions, is rather meaningless and usually demoralizing in itself.

      this blathering on about passion proves that you will contort yourself properly when the master passes by, and kiss feet adequately when (s)he deigns notice you.

      1. Klassy!

        Heard an ad on the radio the other day– they had “a passion for passion”. Really. I guess they had a hard time with coming up with a useful object of their passion.
        It was for a lawn chemical product.

    4. Ed S.

      Q:”Why do you work at the Quik-e-Mart?”
      A:”Dude, I need a job to pay the rent”

      Nope, wrong answer

      Q:”Why do you work at the Quik-e-Mart?”
      A:”My passion is to provide clients with a uniquely delightful Slurpee and Marlboro purchasing experience while enhancing my abilities to provide awesome maintenance and re-cleanification of the the hot-dog rolling grill”

      Yup, that’s the answer.

  18. Malmo

    If I could survive comfortably on a 20 hr work week, or even less, I’d be happy as a clam. I’d have more than enough to do with my free time too, which in no way would constitute twiddling my thumbs all day, although I’d do some fo that, thank you. I’d spend much more time WORKING on gardening, socializing, running, reading, golfing, volunteering, loving my family. Also have time to reread Bob Black’s “Abolition of Work”, which I’m going to do right after I post this.

    1. jrs

      I’ve worked part time (30 hours) for decent pay (not rich, but not poor) and I WAS HAPPIER. I know it for a fact (at least for me), it’s not idle speculation.

  19. Workingfromhome

    It was funny seeing modern white collar business life described so well. There is an unspoken expectation that everyone should always be super busy, and to admit otherwise marks you as somehow defective. I’m really lucky to have one of these bullshit jobs that is paid well and I can do it working from home and my supervisor is thousands of miles away. This allows me to work really hard at times when it is needed, and at other times maintain the illusion of working really hard so that I’m not seen as a deviant, but enjoy some time with family and friends all the same.

    Doesn’t this boil down to this unease that many of us “knowledge” workers have about the fact that we work all day, but many of us don’t actually create anything tangible. And then the tangible items that we do create sometimes seem difficult to justify to society. The work I did to help the business optimize inventory levels slightly better, how truly helpful is that? I guess it means that society overall has slightly better resource allocation which means that there is more surplus in the global wealth pie, and I get to continue to justify my salary. But that is a long way from tangible projects like building a house for your family to live in, or raising a pig and a cow to eat. Maybe that is what Graebner was getting at.

  20. Eureka Springs

    People like Yves whom I admire greatly have no idea what idle time is really like. Most people don’t until they have at least six consistent months of leisure life under their belt. And most Americans can’t handle it. Especially in the early stages. Deprogramming like detoxification takes time.

    Slowing down is letting your lawn grow for weeks at a time rather than mowing once or twice a week in spring. Most people would be amazed at the wildflowers they are killing with a mower while spending all kinds of time and energy/money trying to plant flower beds. The world is a flower bed already! Only true leisure time/experience reveals these things. I couldn’t possibly squeeze as many flowers into my yard as mother nature. They are already there if one just lets it happen. What I now call volunteer landscaping.

    Slowing down for me is going five or six years without walking into a post office. Walking into the bank once a month. Refusing to have a life with more than half a dozen monthly bills in it. If something requires reading fine print, well then that’s all the warning I need. Thinking about going to the store on monday afternoon and laughing at myself when three or four days later I finally start the truck or the 93 mpg scooter. Slowing down means always taking the scenic route. Slowing down is discovering the deer in your yard really like the Pat Metheny Group and linger longer when you play it for them. Slowing down is looking the bobcat the crow or the eagles in the eye and talking to them…. and realizing no paycheck increase can possibly do that. For me, it required living with a much lower paycheck. It required refusing careers offered in fortune few hundreds all those years ago.

    I live near a tourist town with two thousand residents and twenty thousand guest rooms… I have over thirty years observational experience watching Americans struggle with idle time… watching people move here for the calm only to discover they didn’t know about themselves or their marriage…. Most can’t handle idle time and run back to a rat race of some sort in order to avoid looking at their life. Large segments discover they can’t live with themselves or their spouse.

    As for shit jobs… let’s not forget a shit industry – private health insurance! What I call needless bean counters. Our world would be a much better place if those bean counters were paid to do almost anything else or nothing at all.

    I also worked in telemarketing gigs in my early years… only one of those positions could have possibly, maybe had some value to society… the others were clearly predatory and dishonest. Now of course I haven’t answered an unidentified caller in fifteen years or opened spam in any in/mail box…. but it still intrudes, eats my state of yo avoiding it or trashing it.

    From an environmental standpoint alone.. we should probably value idle time much much more than we are. Do you think all that Fukushima energy was worth it? Will the tar sands be worth it? Especially at the furious rate we will surely burn through it?

    1. LifelongLib

      I like to let the grass in my yard grow to the point where the birds come in to eat the seeds.

  21. Peripheral Visionary

    A few responses.

    First, the reason employers attempt to maximize the time worked by their employees is because every employee has a large fixed cost attached – hiring expenses, training expenses, a work space, etc. That’s why an employer would rather hire one 45-hour employee than three 15-hour employees. This is a very fundamental microeconomic conclusion, and I am suprised to see both Keynes and Graeber making such a fundamental error.

    Second, I share Yves’ reaction against the insinuation – however subtle – that certain forms of necessary work are demeaning. I agree that it betrays class bias – that respectable people should not be expected to do certain work, which is below them. This is one of the few things that Americans have in the past gotten right: the sense that no one is above doing work that needs to be done, which we frequently reinforce with tales that are more important than true (Abe Lincoln as the “rail-splitter”, Harry Truman as a haberdasher, Warren Buffett delivering newspapers, Steve Jobs building computers with his own hands in his garage, etc.)

    Finally, the general notion that the social order has been maintained for the purpose of exploiting workers is called into question by the historic record. Both Britain and the U.S. ostensibly maintained outlets for disgruntled workers who were not content with the social order: for Britain, the Colonies, and for the U.S., the Homestead Act. Even though the latter came at tremendous expense to the Native inhabitants, it succeeded in laying the groundwork for the rise of the middle class in modern America – and what is more, that seems to have been its general intent.

    I don’t argue that, given the opportunity, capital will very often exploit labor. But the general direction of modern society has been toward attempting to appease both. The rise of the type of jobs that Graeber is highlighting may be more for the purposes of making work than oppressing workers; that is particularly true in government, where much of the employment is make-work employment. Between workers being unemployed and workers doing less-than-fulfilling work, the latter was seen as the better option.

    1. Patrick

      One 45-hour-per-week employee is still more expensive than three 15-hour-per-week employees. For one, a company would not have to provide health insurance to the three fifteen-hour-per-week employees. A company would have to extend that benefit to the 45-hour-per-week employee. The full-time employee would earn time and a half for the five hours worked past 40. The three 15 hour employees get straight time for 45 hours.

      That training cost canard is sort of a bullshit job itself. But it certainly performs it well.

  22. from Mexico

    Great critique, Yves.

    England, however, was not the first act of the capitalist play.

    One of the great sleights of hand played by capitalism is to create the illusion that we’re more free when in reality we are less free. “In earlier societies the integration of the individual into the life of the community is clearly seen as arising from feelings of positive affect (family ties, friendship, communal observances, etc.), or under the duress of communal pressure (scorn, ostracism) or coercive authority.” (Robert L. Heilbroner, Behind the Veil of Economics)

    However, with capitalism, the whip was replaced by necessity as the coercive force. Capitalist ideologues attempt to bill this change as enhanced “freedom,” “liberty,” “democracy,” or “choice.” But these promises are illusory. “For the liberation of the labourers in the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution was indeed to some extent contradictory: it had liberated them from their masters only to put them under a stronger taskmaster, their daily needs and wants, the force, in other words with which necessity drives and compels men and which is more compelling than violence.” (Hannah Arendt, On Revolution)

    And the manufacture of necessity was no accident. If we turn the clock back 300 years before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, we can catch a glimpse of the radical changes which were necessary to give birth to first great capitalist empire. With the triumph of Calvinism as “the strongest force in Netherlands Protestantism” and “its tightly controlled tendencies,” which provide a “stable and orderly structure, both in dogma and organization, needed to counter the fragmentation and proliferation of theological tendencies so characteristic of early Netherlands Reformation”:

    Both the administration and the aims of welfare changed. Late medieval religiosity accorded a sacred value to poverty, begging, and giving alms, which the new humanist philosophy of poor relief was unwilling to share. Priority was now assigned to checking the growth of poverty, vagrancy, and idleness, so the new approach tended to be much more questioning, if not outright hostile, to begging and alms-giving.

    –JONATHAN I. ISRAEL, The Dutch Republic

    The options for those who found themselves without capital were thus reduced to two: work or starve. C.R. Boxer in The Dutch Seaborne Empire gives some insight as to what this meant for the workers:

    Although adequate unemployment statistics and other relevant materials are lacking, it is clear from numerous contemporary accounts of the Dutch Republic inits ‘Golden Century’ that economic expansion and national prosperity were accompanied by great poverty among many groups of workers, as happened later in England during the Industrial Revolution…. As early as 1566 a Leeuwarden chronicler noted that, in sharp contrast with the wealthy regents and merchants, stood the mass of the ‘humble, distressed, and hungry common people’…. The poorhouses and workhouses also supplied women also supplied women and children for industrial labour, and here again there is an obvious parallel with England during the Industrial Revolution. It is true that some steps were taken to check these abuses, such as fixing the textile operatives’ working day at a maximum of fourteen hours (!) in 1646; but thirteen years later a leading Leiden industrialist noted that many workers were living in overcrowded slums, and that some were forced to burn their beds and furniture to keep themselves warm in winter.

    Out of 41,561 households at Amsterdam in 1747, some 19,000 were living in squalid back premises, cellars, and basements.

    [….]

    The lot of the ordinary manual worker was hard; and the infrequency of overt unrest was due rather to the absence or weakness of the workers’ organizations (as Violet Barbour points out) than to the ‘paternal and enlightened regime of the upper-middle-class dictators’, as claimed by Professor G.J. Reiner. It is true, however, that class differences in the Dutch Republic, as elsewhere, were usually accepted as an aspect of the eternal scheme of things.

  23. from Mexico

    Great critique, Yves.

    England, however, was not the first act of the capitalist play.

    One of the great sleights of hand played by capitalism is to create the illusion that we’re more free when in reality we are less free. “In earlier societies the integration of the individual into the life of the community is clearly seen as arising from feelings of positive affect (family ties, friendship, communal observances, etc.), or under the duress of communal pressure (scorn, ostracism) or coercive authority.” (Robert L. Heilbroner, Behind the Veil of Economics)

    However, with capitalism, the whip was replaced by necessity as the coercive force. Capitalist ideologues attempt to bill this change as enhanced “freedom,” “liberty,” “democracy,” or “choice.” But these promises are illusory. “For the liberation of the labourers in the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution was indeed to some extent contradictory: it had liberated them from their masters only to put them under a stronger taskmaster, their daily needs and wants, the force, in other words with which necessity drives and compels men and which is more compelling than violence.” (Hannah Arendt, On Revolution)

    And the manufacture of necessity was no accident. If we turn the clock back 300 years before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, we can catch a glimpse of the radical changes which were necessary to give birth to first great capitalist empire. With the triumph of Calvinism as “the strongest force in Netherlands Protestantism” and “its tightly controlled tendencies,” which provide a “stable and orderly structure, both in dogma and organization, needed to counter the fragmentation and proliferation of theological tendencies so characteristic of early Netherlands Reformation,” came the Protestant work ethic:

    Both the administration and the aims of welfare changed. Late medieval religiosity accorded a sacred value to poverty, begging, and giving alms, which the new humanist philosophy of poor relief was unwilling to share. Priority was now assigned to checking the growth of poverty, vagrancy, and idleness, so the new approach tended to be much more questioning, if not outright hostile, to begging and alms-giving.

    –JONATHAN I. ISRAEL, The Dutch Republic

    1. from Mexico

      The options for those who found themselves without capital were thus reduced to two: work or starve. C.R. Boxer in The Dutch Seaborne Empire gives some insight as to what this meant for the workers:

      Although adequate unemployment statistics and other relevant materials are lacking, it is clear from numerous contemporary accounts of the Dutch Republic in its ‘Golden Century’ that economic expansion and national prosperity were accompanied by great poverty among many groups of workers, as happened later in England during the Industrial Revolution…. As early as 1566 a Leeuwarden chronicler noted that, in sharp contrast with the wealthy regents and merchants, stood the mass of the ‘humble, distressed, and hungry common people’…. The poorhouses and workhouses also supplied women also supplied women and children for industrial labour, and here again there is an obvious parallel with England during the Industrial Revolution.

      Out of 41,561 households at Amsterdam in 1747, some 19,000 were living in squalid back premises, cellars, and basements.

    2. from Mexico

      C.R. Boxer in The Dutch Seaborne Empire gives some insight as to what this meant for the workers:

      [I]t is clear from numerous contemporary accounts of the Dutch Republic in its ‘Golden Century’ that economic expansion and national prosperity were accompanied by great poverty among many groups of workers, as happened later in England during the Industrial Revolution…. As early as 1566 a chronicler noted that, in sharp contrast with the wealthy regents and merchants, stood the mass of the ‘humble, distressed, and hungry common people’…. The poorhouses and workhouses also supplied women also supplied women and children for industrial labour, and here again there is an obvious parallel with England during the Industrial Revolution. It is true that some steps were taken to check these abuses, such as fixing the textile operatives’ working day at a maximum of fourteen hours (!) in 1646; but thirteen years later a leading Leiden industrialist noted that many workers were living in overcrowded slums, and that some were forced to burn their beds and furniture to keep themselves warm in winter.

      Out of 41,561 households at Amsterdam in 1747, some 19,000 were living in squalid back premises, cellars, and basements.

    3. Joe Miller

      The enclosures were conterminous with the advent of Calvinist morality. The latter was undoubtedly a means of legitimating the former.

  24. Chris Maukonen

    The biggest problem I see with this post and some of the comments that it puts on capitalism some moral imperative that was never there to begin with.

    The whole point of capitalism and capitalists is to get as much as one can while producing as little as possible.

    Ultimately getting it all and producing nothing. Which the financials have nearly – if not completely – achieved.

  25. Klassy!

    This post was great. I think Graeber’s point about unfulfilling work is off the mark too. It almost seems Thatcheresque in that she held out “dynamism” and “social mobility” as a superior goal to security and stability. I don’t really care about my creativity going untapped in a job. Regular hours, getting out of work in a reasonable time, making enough to be secure, and not being treated as a “cost” are a lot more important to me.
    The other problem I had with the Graeber article is that I think too many people with Bullshit jobs probably are not aware of their pointlessness. I think there are far more true believers out there than he imagines.

  26. Tyler Healey

    “No I don’t love my work.”

    Well, we love you! And I second YankeeFrank’s suggestion that you might consider taking some months to unwind.

    “I am constitutionally incapable of doing anything half way…”

    Do I detect OCD? You don’t have to answer that, of course. I ask because I have it and all I can say is, always hang in there and never feel guilty about just plain laying down and relaxing. It’s a form of meditation that every living thing earns.

  27. samhill

    On a dying planet a meaningless job should be impossible. Cleaning up the damage of the last 300 years of industrial revolution would create new jobs, new investment, new wealth, re-invigorate democracy, and for the first time since times of hunter-gathering, would give a great part of humaniy genuine meaning to their work – something other than making rich people happy.

  28. katenka

    I usually just quietly read (as a proper INTP, since the MBTI was brought into it), but this post happens to brush against my area of professional expertise, so I’ll poke my head out of my hole briefly.

    I write psychological assessments of candidates for hiring, promotion, and developmental work. I’ve done tens of thousands of these over the past twenty-odd years, which I think has given me, while not a comprehensive view, a pretty broad one across US (and, to a lesser extent, UK/European) business, and a lot of (anecdotal) data points about whether or not people perceive their jobs as being bullshit.

    The upshot is, increasingly, yes, they do (especially over the past five years, whoof), and it appears to me they do so for a range of reasons that spans both Smith-esque and Graeber-esque points (within the context of this post). People — even those pretty high up the food chain — often feel moderately to completely powerless in their roles to do anything other than keep the sausage machine grinding. People are often confused or disheartened by what they are paid or incentivized to do (for example, a traffic signal engineer specialist who is now flooded with work to install surveillance cameras, for which purpose cities and towns evidently have plenty of money). And, people are sometimes (albeit considerably less routinely) concerned about the bigger, society-wide picture of what it is precisely they are wreaking upon the world.

    Anyway, it adds up to a lot of anxious, demotivated people who have a hard time seeing what the point of their endeavors is beyond the immediate concerns of the task itself (even if they can articulate a plausible line of reasoning for why it is “important” — I’ve worked long enough in psych to know that it means pretty much precisely jack shit in and of itself when someone can articulate an intellectual line of reasoning…well, it means they’re probably not hopelessly cognitively impaired).

    The issue of “perceived value” that Yves brought up is important, although it is also a real hairball; one of the difficult things about people is the hall of mirrors of our highly social nature. But anyway, take the telemarketer who is perceived as a plague by whom she calls and as an asset of some sort by the company that hires her. Both views are going to leach into her — she can’t help it, as a human being. If her employer starts treating her worse, perhaps even with visible contempt (more the rule than the exception these days), it’s likely to tip the scales at some point. This effect is independent of whether or not telemarketing is actually valuable to the company, and whether in turn the company itself is valuable to society. If the telemarketer happens to be interested in those issues, that’ll go into the mix of her overall opinion of the bullshittiness or not of her job. In practical terms, though, the personal feedback she gets from how she is treated by the people she actually interacts with is going to have a much stronger effect upon how she feels, and it’s how she feels that is really what it all comes down to. Intellectual analyses or principles can and sometimes do override this emotional reality, but ye gods they have to burn bright and true to do that for long.

    Also, Yves’s point about empty free time that people creatively decide how to fill perhaps not being the pinnacle of human ambition is a critical one. Great swaths of empty free time is a soul-eating disaster for quite a lot of people. One can imagine a society and environment where there would be enough structure and context for people to plug into a productive endeavor of their own choosing, but that’s a bit lacking at the moment (worth building, though). Oh well, lots of interesting points in this post, but I’ll stop there.

  29. Jeff N

    “And when you see your buddies, quite often they are so stressed that they spend a lot of the evening venting. That’s fine for good friends now and again, but when the bulk of your recreational life consists of playing amateur therapist, it can get tiring (particularly since nothing fundamental changes and you are left not knowing what to do with their frustration).”

    YES YES YES! I’ve described this behavior (to third parties) as my friend “vomiting” out all his backlog of stories on me. And heaven forbid if I interrupt his stories with a story of my own!

  30. washunate

    Graeber’s initial piece was an excellent and insightful post. It is awesome that he was able to hit such a deep nerve.

    It is the paradox at the heart of authoritarian, hierarchical solutions: what we need is not ‘more’, but rather, ‘less’. That is the potential for future growth – not in hours worked in the formal economy, but rather, in hours available to the human spirit liberated from formal work requirements.

    Time is the most valuable resource, one left out of the variables of many even leftist explorations of political economy (such as the Job Guarantee of the MMT world).

    The greatest theft of the past few decades is the stolen time in requiring people to work in paid employment for a huge part of their waking lives just to feed a family and keep a roof overhead and take kids to the doctor and whatnot. Some subset of these worked hours produce great output for society, but many millions of these hours are a waste, as Graeber describes, like a scar across our collective soul.

  31. F. Beard

    In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away… David Graeber

    With the workers’ own stolen purchasing power, I’d hazard. Otherwise, we’d all share in the profits of automation (and outsourcing too).

    1. susan the other

      +100. Labor was the original capital. So since the Bronze Age (I think even before in the pretty shells and shiny bead age) symbolism has reduced reality to poverty in a bizarre evolution of unimportance.

  32. theblamee

    “Bullshit Jobs”? How about bullshit employers and bullshit companies who continue a war against their employees by paying them as little as possible; by making them work in dangerous conditions and when they get hurt abandoning them; by making the working day run from one minute after midnight one day and not ending until one minute before midnight on the same day: The Fluctuating Workweek Rule” passed in secret by the government, where the employer can work the employee as long as they want and only pay them half time for overtime instead of time and a half, making overtime more profitable than straight time for employers. What about the unceasing, calcuated moveable feast that “capitalism” is, whereby employers behave badly until the employees turn against them so they out-source themselves to other coutnries and start with the slave labor and slave labor camps and the bad behavior all over again. When does the world rise up against this entrenched evil?

  33. carolinian

    Employment has always been a form of social control, not just the creation of goods and services. Those early economists undoubtedly resented all the money being lost by not exploiting the peasants. But it is also quite likely that it was not only about money. The desire for dominance is one of our most basic instincts. Which is to say an episode of Nature likely to tell you more about human behavior than the complete works of Freud. Why do employers these days impose so many petty humiliations on their workers? Because they can.

    So while both sides in this discussion make good points think I have to side with Graeber. The elites who rule use an out of control work ethic to keep the public under their thumb. And as the elites’ own position begins to seem increasingly perilous this need for control, for dominance, becomes ever greater.

    This doesn’t mean we have to get all moralistic and condemn those bosses for this behavior–only that we understand it. Just watch some Nature. It’s how we human animals are wired…

    1. F. Beard

      Why do employers these days impose so many petty humiliations on their workers? Because they can. carolinian

      But are they passing down their own humiliations?

      If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. Ecclesiastes 5:8 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    2. McKillop

      Human beings, and I say this based on my own vast ignorance, are ‘wired’ to learn what we are taught.
      If dominance and bullying are seen to be successful in acquiring prestige and wealth, and wealth and prestige are given value, then most of us will act to get power over others. I think that fear of losing power also works towards our dominating others.
      To call something, in this case, jobs,”bullshit” can certainly be self-defeating, since the term is defined by individuals and is more or less meaningless.
      Like many of you, I’ve worked at both menial jobs and jobs requiring professional training, jobs that demanded ‘creativity’ and jobs that demanded robotic repetition.
      It was never the actual job that was the problem but rather the need for the job, particular actions taken as part of the job, peoples’ attitude towards what was being done. Now, with a pension to help support me and my family, I can do the work I want, whether personal or social, and gain satisfaction through anything, from hanging clothes on a sunny day to preserving peaches to re-shingling roofs to grading a driveway to harvesting trees and building sheds with my own lumber.
      My wife volunteered for two years as a board member of a women’s collective. She slaved for nothing but abuse to reform and restore the agency and during that time my help was required at home. And to support her and her colleagues.
      Much of what was required was the elimination of bullshit. Not a penny was gained but she and the other principal woman involved certainly gained my respect.
      My most cherished job involves being a dad to my three sons. And that’s hard work.

      There are bullshit aspects to many of the bureaucratic jobs mentioned, even the defended ‘telemarketing’. Bullshit and other faecal products are fine for stimulating growth in gardens but too much of the stuff just stinks up the air and destroys the plants.
      Didn’t Kurt Vonnegut deal with monkey factory employment?

  34. jon longacre

    Graeber hit the scene as Debt The First 5000 Years, and his role in Occupy Wall Street was
    boosted. It is more an anthology than an original work, but reads like a primer. I noted at the time, the author appeared rough around the edges – but that all dramatically changed once he hit the U.S. glamour circuit and the next book was pushed: burn the old rags, & a makeover. (2013 read DVD, CDs, and now Apparel)

    Conclusion: even as an academic, return to picking shit with the chickens usually occurs only when one’s life is destabilized. Yves: Your greatness has more to do with past failure And recovery. When this happens repeatedly, an individual yearns for the simplicity only a changed venue offers – and acts to make the healthy change. Or not. Behavior modification aside, most of us are compelled to resist impositions of the person to person flavor. The runaway train now imposing itself on America and the world is cancerous, and just like parasitic bureaucratic forms everywhere, will die when funding and support dries up.
    Karl Denninger’s idea to starve the beast by withholding purchase’s 9/11/13
    and each month thereafter, has great merit. As an aside Yves, he’s an example of
    an individual who avoided the bloggers ash-heap by dealing with personal health issues.
    Now if someone will just point David Graeber toward picking shit with the chickens again, he may have renewed utility.

  35. Geoff

    “I can’t imagine how a telemarketer can get anyone to talk to them”…….except when they call my house.

    I look upon it as an opportunity to harvest information from them for my notebook and to radicalize them.

    “You are getting benefits aren’t you?” If a Filipino, “In America telemarketers make at least fifteen dollars an hour. How much you making?”

    You work for XYZ company? Do you know how much their CEO is making?

    The ultimate subversion: I refer the articulate American telemarketers to this website and tell them to read it to find out how they are being exploited and to tell all their friends!

  36. clarence swinney

    America on a roll—downhill??
    We now rank number one on Inequality in the major nations.
    Last week, Corporate profits hit an all time high.
    Businesses are keeping more of their taxable income.
    Wages reached an all time low as a share of our economy
    Stock Market has almost doubled under Obama
    Hundreds of cities are like Detroit.
    Auto manufacturers off shoring their production.
    In my town textiles and apparel are long gone to cheaper labor
    Minimum wage cannot be increased.
    44 million work at minimum wage.
    When will we see a roll up the hill??
    Our leaders argue on everything except what counts-Jobs Jobs Jobs

    1. F. Beard

      Our leaders argue on everything except what counts-Jobs Jobs Jobs clarence swinney

      Stockholm Syndrome much?

      What the economy needs per se is INCOME, not necessarily jobs. And why, pray tell, is the economy short of income? Because the money system is unjust, is why.

  37. Malmo

    What percentage of people work at jobs they find persoanlly fulfilling? In other words what percentage of people would choose a different profession, or even way of life, from where they are now? I’m 52 and have worked as a union carpenter, union laborer, construction superintendent, self employed contractor, high school teacher, basketball coach and a day trader. In virtually every environment of walked I’d say the majority of people were unhappy with their jobs. You could probably number the rampant amount of social pathologies in our society as equal or greater than the number of dissatisfied workers they affect (and there is cause and effect at work here). These dissatisfied workers might not consider thier jobs bullshit jobs, but I can assure you they think they put up with way too much bullshit in having to survive by doing them.

    To my mind wage slavery is bullshit, not necessarily the work itself. I had as much or more satisfaction working as a summertime carpenter as I did teaching AP History. My problem wasn’t necessarily the nature of the work, but rather the hierarchical nature in which I was subordiante to a power far greater than myself–my boss– who had the ability to fuck with me and my livelihood in ways that influenced my mental and physical health in a not so positive way. I’m not alone there either. Far from it. If we are largely what we do daily then the levels of crime, divorce, depression, suicide, anger, alcoholism, drug abuse (legal and illegal), ill health, etc., etc., can be tied to a dyfunctional economic model that materially strengthens the few on the backs and minds of the many. Work doesn’t need to go away, even so called “bullshit” work. But the nature of how we do it and who it is that lords power over us in doing it needs a radical makeover.

    1. anon y'mouse

      “My problem wasn’t necessarily the nature of the work, but rather the hierarchical nature in which I was subordiante to a power far greater than myself–my boss– who had the ability to fuck with me and my livelihood in ways that influenced my mental and physical health in a not so positive way.”

      yes, experienced that as well. unfortunately, some of us grew up in environments with abusive parents/step-parents who literally held the power of life and death over us on a daily basis and would show that power if they decided that they didn’t like the look on your face that day.

      I immediately recognize an toxic work environment for what it is—an abusive relationship.

      most employment situations that I’ve seen have been that way. and those of us who had abuse in our pasts, as the military is currently discovering, are more prone to stress disorders, psychosomatic illnesses and PTSD. so for us, this type of power imbalance and being forced to endure is similar to torture (not to devalue the word) and antithetical to life.

    2. jrs

      Your never not aware of the heirarchy on some level. That they control everything, the dimly lit cubes, the lack of sunlight. That they WATCH OVER everything, surveil everything. I don’t mean the NSA, that’s a bigger problem but I’m speaking here about work – I mean the employer. You walk in the office and you’re never not aware it’s panopticon. It causes subconscious anxiety.

  38. F. Beard

    We’d best fix the money system on our own initiative because if we don’t it’ll be fixed anyway but after how much what should have been unnecessary death and destruction?

    “You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?

    “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. Luke 12:56-58 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    1. F. Beard

      Left off this:

      “I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.” Luke 12:59

  39. S Brennan

    I read the article yesterday when Barry put it up at TBP.

    I won’t speak to the issues addressed above, I will say that Graeber doesn’t have a clue when he talks about production lines and mechanization.

    Yes, we have seen an increase over the past 3 DECADES, but the fact of the matter is Asia is full of sweatshop labor doing handwork…and should wages rise that work will move to other areas of poverty, it won’t be mechanized. Why?

    1] Mechanized production lines cost money, lots of it.

    2] Mechanized production lines take time to set up, lots of it.

    3] Mechanized production lines require long consistent production runs, i.e. present capitol at risk

    4] We don’t live in a Marxist society, product cycles are short, product acceptance is not assured…capitol at risk…yada, yada, yada.

    1. F. Beard

      Good points but I’d point out that mechanized production is far more flexible than it used to be because of computerization.

  40. joecostello

    You’re showing the constricitons of the times and its values, well we all got em, but there aint no way this industrial organized society and its values is going to last, one way or other. But more importantly once again in defense of Keynes against Keynesians in his piece “Economic Possibilities of our Grandchildren” from which this whole discussion comes, Keynes looked at your concerns saying,

    “Yet there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society. To judge from the behaviour and the achievements of the wealthy classes today in any quarter of the world, the outlook is very depressing! For these are, so to speak, our advance guard those who are spying out the promised land for the rest of us and pitching their camp there. For they have most of them failed disastrously, so it seems to me-those who have an independent income but no associations or duties or ties-to solve the problem which has been set them.”

    “I feel sure that with a little more experience we shall use the new-found bounty of nature quite differently from the way in which the rich use it today,and will map out for ourselves a plan of life quite otherwise than theirs.”

    So, let us set about to meet these problems and that means we must be about being different. The job was the creation of industrialism and remember work does not necessarily equate with a job. One of the great problems of our time as Mr. McLuhan said is we’re looking at the future through the rear view mirror.

    1. F. Beard

      It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society. JM Keynes via joecostello

      Yep, I’m less busy than I’d like to be for lack of a bit land to work on without fear of violating some zoning restriction.

      Curiously, the Biblical ideal appears to be family farms, orchards, vineyards, etc. I could go for that myself.

  41. Gil Gamesh

    Graeber didn’t knock “real” work (working the checkout counter, e.g.) “Bullshit Jobs” are jobs the majority of work for which is intrinsically empty. Anyone who has toiled for a large corporation knows whereof I speak. Most of my IBM career was spent “rolling up stats” for exec performance metrics, the purpose of which was to allow them to declare bonuses. Bullshit.

    What happened to the Post-Work Society envisioned by Marxists and described in part by Keynes? It has been hijacked. By whom? Well, you all know runs this joint.

    1. RanDomino

      How is ‘working’ at a checkout not bullshit? It produces nothing. It merely tracks in order to protect profit. Such a job does not need exist in a post-scarcity economy.

      1. anon y'mouse

        well, except for helping little old ladies with their plethora of coupons and bagging stuff for them, and sorting out computer errors, it probably IS useless.

        but, working at a cheese counter probably isn’t.

        1. Spring Texan

          I guess I don’t get why a necessary job that doesn’t involve MAKING something is still not valuable — including checking people out. I sure don’t want to check myself out, and we do need to pay for the goods we buy. That’s not bullshit to me.

          Taking care of old people in a nursing home doesn’t PRODUCE anything either — but again it is valuable and needed … just needs to be a decent job that pays more (and in a different sort of environment that is less grim, in the long run). But the base of it isn’t bullshit.

          More controversially I know, I think lawyer is not a bullshit job either (and I hate lawyer jokes, people say these things but when they need a lawyer they are glad to have one). We need such people even though yes the things a lot of lawyers do today can be destructive. But there’s no way around the need for paperwork and titles and contracts and so forth and people to deal with that.

          Yves is right, nothing wrong with sales checkout and banking and law and whatever, but a lot of those jobs are so distorted (not sales checkout because you can’t do too much harm there) that they are negative value. But that’s not inherent to the job.

          And personally, I like paperwork way better than farming. And would be happier working with it every day. YMMV.

          You might guess from the above that I’m a lawyer, but I’m not, I’m a computer programmer/software developer/whatever they call it now.

          Not on the same topic, something else that would make sales checkout a better job is the ability to sit down on a stool rather than stand all day . . . but this is not allowed in the US (leading to many many foot and leg problems over time for the retail-employed and to surgeries). Jobs don’t HAVE to be lousy but often they are.

  42. charles sereno

    Re Bullshit (and not so bullshit) jobs: A modest suggestion. Probably impractical. I so enjoyed reader’s accounts (including Yves’) about their real-life job experiences that I was tempted to add one or two of my own but was hesitant because I wasn’t sure they’d be of general interest. My suggestion is to invite readers to submit personal work stories and have NC select those it considered the most interesting and then post them. Possible criteria — not overly long and no book quotes.

  43. seabos84

    I think this ties back to why “progressives” have lost and will keep losing –

    Since I was 18 in ’78 and Prop 13 came along, I’ve frequently been treated like a rush limbaugh leper when pointing out that 1 reason people don’t support community programs is that the programs DO suck to be on.

    To be a Good Progressive! means getting some kind of K-School degree writing Tomes of Truth, so you can get on the lecture circuit and play Teddy White, scratching your chins, seriously. Of course, after you’ve issued your Serious Thoughts, some underling-ie underlings will figure out those boring details of actually making Your Serious Thoughts work … cuz, ya know, making stuff work is so base, lowly and plebeian.

    rmm

  44. Adam S

    Yves, I find your argument confusing. At one point, you’re saying that workers are being exploited due to leisure being engineered out (and that’s a bad thing), but then again you don’t want leisure time. You say that Americans don’t want additional leisure time. This reminds me of a program on cable news that had a pundit comparing American vacation time to European, spouting a line of nonsense that Americans don’t want more time away from work than they are allowed. I certainly could find plenty of things to occupy my time.

    I’d argue that the issue isn’t that American’s don’t like leisure time, but rather as a society we have no idea how to use it constructively, for either pleasure or creative expression. Our social connections are anemic. Our hobbies are shallow or ignored. Free time is being engineered out of the society, seen as a bad thing by the ruling class.

    I find the statistic that old people live shorter lives after retiring sickening. I’d argue that it is not because leisure=death (as you seem to imply), but rather older people have an issue finding a purpose with their leisure time. If you’ve been working for 50-60 years, and have been fed the garbage narrative that the only worthy equivalence is work=purpose, what the heck do you do after you quit working? Why do so many other societies have reputations for finding purpose in their leisure? Do other societies have old people who don’t drop dead after retiring? (Americans look down on them of course, but isn’t that an indication of programed values?)

    I find it amusing that many older people that I talk to are confused as to why people of younger generations have so much free time to make silly YouTube videos or cat images. Could it be perhaps that young people haven’t been infected by this false moral equivalence yet?

    1. Inverness

      Adam,
      This is what I was trying to articulate. I suspect it’s propaganda that makes so many people averse to leisure and creativity. Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that work makes you pure. You work for decades, and suddenly you no longer have to — what do you do? There isn’t much of a pub/coffee house culture in the USA, nor much space to have profound friendships. And many hobbies are considered valid only for some people, so there are many who won’t even try.

      Most people dislike their jobs, so it’s not like so many are happy doing them. So it’s hard for me to believe that people need the structure of work. Rather, they just haven’t learned how to enjoy unpaid activity.

      1. Goin' South

        That prick Calvin and his crappy theology of double predestinarianism (along with his love for theocracy).

        Presbyterians repent!

  45. Christine Springer

    Yves, I really liked this post. I just took a class at my church of all places, (it’s a Unity church) about personal value — separating our inherent value as a person from what we do for a living. I see a lot of people in my social networks who are too busy “doing stuff” of low value (BS stuff, along the lines of your post) because they believe if they are perceived as busy, it makes them appear more valuable. And I understand your frustration with blogging and watching the bad guys win, because I have the same problem with the foreclosure crisis. I am not sure what I have to say adds anything to the discussion, so I took a break this summer to say nothing at all. Thanks for your great content!

  46. Chris Sturr

    Yves cites Michael Perelman, who wrote a piece for Dollars & Sense a few years back that bears on this discussion: “The Rise of Guard Labor: How capitalists’ need to controll access to goods and services–and to control workers–deforms the productive process and stifles creativity.” (Available here: http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0110perelman.pdf.)

    I am not sure exactly how Perelman’s analysis (which draws on material from his book *The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism*) bears on this discussion, but at a minimum there’s some overlap between what he’s calling “guard labor” and what Graeber calls “bullshit jobs” (and in both cases, the categories cover high-pay/-status jobs and low-pay/-status jobs). But whereas Graeber says that there is a moreal rather than an economic explanation of the rise of bullshit jobs, Perelman gives an economic explanation of the rise of guard labor. And Perelman’s account (especially the section “How Rigid Control Paralizes Creativity”) gives an economic explanation of how guard labor functions to make other jobs horrible.

  47. theinhibitor

    I haven’t read Graeber so I cant form much of a thorough opinion of him and his work, but the general trend has indeed been toward more ‘bs’ jobs. This doesn’t mean that the jobs don’t have an intended purpose: they do. However, they could be done without.

    There are so many over-employed companies in America it’t not really that surprising to me that its hard for young graduates to find jobs. Its not that a certain type of job, lets say human resources manager is meaningless. But do we need 8? 10? Not usually. Many studies have shown time and time again that while work hours (in the US) are constant, more and more people do less and less at their actual work. We have fragmented every single business into myriads of tasks, and we have somehow convinced ourselves that we need not only one person for each task but many.

  48. lee

    I am living pretty well on a pension plus savings from a bullshit job: selling life and health insurance.

    By the time I reached my mid-thirties I had made my living primarily working with my hands in a variety of hard, dirty, dangerous jobs. I’d worked as a janitor, short-order cook, longshoreman prior to containerization, a boilermaker at oil refineries, logging and construction. I was something of a disappointment to my parents, teachers and others who had expected a bright lad like myself to have reached higher, gone farther.

    When at last I came to my senses, donned a suit and tie to work first as a union rep then an insurance agent they were more pleased and I thought it quite a good joke that I was getting paid a lot more to do a lot less. Such is the absurdity of the way we live.

    My son is also cursed with a strong preference for working with his hands and as an electrician he does pretty well. Here’s hoping he never has to put on a suit and tie or use his charm and sociable nature falsely to further commercial ends in order to make a decent living.

    1. WorldisMorphing

      This steelworker appreciates, and feels the need to thank you for your candor, squarely saying what needs to be said…

    1. F. Beard

      It wasn’t that bad since people had plenty of time to build huge cathedrals and such.

      I like industrialization as much as anyone but it could have been done ETHICALLY.

      1. Yancey Ward

        You have no point. Cathedrals often took decades to a century to build because there was little surplus material, goods, and time to build them more rapidly because it was as close to subsistence as you can get. People didn’t start working in factories because they were forced away from their lives- they chose them precisely because they offered a way out of the drudgery of farming.

        What was unethical, what would have been ethical?

        1. F. Beard

          Well, government-backed banks are on their face unethical. Industrialization could have been financed with the use of common stock as private money. In other words, people would consolidate their own capital, including labor, for economies of scale in exchange for common stock and the resulting company would accept the common stock back for the goods and services it produces. Or at least business would have been forced to pay honest interest rates for their workers savings, such as they were.

          And I doubt your point about subsidence too, since it’s been estimated that prehistoric hunter-gathers needed only about 20 hours a week to meet their needs.

          1. Yancey Ward

            And how many hunter gatherers do we have today? If the world depended on hunting gathering, the planet could carry, maybe half a billion people max, and probably I am being generous with that number. There is a reason farming was developed and replaced HG lifestyles- it could feed more mouths more securely.

            1. F. Beard

              Farming does not require much work while the crops are growing nor during the winter when they can’t grow.

            2. Hugh

              “There is a reason farming was developed and replaced HG lifestyles- it could feed more mouths more securely”

              And yet due to overpopulation, resource depletion, environmental degradation, and climate change, the world’s farm fed population will likely decline from 9 billion in 2040 to less than a billion in 2100. You and I definitely have different ideas about what “securely” means.

              1. F. Beard

                Disagree! If a huge depopulation is coming, it’ll be for ethical and moral reasons such as our money system which systematically oppresses the poor. Those other things are just branches of evil.

                1. Emma

                  Well, what about “Herbivory not Husbandry” then, or “Botany not Bestiality” whilst we’re at it…..?!

              2. charles sereno

                You realize of course that you won’t be around then! If the prediction comes true (non-voluntarily, that is), it’ll be sad and we’ll rightly be blamed. The early civilizations were ‘secure’ enough to get useless pyramids and ziggurats built. The Minoan civilization was the closest to being sustainable but Mother Nature had other ideas.

              3. anon y'mouse

                disclaimer: novice in everything, expert in nothing.

                i doubt agriculture was assumed because it could feed people more. initially, it was probably a continuation of the native american practice of alteration of environment–burning of underbrush–to encourage certain kinds of growth which was more humanly beneficial. (((you carefully avoided the obvious: agriculture supports more HUMANS more efficiently. natural food chains support multitude of organisms more efficiently. your statement leads logically to the conclusion that the ONLY reason agriculture is capable of feeding more humans is because it has been coopted, and therefore WE have replaced the multitude of organisms that used to thrive, hence extinctions)))

                consider the possibility that agriculture was initially happenstance: “hey, that trash heap where we dumped all the seeds last year has sprouted while we’ve been migrating after the game. how fortuitous!” which then turned into a tradition. which then may have become a “well, let the physically infirm stay here with these crops this year. we’ve saved enough to last them through. the able-bodied will be back in spring.”

                perhaps some crises event caused us to -turn- to agriculture. perhaps it was just stubborn laziness combined with an advance in storage techniques. whatever it was, like most human development stories it likely wasn’t a purely rational move.

            3. J Sterling

              We do more industrial hunting and gathering than you may think. The great fishing fleets are just industrial hunters of wild fish, and the Brazil nuts you had at Christmas didn’t come from Brazil nut farms.

  49. allis

    re work: the owner of a Montessori school once told me that when a preschooler misbehaved and needed punishing, he had to sit at his tables when lessons were over. He could watch, but not help, his privileged classmates as they scrubbed the tables and swept the floors.

  50. Yancey Ward

    As for why leisure doesn’t take up more of people’s time, I think you really need look no further than the difference between needs and wants. Material needs probably have a finite limit, and I would argue that western society is as close to satisfying that 100% as you are going to get up to the margin to technological progress towards immortality. Material wants, on the other hand, are probably damned near limitlessless, and people seem willing, today, to trade leisure for those unneeded goods and services, which brings back to Yves’ opinion that people work too much and overconsume.

    1. jrs

      Are many people other than some super high rollers actually making a choice to trade leisure for goods?

      - the working poor needs nearly every hour they work to survive and barely
      - the overworked professional class works the hours needed to keep a job, sure in theory they could not put in the overtime, but if the culture at their workplace is at overtime, it means that pretty soon they won’t be working ANY time (haha). Remember these are people often lacking legal overtime pay protections.

      What’s choice got to do with this economic system?

  51. digi_owl

    The Japanese students cleaning their school reminds me of the Norwegian concept of dugnad. In essence a group of locals would gather and proceed to clean and repair their shared living area. A concept that is rapidly fading in modern Norway by the way. Could be a remnant on how farming was done, where families would “rent” space on a larger property and do seasonal work on the property owners farm as payment.

  52. Are You Being Served?

    Working for a retail chain means constant stocking & restocking, putting up displays, taking down displays –
    all of which serves two purposes. First, but not necessarily
    foremost: to keep employees busy. Afterall, they’re being paid by the hour. Second: to “drive sales.” Yes, the “consumer” “responds” to novelty — the newest, the latest. Promotions, gimmicks, & constantly changing displays bring in & “hook” the shopper. And the shopper is
    often another wage slave on his or her day off. They might be upper middle class Mexican nationals here on shopping “vacations.”

    For many of us wage slaves, a day off or a vacation means time to either shop or sleep.

    Malls close or get turned into cheap bazaars for immigrants. Mazerati dealers pop up along the freeways. Office towers & high rise condos sprout only to remain mostly unoccupied. Build it & they will come? More & more men & women appear on street corners with Help Me signs. Kids shoot each other. Prisons profit. Duck Dynasty is a huge hit.

    Recycle? What’s the use? Lost your health insurance because
    your employer cut you back to part time? Blame Obama. Capitalism may not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got — right? Freedom ain’t free. Support our troops. It’s the Golden Age of alcohol. Hundreds of artisan beers on tap.
    Get out there & vote. Buy a lottery ticket. Listen to audio books on the Law of Attraction. Go on a diet. Take a yoga class. Go to the shooting range. Go vegan. Play computer games. Hey, who moved my cheese?

    1. anon y'mouse

      hundreds of artisanal beers—I’ve noticed this too. lots of creative class types that think that because they don’t have to drink Coors or they can choose to eat a different nationality every day of the week = Progress.

      I like food & drink too, and sharing different ways of doing same, but it seems delusional to equate eating something different than one was brought up to as progress.

    2. mary

      @Are You Being Served?

      Have you read “Kingdom Come” by the late great J.G. Ballard yet? I think you’ll find it satisfying. Please do give it a go.

  53. Hugh

    I would define a bullshit job as one which had no social value, that is it did not improve the quality of our society and could even detract from it. What is the quality of our society? It is the society that we wish to build and maintain for ourselves and each other, a fair and just society based on sharing our resources so that each of us is provided with what we need for a good and meaningful life, and that we do this not just for ourselves but in a sustainable fashion so that future generations may do so as well.

    We live in a kleptocracy so really all jobs are bullshit because all our work is going, not to building the society we want, but one we do not want, one which loots us and degrades us into wage and debt slavery. Sectors like financial services are incredibly destructive of our society. All jobs in this sector are bullshit because they either promote or sustain looting.

    Now you could argue that while all labor in a kleptocracy is twisted into working against itself, some labor still serves some minimal social function. The farmer grows the food we need to survive. The builder builds shelter for us. The manufacturer creates the goods we need to live. But consider the farmer is most likely an employee of or contracted to some big agri-business corporation growing GMO crops or raising drug riddled livestock in factory conditions. The builder is building shoddy housing that will fall apart before the mortgage is paid off in some exurb using low wage undocumented workers wherever he/she can. The manufacturer is trying to do everything he/she can to cut the wages and benefits of their workers here and ship their jobs over to China or Bangladesh.

    The truth is that bullshit jobs are a condition of consumerism. Very little is made to last. Built in obsolesence permeates all consumer goods. If it falls apart, whether clothes and shoes after a season or an iPhone every three years, then there will be built-in recurrent demand and perennial high profits.

    I would go further and say that any job that doesn’t pay a living wage is bullshit and wages war against a fair and just society whether it serves some social purpose or no. And looking further still, let us recognize the artificial divide between work and jobs. Jobs are usually considered paid work, but what about all the unpaid caregivers, parents, and homemakers in this country who often labor long and hard doing work of great social value. That we do not share our society’s resources to take care of and compensate them for their work. Well, that is bullshit too.

    1. citizendave

      Hugh, you made some of the points I would make. So I’ll address the problem of eliminating the non-essential jobs versus the concept of full employment. If we decide it is important to achieve an economic system that preserves what’s left of the planet for many future generations, many full-time jobs will be eliminated. Even now it is clear that our system does not adequately address the needs of all people who need to pay the cost of living. After non-essential jobs evaporate in the face of a new or widespread sense of moral and ethical responsibility for the future of the planet and its denizens, the number of job opportunities will greatly dwindle. It will then be all the more imperative to find ways so that every human can have medical care, food, and shelter, despite the inability to pay for it in exchange for labor. To take it a step further, just as the government has paid farmers not to grow crops on their land, we could pay people not to work, thereby to help preserve what’s left of our natural resources. Call it a cost of living stipend.

      In a new system, the value of an hour of labor could be adjusted. Maybe we would still want to encourage everyone to work and contribute somehow. But maybe an afternoon of helping somebody with their bookkeeping once each month — or once each year — would be deemed enough to “pay” the cost of living. If we could achieve more leisure, or to put it another way, arrive at a better work-life balance, the things we do for our own amusement could become part of the new economy. Worth could be reckoned on the basis of how much impact it has on natural resources versus long-term sustainability.

      The current system of valuation evolved in a world loaded with abundant natural resources. But this value system is wrecking the place. Perhaps the New Economy would change all that, and put the highest value on work that achieves the most enduring viability of life on earth.

      1. F. Beard

        To take it a step further, just as the government has paid farmers not to grow crops on their land, we could pay people not to work, citizendave

        Your logic is compelling!

  54. kevinearick

    Yes; It’s largely bullsh- work.

    The computers are only now beginning to replace the upper middle class implementers. The lawyers and priests are already getting whacked. Doctors, cops, welfare administrators, professors, etc, are on deck.

    Digital currency has already failed, which is why Benny is prosecuting a currency war, and other countries are beginning to raise rates. The more change is resisted, the nastier the tyranny and ultimate physical war.

    Keep pumping Silicon Valley. You just can’t replace the real thing – labor, but go ahead and keep trying. Burn everything.

    1. kevinearick

      $10 jobs and $20 rent, which should be $2.5, to subsidize stupidity has only one outcome. Fortunately, communities have an infinite number of ways to rebalance the ratio. Unfortunately, for the empire, all lead to its contraction.

      Exerting price control to the point of extortion over labor was really, really stupid. Office workers punching a keyboard to automate an assembly line half way around the world, brilliant. what could go wrong?

  55. allcoppedout

    David and Yves are both wrong – but short pieces on something as complex as this would be. We has a three day week as a result of a coal strike in the UK and production fell by – er – 4%. I like the term ‘bullshit jobs’ and can remember a Spaniard telling me he had one in the Mondragon cooperative, a matter held in great shame. Mondragon was under great pressure at the time and instead of sacking people had created messenger jobs to take up the slack – riding bikes with messages on site.

    Bullshit jobs are different from scut work – the dirty, boring work like cleaning toilets. Many BS jobs pay very well, like being out of control of a TBTF bank. Dirt premiums were part-and-parcel of pay in the factories and shipyards of my youth. My last university paid a better hourly rate to toilet cleaners than regular cleaners. It also held panel interviews for these jobs – so you can tell where the BS jobs were! With all this recruitment and selection ‘care’ they never noticed they were starting the cleaners at a time before public transport started running.

    The first scientific step in trying for a new economics is to ignore existing literature, at least for a while. The idea of this is to raise assumptions not skewed by existing theorising. David Graeber’s book on Debt:the first 5000 years makes something of a fist at this on its limited topic.

    Keynes’ 15 hours may be right or wrong. I’ve know plenty of academics who worked less. The point is we don’t know how much work it would take to meet basic standards for all the world’s population. Indeed we are short of all basic information like this, not skewed by economic theory.

    Post-singularity in Robot Heaven current work ethics clearly collapse. Economics doesn’t do thought experiment well.

    When we go back in history, we tend to inflict our own world-view. Stepping out of the time machine, most of us wouldn’t be able to cope with the smell. It’s rare to see a feature film that depicts actual conditions and its such nonsense we usually have in our heads. What real evidence is there that capitalism or any other system of the great and good has been other than a hindrance or opportunity cost to decent human development? I’ll have the absence of any primitive people developing space-flight and leaving us a message, ‘sorry you were too dangerous to take with us’.

    If it was ‘economics’ that drove the exploitation of labour, what was the surplus wanted for? History is full of farces on this. Imagine looking down from a Scottish cliff seeing backs broken picking seaweed. It’s going to be burned to help provide gunpowder for Napoleon’s wars. The pickers get squat and the landlord is absent gambling and whoring in London. At the time, many women preferred whoring to domestic service. You can see much the same in the DR Congo today in the Coltan trade (use your mobile and you are complicit).

    My game was rugby league and whilst still gladiatorial, the laws and refereeing prevent many of the head-shot fouls of my time. Economics has gone backwards to magnificent days that never were. It needs a total overhaul that starts with proper understanding of real experience now, proper history and new rules on what we compete on. Currently, it equates to Accrington Stanley winning the cup through the shock tactic of playing 25 men.

    None of us are qualified to say what work and the lack of it (by which we mean income plus lack of dignity) mean to most people. Yves seems to conflate leisure with idling – without asking idlers what they get from it – adolescents love idling together (I have some tapes of how inane what they do is and the mess they leave behind and never clean up). I was idling in Rome a few months ago and could cope entirely without work. Hauling lobster with some good mates would be as good as idling. Nothing today beats being able to look back at trench work, smoke a tab with a mate and go off for a few swallies (Yves reviled ale).

    All you have to do to attract adolescent idlers is put up something like a bus shelter. They’ll be there is hoards, gassing like old women – don’t use glass, they’ll smash it. I played cricket, tennis, rugby, judo, soccer, hockey, chess – anything to kill time – all requiring some other sod be prepared to do the organising. Yves’ seems on ‘cloud Calvin’ to me – we can organise idling as much as work. Check our the ‘hayrick’ times and historic festival days (there were lots). All I need for some idling tonight is £3 a pint and taxi fares (spend equivalent to a week’s disposable income for most here in the grim North). I could afford the night, but my body can’t, so I’m waking with Max. I prefer the people in the park. We could do some sociological idling, wandering past prostitutes, wrecks of people close to ‘cider death’ and plenty of resentment if we forgot to dress down. We’d find homeless people with tales to tell and coffee to hand to.

    What do people do to idle in primitive societies? I expect Graeber knows, as I expect he knows the city-scape I’ve just decided to let Mawell haul me round before it gets dark with a few polystyrene flasks of coffee.

    We’d need education and training for leisure, provision for it, money for it … the argument on what we’d do with it is pointless. My first stop tonight will be a tent behind the parish church – which is where most of us ‘choosing’ to drop out would be if suddenly made leisured. Graeber is on about an entirely different set of possibilities in which to live in that tent would be a choice. One might say too, that retirement in reasonable wealth, into active leisure is not a choice now for many.

    I’m sure about BS jobs and they exist while we can’t get on and provide safe shelter and other basics, don’t go green, don’t have big renewable projects that don’t steal water from others … and when I see our public tested on what they know can only assume I wasted my time in education and that universities are a giant leisure scheme. Most of my hard-working old relatives tended to die at work, which was the norm. That’s why pensions were affordable back then.

    1. anon y'mouse

      “I’m sure about BS jobs and they exist while we can’t get on and provide safe shelter and other basics, don’t go green, don’t have big renewable projects that don’t steal water from others … and when I see our public tested on what they know can only assume I wasted my time in education and that universities are a giant leisure scheme. Most of my hard-working old relatives tended to die at work, which was the norm. That’s why pensions were affordable back then.”

      see, this is why i started coming to the NC.
      first, they tell us that productivity has risen such that a few laborers can produce more than the rest of us can possibly need (great! my thinking: why can’t the work be shared equitably and then there would be little or no lifelong drudgery to meet basic needs. “this year, we need 380k toaster ovens to replace dysfunctional ones. crank up the machines; lets move ‘em out!”).

      then they tell us there isn’t enough money to pay most of us to buy the stuff, so we’ll just have to do without. they also say that the money ran out to pay for the essentials for old people, so definitely no money to pay for the education of young people. yet money is just an abstract concept, while suffering & injustice are really occurring every day.

      meanwhile, our environment is telling us that we can’t afford this level of population consuming anything beyond the most basic of essentials. meanwhile, a Russian vodka distributor (yeah, right) has a bolthole for his submarine built into his 7 story yacht.

      we aren’t spending on essentials for everyone, even though we have the ability to produce them. we aren’t spending our extra resources on figuring out ways to live equitably on this planet and reduce our numbers to something sustainable. we instead use those resources to build more fighter planes than we could possibly ever use.

      it’s schizophrenia-inducing.

      1. LifelongLib

        The U.S. government (and any other government that controls its own currency) can create any amount of money at any time to pay for anything the economy is capable of producing. But lots of things don’t get done because of lack of money. Go figure.

  56. rps

    “Bullshit” work brought to mind Huxley’s 1932 book “Brave New World” elitist character Mustafa Mond, “The optiminum population is modelled on the iceberg-eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above.” John Savage asks,”And they’re happy below the water line…in spite of that awful work?” Mond replies, ” Awful? They don’t find it so. On the contrary. They like it. It’s light, it’s childishly simple. No strain on the mind or the muscles. Seven and a half hours of mild, unexhausting labour, and then the soma ration and games and unrestricted copulations and the feelies. What more can they ask for? True,” he added, “they might ask for shorter hours. And of course we could give them shorter hours. Technically, it would be perfectly simple to reduce all lower-caste working hours to three or four a day. But would they be any the happier for that? No, they wouldn’t. The experiment was tried…What was the result? Unrest and a large increase in the consumption of soma; that was all. Those three and a half hours of extra leisure were so far from being a source of happiness, that people felt constrained to take a holiday from them. The Inventions Office is stuffed with plans for labour-saving processes. Thousands of them.” Mustapha Mond made a lavish gesture. “And why don’t we put them into execution? For the sake of the labourers; it would be sheer cruelty to afflict them with excessive leisure…Besides, we [Alphas] have our stability to think of. We don’t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability.”

    1. jrs

      But the experiement actually *WAS* tried, in the Great Depression some places went to work sharing. Nothing horrible happened.

    2. WorldisMorphing

      I would wager that unrest would have started as well rested, idle laborers discovered one clearheaded morning, what their true position in society was, what their true fate was.

      Labor not only deprives us of time, but also of energy and vitality of body and mind, in effect – of will and of thoughts.
      When laborers have “too much time”, they have time to think…
      ____________
      Between Huxley and Orwell, I always thought Huxley’s dystopya the most frighteningly powerful.
      Orwellian authoritarianism a la North Korea will always ultimately crumble. North Korea would already have if it weren’t for China.
      A Brave New World scenario on the other hand, if it ever come to exist, would be quite a bit more problematic to overthrow…

  57. neo-realist

    “By contrast, a lot of men get depressed when they retire because they don’t have hobbies or interests to occupy them (Graeber’s idea that they are bursting with creative projects that they would rather have been doing seems wanting in a lot of cases).”

    I may not have the creative projects of a Chuck Close in mind upon retirement, but boy, after years of career disappointments, toxic bosses and toxic workplace politics, as well as the stigmatizing of some jobs I’ve had that I resented, there will likely be no depression on my part, provided my health is pretty good and my significant other is also doing ok.

    Sleeping late w/ no alarm to respond to, volunteering, more reading time, will work just fine:).

    1. jrs

      And how many people get depressed about their jobs? Has to be epidemic. I’m not sure retirement is the ideal. *BALANCE* is the ideal – the 20 hour workweek for all.

      1. Spring Texan

        Exactly. Working 20 hours would be PERFECT. I don’t want to not have a job. And I don’t want to work as much as I do and have for years either. Never did want it. But you have to work at least 40 hours to have decent pay and to not be on the periphery of an organization (which to me is undesirable, one thing I get from work is the participation).

    2. Spring Texan

      Have you tried this? Volunteering pretty much sucks. It’s mostly a way to do unskilled jobs no one wants to do so far from the periphery of an organization that you’re a total outsider.

      Some volunteer jobs are a bit better than that e.g. nursing home ombudsman — but those jobs have their own difficulties and downsides.

      Believe me, a decent job of paid work is MUCH better and less demoralizing. Volunteering sucks (I repeat).

      1. neo-realist

        If I volunteer for something, it will be for something that I really enjoy and believe in–The last time I did it was for a female roller derby league–bleacher set up; Was unemployed at the time so I had time and energy to contribute to what I believe to be one of the most edgy and important sports revolutions in the past 30 years–there are leagues all over europe as well as the states (WFTDA). In retirement, I would probably get involved with helping to score bouts and possibly coaching.

        20 hr a week job–I wouldn’t rule it out, but I would have to really enjoy it to do it. Working just for the sake of working isn’t enough (outside of the survival purpose I undertake until I reach the point of collecting SS). I better like the people and the purpose.

  58. Ed

    One source of all the bullshit jobs to me is the enormous amount of resources put into advertising/marketing. In US about $500. per capita is annually spent on advertising. As an old codger who has accumulated all the stuff he needs, this is a huge waste of resources. Aside from food and gasoline I don’t spend $500. a year on discretionary purchases. If the private sector would use all the information it has on my consumption patterns and more effectively direct its efforts, we would both be ahead if they would just give me all the stuff I might want in a year and skip the irritation of advertising.
    The wired telephone is almost obsolete to me. 90% of its use is by telemarketers. I never answer the phone and I only use it to return calls to a few who leave messages. E-mail is rapidly becoming the same. I might get one or two messages a week but every day must delete 10-20 spam messages.

    1. Spring Texan

      Heck, I probably spend $500/year just on BOOKS. And I WANT the books. (And yes, before I buy a book I check the library and if they have it I reserve it instead there.)

  59. The Dork of Cork.

    The greatest waste /scam of our current time is the new private utilties and their “switch products”
    I must spend hours and hours with the Ma preventing her from being gamed but it is impossible….they have total control over the commons and are exploiting it to the max.
    Especially taking advantage of old people and younger people who want to somehow leave this terrible hamster wheel but cannot.

    We are but farm animals waiting to be slaughtered.

    1. The Dork of Cork.

      The jobs are bullshit.
      There is a major jobs programme currently undergoing in Ireland – its fucking hamster wheel economics.

      “Yet virtually no one talks about it.”
      Dorks have talked about it ALL OF THE TIME but there is no point to life – thats the underlying message of our age.

      Pointless utterly pointless.
      Can we please close down the western experiment, please ???

      1. F. Beard

        Can we please close down the western experiment, please ??? The Dork of Cork

        What? You think this crap can go on for much longer? Whatever for?

        1. The Dork of Cork.

          @F.Beard.

          My mature reflection I would prefer to be a subject in a pre 1648 world then a banking asset that is not even valued much…..
          The Cromwellian experiment will continue to destroy however – that is what it does….its very good at what it does.

          Sure it will stop ….when you are dead and are no longer a banking asset
          However It will not stop for the rest of the living dead.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu0rP2VWLWw

    2. mary

      Perhaps unrelated but my mother was taken for thousands of dollars by a telephone scam … We were told by a judge that we could nothing about it if she hadn’t been declared “incompetent”. I will hear no kind word spoken of telemarketers. As I repeat later in this thread, it is practically impossible for me to contact family relatives in the USA due to “telemarketing fatigue” and the subsequent reliance on a machine that must recognize all incoming call numbers to establish communication.

      1. The Dork of Cork.

        @Mary
        If you think back to those 17th century days the objective of the guys behind the debt money system was to both create a non thinking (see dumb) but disciplined mass of Roundheads / drones which later became redcoats , bobbies , corporate drones etc etc.
        While at the same time giving the people the illusion of freedom via “rights” democracy etc etc which was of course junked anyway when the debt money system came under strain…..
        In reality the roundheads were bought men….the lowest of the low.
        A army of Judas like creatures.
        Only tribal forces which also used a element of discipline against such as mass could succeed against such overpowering proto -industrial might.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Clonmel

        But I reckon the boys from Genoa will win again just like the last time as people simply do not realize the nature of their enemy.

        1. The Dork of Cork.

          The modern roundheads in action.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k16O7WLo8I

          Notice the lack of violence from the hippy crowd…..they simply don’t know each other or trust each other…….they are non violent because they are atomized & not because they don’t want to engage.

          The goal of people behind the roundhead army is to turn these people into human quarks.
          They have succeeded.
          Contrast these demonstrations with stuff from Northern Ireland in the 1960s……it a simple human instinct to form tribes in times of stress – the forces behind the curtain have conspired to break that instinct not for some altruistic purpose but to simply CONTROL.

          “Freedom is coming”
          My hole.

  60. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    I am reminded of law school, sitting around the lunch table, talking about career preferences. Everybody would wax enthusiastic about the Big City Firms and Big City Jobs they were angling for – but when I’d comment that I’d like to find a nice small town office (or maybe DA) somewhere outside The Valley, they’d stare at me like I had lobsters crawling from my ears (h/t Christmas Story). I understand *exactly* what Yves is talking about regarding socializing (or lack thereof) and how Americans just have taken that Puritan Work Ethic to heart when it comes to loafing – or the moral decrepitude that comes from engaging in it.

    Thanks for setting it out so well, Yves!

    PS: Myers-Briggs INTJ.

  61. mary

    Once upon a time in NYC I had an argument with my then boyfriend: I, a telexist for an int’l. trading company had a better job than a waitress. He said no. I said yes. You decide because I didn’t like doing either “work”.

    A few years later and without the boyfriend I moved to continental Europe. I never went back to NYC USA nor anywhere else in USA. It wasn’t easy, another language was necessary to live and so I learned and what transpired was more than I had ever even imagined. Not money, not glory: time to think, time to live, time for oneself and one’s personal life – time respected by and for society at large.

    Paul Lafargue “Le droit a la paresse”: “Une etrange folie possede les classes ouvrieres des nations ou regne la civilisation capitaliste. Cette folie traine a sa suite des miseres individuelles et sociales qui, depuis deaux siecles, torturent la triste humanite. Cette folie est l’amour du travail, la passion moribonde du travail, pousee jusqu’a l’epuisement des forces vitales de l’individu et sa progeniture…”

    Forgive the absence of all foreign accents but the internet keyboard is still unable to deliver an accurate account of foreign languages point to point.

    As for telemarketing: telemarketing has practically ruined the possibility of taking polls by telephone. Yves I think you’re being a bit silly this time so calm down about it.

    1. mary

      I forgot to add that due to the saturation of telemarketing I can’t reach my relatives by telephone any longer – if they don’t recognize your number on a system you can’t even get through to them. Great when there are family emergencies to deal with and/or reunions to organize. Bravo telemarketing!!

    2. Inverness

      I love the French for embracing laziness — it doesn’t have the negative connotations it has in the US. That is a compliment. More recently Corinne Maier wrote “Bonjour Paresse,” which addresses bullshit apparatchik labour and why workers should revolt in their little ways to break down the machine.

      When asked what would happen if all workers behaved that way, she responded, “Maybe it would lead to something new.”

  62. washunate

    P.S. This is too good to be true. Received my semi-annual call from Hanks Harte this afternoon! Brilliant use of resources. Really, almost as valuable as teaching math to 5th graders or building wind turbines or repairing sewer systems….

    /snark

    http://www.harte-hanks.com/page/aboutus

  63. Anarcissie

    It seems that the primary motive of the bourgeoisie would be to preserve their power, wealth, and status, by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.

    The position of the bourgeois is maximized by balancing production with consumption so that there is always a crisis about both. During the era of subsistence capitalism, when capitalists directed the production of traditional necessities, this was not a problem: the products in effect sold themselves and were always in short supply. During the succeeding period of consumer capitalism, propaganda (advertising) was necessary to move a large part of the product. During this period, the ‘leisure’ time of the workers had to be increased so that they would have time to shop for, buy, and use up the new products. The balance seems to have been struck at the 40-hour work week. Most of the work done was ‘necessary’ in that it was necessary to produce the goods and services consumed, even if these goods themselves were not necessary. The seeming vacuity (bullshit content) of corporate bureaucracy and government may have been politically necessary even though its utility was not apparent to the casual observer or Dilbert reader.

    We seem to be entering on a new phase of capitalism now which can be called ‘finance capitalism’; in this phase, instead of preying on and exploiting a working class. many capitalists prey on and exploit other capitalists. Evidently fewer people are needed to do the work required, so we are seeing an increase in ‘structural’ (permanent) unemployment and part-time low-wage jobs. As a result of the decline in ‘real’ work, there is a corresponding decline in demand — people don’t have money, or if they get some they save it in anticipation of being laid off or stranded as their company goes out of business. Hence, a smaller proportion of the work done will be ‘real’ and those who have jobs will be more likely to find that their job is ‘bullshit’, that is, seemingly vacuous, existing only for some arcane managerial-political reason.

  64. Solar Hero

    Best job I ever had was telemarketing for the new Disney Hall in Los Angeles the year it opened. Worked a four hour shift and except for a bathroom break was constantly calling, constantly getting rejected, and then would make a sale. I would work four or five of those four-hour shifts a week and make $2G net.

    1. mary

      Why telemarketing for Disney Hall? Disney Studios couldn’t pay for their own Hall? Sorry for my ignorance but just what exactly were you marketing for Disney? I haven’t been to any of their “parks” and I probably never will. I’m 58. I couldn’t care less about Disney parks now and even as a kid in the USA I didn’t care about “Disneyland”. My parents took us kids to visit the dams, the ghost towns, the beautiful wilderness of the US. We went with tents and gas stoves and flashlights to sleep under the summer sky for the precious ONE WEEK my dad had for vacation. We watched shooting stars at night, we waded on rocky shores of cold rivers during the day and most importantly we were together and WE BOUGHT NOTHING.

        1. mary

          Ah, I see, another of the silver Gehrys – just like the one in Bilbao Spain.

          Gehry for Disney.

  65. allcoppedout

    After an hour with the dog down the road with our ;forced choice idlers’ I’m with Dork of Cork on closing down the Western experiment. I’ve been with the ‘workoholics’ (often self-proclaimed) Yves mentioned – doing such as management development, board room meetings and the like – there was a culture of ‘hard work’, but it was bull too. Most of it is image management. When you have a three day deadline and work 24/7 to get it in, the “hardworkers” are all unavailable until that point they think they can cash in on your success. With few exceptions I’ve found their “hardwork” gets in the way. You get helpful submissions on pet research projects when the funding criteria include “no research funded”.
    In experimental economics, I’d invite David and Yves to a ‘pick the elitist’ night at my local – but to be honest I have to work hard at ‘street cred’. The obvious lesson is we are a mile away from reality for others and keep it that way. This is how we move from ‘we could do with controlling inflation’ to ‘let’s use unemployment to do it’. This stiffs 20% of the population, but, hey, its moral because so many more would suffer if not for our genius plan.

    Farming is a key date on division – remains of the people who did it are distinct from hunter gatherers and that class that got others doing it. Life was much tougher for those who toiled in the fields. Yves is right that paying less and less for scut work makes it demeaning and that voluntary work beyond retirement age shows a good side – though we’d want to investigate why some people don’t give up, the possibility that retirement is oppressively lonely being one I found amongst ex-workers still using shipyard canteens.

    It’s very noticeable (I’m afraid I browse this blog rather as I do street-and-pub sociology) no one runs with the 15 hours a week, how we would fund mass leisure, what it would be, how we’d get the necessary work done – I have an idea that such mass leisure would be an industry – and how we would encourage innovation, prevent free-riding, over-population … and who we would hang once we found out it was possible and has been prevented!

  66. diane

    You really should have included, into your post, anon y’mouse’s response about certain ‘elephants’ in the room (to my mind), made yesterday, on the Why Progressives Are Lame Thread:

    people who want the post-work robot utopia are, in my limited experience, technocrats. they are part of the creative class.

    in other words, they say “fuck the workers” because they want to be the new ruling class. (thanks for admitting that, by the way. now the mask comes off)

    unless you have a plan for full equality regardless of technical knowledge, and free availability to all who desire the right and ability to obtain such technical training, you basically want to be the top dogs.

    what if someone told you tomorrow that the future was not robots run by the IpadLXXVIII/tablets, but a return to the fields or subsistence agriculture?

    I think both are equally likely. also, at least one of them is probably better able to accept the human condition as it is and seeks to accommodate it in a humble and philosophical way.

    (and yeah, I thought anon y’mouse’s post was the best one, certainly the most honest and human one, on that thread, of the many I read. [Rule #1 violation deleted.])

  67. tongorad

    “I don’t understand people who like to work and talk about it like it was some sort of goddamn duty. Doing nothing feels like floating on warm water to me. Delightful, perfect.”
    -Ava Gardner

    1. JTFaraday

      At the end of his life, Rousseau–”Man is born free and everywhere is in jobs”–came to the very same conclusion, which he recounts in Reveries of a Solitary Walker.

      (Then again, he did marry his cook).

  68. skippy

    Whats in a word? Job:

    Old French translates to devourer

    English C1600 unknown???

    5000 years ago… suffering induced to prove love to Creator – by Creator.

    skippy… Job creators is a popular meme these days… lmmao… bullshit indeed~

  69. Keynesian

    My favorite quote from Marcuse on labor:

    “To be sure, labor must precede the reduction of labor, and industrialization must precede the development of human needs and satisfactions. But as all freedom depends on the conquest of alien necessity, the realization of freedom depends on the techniques of this conquest. The highest productivity of labor can be used for the perpetuation of labor, and the most efficient industrialization can serve the restriction and manipulation of needs.

    When this point is reached, domination-in the guise of affluence and liberty–extends to all spheres of private and public existence, integrates all authentic opposition, absorbs all alternatives. Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nature, mind and body are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.” (Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Part I: One-Dimensional Society, Chapter 1: The New Forms of Control,Boston:Beacon,1964).
    http://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/64onedim/odm1.html

  70. clarence swinney

    OBAMA LIVABLE WAGE-BENEFITS
    Why does not he issue an Executive Order that any firm contracting work for the Federal Government shall pay it’s employees a livable wage?
    The National Employment Law Project interviewed over 500 contract workers and found 74% were paid less than $10 per hour with no benefits. After 21 years on the job a janitor at the federal owned Union Station earns $8.75 an hour

  71. Yalt

    A great deal of this discussion is baffling to me–it’s as if our two choices are (1) forcing people to work and (2) forcing people not to work.

    Why not simply remove the compulsion? Divorce “work” from survival and allow people to do what they prefer, whether that’s the creative leisure that Graeber prescribes or the work that Yves suggests is essential to most people’s well-being and that Graeber supposedly devalues because of class bias.

    There are certainly people that cringe at the thought of retirement. There are also people that have no trouble creatively and usefully filling their time away from traditional work. Surely a free society would have room for both?

  72. A Real Black Person

    Divorcing paid labor from survival destroys the leverage and power of high-status people. How is it possible for someone to be high-status and wealthy if someone doesn’t have an army of slaves to do menial tasks for her?

    To put it simply, if no one needed to work to meet their survival needs, most of the modern economy, and most of modern civilization, would disappear.
    Human societies where work is not compulsory, still have work People who live in societies where work is not compulsory spend most of their time making their own goods and services are provided pro-Bono by the family or tribe.

    Complex societies, such as ours, cannot exist without forced labor. Civilization can’t exist without forced labor. It is a product of forced labor.

  73. Jim Shannon

    27 hour work week (3-9′s) is the most Bull$hit any of us $hould have to endure!
    American kid$ back to school to learn about and work for Corporation$ who only care about their Executive Management, Board of Director$ and their Millionaire$ Stockholder$
    All Bull$hit artists and we buy their Bull$hit!
    How dumb can one Nation be!

  74. Cervenak

    Hi Yves, you definitely make some very good points in your response about the American labour market. I don’t think it’s all about snobbery to label work pointless or useless though. For instance, I’ve got a back office, admin-type job for a banking company right now, which is not particularly badly paid for the country I live in (though by no means high-paid) and the work itself is totally pointless, whereas the working culture is very supportive and the benefits really excellent when compared to what I’d imagine a similar position in the US would have. So the culture thing is definitely a crucial factor in there.
    We do all need work to do, some more than others, and I personally (health permitting) intend to continue some aspect of work after reaching retirement age, provided it is work I enjoy doing. Ideally, I think we should all be trained for 2 or 3 types of work, one of which should be something manual. We’d all learn to appreciate each other’s work more in that case I’m sure.
    I do hope this won’t put you off Graeber, as I remain convinced he’s one of the most important people writing today. This is probably the third time he’s said something eloquently that I’ve been thinking for a while – namely, in this case, that capitalism creates way more useless work than ‘communism’ ever managed. Most academics are indeed so ivory tower bound that they have lost touch with reality (just like the ‘elite’ have!), but I don’t feel that Graeber is so out of touch – he even concedes there could be questions regarding the ‘value’ of his own work in this article.

Comments are closed.