Bullshit Jobs

The Robot Economy and the Crisis of Capitalism: Why We Need Universal Basic Income
by The Philosopher’s Beard Blog

“Finally, and more positively, a basic income would allow us to take advantage of the liberation offered by material abundance. As the anthropologist David Graeber noted in a recent essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, when you look at the content of most of the work people do these days, “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.” The cult of work has persisted long after it stopped really making sense and the material prosperity prophesied by Keynes came to pass. A great many people are trapped in jobs that are wholly or mostly pointless – Graeber has a particular go at corporate lawyers and university administrators – simply because they need to earn a claim on the productivity of the economy somehow, and automation has reduced the number of jobs in industries that make or do things that are actually useful, like growing food or building things.

“Artificial intelligence would undermine most of those pseudo-jobs, to the extent that they are worth doing at all, while a basic income would provide us with the freedom as a society not to set out to create a new set of pointless jobs, as flunkies to the new upper-classes, say. Finally we would be able to stop wasting half our waking lives on activities that really don’t matter whether we do them or not. Finally we would all have the right to the dignified leisure of the gentleman, not the hopeless and morally stigmatised inactivity of the unemployed. We would be able to live our lives for ourselves, though whether we would use that freedom to embark on noble projects and philosophical contemplation, or merely to watch more TV and play golf is another matter (and one I have tried to address elsewhere).”

by David Graeber, Strike! Magazine

“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 (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them” [ . . . ]

“Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

“If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.”

51 thoughts on “Bullshit Jobs

    • That is nice put in the context of bullshit jobs. Even when people have good reasons not to work, such as a newborn baby, we make it difficult for Americans not to work. Our entire society is defined by work, which in turns defines all human worth.

      • What do you think of the US versus Europe thing though? A lot of the newborn moms say they would work if the system was more like Europe or Canada.

        Well I don’t know what to say. As kids we were fed the you can be anything! rhetoric. We did those career tests and dress up days and everything. Now we’re being told that we’re entitled for ”following our dreams” and we’re realizing that it is all BS. We’re pretty much doomed to an isolated, stressy life and we’ll probably be fat and sick from all that stress, rushing, etc. Now I’m resigning myself to finding what can pay the bills, not what is ”meaningful.”

  1. Eh not just jobs. You have to be doing something all the time. Something productive like school extracurriculars or homework.

    Complain all you want about the Korean education system but at least it’s straightforward there: to get into college study. Here? Be ‘well rounded””interesting” also, in America, if you seem to studious to colleges, they’ll just call you a robotic, uncreative person. So study hard, but not TOO hard. If you look like you study and work hard colleges just think you’re not very smart and robotic. You have to get good grades but not make it seem like you put too much effort into it.

    American anti-intellectualism even extends to colleges, those bastions of intellectualism.

    I’m glad I’m no longer in HS. I don’t have to put up with that bullshit anymore. I can just be my own person now.


    • Well, everything in America is about working or otherwise keeping busy. Not just jobs.

      As for high school and college, I guess it was a different world last century. The 1990s wasn’t that long ago, but I don’t remember any of the stuff you describe.

      I wasn’t an overachiever by any means and only had mediocre grades. Also, school was never easy for me. I easily got into college, not that I wanted to be in college.

  2. It’s so funny, because even in Canadian schools right across the border, including top schools like McGill and Toronto, they just want your grades and test scores. There’s a section for posting stuff you did and essay you’d like to write but they’re pretty optional. There was certainly no room for résumés and recommendations and such :/ When I was looking at programs at top schools in Kazakhstan and Russia they just wanted my grades and passport information :/

  3. I really don’t get it. Okay, so does ”gifted” mean good student or not? Are all the very accomplished students genetically blessed or not? Because there is so much contradiction in the industrial complex.

    I think for them gifted means amazingly accomplished except when the schools are holding them back by making them bored. Also, very accomplished people like the intel science fair kids are genetically blessed.

  4. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m a laid back person or just lazy, LOL

    “‘I live in Germany, am in the 10th grade and currently have 12 different classes. A friend of mine who was in my class moved to Massachusetts just at the beginning of this school year, and he says that school itself is less demanding there, but what evens it out is that he is basically supposed to do several after school activites.”

  5. Worst is track. Get back from a meet between 10 PM – 2 AM. No clemency from teachers because they don’t consider track and field to be a hard sport, or ignore the possibility of multiple events and expect typed essays to be done at a meet.
    The workload and course rigor expected of students to “aim high” is crazy. Taking all honors/AP courses, 3 seasons of a school team, leadership in a club, and volunteering are all expected.
    I get home from practices at 6:00, 7-8 if I had club commitments, eat dinner and do homework simultaneously, I average between 3-4 hours of homework a night, maybe an hour of studying for quizzes or tests, and around the end of the year, spend my extra time anywhere cramming for AP exams. Sleep is anywhere from 10 PM on the best days to 4 AM or none on the worst. I use my weekends to go to sports practices or competitions, go to club events, or volunteer. I had to drop playing an instrument for
    Sorry for the rant but it’s upsetting to spend 6 out of 7 days working hard at everything without a break when I see others around me taking the easiest possible courses, doing no work, and reveling in life.
    permalinksaveparentreportgive goldreply
    [–]you-get-an-upvote 22 points 5 hours ago
    Then stop doing something. Take fewer AP classes, drop a season of sports, etc. As admirable as it is to care about your future, you have to take care of yourself. 🙂
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    [–]Kotomikun 4 points 4 hours ago
    They generally feel that they can’t stop. Getting into decent colleges has become an arms race. Take AP classes, so you look smart! Wait, everyone else is doing that. Do extracurriculars, sports or band or whatever, so you look well-rounded! Everyone’s doing that, too? Well, do volunteer work, because you’re so selfless and community-oriented! Crap, everyone’s doing that now. Better do more of all of the above! Oh, and you need work experience, and/or your family is poor, so you need a part-time job, too. And, who knows, maybe there’s something you actually want to do with your time, and that takes up even more hours… if you have any to spare.

    • Well I am no from the US but in Germany there are 2 models: Ganztagsschule, which essentially translates to “Full day School” which means that you stay in school from 8 in the morning to 4 or 5 in the afternoon. In these schools you have no homework normally, you have other activites besides simple classes in school that you can choose, and you have classes allocated to learning/doing homework/studying on your own with a teacher you could ask for help. The idea is that school ends after it ends and after 4 or 5 o’clock your free time is really that, free time. Also it is better for people with uncaring parents who wouldn’t help their child at home because they have equal chances to children whose parents really care or have enough money to pay private teachers at home. (which is very common at my school)
      The other model is the usual one, with school until 1 or 3/half past 3 and normal homework but still a lot less homework then children in the US get. Most schools are more or less mixed between the two, and the older you get the more time you spent in schools.

  6. Yeah. Korean school I believe don’t have much homework, it’s just a lot of studying for exams

    I know most of that and still am surprised by that. I go to a high school in Germany, a really good one I might add, and I also get pretty good grades (I’m not a genius but in the top 15% percent of the 180 students in my year) and if still I only do about half an hour of homework a day if it is a busy week, sometimes I don’t do anything. Some teachers also just don’t give homework. If there are upcoming test then you have to learn quit a bit, but if the teachers manage to spread them out nicely then that also really isn’t much. Also for a test I lear a few hourse total spread out over a few days normally.
    There are still students (and their parents) complaining about too much schoolwork but most of them are not really taken serious by most teachers/good students because they usually don’t do any work in class and stress themself because they don’t spread out their work over several days or delay it till the last day and stuff like that.
    All in all I really do not understand how US students do so much work and are still way behind when it comes to knowledge and general testing scores compared to other countries. (PISA for example)

  7. Why are kids more valuable than adults? Because they’re “the future?” That’s pretty conditional. Kid could be ‘the future’ or he could be the fuck-up we call a loser once he hits 18

    • Well, either way, kids are the future. That may be a great future or a horrific future… or else maybe just something mediocre in between. All of it can be blamed on the children. We could solve the problem of the future through mass enforced birth control and abortion.

      • All this hardline “take what you can get peasant” line of thinking is doing is legitimizing a broken system. people need to understand a system where people graduate and there are no jobs so they have to work at mcdonalds IS A BROKEN SYSTEM.
        Their views are founded in defending the system…implying that it’s legitimate, and that if a lack of opportunity is there, YOU are the problem, the system is perfect. it’s the same kind of thinking you get in religion. Even when Job was being actively harmed by God/Satan, if Job dares question it, he’s STILL wrong.
        I don’t think we should shut up and just “take what you can get”…well…ok, we need to take what we can get because that’s how to survive, but I don’t think we should be silent about it. And I really despise this kind of thinking that calls people “entitled”…heck, I hate the whole “entitled” line of thinking in general….oh wait, I’m “entitled” because I expect a good freaking standard of living because I went to school? What the heck is wrong with that?
        Calling someone entitled is just a fancy way of saying “shut the **** up and take what you can get.” It really is. And as you can tell, I have a few choice words for people who engage in this line of thinking. It’s just a topic that makes my blood boil…sorry.
        In short, heck yes, I’m entitled. Heck no, I will not shut up. Sorry I expect a decent life.
        On a sidenote, if you can find a copy, I’d highly recommend reading “The process of legitimation” by Harold Kerbo…I find it highly relevant to this issue and many other issues. It’s basically an article about how social stratification is justified. I’d argue that this “you’re entitled” talk factors into it quite nicely.
        Also, as someone who has studied these issues from an educated perspective, I would highly agree people who throw around terms like entitled are uneducated, at least in terms of topics related to this discussion. It’s based on the protestant work ethic…that if you expect anything from life you have to work for it…and if you don’t get it, you have to work even harder. Expecting anything is “bad” to these people. Now, obviously, I don’t agree with this kind of thinking…I think if we can make our society better where people don’t have to work as hard and people can get more for less…that’s a good thing…isn’t it? Isn’t work simply a state of the human condition…something necessary? We turn work from something we do because we have to, to a sort of sacred moral obligation…shortcuts in life are bad.
        Now…where does this get us in terms of conflict theory? Well…it gives the elites in society people who will willingly work harder for less…because they’re told not to expect stuff…and if they don’t get it….they get to throw around the “entitled” excuse at people in order to keep them in line. I’d argue that while a work ethic can definitely have some functionalist benefits (as in, it helps society be successful), in an age where hard work, IMO, is becoming less and less important due to technological advances, even at the bottom, it simply becomes a rather repressive means of social control. And what’s better than actively policing people to keep them in line? To establish a cultural system in which people police themselves. So when everyone throw the word “entitled” at people who question the system…that’s what’s happening. It’s basically a matter of social control, of legitimizing the system and chastising people who dare question it.
        People need to understand ANY social system only has the legitimacy we give it. Granted, not all social systems are functional, or functional at the same level, so I see functionalism as a good theory we can look at too, but as long as our ideas “work”, I see nothing wrong with challenging the status quo. heck, it’s the only way things get done. SO I say don’t shut up. I say be “entitled” all you want. I say we turn the “entitlement” schtick into something that works in our favor..kinda like Kennedy did for the word “liberal.” Because if “entitlement” gains social acceptance….then things will have to change…and let’s face it, the elites in society don’t WANT change, because it threatens their position…they want to keep you on the treadmill. They want you to be the puppet, and they want you to dance.
        I mean, I’m not advocating for a form of communism here. That clearly doesn’t work…but is…this…what we have now, really the best approach to doing things? A lack of opportunity? People with thousands of dollars in student loans taking mcjobs? Working themselves to death? Sounds like a regression to feudalism to me.
        Freedom isn’t free and requires eternal vigilance…that’s a saying we have here in America (or a paraphrased version), well, the same goes to everything else we want to strive for in society. Opportunity, a good standard of living, etc. I really think if Americans treated corporations with the same distrust we largely have for government as per our traditions, things would be different. And when you really think about it…why don’t we? They’re centers of power that wield a lot of control over peoples’ lives just as government does.

    • I’m so confused. I thought gifted kids more more likely to suck at school and drop out, and now you’re telling me most are straight A kids? Wut.

      Lots of kids from my school did the math similarly to him. I guess that made me two grade levels above if that made him three grade levels. But I don’t think most of those kids were smarter than me, actually. Far from it.

      Hmmm… My parents never hid sexual stuff from me. My mom literally answered my five year old “where to babies come from?” Describing sexual intercourse :/


      • Schools are so boring in general. Labs are boring too. I never really engaged in school to be honest. I did figure out how to keep up my slacker habits and make decent grades though. Labs aren’t interesting they’re boring as fuck. They’re not supposed to be. Labwork like in college and in life is tedious and often mindnumbing.

        As a middle schooler I doodled in class then went home to watch Air Crash Investigations and documentaries. So I learned, sorta. I’ve attained rudimentary knowledge of aircraft mechanics. 😂😂😂

        My point being that I can relate to CJ, and I am not sure that he is uncommon in terms of the curiosity and seeking out information and knowledge he desires. I was like that as a kid even though many times in school I just chose not to engage in it.

        Also: “Why not spend a fraction of the money we spend to try to elevate children to a level of becoming able to use the toilet, and clean themselves, etc., on the people who could lead the world, compete with other foreign countries educationally, and make the earth a safer, more pleasant place to be…..”

        Fuck you, man.

        Totally not value-judgment free. Gifted is totally not full of positive connotations while the opposite is negative. Nope. Keep fooling yourself into thinking that collective values don’t exist.

        Remember, kids like CJ are “exceptionally” gifted while kids like my friends in special ed are “severely” retarded. I think we aught to flip them. CJ is severely gifted and my friends are exceptionally retarded. 🍝🍝🍝🍝

      • I think gifted industrial complex needs to strip their standards down to “high iq score and learns quickly.” That’s it. All the other stuff is value-judgment nonsense like “morally advanced” “high empathy for others” “the people who will create a better world” fuck that. That isn’t related to intellectual giftedness or high iq or whatever. That’s just you applying positive value judgements to a trait (intelligence) that u value. Having a high iq does not make you any more likely to be a good person. It just means you have a high iq.

    • I wonder if bullshit jobs have become the cornerstone of modern capitalism. Many have argued or strongly suspected that capitalism is more a political system of social control than an economic system of free markets. What if capitalism doesn’t simply operate based on bullshit jobs but that the economy itself is mostly bullshit. Some of the largest sectors of the economy serve no tangible benefit to humanity.

      This is seen with contractors and weapon makers for the military-industrial complex, as the defense industry is the single largest sector of the economy and it’s only purpose is to support American imperialism. In some ways, an even worse example is the financialization of the economy where people work simply to manipulate the economy itself toward their own benefit, even as it harms society as a whole.

      Then there are the various jobs such as lawyers, managers, consultants, who often serve no other purpose other than to defend or leech off of the system itself. And the system would most accurately be described as plutocracy, corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, or something along those lines. It’s really a system of power and control. So, most of the work along with wealth and resources simply go into maintaining the system simply to keep it going. But the system doesn’t serve any other external purpose.

      Capitalism becomes its own justification for existence. The capitalist complaint of communist bureaucracy is ultimately a projection. Bureaucracy is the heart of capitalism. The system inevitably complicates everything to hide and obfuscate its true purpose. Technology, products, services, etc are all secondary to the power structure. Anything else can be sacrificed, but not the power structure for it’s from that that all else follows.

      It reminds me of an explanation I once heard about the rise of the Roman Empire. The Romans, as the argument went, were never seeking to build an empire. But they kept winning wars and gaining territory. They didn’t know what to do with it all. The Roman Empire was a vast bureaucratic system slowly evolved to manage the unintended and unplanned agglomeration. Imperialism became its own justification to such an extent that Romans began losing their identity as Romans.

      That is how American capitalism has similarly taken on imperial form and even the ruling elite don’t seem to know what to do about it. Yet they seem afraid of what will happen if it fails, even as the definition of success becomes ever more vague and confused. It’s obviously not serving the stated purpose as typically expressed in political rhetoric, propaganda, and PR. And it really isn’t making anyone’s lives better in a fundamental sense. Even the rich in the US have worse social and psychological problems than the rich in less unequal societies.

      Capitalism as an ideology has become a mind virus. And as with any kind of virus, it’s only purpose is to propagate itself. It depends on your perspective whether or not one considers a virus to be bullshit. For the virus, there doesn’t need to be any justification for why it propagates itself. But to the infected, the further spread of the virus hardly seems like a good thing. The demented part of a mind virus, though, is that the infected come to identify with the virus and so defend it. The capitalist class who think they are in control are like those zombie ants controlled by parasites.

      Maybe the system can’t change until it collapses. And maybe collapse can only happen when the viral hosts die off. The only other option is if someone creates a vaccine. We are definitely in need of some psychological and ideological hygiene.

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