2013-08-22

Co.Exist

The "Bullshit Jobs" That Keep You From A Four-Hour Workday

A reality check suggested by one of Occupy Wall Street's founding figures.

The American economy is roughly six times as productive as it was in the 1930s. So why aren’t we working 1/6 as hard?

The standard explanation is usually some combination of the following:

1) We actually love working.

2) We have an endless appetite for new goods and services, which we work ever-harder to pay for.

But there’s a slightly different framework put forward by David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist and Occupy Wall Street founding figure: "bullshit jobs."

…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. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.



These are what I propose to call "bullshit jobs."

Graeber qualifies this statement, slightly: He’s not calling all telemarketers, health administrators and corporate lawyers "bullshit," just those who self-identify as having jobs that "should not really exist." (He does add: "I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit.") That said, his basic diagnosis is that "bullshit job"-possessors 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," while those who do productive work are "relentlessly squeezed and exploited."

In other words, if you’re working too hard, it’s either because you are being exploited to pay for a class of "bullshit job"-havers, or you, yourself, have a "bullshit job."

Sounds a little confusing. To tell which category you’re in, he offers a suggestion in Tweet:

[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

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5 Comments

  • lafeber

    I'm a programmer trying to make more jobs obsolete. It's not working, I don't know why.

    PS: I'm reading his twitter profile: " I see anarchism as something you do not an identity so stop calling me the anarchist anthropologist"

  • Bill Riedel

    More information on this topic can be found in the book by Stanley Bing (2006) 100 Bullshit Jobs
    ..... And How to Get Them - the range of bullshit jobs he identifies is amazing - if they were all cancelled there might be less global warming!

  • Bill Riedel

    More information on this topic can be found in Stanley Bing's (2006) 100 Bullshit Jobs .... And how to 

  • Alex

    Let's not wait for politicians to do something about it. In fact, they never will. Let's do it ourselves. Join the campaign to reduce the workday to 4 hours a day. www.4hourworkday.org