Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

In 2013, London School of Economics professor David Graeber wrote an editorial for an obscure leftist online magazine entitled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” In it, Graeber hypothesized that huge swaths of employment are bullshit. Even though we’re obligated to pretend otherwise, these jobs don’t provide any discernible benefit to society, and there would be no difference if they simply vanished. If all nurses or trash collectors disappeared overnight, the effects would be dire and dramatic, but could we really say the same of telemarketers or middle managers? The article went viral, crashed the website, and was translated into at least a dozen languages. Hundreds of readers, some angry and others empathetic, replied. The article inspired polling agencies to conduct studies, which found that around 40% of workers responding believed they had bullshit jobs. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory expands on Graeber’s initial article, and aims to draw attention to what he considers “the biggest problem in the world that nobody is talking about.”

What are some examples of bullshit jobs? (In the section that will make you laugh to keep from crying, Graeber uses the testimonies from the hundreds of working stiffs who wrote him following his initial essay to create a taxonomy of bullshit jobs. The taxonomy includes “flunkies,” who exist to make other people seem more important, and “duct tapers,” who fix superficial problems rather than treat underlying causes.) Aren’t these types of jobs not supposed to exist in a capitalist society? Why do people who work bullshit jobs report feelings of misery, even when conditions are cushy and the compensation is generous? How did bullshit jobs proliferate, and why do we, as a society, not object to the proliferation? And finally, what (if anything) can be done about the situation? Graeber draws on economic, political, social, moral, and psychological theories to explore these questions.

Anyone who works (or has worked) a bullshit job should read this book. Anyone who thinks the invisible hand of the market can do no wrong should read this book. Anyone who is looking for alternatives to doing things the way they’re done because “we’ve always done it that way” should read this book. Graeber’s vision of employment is dim, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel of drudgery.

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