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Bullshit Jobs

A Theory

By David Graeber
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Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

Bullshit Jobs (2018) takes an unwavering look at a dismal fact: millions of people – from corporate lawyers to university administrative assistants – are stuck in jobs that they know, deep down, are pointless and unnecessary. Despite technological advances that could allow us to work less and enjoy life more, our cultural values mean we’ve come to prioritize work, even if it’s bullshit. 

Key idea 1 of 10

Society today is full of pointless, bullshit jobs.

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes asserted that by the twenty-first century, technological advances would result in developed countries adopting a 15-hour workweek.

Keynes was dead right about technological advancements – but his predictions about work could hardly have fallen further from the mark. Why?

The truth is, bullshit jobs have been slowly growing in number.

According to a report cited by the author, the number of people working in industry, farming and as domestic servants plummeted between 1910 and 2000. Meanwhile, professional, managerial, sales and service jobs have tripled in number, and now account for 75 percent of all American jobs.

In other words, productive jobs have been destroyed in huge numbers. You may have heard commentators talking about how robots and technology will soon destroy countless jobs. Well, that’s already happened. It’s just that, instead of overall employment declining, we’ve somehow invented a load of bullshit jobs to fill the gap, from university administrators to PR researchers, human resources advisers to middle managers. These are all jobs that, by and large, didn’t exist 100 years ago.

And here’s the thing: none of these jobs are really necessary. Unlike cleaners, bus drivers and nurses, whose absence would bring cities and society to a grinding halt, lobbyists and private equity CEOs aren’t really that vital. Without them, life wouldn’t be any worse.

In other words, bullshit jobs are characterized by being pointless. So how do the people working these kinds of jobs feel about them?

A 2013 YouGov poll in Britain found that a full 37 percent of people believed that their jobs did not make a “meaningful contribution to the world.” A similar poll in Denmark put the figure at 40 percent.

Something in our political and moral culture, and the way our organizations work, is pushing more and more of us into bullshit jobs. And the first step to understanding this is to get to the core of what makes a job bullshit.

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