*Bull Shit Jobs: A Theory*

That is the new and entertaining book by David Graeber, probably you already have heard of it.  Here is a brief summary.

Coming from academia, I am sympathetic to the view that not everyone is productive, or has a productive job. And my ongoing series “Those new service sector jobs…” is in part reflecting the wonder of the market in providing so many obscure services, but also in part a genuine moral query as to how many of these activities actually are worthwhile.  You are supposed to have mixed feelings when reading those entries, just as with “Markets in Everything.”

Still, I think Graeber too often confuses “tough jobs in negative- or zero-sum games” with “bullshit jobs.”  I view those as two quite distinct categories.  Overall he presents the five types of bullshit jobs as flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters, but he spends too much time trying to lower the status of these jobs and not enough time investigating what happens when those jobs go away.

He doubts whether Oxford University needs “a dozen-plus” PR specialists.  I would be surprised if they can get by with so few.  Consider their numerous summer programs, their need to advertise admissions, how they talk to the media and university rating services, their relations with China, the student lawsuits they face, their need to manage relations with Oxford the political unit, and the multiple independent schools within Oxford, just for a start.  Overall, I fear that Graeber’s managerial intelligence is not up to par, or at the very least he rarely convinces me that he has a superior organizational understanding, compared to people who deal with these problems every day.

A simple experiment would vastly improve this book and make for a marvelous case study chapter: let him spend a year managing a mid-size organization, say 60-80 employees, but one which does not have an adequately staffed HR department, or perhaps does not have an HR department at all.  Then let him report back to us.

At that point we’ll see who really has the bullshit job.

Comments

Congrats on your first non-Straussian post. It's pretty good, you should do more.

I actually like the Straussian posts. I've started using that style in my own life. It lets you say whatever you want without any accountability.

Do it well enough, and you too may become the public face of a well financed public policy institute.

As long as you remember that the donors know precisely what they want, even if they care little how that is achieved.

Well you can't be the public face of a well financed public policy institute without giving the donors what they want:

https://www.clintonfoundation.org/about

Good point - which is why President Hillary Clinton has her personal attorney soliciting money from Qataris, right?

And to be honest, I did not know that the Clinton Foundation was a public policy institute. The Urban Institute or Heritage Foundation, sure, but the Clinton Foundation?

But thanks for the chance to actually spend a couple of minutes reading about something of such irrelevance that it is interesting to see just how utterly anodyne it is. Sort of like the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, always able to provide Windows licenses to those it blesses with its attention.

It certainly lacks the stirring goals of these people - 'The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world. The work of our scholars and staff advances ideas rooted in our belief in democracy, free enterprise, American strength and global leadership, solidarity with those at the periphery of our society, and a pluralistic, entrepreneurial culture.

We are committed to making the intellectual, moral, and practical case for expanding freedom, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening the free enterprise system in America and around the world. Our work explores ideas that further these goals, and AEI scholars take part in this pursuit with academic freedom. AEI operates independently of any political party and has no institutional positions. Our scholars’ conclusions are fueled by rigorous, data-driven research and broad-ranging evidence.'

(And seriously - when will the dead-enders accept that Hillary is a total loser?)

Right. Some guy asked for his passports to be expedited...and they didn't do it! So...both sides!!!

No, that's a good point. The Clinton Foundation is clearly worse than the Mercatus Center.

I thought the same thing... it was kind of nice.

Oxford both does and does not need a dozen PR operatives. It all depends on what it wants to do.

If it wants to maintain or raise its relative status, then PR is vital, and the person writing press releases has an essential job.

If it wants to hold some lectures and do some research, then PR is a bullshit job.

What makes you think that Oxford University has a choice in the matter? If it has the goal of giving lectures and doing research, it might be necessary, in the real world, to work on maintaining and raising it's relative status.

It is very hard to do signifigant research without PR because it is very hard to do research without money.

If it wants to maintain or raise its relative status, then PR is vital, and the person writing press releases has an essential job.

Is that so? I would distinguish between bullsh!t knowledge and real knowledge. PR people are involved in bullsh!t knowledge. A great PR department won't make Oxford a great university. It became one without any PR at all. But a good PR department might convince the world Oxford is good. But then they could convince the world the University of East Anglia is great too. Although they would have to be better than good PR people.

PR is the Western equivalent of the Soviet Cult of Personality. It is bullsh!t. If you are steeped in bullsh!t 24 hours a day, you may become convinced that the stench is not so bad. Mainly because you do not know any better. But the "organic" growth of true knowledge is something else. Oxford's reputation grew naturally and so it is, or at least was, probably true. A Press Release is almost certainly bullsh!t.

So Much For Subtlety, you also apparently have no real understanding of what (good) PR is about.

That may well be true but I do have a perfectly workable understanding of what the No True Scotsman fallacy is.

PR is about bullsh!t. That is why big corporations - public or private - are terrified their own employees might go out and say something truthful. So they employ people to bullsh!t for them.

What if the employees say something false? As a manager, I haven't found my subordinates to be unvarnished truth tellers, anymore than anyone else in my life. Truth doesn't usually triumph on its own: it needs an advocate, and that requires a PR department.

"Truth doesn't usually triumph on its own: it needs an advocate, and that requires a PR department."

Or as Freddie Nietzsche would have it: truth is a mobile army of PR messages.

Anyway, had you said that PR departments occasionally, more or less by accident, say something true, I would have thought your claim was probably not true, but not _obviously_ false either. To suggest that truth only thrives around PR departments is rather far-fetched, though. Far as I can tell, PR departments do not really care whether what they say is true or false: all that matters is whether it sounds good, and makes the company look good.

Agreed, but everyone lies much of the time, including without limitation disgruntled employees. The only way for truth to triumph is for all sides to be defended by energetic advocates, so that the discerning mind--the only kind that matters--can discover the truth.

Yes. If only we had a posse of energetic advocates of the truth.

PR is a zero-sum game - universities need to do it because they are competing. I agree with the original poster that if the definition of bullshit jobs includes jobs in a zero sum game - then it is not very useful for explaining why so many people feel their job is bullshit right now, because zero-sum games have been there since the beginning of life on Earth.

@SMFS, here's a question for you: how do you think the research that the institution does ever gets into the public sphere, into the NY Times, National Geographic? Or even the Oxford website? Do you think professors write longform articles understandable by laymen as part of their job? You reveal yourself to be an idiot and this opinion worth the same as all your other pontifications on other topics you only have a half baked knowledge of: nothing.

I used to think that journalists, you know, did their damn job. Report on things. Investigate stuff. Cultivate sources. Then I realized that all they do is lightly paraphrase press releases from someone's PR department.

Yes, what would we do without all those "Cancer Miracle Diet Cure" articles we get in the media?

What I don't understand is why you hold this up as a good thing. A Valley Girls does not need to know how her smart phone works. She does not need to know what an ARM RISC chip is. And she doesn't.

Hoover, if you think PR is only about writing press releases, then you know very little about PR.

@SMFS, here's a question for you: how do you think the research that the institution does ever gets into the public sphere, into the NY Times, National Geographic? Or even the Oxford website? Do you think professors write longform articles understandable by laymen as part of their job? You reveal yourself to be an idiot and this opinion worth the same as all your other pontifications on other topics you only have a half baked knowledge of: nothing.

Life may be all fun and games now in the USA, but as offshoring increases, illegal immigration rises, hard-working Americans die off or dropout due to higher taxes and more regulations, the national debt climbs, there is more terrorism as the result of illegal American wars, the police become more brutal enforcing draconian decrees, the US Ponzi economy and stock markets collapse, cash is banned, Americans are implanted with microchips, and real crises and false flags are used to force Americans to go to the gulags and finally to the gas chambers and ovens, will Americans wish that they had spoken out earlier against the dangers of wars, debt, and tyranny?

So you agree about the need for the PR staff.

You left out zombies.

He also left out orcs and ogres, demons and devils, werewolves and witches. Other than those obvious omissions, though, it's a fine list of things to worry about.

Phfft you both left out Vampires, the Lizard People and Lawyers. I mean really. How is anyone supposed to take you guys seriously?

This is a Family Blog. So while orcs and ogres are acceptable, Lizard people and Lawyers are just too scary.

"...the Lizard People and Lawyers."

I was just about to object that those are not two separate categories, but then I realized that while all lawyers are lizard people, not all lizard people are lawyers.

Anyway, they're sneaky bastards, those lizard people. I always forget about them, even though they clearly run the conspiracies behind most conspiracies.

I thought that was the Illuminati? Or is it the Bilderbergers?

That's a common illusion among the uninitiated. Those are mere front organizations for the Lizard People, who also controls The Church of Scientology, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a few similar scams that prey on the meekest mammals. I know this because David Icke tells me so. Well, some of it. The part about Scientology I made up. The Lizards do not have enough fantasy to make that stuff up.

Re: hard-working Americans die off or dropout due to higher taxes and more regulations

You must be posting from an alternate reality. In this one taxes (at least at the federal level) have been reduced over the years. And why in the world would someone drop out of the work force over taxers anyway? Makes no sense. Money does not grow on trees.
You still need it to live, and for the vast majority of adults too young to retire work is the only way to get it.

It seems like university PR people who try to find a human interest angle to promote some professor's research finding to the media serve a useful role. There job is to not be too sensationalist and make the professor look bad before his peers, but also not be too pedantic.

Yes, just had a very good ex reporter PR person do a nice piece on a piece of research that I think is important but of no general interest and she managed to find some good public interest angles to it.

As many others have pointed out before me, the amazing thing is that the author is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. The lack of self-awareness is remarkable.

Imagine a world without Professors of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. It is easy if you try. How would the world be a worse place if we had a lot fewer of them?

He is a professor who is also an anarchist/socialist activist. He was heavily involved in Occupy Wall Street, as well as writing influential books for a popular audience.

I think he would agree with the view of the ivory tower that your comment implies, and I would say that he is trying to make a difference in the world and is succeeding pretty well. Unfortunately he is an influential advocate for a deeply misguided viewpoint (in my opinion).

Every time he says "bullshit jobs" you should read "people should be given money for free without working." It's what he means. He's making other people waste time defending the obvious.

'Coming from academia, I am sympathetic to the view that not everyone is productive, or has a productive job'

Yes, the sympathy in this post is overwhelming, like this statement - 'If I ran a business, fired ten people, and output didn't go down, might I start by asking whether those people produced anything useful?' https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/07/zero-marginal-product-workers.html

Or possibly, the sympathy comes from the idea that there are a number of ZMP workers deserving to be removed? As one can see from allowing Prof. Cowen to determine the value of other people's time and activities - 'but also in part a genuine moral query as to how many of these activities actually are worthwhile.'

In which case, welcome to the Straussian reading again.

Is there a Straussian reading regarding ZMP posters?

Well, here is your chance to play at being a Straussian commenter - enjoy.

Re: If I ran a business, fired ten people, and output didn't go down, might I start by asking whether those people produced anything useful?'

What our host has never understood is that it's not who was fired that matters. With very rare exceptions an employer could have fired any combination of ten people and gotten the same result. As witness the many, many people who comment on this and other blogs during working hours, there was and still is a great deal of slack time at most jobs and that mean the workers who are not laid off can take up the slack for those who are laid off so output does not suffer.

Great insight.

Also, an NBA team can fire its entire bench and save a ton of money while maintaining output - have you seen how many times the starting lineup just takes a break? There's a lot of slack...

Yes! Until recently NBA rosters were limited to 12 players, and I believe that decades ago the limit was 10. Are those additional players BS workers, or ZMP workers?

The answer is no, because there are both contingent and intertemporal phenomena at work. The players might not do anything in tonight's game, but if there's an injury or a trade they may be needed. Or their role might be to sit and learn during games, and do their physical work in practice and in drills, thus improving their talent level for future seasons.

A simplistic measure of what happens if this guy goes away will fail to measure the true value of a player -- and of many probably most workers in general.

Milton said it very well: "They also serve who stand and wait."

" With very rare exceptions an employer could have fired any combination of ten people and gotten the same result. "

I... doubt that you employ people

No, but I do live and work in this world too. Sure worker productivity varies somewhat, but not by whole orders of magnitude, and the worker who produces nothing is a rare, rare creature (he's usually fired pretty promptly when he comes along). For years economists wondered why we were not seeing much productivity increase from the computer revolution. The answer is that the time- and work-saving effects were there, but occurring in small and widely distributed increments largely invisible to both management and workers: an extra ten minutes here, and extra fifteen minutes there. As a result output did not go up by as much as expected because no one really understood that it was possible-- they were still scheduling and managing workforces as they had for years. Then the Great Recession hit, and firms shed workers by vast numbers, often with no concern as to the quality of the individual workers. Since the response to the recession was a panicked one ("Cut! Cut! Cut!"). It was not a judicious culling of deadwood, but major amputations: entire worksites (factories, offices, retail outlets) were shuttered with almost 100% loss of employment among those who worked there. And of course some companies went out of business entirely (Lehman, Borders, Circuit City...) Businesses that survived did so by loading extra work on the remaining workforce and discovered that, yes, these people had a lot of slack time that could be used. Managerial techniques gradually adjusted in light of that revelation, though not enough: most jobs still include plenty of down time. But if Tyler's so-called ZMP workers could be reemployed in the same jobs output would increase accordingly, which is the meaning of a productivity increase after all: producing more relative to the number of inputs. The odd thing is that very few businesses want to try this: or maybe not so odd: if the demand is not there (because too many people do not have sufficient income to increase demand) then producing more is not a winning a strategy.

And then of course there are all those bullshitters jobs… like those of the regulators who have bullshitted the world into thinking that they know enough about risks so as to be able to impose risk weighted capital requirements on banks.

I love you, man.

I feel your pain.

Here's a modest proposal to resolve this crisis and be free from regulators' risk-weighted capital maintenance standards. Do not seek, or terminate, Federal Reserve Bank membership. Voluntarily terminate Federal Deposit Insurance.

Then, your clients won't need to suffer under risk-weighted capital requirements. However, they will pay for funding higher, risk-based interest rates. And, they will need to charge borrowers higher loan interest rates to provide positive spreads - loan interest income over funding interest expenses.

This is such a good idea, no one has done it.

Sez who? See "shadow banking system".

Considering that we have a large amount of historical data concerning banks that had no capital requirements of any variety placed on them, the bullshitting would only seem to be about the precision, not the need, of capital requirements, correct?

Excellent. The following is lifted from, found, in the FDIC Risk Management Manual of Examination Policies.

In fact, the "first line of defense" against asset risks/losses is interest income/revenues.

The Purposes of Bank Capital

Absorbs losses (cash flows from revenues is the first absorber of losses); promotes public confidence, restricts excessive asset growth (a check on management risk-taking), and provides protection to depositors and the FDIC insurance funds.

Absorbs Losses
Capital allows institutions to continue operating as going concerns during periods when operating losses or other adverse financial results are being experienced.

Promotes Public Confidence
Capital provides a measure of assurance to the public that an institution will continue to provide financial services even when losses have been incurred, thereby helping to maintain confidence in the banking system and minimize liquidity concerns.

Restricts Excessive Asset Growth
Capital supports prudent growth and restrains unjustified expansion of assets by requiring that asset growth be funded by a commensurate amount of additional capital.

Provides Protection To Depositors And The FDIC Insurance Funds
Placing owners at significant risk of loss helps to minimize the potential "moral hazard"/risk-taking, and promotes safe and sound banking practices.

"flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters"

Most of these sound like fairly necessary jobs.

Flunkies are there to make sure managers are not wasting themselves on minutiae, goons at the very least are there to deal with other people’s goons, duct tapers keep things running foryet another day, box tickers are the reason I have not yet died in a plane crash, and taskmaster are there to make sure anything gets done. This is like the sort of historians who say that the US Army had too big a logistical tail in WW2...

The US did have a too big logistics trail in WW2. Because Wedemeyer expected a Soviet collapse and so planned for an Army 10 million strong. Only the Soviets did not collapse and so the US Army was grossly over-sized.

A somewhat obscure US military officer planner with ties to Germany, is that why you think he's so prominent? I never heard of him, and I'm a student of history (as well as pretty smart I think you'll agree). Wikipedia: "During the Cold War, Wedemeyer was a chief supporter of the Berlin Airlift."

Ray - dude - come on. You can't claim even a basic knowledge of World War Two and think Wedemeyer is somewhat obscure.

Read down a little more:

At the outbreak of World War II, Wedemeyer was a lieutenant colonel assigned as a staff officer to the War Plans Division.[3] Notably, in 1941 he was the chief author of the "Victory Program", which advocated the defeat of Germany's armies in Europe as the prime war objective for the United States. This plan was adopted and expanded as the war progressed.

What is interesting is that even after the war he had to address claims about his "ties to Germany". He did study in Berlin and apparently had a very good time.

I'm no WWII expert, but I had heard of Wedemeyer Reports!

"The US did have a too big logistics trail in WW2."

Meh, I don't think there's any reasonable way to conclude that. However, I think you can make a case that Germany had too little a logistical tail.

You probably could. Except that the German Army did what it was designed for very well. Fighting short wars across Western European distances. Really well actually. Logistically it got in trouble when it tried to extend that to North Africa and Russia. But it is hard to see what else the Germans could have done. They would not have been better off with 3,000 fewer tanks and 30,000 more trucks.

As for the Americans, the Red Ball Express is a sign of a massive screw up in logistics in Europe. It worked, in the end despite all its problems, but it is a sign of how poorly planned everything was. The Allied Armies constantly cited logistics as a reason for not moving forward.

When asked fewer than a third of US soldiers in Europe admitted to seeing any combat at all. That is a sign of massive over-manning of something. Those soldiers would have done better staying at home.

'than a third of US soldiers in Europe admitted to seeing any combat at all.'

Amazing how the Army Air Force did not send mechanics into aerial combat, isn't it? Along with all those loafers hanging out at British airbases instead of being on B-17s.

For once I agree with CP.

Soooooo, now Prior is claiming two thirds of the US Army serviced B-17 bombers or otherwise served in the Army Air Force in the European theater of war during WW2?

How very interesting.

Hate to say it; this military analyst is kinda agreeing with CP.

The "1/3rd never saw action" is a common stat for most armies, not just the US, especially once you control for "days in combat" (not contact). It's not majorly driven by teeth-tail ratios and nothing to get worked up about.

And Germany COULD have done with a lot more 4-ton trucks and a few less panzers, especially in mid-war. Organic Bn level lift was clearly inadequate and severely messes with readiness at 1st and 2nd line. Especially in the east. (Their Russian opponents, meanwhile, rated US trucks as the single most valuable thing in allied aid). Towards the end they could use a lot more assault guns, APCs, and less panzers and V-weapons.

So, soldiers would be better off not eating and not having ammo because soldiers should never have supply lines, with everyone one the front lines?

As it is today, by privatizing everything soldiers did in WWII and Vietnam, the US military needs more soldiers to protect all the civilians, and more soldiers to protect against the civilians after contractors started hiring local civilians who can be the enemy Taliban or Saddam's dead-enders.

Privatizing the military so moresoldiers end up in active combat has only increased the cost of US wars.

"Except that the German Army did what it was designed for very well. Fighting short wars across Western European distances. Really well actually. Logistically it got in trouble when it tried to extend that to North Africa and Russia. But it is hard to see what else the Germans could have done."

It looks like you are actually making the "case that Germany had too little a logistical tail."

Yep. Logistics doomed the Germans on the eastern front, and with their two-front war it doomed them in North Africa too.

If the German Army was designed for short wars across short distances, great but that still means they lacked the logistics to fight across the steppes of the Soviet Union and to supply an army in Africa.

One might as well says that the Japanese Navy did fine with logistics; Yamamoto even before the war said that he could run rampant for six months but after that the Navy would be unable to resist the American onslaught. And the Japanese Navy accomplished exactly that, winning victory after victory in the six months after Pearl Harbor until the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. They lacked the logistics, indeed they lacked the industrial base, to compete with the US beyond a year at best.

Agreed. German logs worked adequately for short to medium distances in the presence of air superiority and good railheads.

Compare the supply Bn's of a 1944 German infantry Div against a British/US division. It's like they are 50 years apart.

(The Japanese, if anything, seemed even more contemptuous of logistics as a proportion of their capabilities. Armies in jungle don't need reliable food supply! Pilot training must produce no more than 100 awesome pilots a year. Warships sail on fighting spirit! Field medicine is a luxury for the weak! Less illustrious merchant fleet will support glorious samurai caste everywhere! US subs aren't a threat! Banzai!)

German army in WWII massively overrated. They used horses, except for their Panzers. They were fought to a standstill by the Greeks for a few days, who were using obsolete hardware, in April 1941. They only beat weak armies. The Russians were much better.

Bonus trivia: https://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/20/obituaries/gen-albert-c-wedemeyer-92-noted-military-planner-for-us.html - this so-called "noted" US general lost China for the USA when he ignored the astute Stilwell's advice about Mao. The good advice Wedemeyer gave was either trivial or obvious. And he wrote a book (so has John Keegan). Obscure man.

Jim Lacey's book, "Keep from All Thoughtful Men" makes a good case that Wedemeyer was not nearly as influential in WW 2 planning as he claimed.
https://www.amazon.com/Keep-All-Thoughtful-Men-Economists/dp/1591144914

This review gives a good summary of Lacey's arguments:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R28JQNHTUZL3AB?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl

The subtitle of the book, "How US Economists Won World War II" is misleading. Although Kuznets and a couple of other economists play a fairly prominent role, the key people in the book were what I would call planners and not economists.

Ray confesses: " I never heard of him, and I'm a student of history (as well as pretty smart I think you'll agree)"

Don't forget to mention that you are very modest, too.

With a girlfriend twice his size! Or half his size. I forgot already.

I think Ray wrote the lyrics of the "My fat baby" country song:

"When I went to meet her, man, you shoulda seen her
Twice as tall as me, three times the girth"

You're missing the point. These jobs aren't unnecessary because they don't do important things. They are unnecessary because if someone else (usually higher up) was doing their job, then we wouldn't need these.

Professors of Economics rank high on my list of BS jobs.

May I ask you what do you do for a living?

I am a computer programmer, by the way.

Are you the same person who wrote a detailed critique of Caplan on education ? If so I am surprised how you can make a sweeping generalisation about all economists

A company competing in the open market might have bullshit jobs, but it is uncommon. Even if the job does not serve a purpose related to the customers, but rather, say, it inflates the ego of some managers, it still has a purpose and it is market checked. If the managers value added is not worth the cost, the company will be disadvantaged and eventually go bankrupt. Most likely, somebody will intervene, get rid of the bs job and fire those managers. In other cases, the jobs might sound weird, but they are very much useful: the case of the young ladies listening to nerdish software programmers in China that was mentioned here a few weeks ago comes to mind.

In a state-owned company, this market discipline does not exist, and all types of wastes (and outright corruption) are common. I give you a first-account example. 20 years ago I was recruited by Motorola to run the cellular telephone company in Honduras. One of the first things I did was a benchmark with the State-owned incumbent, our only competitor. We found out they had 3000 employees versus 400 in our case. 1000+ were in what they called the telegram “division” (I had not sent a telegram in my entire life). They had a marketing department, of course, but also a PR department, and a political department charged with relations with Congress and the Executive, and even a “protocol” department with 12 rather attractive ladies in charge of setting up the reception of “foreign dignitaries”.

'but it is uncommon'

The author disagrees with you, apparently, at least using wikipedia - 'Graeber argues that these jobs are largely in the private sector despite the idea that market competition would root out such inefficiencies. In companies, he credits "managerial feudalism" as employers need underlings to feel important. In society, he credits the Puritan-capitalist work ethic for making the labor of capitalism into religious duty: that workers did not reap advances in productivity as a reduced workday because, as a societal norm, they believe that work determines their self-worth, even as they find that work pointless. Graeber describes this cycle as "profound psychological violence".'

You are welcome to disagree with him. For example, most Germans would take profound umbrage at the idea that work is not important to have a sense of self-worth, and would feel that anyone whose life goal is to be part of the idle rich is a contemptible person.

Graeber argues that these jobs are largely in the private sector despite the idea that market competition would root out such inefficiencies. In companies, he credits "managerial feudalism" as employers need underlings to feel important.

It is interesting that he does not think this works this way in the public sector. Despite massive evidence that it does - and nothing like a profit motive to control the spread of useless drones.

But then he is a professor of Anthropology. A job requiring the very careful noticing of the Right Things.

'Despite massive evidence that it does'

Have you ever worked in the public sector? Let us just say that private companies do not need anyone's permission to employ whoever they want, while that is not the case for the person in charge of the GMU econ dept's hiring - the number of funded positions is fixed, and there is no way to expand that number without receiving permission from multiple layers of people - up to and including the legislature.

In contrast, the manager of the private company providing food service to GMU students can increase or decrease their employee count at any time (assuming the standard flexibility that comes with a manager position in such a setting). Further, that manager can pick employees to serve as flunkies, which is much harder to do with the defined positions (think department secretary) found in the GMU econ dept.

Admittedly, this example is from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has never been noted as a generous employer, or one notable for encouraging featherbedding.

I worked in the public sector. Massive overstaffing and featherbedding.

I've also worked for large private employers. These organizations offer an opportunity for some, but not many, clever people to hide out without really doing anything.

I've mostly worked for small private companies (<200 people.) Here there is nowhere to hide, one reason why I like this set-up best.

Not a surprise - but do you have any experience with defense contractors? They know how to do massive overstaffing and featherbedding with all of the efficiency that the private sector's pursuit of profit is so efficient at harnessing.

I am suspecting we could trade anecdotes all day long, and in the end, come to the conclusion that it is not the particular sector, but the particular organization that is relevant. Things may have changed in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the last two decades, of course, but in the past, the state was notable for being fairly streamlined - and eyeballing this list, it seems to be near the top of the lowest third for state employees (lower in the lower third for combined local/state employees) - http://www.governing.com/gov-data/public-workforce-salaries/states-most-government-workers-public-employees-by-job-type.html

'Here there is nowhere to hide'

Did you get to look at the company's books? Because at least in Germany, you would be surprised, in many cases, at just how well the company owner's families can be compensated for providing services that none of the 200 employees were aware of.

Some of which may come out in trials after a massive bankruptcy, with the creditors doing their best to claw back the millions involved.

Further, if the owner favors a couple of people as flunkies, there is nothing to be done about it, regardless of what anyone else thinks about how much weight they are pulling. Generally, such people are just considered normal in such a context, and thus easily ignored (if not easily dismissed, of course).

clockwork_prior - May 17, 2018 at 7:38 am 37

Not a surprise - but do you have any experience with defense contractors?

Hands up all those that think Prior has any experience with defense contractors? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

They know how to do massive overstaffing and featherbedding with all of the efficiency that the private sector's pursuit of profit is so efficient at harnessing.

That must be why America has so many aircraft manufacturers left. All that feather bedding. I note that if the government hands out cost-plus contracts, as is their wont, then manning is unlikely to be efficient. But to claim this is the norm for the private sector and not a toxic spillover from the public sector is nonsense.

I am suspecting we could trade anecdotes all day long,

Well rumors and urban legends perhaps. Anecdotes need experience.

Because at least in Germany, you would be surprised, in many cases, at just how well the company owner's families can be compensated for providing services that none of the 200 employees were aware of.

Don't tell me that the fine upstanding Rhineland capitalist burgers of Germany cook their company books? I am shocked, just shocked, at all that petty corruption going on.

Further, if the owner favors a couple of people as flunkies, there is nothing to be done about it,

Sure. And if I hire three girls in slave bikinis to do my nails while massaging my shoulders and feeding my obscure delicacies I can too. As it happens I don't. Because I have marginally better things to do with my money. And because it is hard to find good help these days. If only I knew a good agency. Anyway, it is my money and I can spend it as I please. Hence, as Milton Friedman pointed out, I am unlikely to spend it on flunkies. Just as the owner of a small business who is paying costs out of his own profits is unlikely to. A senior civil servant on the other hand is not paying it out of his own pocket. Indeed if he does not spend his budget it may well get cut.

'Hands up all those that think Prior has any experience with defense contractors?'

Guess it depends on what you mean by experience, doesn't it? But none of the military officers I knew growing up simply retired after their 20 (or 30) years were up, without then working in the private sector - I'm sure the company names would likely be familiar as defense contractors. And as for my own family? - yep, my father's three letter agency (the one that didn't officially exist until 1975) security clearance was quite the asset for the contractors he worked for (mainly on Air Force contracts).

'Because I have marginally better things to do with my money.'

You really have no experience working at a company with less than 200 hundred employees either, do you? However, if you prefer the word 'friend' to 'flunky' when talking about the owner's hiring decisions, fine by me. At least you did not seem to have a problem with how an owner can distribute profits to his family members, who may not have actually done any work at all, so maybe you do have a bit of awareness of how a small company owner can think.

Guess it depends on what you mean by experience, doesn't it? But none of the military officers I knew growing up simply retired after their 20 (or 30) years were up, without then working in the private sector

So no, you have no experience. You are just guessing at what your father's golfing buddies did.

Enough of this idle chat, I’ll cut to the chase. My flunky is busy with a task and I read to know: what is a slave bikini? How does it differ from a normal bikini?

@BD - who says: "I've mostly worked for small private companies (<200 people.) Here there is nowhere to hide, one reason why I like this set-up best." - well aren't you special Brian? You like to work, that's great, there's a need for people like you, but consider:

(1) there will come a day when you will not be the most efficient worker. A younger, "Flynn effect" employee will be ready to step into your shoes. You read to retire early, or do you want, like the people you apparently disparage, to be a bullsitter?

(2) I've known many b.s-ers, and on occasion I've been one myself, and there's one constant: NONE OF THEM, and I mean NONE OF THEM, have ever taken a pay cut. Sticky wages evidence perhaps, but it's a fact. I myself screwed around royally in various firms and companies, got fired and/or had to quit, and never took a paycut, nor suffered vis-a-vis my other hard working, non-b.s. peers. See also my "corporate deadwood" comment in this thread as to "why".

Good luck BD in your non-BS job. I myself found it's much easier to retire early (I did in my 40s) live off your 1% family, and also inherit a s hit load of money from a senile uncle (who just died, may he R.I.P! a good man!)

Gee Ray, did I hit a nerve?

We are all familiar with your dissolute and barren existence. Carry on.

He's smarting for getting called out up thread for not knowing who Wedemeyer was. Really Ray, you should know who he is. Perhaps try reading up on him with all the free time you have on on your jungle island with your girlfriend twice your size.

Half my age, Anon. Second hit on Google: "Charles A. Wedemeyer (1911–1999) was a pioneer in the field of independent and distance learning. He challenged university administrators to expand access and opportunity to autonomous learners. "Educational change is evolutionary, and its tempo is glacial,"[1] "

As for Gen. Wedemeyer, he was a b.s. artist and see this: https://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/20/obituaries/gen-albert-c-wedemeyer-92-noted-military-planner-for-us.html (Note he contradicted the foul-mouthed but accurate Stilwell, who was spot on about China; had the USA followed Stilwell's advice we'd not have lost China to Mao). A minor figure in WWII.

clockwork_prior - May 17, 2018 at 5:32 am 35

Have you ever worked in the public sector? Let us just say that private companies do not need anyone's permission to employ whoever they want, while that is not the case for the person in charge of the GMU econ dept's hiring

Still bitter I see. Unfortunately I am unconvinced you have personal experience of, well, anything. Except being cut off by the Economics Department at GMU. In the private sector, people can't go about hiring as they please unless they own the company or damn near it. At GM or IBM or wherever you have to do what you have to do at GMU - make a business case. Only the public sector does not have real budgets so it is not your money. Probably at the GMU Econ Department, it is their budget these days. But at the VA it sure as hell isn't.

Which is why C. Northcote Parkinson could write one of the classics in the field pointing out that the Royal Navy bureaucracy grew as the number of ships declined. I assume you have not read it. Or even heard of it.

'Still bitter I see.'

About what?

'Except being cut off by the Economics Department at GMU.'

I have never had anything to do with the GMU econ dept to be cut off from, in the same fashion that I was never cut off by the GMU nursing school either.

'make a business case'

Oddly, of the several different places I worked at GMU, that is precisely what was required. What, do you think the GMU Foundation is a charity?

'Only the public sector does not have real budgets '

You absolutely have no idea what you are talking about.

Even if the job does not serve a purpose related to the customers, but rather, say, it inflates the ego of some managers, it still has a purpose and it is market checked.

Many jobs with titles like COO, CMO, "Managing Director" are mostly about saying "yes yes yes" to whatever the CEO or actual decision-makers are trying to push to their employees or board members.

A well known theory of the firm--I'm tempted to say Chandler the business consultant came up with this rule--is that firms deliberately overhire, and have redundant workers, so that when one employee quits or dies, the other, formerly redundant employee, can quickly step into the shoes of the departed employee and the corporation can quickly carry on, without having to retrain an outside hire. This theory is used to 'justify' why there is so much fat and corporate deadwood in modern corporations. And one reason M&A and corporate raiders got so rich in the 1980s, recognizing this fact (that you can fire half the employees and in the short run the corporation will not really suffer).

A rebuttal to the "B.S. jobs" thesis. Not that I buy it, but I'm just telling you what I've read.

There's also the company that insists "everyone must share the pain" when layoffs happen, with proportional reductions everywhere, so individual departments bloat up with fat so their useful workers will survive. This of course makes layoffs more likely to happen overall, but cf prisoner's dilemma.

PR may not have been the best choice for making a point about bullshit jobs, since, based on reader comments, views about PR are about as ingrained as views about politics. As for the productivity of PR, PR builds goodwill for the brand (whether soda or university); and goodwill, once built, is self-sustaining, for a time anyway. It's that "for a time" that motivates the firm to keep PR in order to prolong the "for a time". For a university, PR can make the difference between a foundation flush with cash and a foundation that isn't, the former much more preferable to the latter. [PR for a university foundation does not mean soliciting contributions or sending out press releases praising the university, but rather creating the bond between the university and the alumni that causes otherwise rational and successful people to make the irrational choice of making large donations to the foundation. Alumni of universities with cash-rich foundations will know what I mean.]

I'm calling bullshit. Right here in a call center in the Philippines.

Bonus trivia: in the PH, and I kid you not, call center employees are docked in their pay if they mess up or drop a call accidentally. In the USA, and I suspect the EU, this would be a labor law violation. It used to be the case in the USA back in the pre-1930s I believe.

I think there is a better case to be made that these jobs are simply zero sum and there is a coordination problem. For instance my hospital has a decent sized PR team, with that PR team they try to improve community relations, raise on utilization numbers, and improve our image so we can negotiate with more strength with the insurance companies. Much of that is not so we can get anything new, it is so we do not fall behind our competitors.

Likewise, we have huge number of compliance people. If we fired half of them we could treat as many or more patients and do so more adeptly. However, we would stand to lose out against the many hospitals who generate better compliance reporting.

If we all eliminated these positions, we would all be better off. But once somebody starts doing them, then everyone has to do them. This is the danger of "meritocracy" and "performance based society", once anyone begins doing something to game their positional ranking, then everyone has to and we end up with minimal change and higher continuing expenses.

For an individual actor, these jobs are vital. For the system they are net worthless.

Trenchant discussion of this topic in Paul Goodman GROWING UP ABSURD, 1960. How adolescence is not easy when youth look at bullshit jobs held by their future selves. Different economy, perpetual problem.

I think that after the bit in "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" where he accuses the US of invading Iraq over Argentina's debt default I'm not really inclined to trust Graeber's judgement in anything.

This book is hilarious. It really shows how he's clueless in the international finance. He should stick to the bureaucracy and its intricacies.

He is also not that clued up on anthropology either.

The book has some intermittently interesting ideas. But generally it’s a tendentious manifesto. I stopped reading when he “described“ (read: imagined) a scenario that illustrates how property is theft.

Once I was working for a third-party benefits administrator. One of the H&W trusts we administered notified us that they were interested in hiring someone to run bi-weekly payroll for their one employee (rather than having one of the trustees do it). It urns out that the market price for running payroll for one employee (with withholdings & quarterly tax filings) is ca. $50 per month (or was some years ago). Imagine the real cost of doing the payroll for everyone in even a moderately-sized firm, let alone everyone in a city. And that's just one bureaucratic task among many that has to be done, behind the scenes, in order for anything to function—the economy can't work if you don't get paid!

My point here is that administrative work costs money, and it takes qualified employees to do it well. Once I messed up the address labels on a mandated annual mailing to all the members of a trust. The administrators then had to hire hourly employees to come in and slap new address labels on thousands of mailings, at a total cost of ca. $8,000. My friend said "It can't possibly be worth that much!" I said "Well, what's the cost of not doing an annual notification mandated by the tax code?"

All of the institutions we depend on in our daily life require "bureaucracy" to function, a bureaucracy we collectively despise. Shouldn't we value this work, and those who do it well?

My friend said "It can't possibly be worth that much!"

For the last couple of years I've been trying to look at it the other way around. It isn't that the bureaucracy or anything "costs so much", rather it is that what we're earning through labor is so very little. It isn't that the administrative fixes are really getting more than their fair share at $8000 for a short gig, rather the person making $14,500 for a years worth of labor at minimum wage is getting completely screwed. Most of us are getting poorer and so few even realize it

> let him spend a year managing a mid-size organization, say 60-80 employees, but one which does not have an adequately staffed HR department, or perhaps does not have an HR department at all.

This is a very fair criticism, and I'm certainly inclined to agree with it. But the question that's getting overlooked is why are there so many more HR-esque jobs than in previous eras. What was the effective size of Standard Oil's HR department? My guess is at least ten times smaller than ExxonMobil's. What is the issue with HR in 2018 compared to 1918?

Bullsh!t jobs are often caused by bullsh!t laws. So they banned IQ tests and anything else with a racial disparity. So if you do not want to be sued you need an entire office of nice girls to fill out all the forms and tick all the boxes so you can prove that you tried to hire enough Black people.

Then they started complaining about women and Gays and so on. So you need a bigger HR department to run mandatory re-education classes to make sure you do not say "manhole cover" in anything else but a discussion of a San Francisco Disco Club.

The best way to end bullsh!t jobs is to ignore people like Graeber.

+1 about HR. I have no idea how it has become so powerful in operating decisions in which it has no place being involved. They need to be involved with hiring after the person is selected, but now it seems they get to do the selecting. In IT, where I have the most experienced, I've seen HR people reject the most qualified and paas on the inept simply because they have no clue what skills are needed.

In my opinion a good example of a bullshit job is a professor of anthropology. Anthropology is a subject that should have disappeared when the last tribe in Brazil or wherever was discovered -- say 50 years ago. It has always struck me as a subject that has no real intellectual foundation, just a bunch of disparate ideas with no real objective criteria to judge them by. Would probably be more useful for Graeber to be "retooled" to teach HR or computer science or something that in fact has a use in the world we live in.

Very true. But believe me, Graeber has no interest in being useful. Hence his desire to spend a couple hours cranking out this BS book, and then trying to retire on the royalties (which he would received based on the efforts of his PR team, ironically enough).

I'd almost be willing to say that he should be punished by being forced to work deep in the bowels of his precious Universal Basic Income Department, perhaps doing tedious data entry or something.... but since that would be a Federal Govt job, he'd be retired at 55 and grabbing a six-figure pension.

"I fear that Graeber’s managerial intelligence is not up to par": harsh! It's on a par with his historical intelligence.

That's as close as I've ever seen Tyler come to a "F***-you!" in his posts :-)

How to classify jobs that, on paper, look like they're not "bullshit jobs", but that, due to poor management, actually are? This probably isn't limited to tech but it seems to be more pervasive there. Peruse any forum for discussion of C.S. careers and you'll find multiple people asking a variant of this question: "I have a job that pays alright, but I hardly do anything at all. I spend half my day wasting time on reddit. Should I start looking for a new job so that, a couple years from now, I don't have to explain why I accomplished so little at this one?"

What theory or hypothesis accounts for "bullshit publishing"? Almost as much of that going around these days as bullshit composition itself.

I think Graber is trying to sell books to the masses not sell his ideas to academics. I think he mistakes jobs that aren't needed most of the time but the uncertainty means they have to be on staff. A security guard at a desk is probably not needed 90% of the time, and even if that 10% involves Q&A with quests the added perception of security and building management confidence is worth it for the management. For the people in the job and interacting, it can appear "BS."

I have a similar BS job. We aren't needed most of the time. I would argue that most of us in this field will go a career without having any impact on anything. But, about 10% of us will and that 10% is hard to predict and so we all have jobs.

There seems to be symmetry between BS jobs and homelessness. Why are there so many in our town? There is a guy who works a shift at the corner by Safeway. Dresses in clean crisp fatigues of the Desert Storm sort. Longish hair but clean. He has been there for years -- nothing wrong with his work ethic. That's not an easy job in all weathers, so why doesn't he drive truck or teach economics? Maybe he thinks those are BS jobs? Anyway, to survive on the margins you have to be on the margins-- parasitism demands something to feed upon. No way to be homeless fifty miles from town...

http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/education/article210893889.html

Evergreen College could use some help.

Bullshit jobs exist. I worked for the Canadian federal government many years ago and the job I did wasn't necessary at all. I left because it was going to disappear, and after about three years it did.

At the time the manager's salary was established by how many people reported to them, so no way would anyone be let go even if they didn't do anything.

I am reminded of the scene in History of the World, Part 1 where the stand-up philosopher is trying to get his unemployment money, and the unemployment officer ask him whether he bullshitted today (answer: No) and whether he tried to bullshit (answer: Yes). My guess (after having read some of Mr. Graeber's output) is that Mr. Graeber would fall under the category of bullshitter (but I guess that is not necessarily a bullshit job).

Professional HR departments exist because government has mandated the workplace into a legal and regulatory minefield. Otherwise, "HR" would just be an ancillary part of a line executive's job.

Just picking this at random, among many such comments. To my understanding, payroll is part of what HR handles these days, and payroll has never been just an ancillary part of a line executive's job.

Further, at least at the single major American company I have experience of in the last couple of months, HR is also the dept that handles everything in connection with travel, both domestic and international (car rental, hotel, airline, etc.) - this might not be typical, of course.

It's not. It's considered wasteful to employ a department to do tasks that an individual employee can do in a few minutes online.

Payroll is largely automated thru third party vendors.

This is almost like saying that 401ks are handled by third party vendors.

The department the employee deals with is HR, not the backend processor. HR is the department that collects the data from the employee, keeps track of all relevant information, and provides it to the backend processor.

Though not exact, this is like saying that a company's IT department does not handle IT matters because all employees use gmail.

While 'automated' is correct for the third party vendor handling the processing, the data is provided in a form that allows such automation by the HR department.

I made reference to the one company I know involving HR in the last 6 months, and they quite disagree with this - 'It's considered wasteful to employ a department to do tasks that an individual employee can do in a few minutes online.' But what would a successful international car company in the American market know about waste compared to such major American success stories as GM or Ford. After all, this car company got rid of Chrysler at a major loss, while breathing a deep sigh of relief at the time at not having thrown good money after bad.

Admittedly, the one person I know in Charleston SC at the moment (involved peripherally in expanding the American division for this international car company) considers the HR department a disaster, but she apparently thinks it is because it mainly employs Americans. Which reflects the general opinion of many of that international car company's German employees concerning Chrysler, to be honest.

That's not HR, that's legal.
Lawyers exist to navigate the law. HR departments exist to handle payroll, process new hires and terminations, not bullshit.
Lawyers and Accounting are about 50-50% necessary and bullshit stuff. Lawyers also deal with contracts, and accountants are necessary to keep the books, but they also have to do taxes, which can be filed under bullshit.

No. HR functions mostly as risk management against discrimination claims. Payrolls are typically handled by vendors.

So the market dictates that dozens of PR specialists are necessary merely to manage the institution's precarious existence against the vicissitudes of the market, while making no first-order contribution to the actual mission of the institution (in this case, a college's education and research missions)? That just seems to be a straight forward loss (a.k.a "bullshit job") generated by the market organization of that institutional schema.

Of course, other methods of organizing institutions generate straight-forward losses too, but then there's just a cost-benefit analysis to be done. Maybe markets are worth it up to a point and then fail simply because "second-order" factors like PR and HR, necessary to compete in the market, become such a cost burden on the first-order mission that productivity suffers and prices explode (see US healthcare and higher-ed).

Sorry to be so negative. But I've tried reading "Debt" and a few pages were over enough.

Few pages of Debt convinced me never to waste my time on the author.

there is a limit IMHO.

From the wiki:
flunkies, who serve to make others feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants: Good luck working when you're up to your neck in paperwork or people pestering you, or schedule mishaps
goons, who act aggressively on behalf of their employers, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations: There's an aspect of the world that's zero sum. If you're not able to fight here, you're going to lose something
duct tapers, who fix others' problems, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code. Ha! Try running an medium age plant without a few people who are firemen. These guys are your aces, you don't use them for stuff junior folk can manage
box tickers, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators: Given the description, I can't say I've seen these as actual full time roles.
taskmasters, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals: That sounds great until one day you discover you have 20 direct reports under you, and you wonder why projects keep getting 'lost'

Seriously? "Worthwhile"?? In a billion years, Earth will be uninhabitable and our species will be long gone. In 10 or 20 years I will be hopefully-not-too long gone. NOTHING we do is worth anything on any absolute scale. Is a sex worker worth more than a laundry maid? or less? Is a Professor of Economics worth less or more than a neo-Freudian Psychoanalyst? Does it really make sense that the guy riding the back of the garbage truck (non-union) is paid less than a receptionist whose only job is to smile and welcome people? Is his job "worth" less?
I guess TC want's to change the fundamental definition of a market from the place where worth is established (between willing buyers and sellers) to the place where pre-established (by TC & co.) "worth" is exchanged.

I don't think you realize it's the author of the book Graeber who's arguing that a lot of jobs are worthless. And that Tyler's is objecting to the idea.

How about those in favor of only high productivity sanction those who aare low or no productive menbers of the economy by sanctioning them:

Ban all consumer spending by the unproductive!

Businesses should refuse to sell to the retired! They are unproductive, spending money the get for contributing nothing.

Businesses should refuse to sell to most Saudis as they get their money by the unproductive rent extraction from productive businesses!

Businesses should not sell goods and services to children who are not only unproductive, but burdens on the economy!

By eliminating all consumer sales to the unproductive in society, the economy will grow GDP much faster because supply will be much greater.

A review that (i) helps the reader better understand how the reviewer reads (ii) and clearly distinguishes the content of the book from the reviewer's opinion. I dig it. I have gleaned something that may improve my future reading. Quality Post. Bravo.

In the past you've mentioned the compound interest-like effects of reading. This is like to true for active readers who engage with their texts. The rules of engagement you employ when reading books like "BS jobs" give your blog reader's an opportunity to refine their reading skills.

Now, as an active reader, I will be running a "managerial intelligence" and "org structures" check sum as I read books written by economists. Your wording has provided better focus for my hazy b.s. detector. Thanks.

A post like this requires more time/effort than a quick esoteric/vague post where the reader is left the responsibility of reading the tea leaves. But, I think I can speak for a part of your audience that appreciates it.

I worked at a company with 60-80 employees and no HR department. I would only very occasionally notice its absence, and the company still functioned well enough to be quite successful.

Don't companies like ADP do 95% of HR stuff for small businesses anyway?

ADP only does payroll. Gusto is actually cheaper and better.

Not sure when or where this was, but in the USA, once your company hits 50 employees you are hit with an absolutely crushing regulatory burden from the government on a whole host of employment matters.

This burden is handled by HR, not the "legal department," as falsely stated by someone else above.

The PR staff comment reminds me a bit of a joke about lawyers. This town is way too small for one lawyer to make a living, but two lawyers could probably scrape by and three could even do pretty well for themselves.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the episode in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" where it turns out a society has duped the bullshit jobs tier of its society (personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, and telephone sanitizers) into being cryogenically shipped off their planet so that only "useful" folks remain. The "useful" population then all die from an epidemic spread through unsanitized telephones. Moral: It is very hard to discern which jobs are functionally bullshit.

Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics? Now there is a bullshit job if I ever saw one.

Tyler nails it. Graeber wrote an op-ed piece a few days ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education, it had the same weaknesses and fallacies that Tyler's pointed out in the book. You can skip reading both.

If my business makes a profit than the man that powders my ass is gainfully employed. If I stay in a Hotel that has a doorman than the doorman is important. Now if you own stock in my business than my powder puff man may be of concern. If I have a non profit or have a government job than the powder boy may be of concern. I agree with the people up top who said if you do not like the regulation do not participate. If you do not like the doorman go shop at walmart. Now I have to go and get my massage.

Graeber is a left-wing anarchist who was heavily involved in Occupy Wall Street (I think he may have even coined the slogan "we are the 99%"). It's not a surprise that he would be dismissive of and dislike not just managerial jobs but even the idea of managerialism; Marxists, anarchists, and other assorted left-wingers have been highly critical of management for 150 years.

Business would do a cost/revenue analysis.

Ronald Coase, "The Nature of the Firm":

"Of course, if the desire was not to be controlled but to control, to exercise power over others, then people might be willing to give up something in order to direct others; that is, they would be willing to pay others more than they could get under the price mechanism in order to be able to direct them. But this implies that those who direct pay in order to be able to to this and are not paid to direct, which is clearly not true in the majority of cases."

From the perspective of *employees* most jobs certainly *feel* like bullshit, although if employers find it worthwhile to pay these people this is at least a prima facie case that the job is useful and not truly bullshit. Let's assume for a moment that large corporations and government agencies do something that customers and taxpayers find worthwhile. Even so, most work is so far removed from the customer and so indirectly related that it feels pointless even if it is ultimately necessary for the organization.

Now to revisit the question of usefulness, I would say the market test is insufficient to guarantee value, i.e., I think it is quite possible to make a very good living doing things that are ultimately detrimental to society. I prefer the term "parasitic" over "bullshit" for these. An additional category would be sinecure/patronage jobs that really aren't actively harmful (except to the extent the function *is* necessary and is being incompetently performed). That is a bigger problem in the public sector.

Both the review and the comments seem to suggest a misunderstanding of what he means by "bullshit jobs". I heard Graeber speak about it this week in London and, after the discussion which was frankly fascinating, I bought the book. It is explicitly *not* a value judgment of his about whether specific jobs should or should not exist. Rather, it looks at the strange fact that 37% of employees polled report that their own jobs (or jobs they have formerly worked) don't contribute anything to the company they're working for, and an additional 13% don't know whether their jobs contribute anything, with many reporting only a few hours per week of useful work. In other words, it's not about whether he thinks they should exist, but about whether employees think their own jobs should exist. He assumes that it's unlikely that an employee would be meaningfully contributing without realising it, or that there would be much reason to lie and say that one's job is less necessary than it actually is.

He went into this assuming that the market would not allow for such a high proportion. He then goes on to look at why it might persist, when it's economically inefficient, and seems to have psychological costs for the people working the jobs. He found other strange things, like the fact that the vast increase of administrative positions tends to increase rather than decrease the amount of time that other employees spend on admin.

Basically, it's looking at why Keynes prediction of a 15 hour work week has not materialised. There's also a lot of thought about why jobs which involve real production or real caring (teachers, nurses, etc) may even be inversely correlated with pay, i.e., the societal idea that if your job is intrinsically rewarding, you shouldn't be highly paid for it.

That doesn't mean you'll agree with any of his theories, but I think it's important to at least understand what the book is about.

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