Rise of the bullshit job

ScreenHunter_31 Aug. 22 13.38

By Leith van Onselen

Back in the early-1930s, renowned economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that technical innovations and rising productivity would mean that advanced country workers would be able to work only 15 hours and still enjoy rising living standards.

In a highly amusing, but also somewhat depressing article in Strike! Magazine, David Graeber asks why Keynes’ prophecy has not come true and instead we find ourselves working a range of meaningless “bullshit jobs” that many of us hate:

There’s every reason to believe he [Keynes] was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Graeber goes on to describe how these so-called “bullshit jobs” are concentrated in “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers”:

Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away…

But 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…

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen.

As for the reasons behind these “bullshit jobs”, according to Graeber:

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…

My view is that there is light at the end of the tunnel in all of this. Many of the manual jobs that have been replaced by technology and robots were downright tedious and often dangerous, and arguably the administration jobs that have replaced them – the 21st century equivalent of last century’s production lines – are safer and easier. Real wages and living standards are arguably higher for lower paid workers today than were 70 years ago, even if inequality has risen.

That said, I strongly believe that most people work longer hours than they should and consume too much, and many would benefit from increased free time to spend with family or relaxing. It is also a reason why I am such a strong advocate for more affordable housing, principally through freeing-up the supply-side. It would be a lot easier for people to cut back on work if they weren’t burdened paying-off some of the world’s biggest mortgages or paying high rents.

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Unconventional Economist
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  1. It’s called “compliance” and it’s a rapidly growing industry.

    It can even be outsourced – it’s beautiful if you think about it.

  2. Ha Ha…”Bullshit Job” – great title!

    One of the reasons why I have chosen to head to a (reasonably largish) regional area to buy into cheap housing on a huge block of land (instead of waiting too much longer for the now clearly inevitable housing crash to arrive in Australia) is because of the rise and rise of “Bullshit Jobs” (a term that I have been using with others for a few years now) that have replaced the more meaningful jobs of the past.

    In 1972 you could actually work in a factory (doing nothing too over the top), buy a house, take your family overseas occasionally. The difference in purchasing power of the dollar between that time and now is stupendous.

    Love the title!

    • There were NOT too many Aussie factory workers taking their families on overseas trips in 1972! I think you are looking at the distant past with VERY rose tinted glasses…..

      • ’72? I recall my father celebrating about then as he was “now on $100 per week!” and agonising over buying a larger family home; one street back from the beach in Hampton, Melbourne. It cost him $17,000…..

      • Well perhaps that true, but my parents were (and are still) very prudent with their money and took us overseas and paid off their house in three years – On one factory wage during a period of about 7 years. We also live five minutes from Adelaide City.

      • Probably because the supply of planes has expanded since 1972 and in real terms they’re more efficient airlines. That is probably because Airlines aren’t “holding out for a better price” or hoarding the world’s supply of airliners and jet fuel because their value doubles every 7-10 years.

  3. That said, I strongly believe that most people work longer hours than they should and consume too much, and many would benefit from increased free time to spend with family or relaxing.

    The increased nominal wages of useless entities such celebrities, athletes, mortgage brokers and ‘womens studies’ graduates, as well as growing profit share and the marginal adjustment of dependecy ratios would infer rather that hours haven’t dimihshed as there are more unproductive people being supported by the productive.

  4. Excellent topic for discussion. I too have noticed that we are “working” more and more and achieving less and less.

  5. This is a great article! Reminds me a bit of “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” where the inhabitants of the planet Golgafrincham banished all their “bullshit job” people to another planet, including hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants, telephone sanitisers and the like. Sound familiar??? 🙂

    Unfortunately, not long after, the remaining population of Golgafrincham were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone……

  6. rob barrattMEMBER

    Jeremy Rifkin published “The end of work” in 1998, a book that examined the social implications of future technology on the work force. Of course many people initially thought computers would make their working lives shorter. In fact, competitive forces merely ensured that people worked the same hours and produced more. Compliance ( as Peter Frazer mentioned) could be regarded as part of the statement “we are competitive but also have integrity” however misleading that might be. The idea that a “ruling class” has organized this strikes me as too simple and premeditated and not reflective of a more complex process which must exist. I suspect one of the drivers of this process has been the efforts of organized labor and the left to combat out and out globalization.

  7. Its all bullshit when you think about it.

    I came out of the Federal court years ago with another young lawyer and we looked at each other and said ‘this is all bullshit isnt it?’

    He did the honorable thing and took off into 50 acres of Tarkine Wildrness chowing down on mung beans for twenty years. I just opted for different bullshit.

    I ditched law for industrial relations and sorting out agreements and intractable issues for some of the largest employers around. The issues that invariably drew the most heat were the ones I had earmarked as ‘bullshit’ and it didnt matter whether it was the Union side or management side there was always loads of ‘bullshit’ in the equation. Chat with line managers and most often they wanted to chat about ‘bullshit’ the ordinary mug punters would want to bring up issues too, or union officials, and they were all ‘bullshit’.

    More than once I was offered some very good gigs but always held off with a little man in the back of my head saying ‘this is bullshit’

    One day after resolving some particularly gnarly issues for one outfit involving a psychologist I shared a beer with him and basically downloaded my thought that it was all ‘bullshit’ – he told me he thought it was nearly all bullshit but that I should drop what I was doing and go and see if there was anything out there I thought wasnt bullshit.

    I ended up working in TV business news media and print media (mainly bullshit) in Europe and the mid east and working offside for finance and investment types making sure their bullshit is tailored to the bullshitees (as we used to refer to them).

    Eventually I come back to Australia and find a whole society sucking up ‘bullshit’ every time it turns on the TV or radio, opens up a paper. Then I look at politics and think to myself ‘those men (and women) are talking bullshit’

    For sure the powers that be have cottoned on to the fact that idle thinking types represent a danger. Their response has been to either make sure the populace is dumbed down or to make sure they are so deeply in hock that they will put up with loads of ‘bullshit’ just to service the debt. Uncle Rupert has cottoned on to the fact that if you spread the ‘bullshit’ far enough then everyone thinks it is normal.

    Of course we have bullshit jobs.

    Its Bullshit. Bullshit everywhere. Bullshit in the home straight by 8 lengths. Bullshit bowling a marathon spell from the Members and and Bullshit carving up the opposition with hard ball gets in the middle.

    Management is bullshit, strategy is bullshit, 95% of the people you will ever meet are bullshit in the context in which you will meet them.

    The one thing I will be explaining to my son and daughter is the view it is all bullshit, and why I have bent over backwards to avoid immersing them in it, to give them an out from the bullshit should they want it, in circumstances where they dont have to pay a bullshit ransom to some rent seeking bullshitter who think is they have a right to impose a bullshit tithe on others.

    A bullshit free world. That is something to dream about.

    • migtronixMEMBER

      Tech jobs are not, by and large, bullshit but the problem is that they are a like a snake eating its own tail

      • Tech jobs are the ultimate bullshit of today and I say that as someone who works in tech.

        Yesterday I had a briefing with a technology vendor and they spin bullshit so fast to create a business and sometimes it works and this man’s life of talking BS was so empty you could hear it as he went through his business and I asked questions like – what if this means Amazon destroys all retail – and he doesn’t want to deal with ethics, he’s pushing BS technology.

        My own BS job is bad but I can leave it for a few days a week but the thing I learnt is that if you say to co-workers, peers et al that its BS they look at you in horror as if the meaning of their lives is over.

      • I use to think as you do.

        What is bullshit is that people do not work on there thinking.
        Learn how to monitor their thoughts…Learn and realize what is going on inside their conscience mind.

        After some serious hard work.

        You can learn to control your thoughts “the bullshit” filling your conscience mind. The thousands and thousands of wasted bullshit thoughts people have every day.

        When you can control these “bullshit thoughts” you can become quite and hear your sub conscience mind.

        That is the real bullshit.

    • However sometimes I spend an hour sharpening a chisel. Then I take a piece of tree and make something that I hope will still be used and cared for in 50 years.

      No bullshit there.

      • to follow on to my bullshit thoughts…
        When you control your bull shit thoughts. you start really listening and observing what is around you…because you are really present.

        The same things will frustrate you…

        however you will naturally be completely present at whatever you are doing.

        Conversations you are having…everything so long as you are removing the constant bull shit running through your mind…

        You then realize it is not so much as what you do rather how you do it…that your mind is as focused on the task at hand as to how quite your mind is. How effective you are of controlling the bullshit thoughts.

        The bull shit is people realize this when they are to old (Average age is 80) to live life with out the bull shit of ALL the bull shit running through your mind all day long.

      • sounds a lot like buddhist mindfulness… which at the risk of getting wavy, is actually pretty darn helpful in this bullshit world.

    • ‘For sure the powers that be have cottoned on to the fact that idle thinking types represent a danger’ was my favourite part

  8. migtronixMEMBER

    Why didn’t it happen? Easy answer – the winners from the huge productivity boost we’ve seen in the last 40 years (because of both technology and work-force participation increase) have been the owners of capital. The gains have gone purely into profits and not wages/wealth distribution — when I create a piece of s/w that allows one person to do the job previously done by 4 do you think my client gives those 4 people 1/4 of the hours for the same pay? Hell no! They fire 3 and make the 4th work longer hours for a menial increase in wages! And where does the money that previously went to the wages of 3 people (once the s/w is paid for)? Straight into profits. So if you own part of the business what you get back is increase wealth from disbursement of profits, if you don’t own part of the business you get fired or forced to work more hours.

    This is especially true when govt sells its entities and once made commercial they are instantly “modernised” (made technologically smarter) — there is no reason the govt could not have done that and saved the rest of us piles of money. Its a rent-seekers world baby! (but beware the hand of the geek that “feeds” you technology).

    • “Why didn’t it happen? Easy answer – the winners … have been the owners of capital.”

      More specifically, the issuers of capital. In the form of loans. At usury … which is not created along with the principal. Result? The endless “growth”/endless debt/endless servitude paradigm in which we exist today.

      All of the bullshit in society that touches … in ANY way … on money/economics, is bullshit as a consequence of the “capital” (“money”) system itself. Cause=>Effect.

      If folks truly desire the Keynesian, technology-driven less work more play/creativity existence (for their kids/grandkids, anyway .. for us it’s too late), then the root problem thus solution is clear.

      Ban Usury. Again.

      Problem Solved.

      P.S. Thank you Leith, for linking this article.

  9. Hugh PavletichMEMBER

    Great one Leith … Spot on !

    Government “make work” jobs with the parasitic consultancy industry that feeds off them and us, is a massive cancer on society.

    These leeches have milked the housing industry, wrecking housing affordability, as just one example of many.

  10. ceteris paribus

    What a wonderful article. I reflect on this a lot.

    In particular, the organisation or corporation has insinuated itself between the potter and his/her wheel over the last 200 years.

    The organisation demands and devours so much worker time for its own bullshit needs, not for the actual mission of the organisation.

    And where people gather together in numbers in organisations, there is inevitably the other huge time waster going on- the interpersonal soap operas and melodramas

    Blah. Away with the organisation. Let me sit quietly at my own particular potter’s wheel at home, work 5 times more effectively and enjoy the passing parade of my own thoughts.

  11. I’m not a sci-fi fan, but a book by Jack McDevitt was set in a future in which automation had made most labour redundant. Everyone was paid an income, something like a negative income tax, although many people did pursue other opportunities.

    More personally, I have way too many bits of parchment (in engineering and finance) and there have really only been a handful of days when I used any it. It’s all crap. These days, I do fine trading on a couple of financial markets and really don’t feel any more useless than I did in a cubicle farm. Not only was the work pointless, as best I could tell, but it was abstracted from any tangible result, or even the promise of a tangible result, making me conclude that money and morbid curiosity were the only reasons to turn up in the morning.

    I often wonder whether our forebears in pre-industrial villages might not have had better lives in many respects.

    • I think a huge amount of modern jobs are bullshit but not let’s get delusional about life centuries ago.

      You can be sure that only a small proportion of humanity in ANY era have ever had truly fulfilling lives, got to do what they loved, and also prospered.

      At least today we have the freedom (as Gunna’s excellent post above showed) to swap around jobs (even if they’re all bullshit), change homes, cities, countries. Or we can drop out and still probably get by ok (like his mung bean mate).

      In the past, you were stuck where you started, and generally that meant misery.

      Working a patch of potatoes or manual labouring for the feudal lord, dying of disease, living short, working back-breakingly hard, never travelling more than a few miles from the village, dirty, uneducated, cold, ignorant, no chance of social mobility, and with the only light relief caused by the odd pointless (undoubtedly bullshit) local war which had a decent chance of killing you or your kids and a dead set certainty of leaving your miserable hut in ashes.

      We at least have the luxury of dreams in the modern age – and we’re well enough off enough to have a shot at following our dream, and still fall back on a bullshit job if we don’t quite make it.

      Give it a try if you can, and you might just be one of the lucky ones.

      • “not let’s get delusional about life centuries ago. You can be sure that…”


        I’ve come across plenty over the years suggesting that the view you are espousing (it’s so much better now, life was much worse back then) is far from accurate.

        Of course, this modern “we’re better, everything is better” viewpoint — from whence is it’s origin, btw? — is all the more useful for the purpose/outcome of keeping the masses happily placated (thus, no threat to the rulers), what with their limitless “choice” of bullshit jobs, endless materialism/consumer choice, mindless unedifying “entertainment”, pacifying (il)legal drugs … and lifetime dependence on debt and/or welfare “providers”.

      • We at least have the luxury of dreams in the modern age – and we’re well enough off enough to have a shot at following our dream, and still fall back on a bullshit job if we don’t quite make it.

        I agree. Too gloomy for me.

        Isn’t it just bullshit how we’re living decades longer and more of our children survive to become adults?

        http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Mar+2011

        The problem of it all being ‘bullshit’ * is very much a first world problem. Have some perspective. Look at how far we have come.

        *: to borrow a tactic of AGW skeptics to put words in ‘quotes’ to make them appear ‘suspicious’

      • PolarBearMEMBER

        I agree with arrow2. I also agree with Gunna and the philosophical point that there is much BS. I am in Beijing at the mo and this website is painfully slow inc typing a post. So will cut to the chase.

        I don’t think there was such a thing as friendly feudalism. And generally life was shorter and more brutal in the past. To those who think otherwise look at the third world. Would you rather be a woman in Taliban Afghanistan or a woman in the modern West? I’m not just talking about really excellent cosmetic products.

  12. Now there’s a big movement, probably started by the chardonnay socialists, and now it’s also being done by the bogans, that you get meaning out of your life by going on holidays and “finding yourself” before you commence decades of these meaningless, overworked and underpaid bullshit jobs.

    Funny thing is we had found ourselves, we had Australia and we were Australians, lucky as hell, but lots of people didn’t like that one bit, now we’re going to piss it away for the rent seekers and the bleeding hearts. Or in the case of Sydney we already have.

  13. Then there is advertising, the main purpose of which is to make people unhappy with what they have already got.

  14. KlimashkinaSydney

    I don’t share your optimism. Most of us don’t have any imagination. If we only were chained to a desk for 15 hours a week, with the rest of the time to idle away, most of us would die of boredom.

    Ideas like these work for say Betrand Russell (viz “In Praise of Idleness”), but most of us can’t just hang out with our brains and conjure beautiful thoughts, or create something new.

    That said, I do agree that most work is bullshit work. It won’t go away though; it’ll just find new forms!

    And from a darker perspective, do we dare think that it’s a new form of serfdom?

  15. I wish people thought more about this as well.

    Keynes’ utopia looks further off now than it was when he wrote about it.
    Surely people know that a stupidly large fraction of the waking hours of the best years of their lives are being wasted on tedious and pointless tasks. Do they not value voluntary leisure at all?

    Maybe when per capita incomes reach Qatar levels Keynes’ dream will actually come true.

  16. “David Rolfe Graeber (/ˈɡreɪbər/; born 12 February 1961) is an American anthropologist, anarchist, and professor at the London School of Economics. He was formerly an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him,[1] and his term ended in June 2007.”


    More information about Graeber at the link.

    The Bullshit job. It’s really not news nor the fact that Capitalism demands there be BS jobs available. Not news either that an anarchist would rail against ; “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger” OK so what should we embrace then- anarchy?

    Your last para is spot on UE. However, I suspect too that more and more we are working longer hours because we find ourselves increasingly competing with lower cost jurisdictions. That’a a discussion for another thread perhaps.

    • FWIW, I believe anarchy as a political movement and form is the next stage in civilizing our species. .

      Remember, anarchy literally and philosophically means “no rulers” – not “no rules”. Civilization needs rules, it does not need a ruling class. Usually the latter – or the lackeys of the latter – will paint anarchy as chaos, which is a complete lie.

      We should fully embrace anarchism – first via reformation/overhaul of our democratic/centralist federalist/socialist system into a direct democracy style, organised as cantons with a nearly powerless federal council. (i.e Swiss)

      But it wont happen – Australians loved to be ruled, and told what to do, or to tell others what to do. We need to progress past this greediness, cowardice and bully behaviour, but I have grave doubts about it.

      Great post UE and also comment by Gunnamatta as well.

      • My post was deleted because I happened to question embracing anarchy?

        Seriously? Good Grief. Are you SO vain?


        I wouldn’t have a clue about “astroturfing”. My mistake was that I didn’t entirely agree with you. I meant exactly what I posted. If you think my comments were not correct , pull them apart by all means.

      • Your comment was astroturfing 101:

        1. slightly agree and acquiesce that the OP might have apoint
        2. quickly raise doubts
        3. point to historical “proof”
        4. end with a submission of imperfection, oh well, nice idea, but its too hard.

        I.e Bullshit tapering off idea to “too hard basket”.

        3d1k – you can stop the bullshitting too.

      • Chris I wasn’ bullshitting. An anarchic society has little appeal to me. It is a false philosophy that disregards basic human proclivities.

      • rob barrattMEMBER

        “Australians loved to be ruled, and told what to do, or to tell others what to do”. True, the Larrikin is a myth and the police just love that steroid pumped storm trooper macho pose. But if you want 100% guaranteed bullshit, look no further than the nanny state.

      • Educated Anarchy would be very close to utopia.Acting from logic & reason. The antithesis of our society of Telling & coercing

      • “Australians loved to be ruled, and told what to do, or to tell others what to do”
        i agree

        I think Australians love to be ruled because they don’t really protest that much….plus they don’t even vote to become independent (from the British Monarchy)…coming from a country where people were tortured, died and fought for independence, I don’t understand why Australians actually CHOOSE to be a part of the British monarchy…

        you’re right…maybe its cause Australians love to be ruled

  17. My pet hate for bullshit is the supplements industry, and alternative medicine industry. Despite the fact science shows its all bullshit past a placebo effect there are chiropractors, naturopaths etc… everywhere. Not to mention shelves and shelves full of useless pills in the supermarkets and pharmacy.

    A massive industry that basically just sells bullshit.

    Hell my private health insurance will even cover the appointments with my preferred feel good bullshit provider.

    • “Hell my private health insurance will even cover the appointments with my preferred feel good bullshit provider.”

      So true. And we all pay for this bullshit. Whether we like it or not.

      What a load of masculine bovine excrement.

      • No bullshit in pharma?

        My friend works in “diversity” at a large pharma company and flies around the world to play with pipe cleaners and clay – if that’s not a bullshit job then what is please. It adds no value whatsoever but makes the company feel warm and fuzzy. I’d rather big pharma lowers the price of their drugs rather than pay people to fly around the world and attend “diversity meetings”

  18. i think there is a law somewhere that dictates that wasted labour will always be reused – and over time i think the smaller problems have become “bigger” as the bigger problems dissipate. People dont tend to die at work much anymore, but we have whole departments ensuring they are not discriminated against or getting RSI. This does not increase productivity, but has been demanded from a workforce who think that if the company can afford to do it then it should.
    I also think there is more and more competition between companies to provide smaller and smaller advantages. lets face it, Toyota could have stopped with the first generation Corolla and it would serve our needs fine. How many resources have been invested for the increasingly dimnished gains in the motor car over the past 3 decades?
    technology is a great example – I use the same office apps and email functionality at work as I did 15 years ago, but the tech budget has got larger and larger.

    • ” I use the same office apps”

      OK, so the applications have the same names, but they are not the same as 15 years ago, not even close (unless you’re still running windows 98).

      I get your point, but I’d like to ask this.. at what point is a product ‘good enough’ to stop innovating and developing it.

      The thing about the future is that it is unkown (and unknowable) so the result to further development and research is also unknown.

      • Dr bob, I’d be prepared to say 95% of office apps functionality used today would have been in existence 15 years ago. There is a lot of feature rich rubbish Added since then that chews up space and no sensible person would use except for maybe a manager trying to impress at a presentation. When is a product good enough? Easy, when the cost to develop improvements far outweighs any gains. Relational databases are a great idea, they have been around for 20 years, and the basic principles haven’t really been improved upon since despite purists trying to introduce other database models.
        I’m not saying there have no improvements, simply that the marginal benefits have not justified the cost for the most part. People have too much time to spin bullshit to their unaware company bosses of the benefits of tech upgrades.

        And arrow2, if the yarris is so great why does no one use it? Is not even a car.

    • “Let’s face it, Toyota could have stopped with the first generation Corolla and it would serve our needs fine”

      I can’t agree, Squirell.

      The Yaris (the equivalent of the first Corolla) is orders of magnitude safer (airbags, ABS), more efficient, faster and more reliable than the first Corolla.

      And cheaper in real terms.

      I don’t consider designing and making better cars is “bullshit work”.

    Pranged my car yesterday,Holden Calais, mind not on the job.
    But little damage to the car, plastic front bumper knocked off, left hand fender damaged and bonnet crinkled back about 40cm, but, both front air bags went off, they make a hell of a noise, now the evaluation is unrepairable wreck.
    Another car needed.
    Is that bullshit or what!!!

    • You main point is good. A car should be able to take a bump without being wrecked.

      However today’s cars are built extremely efficiently by robots. Damage can only be fixed by manual labour. Therefore a little damage is more expensive than a whole new car.

    • Unfortunately a lot of newer cars today are taking the independent mechanic out of the game.

      Parts are being paired with tools that only the dealer mechanic can access so you’ve got little alternative but to keep going back to the dealer.

  20. I love the use of Bullshit in Australian culture and the best example I can think of is in the great Australian film The Dish,it was where the two guys in Parkes had lost contact with the moon and NASA was wondering where the picture had gone and one Aussie block said something like..”nothing wrong here mate”. and the other Aussie guy said to him ” you’ve just lied to NASA” and the guy replied “naw mate just bullshitted”

    Yes great title and is getting some spot on comments from better educated people than me.

    • Slightly off topic, but the Dish is one of my all-time favs. The wife and I enjoy watching it on a Friday night with a glass of wine.

      Funny thing is – we’d never heard of it before we cam to Australia. Even in Australia, I’ve come across several Aussies who’ve never heard of it.

      I guess everyone prefers the bullshit of X-factor and Jersey Shore (is that what it is?).

  21. In amongst all this is this little gem.

    But more seriously though I think a lot of these ‘bullshit’ jobs stem from initial ‘non-bullshit’ jobs that balloon out with promotions to middle management etc

    Furthering this is demand for stable median paying wage slave roles (think admin / customer service etc) which allow people to derive an income without fuss (or stress) and get on with more important areas of their lives ie. family, friends, holidays etc.

    The differences in my current foray into corporate Aust. from a mining/construction background could not be starker, however I am beginning to understand the trade off that is made between earning and stability. There appears to be a certain sector of the populous that craves a lower paying slice of stability (although I never knew until now) and therefore there are companies that take advantage of this. In return they are rewarded with employee retention.

  22. There is an outstanding book recently released that deals with this precise issue. I’m pretty sure I got the recommendation from a comment on MB last year actually.

    It’s called
    How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky

    • Can you buy it in epub anywhere? I cant find a copy to entertain me on my commute home from said topic.

  23. I commented along these lines some time ago elsewhere…


    “It’s amusing that these great economists all look at the demand side without considering the obvious supply side.

    We’ve collectively spent the last two hundred years industrialising, automating, and replacing human labour with mechanical labour. Once, there was an ideal that we would not need to work as many hours to achieve the same output. Well, guess what? We’ve arrived! Since it now requires less labour to support ourselves, logic would suggest that increasing the supply of money to stimulate demand isn’t actually going to achieve the goal of employment anymore. It will simply be saited by increased machine labour.

    What we’re starting to see is a genuine oversupply of human labour. It doesn’t matter if our populations shrink or grow anymore. We simply produce excess to our needs. Lose a billion people, and we’ll still have structural unemployment.

    The time has come for a substantial restructuring of the supply side of labour. It’s the only answer that has recently proven successful (in Germany).

    We need to force down hours across the board to employ the unemployed, and to remove the taxation welfare burden from the workers.

    It’s been done before. The 8 hour movement was a massive success.

    Further to that, I argue that our 5 day 8 hour weeks are now becoming increasingly a structural problem. For starters, they have gross inefficiencies in resource usage. Factories and offices sit idle for 40% of the daylight hours. Workers commute all at once causing strains on infrastructure and natural resources.

    Our legacy 7 day week will have to stay simply because the Gregorian calendar is far too engrained. However, we are already slowly shifting to 7day trade in many service industries.

    The problem is, there’s no easy way to create a win-win for business and individuals.

    I modelled one solution that attempted to achieve both and complete fairness.

    It’s radical, and won’t be without its issues. But this model increases our overall efficiency and days off substantially even if we decided to stick to the 38 hour week. I’m talking 16% fewer commutes, 40% extra business production, and a whole lot of 4 day weekends.

    Briefly, it requires 5 offset ‘shifts’. Each ‘shift’ uses 20 days for it’s cycle, and 20 weeks to repeat. No one works more than 4 days in a row. But 7 day trading is seamless. Each ‘shift’ is fair. No one is stuck working ‘weekends’ forever. Everyone works an equal number of days.

    The cycle or ‘week’ goes like this: 4 days working, 2 days off, 4 days working, 2 days off, 4 days working, 4 days off. Each of the 5 ‘shifts’ is the same, but offset by two days giving perfect coverage with every single day achieving 60% of the workforce at work while the remaining 40% relax.

    I modelled it for my country (The land downunder) based on the full 38 hours. The model should work for any country if only the population and participation rate figures are changed.

    The best part of this model is the efficiency gained doesn’t have to change if hours are cut. Realistically, it could even achieve greater efficiency by cutting hours, and extending operating hours with overlapping start/finish times. (ie some staff start at 7am, some start at 9).

    The full model extends off the page, but it’s a repeating pattern.

    Take a look:

    (image missing but I can find it if someone asks)

    Yes, I know it’s waay too radical for the current world, but one day, we might be forced to consider this.”

    • No… prior to water mills and everything barring agriculture was done by hand, then followed by the advent of mechanisation for the first time….people back then couldn’t possibly imagine an increase in the number of teachers, scientists, all round knowledge workers, or an increase in pesonal services, such as cutting hair.

      Extrapolate that today… people 300 years ago would most likely have thought a hairdresser would be the most bullshit of bullshit jobs.

      We wouldn’t consider that today.

      There is the potnetial for limitless utility, and often the new jobs are found by innovators being unbound to bring their new product to market and gauging the markets reaction.

    • Your idea is out there OK, but why not start with something simple?

      Change school hours to start at 7:30 and finsih 1:30

      No need for before school care. – Less cost burden on working parents

      Sports can be reintroduced after school not during school hours. More academic learning during school hours.
      Fitness & health of kids improve and if made compulsory, they might actually start to feel pride in their school again. That pride can easily be extrapolated to their community and country.

      Half day part time for a mother wanting to return to work will now mean 8 to 12, leaving her more quality time during the day to spend with herself and the children.

      Sport and homework are finished by the time father gets home, able to spend more time with kids instead of mad run around to get dinner done and kids to bed.

      No whinging again in Queensland about daylight savings time in summer!!!!!

      Lots of social benefits.

  24. Technologies had been improving rapidly. They made life certainly more convenient although it is arguable if they are truly necessary. Take smart phones for example. Are they convenient? Certainly. Are they really necessary? Probably not. After all, nobody suffered from lack of smart phones before they were invented.

    Anyways, the rapid development of technologies made the pace of life faster. We can achieve more in a given time frame today than we could a decade ago. So, will you finish your work early saying to your boss “I achieved what I would have achieved 10 years ago with the use of decade old technologies only”? No way. You will get fired. So you will work some more. And this extra work contributes to the fast pace of life, because whoever is at the receiving end of your work will also find that more is achieved today than a decade ago. So the feedback loop goes on.

    As long as we stick to capitalism, these “bullshit jobs” are necessity. Consumers as an aggregate would not have enough purchasing power without them. In other words, these “bullshit jobs” exist for the sole purpose of distributing purchasing power to consumers.

    The world productivity is great enough to supply everything to the world population (because it had been many decades since the last major war destroyed a meaningful fraction of the world productivity). But, ironically, the system that is responsible for creating the great productivity in the first place is based on competition, not on cooperation. In fact, capitalism would not have been able to achieve the great productivity without its competition principles.

  25. Now that I think about it, and after reading Gunnamatter’s 100+ response, had tears of laughter the first couple of times, “Bullshit winning by 8 lengths” (cant you just see it)

    What I was thinking about instead of driving the car was maybe that I may have finally mastered some of this bullshit despite being immersed up to my proverbial arse for all these years.

    A smack in the head from an air bag soon fixed that thought, then the appraisal guy saying the car is a write off, put me right back in it again.
    Oh! for a compass. WW

  26. I’m coming from a metal trade making things that are useful, in an industry well under siege. I’ve been asking since the early 90’s – What happens when the whole country becomes an overhead & no one actually produces anything?

    Maybe some of the insightful people in here can help me out?

    One couple who are highly intelligent & can afford to see well past their next pay packet hadn’t even thought of the concept of following your passion as your job (since you spend 1/3 of your life there). They thought it was quite an odd premise to choose a career by when all it took was a uni ticket to get the good pay, but I don’t see any passion in their lives outside work either – so why bother.

  27. Just had a thought. Considering all the various ways the Australian economy is bullshitting along and people like to bullshit ourselves into thinking “we’re different”, perhaps we can borrow a line from another classic and say:

    “That’s not bullshit. THIS is bullshit.”

  28. I knew a guy who grew up in Hungary. Over there because everyone was allocated a job, companies used to end up with “cottonwool people” who just were pushed over into a corner where they didn’t get in the way.

    We are heading the same way, because full employment is a sacred idea – simultaneously with automation and efficiency which destroy jobs. The only response is to fill the gap with fake jobs.

    Over the next 50 years is it reasonable to expect that Robots, Automatic Manufactories and the Internet will drive the value of human labour to zero?

    We are already seeing that stuff can be made for almost nothing using cheap labour, and companies like Foxxcon are moving to replace those cheap workers with robots. Factories without workers just need materials and energy as inputs. Factories can probably be built to make other factories. 3D printing fully developed can probably build house modules that can be assembled by robot cranes. Etc. etc.

    Doesn’t this mean that your average human will have less and less to offer? If they can’t sell their labour, how can they buy the stuff the robots make? Doesn’t this mean that unemployment must rise to 50% and beyond?
    This basic and apparently unavoidable phenomenon of technological progress seems to spawn a whole raft of questions, none of which make any sense when viewed in our rear view mirror.

    So, if human labour is gradually deprecated, how do we determine …
    the value of money?
    how is energy divvied up?
    who owns the intellectual property that drives the robots?
    why keep making stuff if no one can pay for it?
    why keep feeding people who can’t pay for their consumption?
    why promote population growth when the new people can’t pay their way?
    why pursue economic growth?

    My guess is that our ideas about work and money are so deeply ingrained that governments will gradually just replace our economy with a fake one which is essentially a hideous feudal/rent-seeking/paper-shuffling simulacrum of what we had last century. Boiled Frog meets the 5 Year Plan.

    A phoney economy where banks loan out fake money to allow us to work at bogus companies sending multicoloured forms to each other requiring transfers of fees and charges so we can be payed more fake money to buy robot produce and send whats left over back to the bank. A Clockwork Orange of neo-classical precision.

    Wait ….

  29. I’ll try my hand at a continental philosophical view:

    I doubt that some higher powers or ‘elite’ sit around and say ‘yeah, we’ll get them good and band together to convince the plebs through advertising and politics that they should work and buy more crap’.

    It’s our deep and religious faith in capitalism which is to blame. We’ve seen countless stories of global destruction, apocalypses, terrorist destruction, and zombies over the past 15 years but no one can conceive of a post-capitalist world.
    Whether you made solid cars back in the 70s and were proud of them, or whether you’re a suicidal lawyer today trying to find meaning in your life, it’s all about CONTEXT, and not WHAT you’re actually producing. Everything today is globally contextualized, commodified, and always available. This cripples people’s sense of individuality, community and identity.

    What we need is a break from the ideology of global capitalism without resorting back to the comfort and false nostalgia of utopian fantasies.
    We need to value the immediate utilitarian, ethical needs of others (in our own country FFS) and our communities. We need a space for ethical thought and action independent of the market, church, or government.

  30. BTW, post scarcity societies are a popular topic in science fiction – the recently departed Iain M. Banks wrote many novels about the “Culture” where machines benevolently managed human affairs.

    Back on Earth, Barry Jones (Pick-a-Box) wrote “Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work” back in 1982 – about this very subject.

    What is the chance that Kevin Rudd has not read Barry Jones? I agree – zero.

    The rise of the Bullshit Job is probably a very familiar concept (even if not discussed publicly) in Canberra.

    • Having worked in consulting and advisory, i am absolutely convinced that regulation and compliance are the ‘make work’ jobs of the information age.

      We don’t have to be bound to them, but most people seem more comfortable bound by debt and consumerism in their world of negative freedom.

  31. We are in general a nation of lotus eaters.

    The lotus being our natural endowment.

    Bullshitting is what we do betweens servings.

    Pass the spoon please.

  32. Debt feudalism, and endless consumerism, are the bindings that we weave ourselves and apply to our own limbs and then seem to be unable to untie.

    Time, and the tiny, minuscule, moment of consciousness we are granted from a tiny rock on the edge of the universe are spectacularly wasted by most on greed and social relativism.

    Such it is.

  33. 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…

    The Ruling Class may have looked down and seen this is what we’re among;

    The Last Man

    Celebrity Culture

    The reptile brain comes first, then the evoled brain (emotion, empathy,..), then the frontal lobe (the large rational thing in front).

    People don’t want more time to work on their own personal projects and innovations. Only a small number of people would do such things. The rest would become so bored, they’d be stuck on computer games, porn, drinking, drugs, fist-fights, making YouTube videos in praise of stupidity, idiocy.

    Give people a master that will abuse them, and they will love them. We’re yet to see (true) Anarchy in this world (such would require the Frontal Lobe in action). We’re not far off kissing the butts of Tyrants again, and the people love it. By tyrants I don’t mean an obvious stick belting Fascisim. Rather a system of propaganda that tickles people’s fancy at the expense of their own misery.

    This ruling class has us all worked out.

  34. I might add; has anybody wondered why many of the poorest nations on this planet keep huge armies relative to their population? It does not make sense from purely military perspective; these huge armies are pretty much useless in front of modern weapons, especially given that many of these poor nations cannot afford enough weapons for their soldiers, let alone ammunition for their training. But once you realize that these nations are doing this to keep their youngsters employed then it makes perfect sense. These “bullshit jobs” are essential for social stability.

  35. Publishing a blog must count as a bullshit job, or are you a lumberjack the rest of the time.

    What I see is an awful lot of whinging from a bunch of very lucky people. We are some of the richest people on the planet and in history. We live in a country where you can give things a go and if you fail, the safety net will catch you. And yet we whinge about lack of fulfilment. Well folks, that’s for you to sort out. Not fulfilled? Use the ample time you all have to do something fulfilling. The truth is most people fritter away their time and other resources. And anyway, if manual work is so fulfilling, go start making stuff. No one is going to stop you turning your shed into a private workshop where you turn out quality furniture or sew beautiful clothes or whatever the hell you find fulfilling.

    As to endorsing anarchy, look around you and ask whether it would work in practice. Lovely idea maybe, but completely naive. That’s not to say political and economic reform is unwarranted. But the solution is wrong.

    • Good-O Monkey, my thoughts too. If most people had such time, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. They wouldn’t even stagnate, well very few may, nearly all else would go on a downhill slide.

      Anarchy sounds utopian. Humans and utopias shoud be keep well away from each other.

    • i agree. you can have a mundane job AND do something fulfilling on the side but only if you’re single….imagine having a family to support? most people dont have the time to do both.

      that’s why alot of young people choose to stay single.

  36. Lol great article.

    I’m another bullshit job worker. My bullshit job is to provide bullshit words to a bullshit artist to defend against bullshit attacks by another bullshit artist who is trying to bullshit his way into grabbing a bigger piece of pie. I am the bureaucracy.