Source: Roar Magazine
In this interview about his latest book, David Graeber discusses the role of unions, the challenges posed by automation and “the revolt of the caring classes.”
Is your job pointless? Do you feel that your position could be eliminated and everything would continue on just fine? Maybe, you think, society would even be a little better off if your job never existed?
If your answer to these questions is “yes,” then take solace. You are not alone. As much as half the work that the working population engages in every day could be considered pointless, says David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.
According to Graeber, the same free market policies that have made life and work more difficult for so many working people over the past few decades have simultaneously produced more highly paid managers, telemarketers, insurance company bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists who do nothing useful all day. Labor journalist Chris Brooks interviewed David Graeber to learn how so many pointless jobs came to exist and what it means for labor activists.
You make a distinction between bullshit jobs and shit jobs in your book. Can you talk a little bit about the distinction between the two?
Well it’s fairly straightforward: shit jobs are just bad jobs. Ones you’d never want to have. Back-breaking, underpaid, unappreciated, people who are treated without dignity and respect… The thing is for the most part, shit jobs aren’t bullshit, in the sense of pointless, nonsensical, because actually they usually involve doing something that genuinely needs to be done: driving people around, building things, taking care of people, cleaning up after them…
Bullshit jobs are most often paid quite well, involve nice benefit packages, you’re treated like you’re important and actually are doing something that needs to be done — but in fact, you know you’re not. So in that way they’re typically opposites.
How many of these bullshit jobs do you think could be eliminated and what kind of impact could that have on society?
Well pretty much all of them — that’s kind of the whole point. Bullshit jobs are ones where the person doing them secretly believes that if the job (or even sometimes the entire industry) were to disappear, it would make no difference — or perhaps, as in the case of say telemarketers, lobbyists, or many corporate law firms, the world would be a better place.
And that’s not all: think of all the people doing real work in support of bullshit jobs, cleaning their office buildings, doing security or pest control for them, looking after the psychological and social damage done to human beings by people all working too hard on nothing. I’m sure we could easily eliminate half the work we’re doing and that would have major positive effects on everything from art and culture to climate change.