Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world? In the spring of 2013, David Graeber asked this question in a playful, provocative essay titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” It went viral. After a million online views in seventeen different languages, people all over the world are still debating the answer. There are millions of people—HR consultants, communication coordinators, telemarketing researchers, corporate lawyers—whose jobs are useless, and, tragically, they know it. These people are caught in bullshit jobs. Graeber explores one of society’s most vexing and deeply felt concerns, indicting among other villains a particular strain of finance capitalism that betrays ideals shared by thinkers ranging from Keynes to Lincoln. Bullshit Jobs gives individuals, corporations, and societies permission to undergo a shift in values, placing creative and caring work at the center of our culture. This book is for everyone who wants to turn their vocation back into an avocation.
“Clever and charismatic.”—The New Yorker
“Graeber is an American anthropologist with a winning combination of talents: he’s a startlingly original thinker...able to convey complicated ideas with wit and clarity."—The Telegraph (UK)
Here is the defining feature of a bullshit job: one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince himself there’s a good reason for him to be doing it.
Countries need armies because other countries have armies. If no one had an army, armies would not be needed. But the same can be said of most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers, and corporate lawyers.
Bullshit jobs are entire jobs organized around that same principle. You’re working—or pretending to work—not for any good reason, at least any good reason that you could think of—but just for the sake of working.
Almost all sources concur that the worst thing about a bullshit job is simply the knowledge that it’s bullshit.
Much of our sense of being a self, a being discrete from its surrounding environment, comes from the joyful realization that we can have predictable effects on that environment. To take away that joy entirely is to squash a human like a bug.
We expect a job to serve some purpose or have some meaning and are deeply demoralized if we find it does not. But this leads to a question: If work is not simply a value in itself, in what way is it a value to others?
Right now, 37 to 40 percent of workers in rich countries already consider their jobs to be pointless.
If we let everyone decide for themselves how they were best fit to benefit humanity, with no restrictions at all, how could they possibly end up with a distribution of labor more inefficient than the one we already have?