Bullshit jobs

RIP  David Graeber

Many people hate their jobs, and David Graeber, an anthropology professor at the London School of Economics, told us why. David Graeber died today, so in his honor, let’s review the five types of bullshit jobs.

  1. Flunkies serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, and door attendants.
  2. Goons oppose other goons hired by other companies, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, and public relations specialists.
  3. Duct tapers temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, and airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive.
  4. Box tickers create the appearance that something useful is being done when it isn’t, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, and corporate compliance officers
  5. Taskmasters manage—or create extra work for—those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, and leadership professionals.

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number could not relate to their company’s mission. Similar polls with similar results have been performed in Europe. These polls help explain why the idea of retiring early attracts so many people. The only reason to stay at a meaningless job is to earn money, and once the need to make money disappears, there is no reason to continue to work.

I find my job pretty meaningful, although I am sure some people believe my job is in the last category. I am in a leadership position at a large public university. I help faculty develop their careers, and I tangentially help students have a productive and successful college experience. Maybe part of the reason I have no interest in retiring early is that I find my job very interesting and fulfilling.

One type of job that doesn’t make it on Graeber’s list is people involved in the production of items that are not needed. Probably everyone’s definition of such items is different. Today I saw a special two-level plate designed for sunflower seeds that allows you to hook up your phone to the plate. Perhaps most people, even those who eat sunflower seeds while watching movies on their phone, will agree that a standard plate and a regular phone stand would suffice.

Our family tends towards minimalism, so to me most things sold in stores are not necessary and don’t actually improve people’s lives. Most of us don’t really need a dinosaur taco holder,

or a light-up toilet.

Many people were involved in the production of these items – starting with the designers all the way down to the people manufacturing the item. And when you are selling an item that is quite useless, you need a significant amount of advertisement to make enough sales. Besides the human work hours put into these products, there is a significant detrimental effect on the environment. The plastic used had to be manufactured, and then those green taco holders will live in the landfill for much longer than they have graced someone’s table.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all the people involved in producing and selling dinosaur taco holders or sunflower seed bowls spend more time with their families? If we, as consumers, had fewer things to clutter our lives and empty our wallets so we too could spend more time doing the things that matter? David Graeber has pointed out the things that are wrong with how people in our society earn money. Let’s do something to fix the problems and help everyone have a more fulfilling life.

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