On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs - David Graeber

On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs - David Graeber

David Graeber traces the 20th century promise of a 4 hour day and how we got unproductive labour instead.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he 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.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). 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 (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

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. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

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. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

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 (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

From Strike Mag

Comments

flaneur
Aug 20 2013 17:39

From an actual site called BullshitJob

Quote:
Dear BullshitJob, I am a helpdesk guy at a huge corporate campus…and let me tell you about a conversation between me and my boss regarding Marcia. I’m gonna copy you on some emails.

Marcia is having a problem with her machine, can you call her?

Hi, sure, but a few questions:
1. Who is Marcia?
2. What is her phone number?
3. What is the problem she is having?

[Ed: three days later] Have you fixed Marcia’s problem yet?

I still need to know who Marcia is, how to contact her, and what the problem is?

What, she hasn’t called you?

No.

Oh, nevermind. She says it fixed itself.

I still don’t know who Marcia is.

Joseph Kay
Aug 21 2013 09:08
David Graeber wrote:
a lot of tabloid readers... "the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school"... a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties...

Another world...

David Graeber wrote:
If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital

I think a critique of socially useless (or actively antisocial) work is important. So too the amount of office work which is basically looking busy (I'm being paid while I write this, for example). But I'm sceptical of framing this as 'financial parasites' vs 'real productive work' and saying there's nothing economic about it.

I mean, there's definitely a political/social/moral aspect to the work ethic, and imposing work discipline seems to serve social control even if totally divorced from production (see: workfare). But I don't think this can be divorced from the economic situation.

Private firms still hire people cos they make them more money. So the rise of 'bullshit jobs' since the demise of Fordism is a function of profit-seeking. Why profits are found in these sectors is, amongst other things, an economic question. I'm reading Kliman's book on 'the failure of capitalist production' at the moment. That argues profits have never recovered from the crisis of the 1970s. So that would be one explanation for capital moving into speculative activity (derivatives), rent-seeking (buy-to-lets), corporate services (law, accounting etc).

I think anti-work politics is really important - there's a stat doing the rounds from a Gallup poll that 20% of US workers are actively disengaged with and working to undermine their own jobs for example. And stressing the work ethic's moral-political function in social control is a healthy counter-weight to crude economism. But yeah, I'm really sceptical of this Occupy-esque truncated critique of finance capital rather than capital per se.

If Kliman's data hold up, deregulation of the financial sector from the 1980s is a symptom of an unresolved profit crisis rather than a major causal force. So while finance/property bubbles were proximate causes of the 2008 crisis, phenomenon like the growth of bullshit jobs would have more to do with the underlying profit crisis than the power of finance capital. Or to put it another way, correlation is not causation. The relative power of finance capital and the growth of bullshit jobs could have a common cause. That's what's missed by jettisoning economics altogether for morality imho.

Edit: wasn't there some nasty polemic between Kliman and Graeber actually? I'm not citing Kliman to take sides in an ego contest or to provoke, it's just what i'm reading at the moment, and seems to make a plausible case for low profits underlying financial deregulation, escalating debt, and (by extension) bullshit jobs in socially useless sectors.

Joseph Kay
Aug 21 2013 09:37

Novara has been pretty good on this. I think it was this episode that tackled why Keynes' predictions didn't materialise, and why automation under capitalism tends to intensify/extend working time, e.g. driverless cars meaning you can work in the car on the way to work.

Jim Clarke
Aug 21 2013 10:12
Joseph Kay wrote:
I think a critique of socially useless (or actively antisocial) work is important. So too the amount of office work which is basically looking busy (I'm being paid while I write this, for example). But I'm sceptical of framing this as 'financial parasites' vs 'real productive work' and saying there's nothing economic about it.

Completely agree with this, I don't think my current job is particularly socially useful (although the skills are have definitely are) but it produces something which enables the company I work for to make a profit. The same goes for my previous job in financial services although I'm not entirely clear about what kind of commodity was being produced (if any).

While I agree with Graeber that there are plenty of jobs which are 'bullshit' and have recognised this myself in the past, if we're critiquing jobs which exist for no other purpose than to valorise capital, then we need to recognise that's the only reason any job exists.

mikail firtinaci
Aug 21 2013 13:01
Joseph Kay wrote:
I think a critique of socially useless (or actively antisocial) work is important. So too the amount of office work which is basically looking busy (I'm being paid while I write this, for example). But I'm sceptical of framing this as 'financial parasites' vs 'real productive work' and saying there's nothing economic about it.

...

Private firms still hire people cos they make them more money.

The problem is, a law firm may be profitable for its own owners, but still it is perfectly parasitic over total capital. Just like bureaucracy, finance sector is parasitic over the capital and these sectors are basically devouring those kind of investments which historically might have gone to infrastructure or those kind of investments that reduce the necessary labor time in the process of production.

So in that sense, a low tech-high pollution cost Chinese or Vietnamese factory that profits through exploiting workers' time and health more rather than developing technology is also parastical.

But of course there is a fine balance here. I agree with you in the sense that this critique has to firmly put the fact that it is not merely "a choice" of financial elite but an expression of total bankruptcy and degrading character of capitalist way of organizing life over the whole of humanity.

Jim Clarke
Aug 21 2013 13:21

How is finance parasitic?

I thought capital was parasitic on living labour, not finance on capital.

Joseph Kay
Aug 21 2013 13:34

Yeah, I think there's two different arguments re: parasitism.

1. A sort of good vs evil celebration of 'the real economy'/'Main Street USA' vs finance capital/'the bankers'. Implicitly, sometimes explicitly, this harks back to good ol' social partnership Fordism. Basically, seeing finance as external to 'real' productive capital. This tends to be linked to Keynesian/reformist politics - euthenise the rentiers and give the economy back to the 'real wealth creators' etc - the crisis is basically one of (neoliberal) greed and mismanagement.

2. An analysis that sees the growth of unproductive sectors (in value terms) as immanent to capitalism (e.g. due to falling profits and a turn to rent-seeking), and hence a symptom rather than the disease. Basically, seeing finance as a necessary part of capital not an optional extra. This tends to be linked to socialist/communist/revolutionary politics seeing the crisis as system-inherent.

I think Graeber, and a lot of the Occupy discourse, definitely falls under (1). The problem is, the advocates of the second position don't often have much at all to say about finance or debt, so they have quite an open field. So far, Kliman's book is promising in this regard, it's a shame he seems to enjoy polemics which generate more heat than light (vs Graeber, vs Heinrich...).

Curiously, there's quite a lot of overlap between Graeber and Kliman's proposed solutions. For Kliman, short of revolution, the only way to restore the rate of profit is a massive destruction of capital value on a par with the Great Depression (with all the misery and social unrest that implies). For Graeber, the solution is to forgive the debts, like the enlightened self-interest of an ancient Mesopotamian priesthood. Which seems to in part amount to much the same thing - a massive devaluation of capital (albeit, only creditors' capital).

Jim Clarke
Aug 21 2013 14:03

I don't think we can accuse Graeber of lacking revolutionary politics although I agree that his analysis of finance definitely appears to embrace reformist positions. Also agree that there's nowhere near enough materialist analysis of the growth of the finance sector from the 70s onwards.

Was reading Liar's Poker last night and have just got to the bit where Lewis describes the emergence of the mortgage backed securities market which reminded me that this is a huge area of the global economy which to my mind still hasn't been adequately understood by people coming from a Marxist perspective (although I'm sure some posters will be able to recommend things to read).

Joseph Kay
Aug 21 2013 14:13

Sam Knaffo's meant to be good on finance, but his book's like £80 (or £26 on Kindle ffs). He's a Political Marxist and quite hostile to value theory iirc.

On Graeber, I think he thinks he's smuggling in revolutionary implications to a seemingly populist-reformist discourse. I'm not sure he succeeds. Ironically, what would make that more likely to work would be writing stuff which draws out any possible revolutionary aspects ('so you liked baseline communism? you'll love FULL communism...'; 'ever wondered why finance is so prominent?' etc), but i think the commie impulse is in scathing polemics rather than using him as a gateway drug.

Joseph Kay
Aug 21 2013 15:15

Anyway, I kinda derailed the bullshit jobs thing. Based on latest data, here's the occupation breakdown for Brighton and Great Britain as a whole:


http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/reports/lmp/la/1946157280/report.aspx#tabempocc

As you can see, the economy is anywhere up to 79% bullshit in Brighton and Hove, and up to 71% bullshit nationally (though categories 2 & 3 probably include doctors and nurses, borderline stuff like teachers and lecturers, as well as lawyers, chartered accountants, insolvency professionals etc). An underlying 18-20% of the economy is core bullshit.

Jim Clarke
Aug 21 2013 15:48

I think the workforce by jobs report is more useful for this discussion - http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/reports/lmp/gor/2092957698/report.aspx#tabwfjobs

Weirdly was talking about this with fingers & Choccy the other day in the pub and have been meaning to write an article looking at all the jobs we could scrap.

fingers malone
Aug 21 2013 17:22

What me and Jim Clarke talk about in the pub is always at the cutting edge of communist theory.

The bullshit bits of my job relate to control I guess. Producing mountains of data so that we can be measured against some politically motivated criteria, tied to funding. Since the crisis started there's been what you might call a speed up, which is demanding an increase in productivity, which is, get better exam results with bigger classes and less contact hours. There has also been an increase in bullshit work, as we are now producing much more data than before to get the same funding. They seem to be in contradiction, as the way to get more productivity out of us would surely be just to make us teach more hours for the same money, not to make us produce data? That's why I think the data production is about control, but I still don't really understand it.

Do you all think this division I'm making between the "real" work and the "bullshit" work here is meaningful, or not?

Chilli Sauce
Aug 22 2013 07:24

That's an good point, Fingers. It's be interesting to see the increase in the bullshit aspects of 'real'/'meaningful' work alongside the increase of bullshit jobs in general.

In my last job as a teaching assistant, teaching tasks were increasing getting pushed on to the TAs. Obviously, this saved money for the school, but it also opened up the teachers to complete an increased amount of paperwork, administrative duties, and observations.

On the inefficiency of capitalism, I still think this piece is one of the best:

http://libcom.org/library/inefficiency-capitalism-brian-oliver-sheppard

A post-crisis edition would be even better, imo.

j0_housquet
Aug 22 2013 10:37

Joseph Kay is definitely right to point to the way in which finance capital has created an enormous amount of the 'bullshit' jobs eg corporate lawyer etc. Also agree that this shift shouldn't be viewed in a neo-ricardian framework - ie. a manichean distinction between good 'productive' capital and bad rent seeking 'finance capital'. As Marazzi has argued it has become a meaningless distinction (and arguably always was).

But I do think it is important to discuss the way in which a certain public policy/ politcal elite is genuinely fixated with the problem of unemployment, particularly the figure of the NEET. I think their concerns are quite genuine. Expanding work - people just doing whatever, *something* - prevents accumulation of a mass of unemployed people, which has always had potential to politically destabilising. I often think of the expansion of third sector/think tanks / even certain elements of public sector and civil service act in this way. Ultimately these 'jobs' (and i've had very lowly positions in them) are quite open about their role in establishing parameters of political discourse. In that sense work itself becomes about the reproduction a certain kind of subjectivity.

That's what I would argue *alot* of work is about, certainly the *bullshit* work. It's essentially become divorced from the creation of economic value and is simply about maintaining a certain kind of subjectivity.

Jim Clarke
Aug 22 2013 15:37

Interesting response to this from the Economist - http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/08/labour-markets-0?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/bullshitjobs

Quote:
too little of the recent gains from technological advance and economic growth have gone toward giving people the time and resources to enjoy their lives outside work
Joseph Kay
Aug 22 2013 15:40

That Economist piece is more Marxist than Graeber. Full 'fragment on the machines' there!

j0_housquet
Aug 23 2013 07:00

The economist piece make a straw man out of Graeber's argument though- he never said that some ruling class cabal created 'bullshit jobs' on purpose. I think the Economist has a point in that the way capital has evolved does actually on some level require these bullshit jobs. Manual labour has been replaced by administrative recording of complex supply chains or legal monitoring of the complex financial instruments that globalised capital relies on.

They are probably right to point to automation of these processes as well though - think about increasing prominence of algorithms in finance.

But I still have this nagging feel that I've done some jobs that were literally totally pointless though...

j0_housquet
Aug 22 2013 20:02

*Sorry first para I meant the Economist has a point.

Joseph Kay
Aug 22 2013 20:27

Maybe a way to reformulate it is to think of jobs which are only functional to the specifically capitalist organisation of production. So take the NHS: the introduction of the internal market created a 'need' for procurement teams, accountants, probably legal teams etc on both sides of every market transaction. Those jobs are 'necessary' to delivering healthcare in an increasingly commodified way, but not at all necessary for delivering healthcare per se. Even complicated modern healthcare with an advanced division of labour.

Fwiw, this is an example of transaction costs, one of the many important real world variables typically assumed away in undergrad economics classes and free market ideological texts alike (Friedman, Hayek...). It's probably one of the reasons the old centrally planned NHS was consistently been more efficient than the US insurance market system in cost/benefit terms. Of course, if healthcare isn't a commodity efficiency doesn't mean shit when your interest is extracting profit, hence the 'reforms' and the bullshit jobs.

cantdocartwheels
Aug 22 2013 22:53
Joseph Kay wrote:

As you can see, the economy is anywhere up to 79% bullshit in Brighton and Hove, and up to 71% bullshit nationally (though categories 2 & 3 probably include doctors and nurses, borderline stuff like teachers and lecturers, as well as lawyers, chartered accountants, insolvency professionals etc). An underlying 18-20% of the economy is core bullshit.

Have to say that big picture stats like that can end up being a bit meaningless though
Tescos for example is afaik the biggest private sector employer in the UK, employing well over 250,000 staff. On a chart like that its unclear where they would all fit (perhaps in sales and customer service, which would mean we couldn't dismiss such jobs as bullshit).. I think a breakdown of Tescos staff by occupation, with links to agricultural and industrial supply chains would probably tell you more about the usefulness of work in the UK.

cantdocartwheels
Aug 22 2013 23:15

Personally I cant say i'm mad keen on the post-fordist all jobs are bullshit type rants like this tho, they tend to be often unfortunately based on weak statistics and generalisations..

oh and as jk points out, this stuff is pretty shite....

David Graeber wrote:
a lot of tabloid readers... "the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school"... a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties...
mikail firtinaci
Aug 23 2013 06:44

Perhaps there might be another way to look at the issue. Here are some interesting facts about US:

Quote:
The weak wage growth over 2000–2007, combined with the wage losses for most workers from 2007 to 2012, mean that between 2000 and 2012, wages were flat or declined for the entire bottom 60 percent of the wage distribution (despite productivity growing by nearly 25 percent over this period).

http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2013/08/a-decade-of-flat-wages-the-key-barrier-to-shared-prosperity-and-a-rising-middle-class-economic-policy-institute.html

So during the period of last decade intensified by deepening economic crisis, we saw an attempt on the part of the capitalist to compensate the damage of crisis through reducing wages and intensifying exploitation that way. The study above (which I found in Jodi Deans' blog) does not seem to mention the part played by tech. investments in this increase in the growth of productivity. However, I think it would not be delusional to argue that constant capital investments, mechanization, tech or infrastructure has probably little role in this increase in the "growth of productivity" - if not the contrary is true. Following that, perhaps it would not also be wildly imaginative to argue that capital is just brutalizing the exploitation process through increasing working hours, or cutting wages (part-time jobs as a part of that) or in some cases simply delaying the payment of wages (which I am pretty familiar from Turkey but I don't know if it is the case for W. Europe or US) and nothing more to profit these days.

my conclusion from this is, the "bullshit job", or increasing emphasis on the management, effectiveness, lean production etc, creating more on more burdens on the workers which are not helping the creation of use value at all, may as well be considered as reflections of some palliative methods to cope with the crisis. Capitalists seems to be trying to find some ways to squeeze the workers more and more without investing much in the constant capital to the same degree. It is almost like a regression from "real domination" to the "formal domination" of capital if I may use the analogy from Marx; Vain attempts and futile maneuverings to find ways to exploit workers in a situation where value is becoming more and more meaningless a medium to base the exchange and production in the society. In that sense, I can say that Graeber's reference to USSR before it collapsed for instance, seems to be spot on.

fingers malone
Aug 23 2013 08:11
Joseph Kay wrote:
Maybe a way to reformulate it is to think of jobs which are only functional to the specifically capitalist organisation of production. So take the NHS: the introduction of the internal market created a 'need' for procurement teams, accountants, probably legal teams etc on both sides of every market transaction. Those jobs are 'necessary' to delivering healthcare in an increasingly commodified way, but not at all necessary for delivering healthcare per se.

So in my job, the time spent producing all the extra data is 'necessary' for the new harsher funding system to work even though it's not 'efficient' in terms of actually helping people etc. So the NHS market reforms, target culture in the public sector etc, there's a different benefit in all this which makes the 'inefficiency' of it all worthwhile from the govt's point of view. What is that? More control? Pushing market ideology into us so we gradually think it's normal that everything runs like this?

j0_housquet
Aug 23 2013 08:23

Yes. I think the argument the Economist makes that these jobs are necessary because 'increasing complexity' is weak in itself. It's more as if capital has evolved to create the most wasteful use of human labour possible. IE privatisation of common goods necessitates a whole new communications legal team, etc.

fingers malone
Aug 23 2013 08:29
j0_housquet wrote:
But I do think it is important to discuss the way in which a certain public policy/ politcal elite is genuinely fixated with the problem of unemployment, particularly the figure of the NEET.

This is a good point and in the article he definitely isn't looking at this issue in terms of NEETS (I guess he doesn't run into them at dinner parties.) Seems to me at the moment the govt is trying to force people into some kind of 'activity' through very punitive measures, as you say to prevent a destabilising mass of unemployed people (I like the way you put it) but at the same time, they are cutting so many programmes and courses and laying people off, they are simultaneously making it more difficult for people to get jobs.

If they keep punishing people for being unemployed but without actually providing any real possibilities for people to work, I don't know, I suppose the idea is that people will desperately look for work and put downward pressure on wages but, if they won't let people access real training, isn't the unskilled section of the job market already totally saturated? I saw cleaning jobs online recently, 270 applications received. Does just punishing people for not getting jobs that don't exist actually, I don't know, acheive anything? Do I just really not understand politics?

flaneur
Aug 23 2013 14:26
fingers malone wrote:
If they keep punishing people for being unemployed but without actually providing any real possibilities for people to work, I don't know, I suppose the idea is that people will desperately look for work and put downward pressure on wages but, if they won't let people access real training, isn't the unskilled section of the job market already totally saturated? I saw cleaning jobs online recently, 270 applications received. Does just punishing people for not getting jobs that don't exist actually, I don't know, acheive anything? Do I just really not understand politics?

Having been on one of those A4E things, I think it creates a hungry, submissive reserve pool of labour that will accept anything to just be working and strengthens this division of the trying unemployed and those who have given up/are fed up so that there isn't a mass.

Talking about inefficiency, Noam Chomsky did a preface to AK Press' edition of Pannekoek's Workers' Councils where he talks about an assembly line in the US during the 80s. Prior to Japanisation of the factory, workers self managed themselves in a casual work environment. Output was high, but bosses began to worry that the workers would realise their own power. They accepted the losses bringing Totyotism in to restore control.

Not having to negotiate with militant workers or unions anymore, maybe bullshit jobs are the modern concession.

Jim Clarke
Aug 23 2013 19:09
Svetlana Sinitsina
Aug 26 2013 15:26

Perfectly put together explanation of human calamity...what is hanging in the air since... 1930?

I would like to suggest in very simple words that i think it would solve great part of the entire problem if people while choosing "business of their life" instead of thinking how much profitable and stable it will be,
of even instead of thinking how much useful it can be for the society, start looking for something
they deeply enjoy to do...
It is a very hard task to ponder daily since adolescence, looking inside yourself, trying to find what is it you are good at, and what brings you pleasure of creative satisfaction... but it is the only correct way to choose the business of your life...
Maybe it has to be taught in school in kind of course "find your true self"...

handyman
Aug 27 2013 05:15

I've always loved the irony of the phrase 'key workers' insofar as these are the people who we can't manage without (sewerage workers, train drivers, carpenters, nurses and the like) and yet these same indispensable folks are at the lower end of the pay scale. Whilst all those people who have bullshit jobs inhabit the £50,000 a year plus realm. Which bit of the phrase key workers do they struggle with?

I am reminded of the truth of the fact that if all humans were to vanish overnight the planet would tick along pretty much as it did but if all the insects on the planet were to vanish overnight, within a year or two all life on the planet would cease to exist.

At least I know my true place in the world (and yes I am a masters degree level educated carpenter).