What to read in isolation: ‘Bullshit Jobs’ by David Graeber

Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber (2018)

What book would TheCity.ie’s Cameron Weymes recommend reading while trapped inside during the Covid-19 pandemic? Here’s an alternate view on cog-in-the-wheel capitalism that will grab your attention.

Anthropologist David Graeber’s 2013 essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, and 2018 follow-up book, Bullshit Jobs, are worth a revisit during the global coronavirus crisis. 

According to Graeber, modern capitalism is producing millions of utterly pointless ‘bullshit jobs’ that could be wiped out overnight, leading to little discernible difference within society as a whole.

Were we to get rid of the unnecessary jobs we keep inventing for ourselves, we would only be working 15 hour weeks, says Graeber.

“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… 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).”

David Graeber – On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

Technological advancements and increased automation in production should have freed up our time for recreation by now, but instead the private sector has invented jobs to keep us busy and distracted.

Interviewees include people with job titles such as ‘Portfolio Coordinator’, ‘Assistant Localization Manager’ and ‘Senior Quality Performance Officer’; all of whom consider their professions to be entirely pointless. 

Graeber is careful to distinguish between a “shit job” (a tough job that is necessary for the functioning of society, such as a bin man) and a “bullshit job” (one that is unnecessary and maybe even harmful, such as a corporate lawyer). 

Image: Pexels

As the coronavirus crisis escalates, people all over the world have been increasingly reliant on medical workers, hospital cleaners, delivery drivers and supermarket staff.

Parents have gained a newfound respect for work done by teachers as they attempt to homeschool their children. In contrast, whether or not corporate lawyers or ‘Portfolio Coordinators’ have been going to work these past few weeks is yet to make a noticeable difference to our lives.

Maybe Graeber has a point.

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