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Funny, scary, thought-provoking book. Thesis: what if a large portion of our population performs jobs they secretly know don’t need to be performed, and if they disappeared, no one would notice?
Bullshit job: a job that is so useless or unnecessary that even the person performing the job thinks that if they disappeared, no one would care.
What if 50% of our population is either doing bullshit jobs or second-order bullshit jobs (non-bullshit jobs that exist only to serve bullshit endeavors)?
Huge swathes of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed
Taxonomy of bullshit
Kinds of bullshit jobs:
- Flunkies - people whose role it is to make their boss seem more impressive - e.g. a receptionist at a publishing company
- Goons - people doing work that only needs doing because other people do it too - e.g. armies, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, PR specialists
- Duct tapers - people fixing things that shouldn’t be broken in the first place
- Box tickers - people that do paperwork or other beurocratic BS to confirm or pretend that something was done
- Task masters - people managing other people that don’t need managing
Bullshit is devastating
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 do people assume that to be paid to do essentially nothing is a good thing? That’s not an assumption based on actual human psychology, rather the oversimplified (wrong) theory of economics (homo economicus - the rational human).
Being useless or unnecessary is an absolute indignity. Even people in prison prefer to do essentially unpaid, humiliating labor than be in solitary confinement.
It’s hard to complain about having a bullshit job. There’s the idea in our culture that work is a virtue in itself, what defines our dignity, that it’s bad not to work. And there’s right scolding — the right wing version (who do you think you are to deserve job security/healthcare/no bullshit), and left wing version (check your privilege! others have it worse) — which makes you unwilling to voice your dissatisfaction.
in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would enable us to work a 15-hour week. Yet we seem to be busier than ever before
But if it’s really true 50% of all jobs are bullshit, we could all work 20 hours a week without a difference.
You’re on my time!
Why is it so wrong to do nothing when there’s nothing to do?
We don’t talk about the phenomenon of bullshit jobs because we assume that they can’t exist. Capitalism is supposed to make it so.
Governement interference. Regulations creating box tickers. Politics saving financial institutions.
Weak points about the book
- seems to confirm my suspicions, but the evidence for prevalence of bullshit jobs is weak. Uses just one biased statistic and then fills the rest with anecdotal evidence
- the explanation for why bullshit jobs can exist is also weak. in industries with govt interference sure, but the rest… the whole managerial feudalism thing is interesting, but no explanation for the causal mechanism
Overall, fun, entertaining, probably more true than we’re comfortable admitting, but definitely overstated, and not to be treated too seriously. It’s not a scientific treatise and it doesn’t develop a sophisticated theory to explain the phenomenon.
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