“On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant”

by David Graeber

From StrikeMagazine.org:

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 of 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 delivery) 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’.

Read the whole essay at StrikeMagazine.org.


  1. There are people who bake pie, people who cut pie and decide who gets how much pie, and people who talk about pie. You know who they are. The talkers mostly hate the bakers and let them know as much while the cutters make sure that the talkers get the best share. This situation creates an opening for Donald Trump to come in.

  2. Totally makes sense. If what Keynes had predicted had come to pass, just imagine what could have been accomplished when so much of the world’s population might be free to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas. Hell, we probably would not now be suffering the consequences of ignoring all the warnings about climate change, for one thing.

  3. Remember when the Democrats were the “baker party?” Then they decided that it is more profitable to serve the cutters and talkers and fuck over the bakers, with a few pie slivers excepted as designated “victims” in need of a savior. This is where we are today and the bakers have figured out that, when you pee on them for 30 years and call it rain, rain isn’t yellow.

    1. No, I really don’t remember when the Democrats were any “baker party.” Whatever that is referring to, I gotta ask you: what does that have to do with Bullshit jobs, the topic under discussion?

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