Skip to main content

Absolutely this.

Death by paperwork and administration.

Bullshit #Jobs: A Theory by David #Graeber – the myth of #capitalist #efficiency (#book #review)

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. Those #workers who actually do stuff are burdened with increasing workloads, while box-tickers and bean-counters multiply.

In an age that supremely prizes capitalist efficiency, the proliferation of pointless jobs is a puzzle. Why are employers in the public and private sector alike behaving like the bureaucracies of the old Soviet Union, shelling out wages to workers they don’t seem to need? Since bullshit jobs make no economic sense, Graeber argues, their function must be political. A population kept busy with make-work is less likely to revolt.

Yet as he notes, people are not inherently lazy: we #work not just to pay the bills but because we want to contribute something meaningful to society. The psychological effect of spending our days on tasks we secretly believe don’t need to be performed is profoundly damaging, “a scar across our collective soul”.

As well as documenting personal misery, this book is a portrait of a society that has forgotten what it is for. Our economies have become “vast engines for producing nonsense”. Utopian ideals have been abandoned on all sides, replaced by praise for “hardworking families”. The rightwing injunction to “get a job!” is mirrored by the leftwing demand for “more jobs!”


Hi @JB Carroll. At work I often talk about the need to "feed the beast." That is, if one is going to work in a large corporate setting it certain you'll encounter low-value paper work. For example, lets create a time tracking system that captures productive work vs overhead. Then lets shoot for 80% productive work. Then let's reward those who achieve that goal or more. Well... don't be surprised that you'll hit 80% or more, especially if one feels their employment is threatened. However, I don't see this in overly cynical terms. Humans are social creatures who interact in groups, as those groups get larger and larger, dysfunction seems inevitable. For us worker bees I think the best we can do is keep pushing towards what we know has value, while "feeding the beast." Software that is more efficient, more functional and less defective is good it has value. So shoot for that, while setting aside some time to rest passwords, run through required training, filling time sheets, contribute to meetings and documents, etc. Cheers, -Randy
It's certainly a constant struggle to define what is "value-added" and what isn't. Sometimes people at my employer develop these reporting systems thinking they are going to help, when it's really less efficient than one we were using for years already, and still have to use daily.

I think a lot of these things get developed because they don't take the time to listen to the grunts as to what would actually help them in their day-to-day. As it turns out, many times that means simply investing in the employee by upgrading equipment or hiring more people for the hands-on work.

We lament often about how we spend $5000 in labor hours chasing down paper and justifications for a $50 purchase. I think if they just had some trust in the front-line employees, large businesses could save quite a bit of money.
That's my point about the 80% target. If you build a reporting system to capture those % values and then insist such is an important target to hit, well don't be surprised if you start hitting those numbers. Now I'm not suggesting people are going to intentionally enter bad information, but as soon as you have a subjective element and a "goal" that must be reached, then it will "magically" happen. The real truth of course is the information being collected is biased by the goal itself. These sort of biases are hard to fight against. When Columbia was on orbit, there was a bias in the system to classify the foam strike as a "turn-around" event, rather than a safety-of-flight. Extremely sadly ironic of course, because these designations were built into the system following Challenger. However if one went down the safety-of-flight path and it turned out to not be so serious, that would have impacted the space station build out schedule. And that was oh so important. But was it really? Clearly it wasn't, because once Columbia was lost the ISS build out schedule was updated, lengthened and employed Russia space crafts.

I now believe one of the responsibilities of older leaf-node engineers, such as myself, is to get better at communication. To calming layout in non-technical terms the options and consequences before management. Then stand back and let them make the choice. Once the choice is made, dig in and try to make it as successful as possible.

It is tough of course. And to see the $5000 to $50 waste is frustrating to watch. Sometimes though if we can't influence that, we just need to be content to focus our energy where we can.