June 8, 2018

"The Bullshit-Job Boom/For more and more people, work appears to serve no purpose. Is there any good left in the grind?"

By Nathan Heller at The New Yorker.
In “Bullshit Jobs” (Simon & Schuster), David Graeber, an anthropologist now at the London School of Economics, seeks a diagnosis and epidemiology for what he calls the “useless jobs that no one wants to talk about.” He thinks these jobs are everywhere. By all the evidence, they are. His book, which has the virtue of being both clever and charismatic, follows a much circulated essay that he wrote, in 2013, to call out such occupations. Some, he thought, were structurally extraneous: if all lobbyists or corporate lawyers on the planet disappeared en masse, not even their clients would miss them. Others were pointless in opaque ways....
Corporate lawyers? That doesn't sound right! How is a corporation supposed to stay on the right side of all the law? It would make more sense to say the law is bullshit. But I can see how a corporate lawyer might feel that the tasks he's stuck doing are bullshit, that his is not a spiritually rewarding way of life, but Heller wrote that the clients wouldn't miss their lawyers if they all suddenly "disappeared." Wishing mass death on lawyers is an old tradition, replete with Shakespeare quote. And it's common to think this murderous ideation is cute.

By the way, the oft-trotted-out Shakespeare quote is almost always misunderstood:
Shakespeare's exact line ''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,'' was stated by Dick the Butcher in ''Henry VI,'' Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73. Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.
Shakespeare quotes are often presented as if Shakespeare were not a playwright and the ideas expressed were Shakespeare's own opinions. The lines are spoken by characters, who can be evil, stupid, deceitful, or badly mistaken.

Back to Heller:
I do digital consultancy for global pharmaceutical companies’ marketing departments. I often work with global PR agencies on this, and write reports with titles like How to Improve Engagement Among Key Digital Health Care Stakeholders. It is pure, unadulterated bullshit, and serves no purpose beyond ticking boxes for marketing departments. . . . I was recently able to charge around twelve thousand pounds to write a two-page report for a pharmaceutical client to present during a global strategy meeting. The report wasn’t used in the end because they didn’t manage to get to that agenda point.
Hmm. That reminds me. One of the reasons I chose to retire is that the bullshit work spiraled upward over the years. When I started in the 80s, there was hardly any committee work and some of the required paperwork — e.g., progress reports on pre-tenure professors — wasn't even done at all. Toward the end, there were so many large committees taking themselves very seriously, producing reports and reporting orally on reports at faculty meetings that dragged on for hours. There was always another "self-study" report to be laboriously cranked out, and you couldn't even say: Come on, we know this is bullshit... can't we just admit it and get it done as efficiently as possible? No, we had to perform in the Theater of Utmost Seriosity in the production of mindnumbing paperwork. If it had been a committee of 3 or 4 tenured professors, we'd have laughed about the stupidity and done it as fast as possible. But in later years, it would be a much larger, much more inclusive group, and you'd seem like an obstructionist if you rankled at bureaucracy and insane if you cracked a joke.

A bullshit job is not what Graeber calls “a shit job.”... [B]ullshit work [is] “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Ugh! The pretense is part of the work.
Hollywood is notoriously mired in development, an endeavor that Graeber believes to be almost pure bullshit. One developer he meets, Apollonia, had been kept busy working over reality shows with titles such as “Transsexual Housewives” and “Too Fat to Fuck.”...
To be fair, those shows do sound interesting. But what is bullshit is working on them without believing that there's a chance they will become real shows.
In a famous essay drafted in 1928, John Maynard Keynes projected that, a century on, technological efficiency in Europe and in the U.S. would be so great, and prosperity so assured, that people would be at pains to avoid going crazy from leisure and boredom. Maybe, Keynes wrote, they could plan to retain three hours of work a day, just to feel useful.

Here we are nearly in 2028, and technology has indeed produced dazzling efficiencies. As Keynes anticipated, too, the number of jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, and mining has plummeted. Yet employment in other fields—management, service—grows, and people still spend their lives working to finance basic stuff.... “It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the office upstairs,” [Graeber] writes.
Maybe the reason we don't have single-payer health care is that we need to preserve the bullshit jobs!
“Everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork,’ ” [President Obama once said]. “That represents one million, two million, three million jobs.” Graeber describes this comment as a “smoking gun” of bullshittization. “Here is the most powerful man in the world at the time publicly reflecting on his signature legislative achievement—and he is insisting that a major factor in the form that legislature took is the preservation of bullshit jobs,” he writes. Politicians are so fixated on job creation, he thinks, that no one wonders which jobs are created, and whether they are necessary. Unnecessary employment may be one of the great legacies of recent public-private collaboration.
Ugh! But look where this line of thinking goes, for Heller at least:
Under a different social model, a young woman unable to find a spot in the workforce might have collected a government check. Now, instead, she can acquire a bullshit job at, say, a health-care company, spend half of every morning compiling useless reports, and use the rest of her desk time to play computer solitaire or shop for camping equipment online.... 

86 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Work appears to serve no purpose

Certainly Heller's work appears so.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Lots of food for thought. Show business is a great example. In the 20th century there was a fairly sudden change from individuals and entrepreneurs "winging it"--P.T. Barnum, vaudeville people--to large businesses trying to produce an expensive product that could be predicted to succeed. Endless work on "development." Jerry Seinfeld says people give up on working on a finished product they're proud of--their goal is to take part in a really great meeting. The old days gave a lot of room to bosses to make snap decisions in an arbitrary (or, let us not forget, abusive) way. In our world large organizations spend a lot of money to prove they have followed steps, avoided risk including liability, and yes, protected a lot of jobs. One cliche would be that it was easier before to put a sudden burst of inspiration, well worth trying, into effect; now such an initiative is likely to be worn down and compromised to something bland and predictable. Vaudeville would throw a lot of acts at an audience, some of them not very good. But by the third week of a show, the quality would be more consistently high, the big cities would be better, etc.

Rob said...

Corporate.lawyers participate in the mechanism by which capital is allocated among enterprises. Lobbyists assist their clients in navigating the system of government sticks and carrots which we may deplore but is nevertheless a fact of modern life. Anthropologists, on the other hand, serve exactly no useful function. Ask not to whom the description “bullshit jobs” applies. It applies to thee.

Angle-Dyne, Angelic Buzzard said...

Shakespeare quotes are often presented as if Shakespeare were not a playwright and the ideas expressed were Shakespeare's own opinions. The lines are spoken by characters, who can be evil, stupid, deceitful, or badly mistaken.

Most people know that. They just think that nonetheless Dick had a point.

MadisonMan said...

Here's the thing about BS jobs: They are usually not hard to complete in time, and on task, and you have time, if you are so inclined, to do something else that you find rewarding. There are student workers in my building, doing the kind of mindless tasks that need to be done in a Center. But students can do whatever they want when those tasks are done. Homework. Or read interesting articles. Take up a new programming language. The sky is the limit if you are self-motivated.

Sally327 said...

Someone has made a movie about this sort of thing already, Mike Judge did back in 1999, "Office Space". Very funny. There aren't any lawyers in it, though, at least as I recall.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"When I started in the 80s, there was hardly any committee work and some of the required paperwork — e.g., progress reports on pre-tenure professors — wasn't even done at all. Toward the end, there were so many large committees taking themselves very seriously, producing reports and reporting orally on reports at faculty meetings that dragged on for hours."

Bureaucracy, whose main function is not to provide service, but to preserve itself, and if at all possible expand. This is what happens in large organizations, but especially with government, and especially the farther it gets from the people it is supposed to be serving. Which is why things should be handled at the lowest possible level.

Ann Althouse said...

Gender is a glaring topic here, but Heller avoids it. I don't know about Graeber.

I had to go to a government office the other day to accomplish some bureaucracy. I won't say what because I don't want to be mean to the people who have the jobs in that place. But it was the saddest workplace I have ever seen. The workers — all women — were like zombies, and I was instantly and pointlessly verbally abused for going right to the counter and saying what I needed. There was a place that I hadn't noticed where you could fill out a form before coming to the counter. The woman scoffed at me for having the nerve to just go to the counter and attempt to buy a permit for something. Like I'm an arrogant bitch who thinks the fill-out-the-form station is for the little people. I just hadn't seen it. I wasn't trying to get special treatment!

rehajm said...

"Office Space". Very funny.

Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately...I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob!

(I didn't get the quote from Goodreads or Snopes. Pease don't tell me it's not from Office Space.)

Robert Cook said...

"How is a corporation supposed to stay on the right side of all the law?"

Rather, how can a corporation violate the law and, if and when caught, get off with "slap-on-the-hand" fines that amount to petty cash for the offending corporation?

Jersey Fled said...

Ann:

If you went to a government office and accomplished what you came for on the first try, you got special treatment.

Michael said...

Althouse
You tapped into the life force behind every bureaucrat: the power over those on the other side of the counter, the other end of the phone, the newest member of the faculty committee, the more senior person down the hall who must have your department's sign off on a deal. The list is endless. The writer of the book on bullshit jobs and the reviewer miss the glorious power of the lowliest bureaucrat, the sheer joy of slow walking a project, the friendships formed around the cabal of those slyly fucking things up.

Peter said...

A lot of the problem originates with with turning what used to be unskilled or semi-skilled work into "professions" or "careers" requiring formal study and quasi-academic credentials. At my son's recent graduation, I was stunned to see dozens of (mainly) young women lining up to receive their diplomas in something called Early Childhood Education, which I think used to be called babysitting. It was a three year program of study. The "caring" professions, public relations, human resources, social work, dietetics and many, many other fields have succumbed to this nonsense, with the result that a big part of the jobs of many under-employed workers consists of making up problems in order to solve them. These jobs demand the mastering of bafflegab and psychobabble. This phenomenon can even effect traditional "harder" occupations that obviously do require formal training. I'd love to know exactly how many scientists in the world there are earning a fat paycheck "monitoring climate change".

Robert Cook said...

"Lobbyists assist their clients in navigating the system of government sticks and carrots which we may deplore but is nevertheless a fact of modern life."

Lobbyists are pimps negotiating pay-for-play assignations between the Johns (their corporate employers) and Washington prostitutes, (Congresspersons).

Hagar said...

Since the Great Depression, Democrats have been constitutionally unable to distinguish between useful and useless work.

Sixty odd years ago, when I graduated and went to work for the Corps of Engineers (the greatest mistake I ever did in my life), I reacted to the sloth, incompetence, and empire building I saw around me with indignation and excited arm waving, etc., and my elders would look at me sadly and say: "Hagar,if you had been here during the Great Depression, you would not say those things."
"What do you mean; the Depression was over twenty years ago!"
"Yes, but if you had been here then, you would not say those things; you would be glad you had a job!"

Molly said...

Economists (especially those on the conservative end of the spectrum) have tried to call attention to the practice of "rent seeking" which is the expenditure by an individual or group of money time and energy to achieve greater benefit from government actions for that individual or group. Lobbying or campaign donations are examples, but also hiring lawyers to read the fine print of government regulations to discover loopholes or provisions that may be beneficial to an individual or group. from these examples one can see that in many situations rent seeking by one group cancels out partially rent seeking by another group.

The difficulty in these examples from the perspective of left leaning Graeber is that bigger government increases the potential for rent seeking.

In fact, what often separates conservative from liberal economists (and perhaps non-economists) is that liberal end tends to view government actions as arising from intelligent analysis by high minded individuals seeking the general good while the conservative end tends to view government actions as resulting from interactions of selfish individuals seeking to use government for their own benefit.

So a liberal sees single payer as eliminating much of the "useless work"; while a conservative sees single payer as vastly increasing the scope of rent seeking, and therefore increasing the amount of useless work. (Example you and I both produce a drug to treat a medical condition. Liberals imagine that an objective high minded expert will make a decision about which (or both or neither) will be approved for use in the government health system. Conservatives imagine that I will hire lobbyists, make campaign contributions, pay bribes, etc., to ensure that my drug is approved and yours in not; and you will do the opposite.)

Hagar said...

And these were not just "men", but registered professional engineers, and there was nothing they would not do, just so that they could keep their "jobs".

gilbar said...

instantly and pointlessly verbally abused for going right to the counter and saying what I needed.

we should be putting these people in charge of all aspects of our health care
Hell! we should be putting them in charge of All aspects of our lives!

Bad Lieutenant said...

Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.

Fer shurrr, fer shurrr. What else would you expect a lawyer to say? "We suck?"


Like I'm an arrogant bitch who thinks the fill-out-the-form station is for the little people.

This is what the Japanese call satori.

...

MadisonMan said...
Here's the thing about BS jobs: They are usually not hard to complete in time, and on task, and you have time, if you are so inclined, to do something else that you find rewarding.

How nice for *you.* For those citizens and stockholders who pay your salary, less nice.

exhelodrvr1 said...

In those environments, there is minimal incentive to be efficient/do a really good job, because you don't get rewarded for that. (And in a lot of cases, you make enemies of your co-workers because you make them look bad.)

gilbar said...

professional engineers, and there was nothing they would not do, just so that they could keep their "jobs".

which helps explain why there's so many dams; particularly ones like the Teton Dam in Idaho.
Of, course; there's not really Many dams like the Teton Dam, and it was BuRec not Corps

Phil 3:14 said...

New talking point to combat the recent unemployment numbers.

So now it’s “crumbs” and “bullshit jobs”.

The counter argument, would you rather get paid $60,000 as a bullshit PR assistant or $20,000 as a barista?

Daniel Jackson said...

It would appear part of the problem lies in the connotation of the word "work." Other languages and cultures separate out the IDEA of WORK from job, vocation, indenture, piece, etc. There are also ideas that associate Work with Zen--repetitive motions that turn off the thinking brain and merge the Spirit with Hands and Body. I don't think this is what the author has in mind; rather a kind of job, with much resistance and little satisfaction. Is this a problem of the TASK or is it a problem of the PERSON?

As for those who call themselves "professionals," the classic definition in sociology of a professional is a person whose loyalty lies with the "guild" and the ethics of doing a task properly according to their craft (i.e., profession). And there lies the inherent variable the author is NOT discussing. Simply it is the ethnographic question if the person is doing the task for the Work (a la Zen), or for the MONEY. If it is for the latter, then it really cannot be called work but rather esclaviage.

The person who works for the money only (it's a job and I have to pay my rent, alimony, etc), then the person should accept it as it is OR (and a very big OR) not do it. If you are doing the task ONLY for the money, good or not, then it is hard to distinguish the essence of the task from whoring pure and simple. Buyer beware.

This is not a new problem and certainly goes back way before the Sumerians. The biblical term, EVID, is the same word for the slave (in English) as a hired or indentured hand. Similarly, the word SERF in French is the same word for slave.

The choice of doing some glamorous writing gig may sound good up front (always about The Money), but it's like what my departed money said about marriage: "Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure."

It is not the Work that is mindless, it's the person who agreed to do without eyes open.

To quote very loosely The Bard, "It is not in the stars; the fault lies in US."

Phil 3:14 said...

And yet we can’t fill the many open and high paying welding jobs.

Yes, there is definitely bullshit out there.

CWJ said...

In Mr. Rogers voice - Can you say featherbedding? I knew you could.

Bullshit jobs have been with us a long long time. It's their expansion in private enterprise that I think is noteworthy.

Otto said...

Why you still read the NYT is beyond me.As you pointed out this article wasn't really about an honest in-depth analysis of job types but IMHO about socialism and anti Trump. Interpretation - Low unemployment numbers ( under Trump) no big deal because lots of jobs are meaningless and worthless. Women ( surprisingly a larger than expected voted for Trump) are especially victimized by jobs, hence victimized by Trump. According to the author socialism ( getting a Gov't check vs BS job) is a viable alternative.
For the NYT all roads lead to power for liberals.
As an aside, i have been retired for 17 years and still revel in not going to meetings. I don't even go to church meetings.

Not Sure said...

Stealth Socialism:

1) Impose extensive regulations on a large sector of the economy, requiring minute record-keeping

2) Denounce that sector for its costly paperwork

3) Argue against all human experience that a government takeover will reduce bureaucracy

4) Welcome to the NHS!

Robt C said...

UNDERFOOT (n) The number of workers needed to justify the overhead.

Hagar said...

which helps explain why there's so many dams; particularly ones like the Teton Dam in Idaho.

No. This is unfair. The agencies are responsible for design and construction (mostly), but what gets built is determined by the politicians - frequently over insistent protests from the agencies.

gpm77 said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTmfwklFM-M

Mike said...

Then this guy should be a Trump supporter, because the number one generator of bullshit work is the Federal Government. Obama's EPA promulgated over 500 new regulations EACH YEAR of his presidency, almost all without the required scientific backing. These rules cause other people to spend hours complying with government mandates. The same happens throughout our government and economy, estimated to waste $40 Billion in work-hours per year. All those "diversity deans and committees"? Fostered by some rule-making based on Title IX. The hours of repetitive "ethics" and "sexual harassment" training us corporate types have to endure every year (time with zero actual productivity)? An HR response to Sarbanes-Oxley.

So Trump is the first president to require that every new regulation imposed by an agency will require that agency to eliminate two rules. The actual ratio was closer to three retired for every new on his first year. But this is attacking the problem at its root. There are too many stupid rules causing too many people to do government make-work instead of being productive. Progressives always think their punishment is going to be targeted at evil bankers or something, but it's the everyday people in corporations and municipalities and small businesses that pay the price for 100 years of Congressional and administrative rule-making.

Maybe this guy's bullshit theory will help make people aware, but I don't think he "gets it" from the excerpts of the book you cited. He seems to aiming at the effect instead of the cause. Like lobbyists! For Christ's sake who is bothered by lobbyists? It's the idea of lobbyists he doesn't like, which is odd. Because our Constitution specifically notes that petitioning the government, appealing to our legislators is a right not to be denied. Why do progressives always want to dismantle things delineated in the Constitution like the 1st and 2nd Amendments? Why not start with doing away with the need to have a license to braid hair, or do makeup, or squeegee cars? Nope let's start by lopping off the top 20% of the Bill of Rights. That'll do it.

robother said...

Are "bullshit jobs" of 2018 the "McJobs" of 2002 and the "exploitation of workers" of 1984? What is it about the nature of work under Republican Presidents that makes it so demeaning? Thank goodness the NYT can always be counted on to report this depressing phenomenon.

tcrosse said...

This pretty well sums up SOX Compliance.

Hagar said...

Remember when Obama, whom the Democrats proclaim as one of the smartest - if not the smartest - men in the world, remarked that the private economy was doing quite well under his administration, but improvements were needed on the government side, i.e., more employees should be hired - needed or not?

Like I said, the Democrats are constitutionally unable to distinguish between useful and useless work - even the smartest of them. It is religion; not thought.

mandrewa said...

If we exclude people that don't like their job even though it matters and they would be missed if they stopped doing it, which is in fact how this is defined, then it seems clear to me we are almost entirely talking about people working for either the public sector or working for companies that are nominally in the marketplace but not really.

For example there are no jobs in the entire farm sector that are bullshit jobs. Now there have to be exceptions to that blanket statement but I'm still comfortable saying it because if we can manage to find one of those exceptions and look at them, it will by it's very exceptional nature prove the point.

To explain, let's say you're growing corn, the number has probably changed but a decade ago the average corn grower was earning $7 dollars per acre (this was averaged across several years). Imagine how many acres you have to be farming to employ just one person. Imagine how much work that is. Imagine how incredibly desperate that person would be to hire help. But you can't hire anyone because obviously there's no money to pay their salary.

Every company that is in a marketplace competing with many other similar companies is in the same position. They have no fat. They have no excess to employ people for bullshit jobs.

hawkeyedjb said...

Bullshit jobs: a) The entire HR bureaucracy b) The entire Diversity industry c) All government licensing boards

Ann Althouse said...

"Why you still read the NYT is beyond me.As you pointed out this article wasn't really about an honest in-depth analysis of job types but IMHO about socialism and anti Trump...."

Yeah, but the article isn't in the NYT....

MountainMan said...

Robert Cook said: "Rather, how can a corporation violate the law and, if and when caught, get off with "slap-on-the-hand" fines that amount to petty cash for the offending corporation?"

Well, no. You are just clueless. You have obviously never worked in a corporate environment and experienced the maze of laws, regulations, and governmental agencies that watch just about everything you and your company do. At least where I worked for 41 years, attempting in any way to skirt around the laws or regulations that governed our business would result in immediate termination. My wife continues to work for the same company I did, in a global organization of over 200 people, that do nothing but document, report, and internally and via external organizations monitor compliance with laws and regulations. Every major company has the same thing. Every employee has to complete every year over 40 hours of compliance training - EEOC, OSHA, diversity, business practice, data privacy and security, etc. - and sign off on completion. EVERY YEAR. Violation of anything you have been informed of and that you signed off on will get you terminated. Period. Even failure to complete the training on schedule can get you disciplined. I am sure there are many others on here who can attest to the same thing.

In the last 15 years of my career just about every major project I worked on had to be reviewed by a corporate attorney to ensure what we were doing did not violate the law.

Really, you just never seem to know what you are talking about. I hate to waste my time answering your comments.

mandrewa said...

I wonder if this is a side effect of the trade deficit.

The trade deficit was close to $500 billion in 2016. That was a typical number for the Obama era. Numbers weren't quite so high for the Bush administration but they were still extremely bad.

So we've had approximately 17 years of extreme trade deficit. What does this mean?

Trade deficits are always paid for, and they are paid for immediately, and there are only three ways an economy can pay for them: debt; land; or companies. That is for each year of the Obama administration, something like $500 billion of ownership of America was transferred to foreign hands.

That's not the end of the unmitigated disaster that a large trade deficit represents. There's another effect. We lose jobs. We lose real jobs, aka jobs that are not bullshit jobs.

Add up all the real jobs that the United States has lost over the last 17 years. Imagine what the unemployment rate would be if there weren't bullshit jobs. Politicians have done this semi-automatically. To compensate for all the real work lost, Washington has printed vast sums of money to pay for bullshit jobs in the public and semi-public sectors and prevent what would otherwise be an absurdly high unemployment rate.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

Government jobs at the local state, and even the Fed levels are VOTES, Democratic VOTES, that is why there are so many BS jobs and why the politicians (until Trump) keep adding to the numbers of these place holders with a salary.

Amadeus 48 said...

Transgender diversity coordinater. Includivity is our strength! Diversity for all or else!
Bullshit jobs everywhere you look!

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't think that Ann's problems with academia are that unique. I was talking a couple days ago with my kid, a newly minted STEM PhD, about academia. They have no interest in a tenure track job, and can't afford to take a non-tenure track job. Plus, with the latter, not only is the pay lousy, but you are always one vote away from losing your job. You may be the best teacher in the dept, but even after being there for 20 years, you can lose your job in a heartbeat by saying one thing that offends the SJWs running the school. Kid's advisor and his wife both have identical PhDs. Both teach in the same dept, and even team teach a class. He is up for tenure this year, and is starting to face the mind numbing bureaucratic work that drove Ann to retire. Combine that with a full teaching load, running a research group of a dozen, and generating, through research grants, the funding for it, and he is facing 60 hour work weeks. Sure, the salary looks good for full professors, but is it worth it?

When I was in college, and even when my classmates were getting their PhDs, and entering academia, the bulk of the teaching was done by tenured or tenure track profs, plus some of the core classes at big schools by grad students. Few adjuncts and lecturers. Tenured profs could look forward to good pay, moderate work requirements, and a lot of freedom. The big thing that has changed is the explosion of administration. You now have deans of diversity making 2-3 times what full profs make at big schools, and their assistant deans making more than full profs, and armies of liberal arts and gender studies grads to staff their empires. And, that is where most of the mind numbing administrative work that has become such a burden on tenure faculty comes from.

Of course, academic faculty have become increasingly progressive and left wing, over that time, often, in many depts, to a ridiculous degree, with >95% Dems or beyond in many such depts, who reliably vote, en mass for increasing the regulatory state, which in turn, to justify its own head counts imposes increasingly onerous and ridiculous administrative burdens on the schools, which have to hire their growing armies of administrators to enforce, and they, in turn impose it on the academic faculty, whose full work loads have increased to much over the last 40 years. So, any time you hear that the best of the best, brightest of the bright, work in academia, ask them WTF then do they vote so overwhelmingly Democratic?

Long way of explaining why my kids is going into corporate research instead of academia with their new PhD.

Michael K said...

I practiced for 20 years in a hospital that was owned by a bunch of doctors and a couple of investors. It was a "for profit" hospital of the type disparaged by all good people for "Profiting from the sick."

It was not very big, about 120 beds, and had an administration of about 12. It grew to about 170 beds and we organized a highly rated trauma center. The level of care was excellent.

Then it was sold to an order of nuns. They hired a CEO from Pepsico who had no health care experience. He hired his brother-in-law, a chiropractor, to run the operating rooms. Several years later, when I was serving on the city planning commission, the hospital proposed an expansion plan and asked to present it at a special meeting of the planning commission. I agreed to attend along with another member.

They presented an hours long session with about thirty young administrators, lots of posters and hours of BS. Like all "nonprofits" in health care, administration had wildly expanded and there were probably ten times the number of non-professional employees now.

Obamacare was just what the administrators treasured. Doctors were now employees hemmed in by thousands of regulations. Hospitals remain the chief supporters of Obamacare.

Amadeus 48 said...

Althouse’s experience is the essence of Your Tax Dollars At Work. Government jobs! Benfits! Pensions!

daskol said...

Beware any politician talking about job creation. Besides the likelihood that any jobs created out of any legislation he's crafted will be bullshit, it's a strong signal of a warped worldview. Creating a new job is insanely hard to do. You have to have a company that does something that's never been done before that needs people to do things that nobody has ever needed to do. Like a politician could do that. They can't even figure out how to maintain en environment hospitable to those who would undertake such an endeavor.

mockturtle said...

There are far more meaningless jobs in the public sector than in the private sector. In government, redundancy is a given, as is job security.

Jupiter said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Gender is a glaring topic here...

The workers — all women — were like zombies, and I was instantly and pointlessly verbally abused for going right to the counter and saying what I needed."

Heh. They would all have been quite polite to me. "Oh, I'm sorry Sir, but before we can help you, we need you to fill out one of these forms."

Comanche Voter said...

I'll make a Scientific Wild Eyed Guess and say that our host was trying to get a permit from the Wisconsin Clone of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

But having worked for twenty plus years as a corporate lawyer in a then Fortune 50 oil company, I can say yes, there's a certain level of "bullshit" jobs; in my case working in compliance efforts for some--but not all-- government regulations. There was also an opportunity to be creative and build things--new joint ventures, new capital construction etc.

The point is that work, of whatever nature, is more satisfying if you can see some purpose in it. And if you like what you do, and are good at what you do, then your reward is that you get to do the next interesting task. I doubt that the writer at the New Yorker understands that. He just churns out "bullshit" articles.

SF said...

"Under a different social model, a young woman unable to find a spot in the workforce might have collected a government check. Now, instead, she can acquire a bullshit job at, say, a health-care company, spend half of every morning compiling useless reports, and use the rest of her desk time to play computer solitaire or shop for camping equipment online...."

To me, the real question here is how the hell the author thinks this works? The young woman goes "Man, I need money; dear health-care company, please create a bullshit job so I don't starve," and the health-care company replies, "Great! That's just we need, another unnecessary employee to do nothing important!" ?

I guess if you wanted to be generous you could steel-man this and assume what he really meant is that with generous enough government subsidies for the unemployed, companies would need to offer higher salaries, which would make them less likely to hire people for bullshit jobs? But that's somewhat countered by the fact most of the examples seem like they are probably well above minimum wage....

mockturtle said...

Michael K observes: They presented an hours long session with about thirty young administrators, lots of posters and hours of BS. Like all "nonprofits" in health care, administration had wildly expanded and there were probably ten times the number of non-professional employees now.

A 'not-for-profit' hospital generally has a lot of executive positions [remember Michelle Obama's?] with CEOs making well over $1M/year in salary and compensation. If people honestly believe that 'nonprofit' translates into better serving patients at a lower cost, they are being naive.

rhhardin said...

If you govern by meetings, the place gets run by people who like meetings. John Gall

Seeing Red said...

No, we had to perform in the Theater of Utmost Seriosity in the production of mindnumbing paperwork


They needed to look like they were “.doing something” and justifying their fiefdoms. Also rent seekers.

William Chadwick said...

One BS job I wished I'd had was at a small publishing company that I later learned was basically a tax write-off for a larger publishing conglomerate. They had an "associate editor" or some such who spent 9 to 5 reading books--not books the company was publishing, but for her own diversion and entertainment. It wasn't like she was goofing off: the company was a reprint operation so there was little to nothing for her to do. She was Catholic and was miserable with the Catholic guilt complex about not doing much--even though, as I say, on the "busiest" days there was not much for her to do. I was raised Catholic but had pretty much gotten over the Catholic guilt thing (except with regard to sex, where it adds a nice feeling of being naughty). "You're getting paid to do nothing," I told her, "which works out to getting paid to read whatever the heck you want to read. That's a job I'd LOVE to have!" Some people never appreciate the blessings life sometimes lays at their feet.

Carol said...

Are "bullshit jobs" of 2018 the "McJobs" of 2002 and the "exploitation of workers" of 1984? What is it about the nature of work under Republican Presidents that makes it so demeaning?

I'm a little leery of people who decide I have a "bullshit job," or those people over there have "bullshit jobs," or that most people couldn't possibly keep working given the future of AI etc. I think elites would be surprised at what people will do and how things tend to fall apart without their labor. Too much detail, what a bore.

The people casually passing these judgments usually have no more knowledge of how the real world works than the Bolsheviks knew of running factories in the 1920s.

Ann's bullshit experience notwithstanding.

James K said...

To me, the real question here is how the hell the author thinks this works? The young woman goes "Man, I need money; dear health-care company, please create a bullshit job so I don't starve," and the health-care company replies, "Great! That's just we need, another unnecessary employee to do nothing important!" ?

Another spin on this would be that useless government regulations, notably Obamacare, have resulted in a lot of bullshit jobs involving paper-pushing (or pixel-generating) compliance rather than anything useful. But that spin would make Democrats look bad, so it must be ignored.

Birkel said...

Pardon me if somebody upthread already mentioned this:

The government requires these bull shit jobs. In more organizations these jobs would be eliminated. The employees are dissatisfied. The customers are ill-served. The stockholders are paying for nothing. So why does it continue? The government REQUIRES these jobs.

This is an argument against centralized government. States would have more or less competitive business environments in which some would achieve greater success, putting pressure on the bad rules. But if the rule is nationwide, there is no competitive advantage to be gained.

Universities are the worst, with their federal, state, and accrediting rules. But that is the sort of thing that government will REQUIRE at every institution it does not destroy. Higher ed is the canary in the coal mine. And it is dead.

johnhenry100 said...

Don't all these so-called bullshit jobs knterface with goverment?

Employees
Funded by govt academia
Compliance with government lobbyists and lawyers and diversity scammers

And yet I get cold called from around the country asking if I know any Industrial mechanics looking for work. WITC grads are making $50-100m/yr on graduation.

What's wrong with this picture?

At least president trump is trying to address this problem

John Henry

Henry said...

Under a different social model, a young woman unable to find a spot in the workforce might have collected a government check.

Acquiring government checks is itself a bullshit job.

Jay Elink said...

Mike said,

"Obama's EPA promulgated over 500 new regulations EACH YEAR of his presidency, almost all without the required scientific backing. These rules cause other people to spend hours complying with government mandates."

******************

IIRC a corporate exec who complained to a congressional committee about how his company would have to hire abunch of compliance officers to deal with the new regulations, a committee pol actually said, "Well, you'll be creating jobs then, won't you?"

The idea of productivity vs. overheads never enters the thick skulls of politicians.

Henry said...

Under a different social model, a young woman unable to find a spot in the workforce could serve the ancient king, lay with him in his bed, and keep him warm.

There are lots of social models..

n.n said...

We already have a regulated insurance industry a la single-payer medical care.

The reason we have bullshit jobs is because Democrat demand for political gerrymandering, the left's demand for social leverage, the government's demand for taxable commodities, and foreign influence driving immigration reform.

gilbar said...

t how his company would have to hire abunch of compliance officers to deal with the new regulations, a committee pol actually said, "Well, you'll be creating jobs then, won't you?"

The idea of productivity vs. overheads never enters the thick skulls of politicians


it's well known, that the Most Efficient Use of tax dollars; is to hire teenagers to roam around the city, throwing rocks through windows. This creates jobs:
fixing windows
sweeping up broken glass
making glass
hiring security guards

EVERY society that has gone this route has prospered, and flourished

buwaya said...

Completely true re the "compliance" requirements generating bullshit jobs.

In corporate America the tooth-to-tail ratio of line workers doing the functions of the core business vs staff is extremely bad and has been worsening throughout my career.

Its not all about the Fedgov, state and local governments and the legal environment do as much or more to bloat staff overhead in private business.

And then there are cultural factors. Besides direct or indirect government influence , businesses that are protected by regulation, benefiting from legislated monopoly or from economies of scale brought by such aspects of the business environment, have developed sufficient indiscipline to become headquarters-centric and inclined to bloat staff with analysts, planners, project managers of nothing, and the like.

The Cracker Emcee Rampant said...


"A lot of the problem originates with with turning what used to be unskilled or semi-skilled work into "professions" or "careers" requiring formal study and quasi-academic credentials."

An excellent observation. There is a flip-side to this though, frequently seen in county and state government, where someone with just a high-school education lucks into a government job (usually through the light nepotism of casual female associations). Then, with a modicum of ambition and a couple decades of time-serving, it's not unusual for this person to end up in a managerial or director's position.

Yancey Ward said...

Ms. Althouse wrote:

"Come on, we know this is bullshit... can't we just admit it and get it done as efficiently as possible? No, we had to perform in the Theater of Utmost Seriosity in the production of mindnumbing paperwork."

In this instance, you were the implement of the people with the true bullshit jobs. Graeber and Heller are both idiots of the highest order.

Fred Drinkwater said...

I stopped working as an engineer because over the years I found the time I was compelled to devote to non-functional regulatory compliance mushroomed from negligible to over 50%. (1978 - 2008)
Not just US rules; the EU was worse. But the champion offender was Brazil.

rhhardin said...

Trump cancels meeting with Macron, to exit conference before global warming discussion.

The man is anti-boilerplate. He makes his own statements.

Ambrose said...

as a corporate lawyer all I can say is that I resemble these remarks...

rhhardin said...

I always had a great job simply by not fitting in.

Sydney said...

I now spend more time doing bullshit compliance for third payer "quality" measures and third payer prior-authorizations than I spend with patients. And since I'm not compensated for this, I can't afford to hire someone else to do it. I am not alone. Practicing medicine is 80% bullshit now, if not more.

CWJ said...

"A 'not-for-profit' hospital generally has a lot of executive positions [remember Michelle Obama's?]"

mockturtle. Thanks for reminding me of her highly compensated position that was so essential that it didn't exist before her and needed not be refilled after her departure. Sometimes it's not a bullshit job. Sometimes it's an outright bribe. I wonder if the anthropoligist author recognized the difference.

Darrell said...

There are no bullshit roles, just bullshit actors.

Seeing Red said...

Good. Macron got State treatment and stabbed us.

France is America’s oldest enemy.

Seeing Red said...

A lot of the problem originates with with turning what used to be unskilled or semi-skilled work into "professions" or "careers" requiring formal study and quasi-academic credentials."



Like hair braiding.

John Lynch said...

Minimum wage jobs are never bullshit jobs.

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mockturtle said...

John Lynch observes: Minimum wage jobs are never bullshit jobs.

So true!

MountainMan said...

Fred Drinkwater said: "Not just US rules; the EU was worse. But the champion offender was Brazil."

Boy, is that the truth. EU is awful, but Brazil takes the prize for being the most difficult place in the world to do business.

Singapore is the best place to do business.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Mountainman,
While I was trying to grasp Brazil's attitude toward regs on the products that I was trying to export there,
I found an internal memo written by my counterpart at (big US electronics manufacturer).
In it he claimed that Brazil's policies could only be explained as an scheme to bypass Free-trade rules. My own experiences there and elsewhere suggested that keeping their BS jobs system running was just as significant.

CWJ said...

Brazil's no fun with which to deal as a tourist as well. The visa process is a royal pita.

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Gahrie said...

France is America’s oldest enemy.

To be fair, (and believe me, I don't like being fair to the French) France is also our oldest ally.


They just can't make up their minds.....

JaimeRoberto said...

Statists claim they can create shovel ready jobs, but in reality they mostly create paperwork ready jobs.

mockturtle said...

Statists claim they can create shovel ready jobs, but in reality they mostly create paperwork ready jobs.

Not like when FDR used the CCC to create jobs. I still visit some of the beautiful state parks developed by the CCC in various states and the buildings are still standing. But putting jobless people to work maintaining our parks might supplant some of the paper-pushing bureaucrats who make up the bulk of our state parks staffing nowadays. And in WA, volunteer hosts do most of the work. Lord only knows what WA state does with its money. The parks are mostly crappy [unlike Oregon's] and ridiculously expensive. USFS parks are much better.

DavidD said...

Went to the hospital for lab work; went directly to the lab.

“Have you registered?”

Went to registration.

“Did you sign in at the kiosk?”

Kiosk? Oh, that kiosk.

Jeff said...

Michael K observes: They presented an hours long session with about thirty young administrators, lots of posters and hours of BS. Like all "nonprofits" in health care, administration had wildly expanded and there were probably ten times the number of non-professional employees now.

But Michael, don't you see that you are part of the problem? They were doing the presentation because they needed the approval of your planning commission. If you really cared about reducing bullshit, you'd be calling for the elimination of the planning commission instead of serving on it. Where do you get off telling hospitals whether they can expand or not?