A Book Review Of David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs”

1. Introduction: Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

2. The Book’s Arguments Are Western-Centric

The author credits Puritan work ethic and Capitalist values for the existence of Bullshit Jobs, but this is rather Western-centric. For example, East Asian and Confucian values created the ideological mindset responsible for the long hours worked in East Asia. Likewise, overworking in South Korea was so overdone and unnecessary that South Korea had to pass a law capping the maximum number of hours that workers work each week, but Bullshit Jobs doesn’t explain this because South Korea is not influenced by a Puritan work ethic.

The problem is that those cultures are hard-working, even when it leads to no practical wealth. Culture, social status, race and genetics encourage this inefficient use of labor, so the government is the only practical institution left that can do anything about the problem. It would be nice if it wasn’t necessary to use the state to fix this problem, but the reality is that the state becomes necessary to regulate this when all else has failed. When nothing else has a realistic chance of fixing cultural problems in a deterministic world, intervention is a practical solution.

3. The Book Doesn’t Address People Who Gain Wealth Via Rent-Seeking

Some people are harshly overworked when their labor actually produces real wealth in the world, while others do “work” that accomplishes essentially nothing, not to mention people like land speculators who don’t have to work at all.

4. The Book Doesn’t Address How Academia Is Broken

There are many ongoing problems with Academia. The academic system is broken. See: A Rational Critique Of Academic Research.

Many of the world’s bullshit jobs are concentrated in directing fake academic research.

Additionally, the existence of video technology can automate the conduction of most college lectures. If more college lectures were recorded and available online for free, college professors would be less needed, except to answer any questions that the students might have, or to help students when they need help. Paying the professors’ salaries tends to make up ~75% of all college costs, so eliminating most of the need for professors would dramatically decrease the cost of college and eliminate many bullshit jobs.

5. Graeber Underestimates The Number Of Bullshit Jobs Created In The Public Sector

By raw numbers, it makes sense that the private sector produces more bullshit jobs overall since the private sector is several times larger than the public sector, but the author underestimates the number of bullshit jobs created in the public sector. Some examples:

  • People who just stand around doing nothing in the military because they don’t have anything to do
  • Teachers who teach fake knowledge (I have many examples that I might write about in another essay)
  • Bloated education boards
  • Unneeded bureaucracy
  • University professors who spend many hours lecturing when such lectures could be recorded on video instead
  • The corruption and corporatocracy that plagues the government
  • Et Cetera.

6. Why We Will Never Have Maximum Labor Efficiency

Bullshit Jobs describes five types of pointless jobs: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. However, Graeber doesn’t give any effective solutions for eliminating these types of bullshit jobs. The main reason is that he doesn’t understand that many of these jobs originate due to game theoretical problems. Some examples:

  • It is inevitable that every economic system will develop goons of some kind, though this can be mitigated with effective government intervention.
  • Many duct tapers exist due to Planned Obsolescence, which is best addressed via government intervention and mandating that companies grant consumers the right to repair what they’ve bought.

Generally speaking, there will always be inefficiency in the labor sector since it is too difficult to align the incentives of managers, workers, CEOs, shareholders, etc. Employers want their employees to work as much as possible for little pay, whereas employees will try to figure out ways to get paid while doing as little work as possible. This world will never have maximal labor efficiency unless the game-theoretic problems pertaining to labor are solved.

7. The Book Doesn’t Have A Good Solution For Implementing UBI

Last Modified: 2024 March 20, 00:46

Author: Zero Contradictions