This month, C4SS Senior Fellow Roderick Long was featured in Reason magazine with a review of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.
“Bullshit jobs” are defined by Graeber as “so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify [their] existence.” The book discusses the rise of such jobs in the modern economy, pointing fingers squarely at private industry, rather than public largesse. Long’s response considers how Graeber handles two sets of libertarian objections, and identifies a few blind spots in his arguments.
Here are his closing thoughts:
On Graeber’s analysis, unneeded jobs are protected by the perception that eliminating them would throw people out of work. That Jetsons vision of reduced working hours was supposed to benefit the workers, not impoverish them. Graeber notes that while, as an anarchist, he generally prefers bottom-up grassroots solutions to social problems rather than top-down public policy solutions, he nevertheless favors a tax-funded universal basic income as a way to relieve the working class’s reliance on bullshit jobs. But calling upon the state for assistance is always a risky strategy for anarchists; those who subsidize the piper call the tune.
Whatever the blind spots in his analysis, Graeber’s liberatory vision of a de-bullshitized future of work should serve as a useful corrective for those who are too quick to take the case for free enterprise as a validation of the perversities of the existing employment market.