Bullshit Jobs

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.

This essay about “Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber from LSE has been doing the rounds on Facebook. It explains why (or is at least a good take on why) we are yet to have a Keynesian 15-hour workweek as standard.

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

If you’re interested in the phenomenon of wage slavery being pointless in the age of productive technology, I’d also recommend Productivity and the Workweek (referenced by Jacob Lund Fisker in our upcoming ninth issue) and also a book called How Much is Enough? by Robert and Edward Skidelsky.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

2 Responses to “Bullshit Jobs”

  1. Exactly right that we could each be doing many fewer hours of paid work. On the flip side, any unpaid work we do (home repairs, childcare, volunteer work…) is devalued and seen as low-status, or even ridiculous, simply because money doesn’t change hands. (http://giddingsplaza.com/2013/08/27/many-things-you-do-are-work-but-only-some-of-it-is-paid/)

  2. You’re right, it’s a real problem. Why the stigma in this day and age? And why must it almost always go unrewarded or poorly rewarded?

    A top-level solution would be Citizen’s Income, something we mention a lot on our blog and more thoroughly in our upcoming print edition (Issue 9). A great essay about it (which specifically mentions rewards for the kind of jobs you mention) is here. (See the section headed “rewarding unpaid work”).

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