This Graeber essay is rather pathetic. Typical of the academy that a professor would find it appropriate to label some jobs bullshit and others worthwhile. Clearly, he has spent little/no time in the actual market economy. Every job (bullshit or otherwise) has one thing in common; the job-holder's employer believes it makes financial sense to pay the employee to perform a set of tasks, and the employer has a reasonable expectation that the value of his/her enterprise will grow as a result of doing so. It's true of corporate lawyers, private equity analysts, actuaries, cooks, waiters, elderly care providers, doctors, nurses... Without the expectation of growing value as a result of hiring someone, the job would not exist, regardless of how socially valuable Graeber believes someone's occupation to be. Ask any business owner "how many bullshit jobs do you have on your payroll?", very few of them would answer with anything other than "0".
It is a game, but if it weren't, how would you keep score?
The first unregistered commenter displays abject ignorance to the max. Obviously we do not live in any type of market economy; we exist in the Fantasy Finance-Based Economy --- and said fantasy is established by the banksters, or rather the owners of said banksters, the senior capital pool owners.

Derivatives dealers, structured finance types and financial engineers, tax attorneys, offshore tax haven developers and trust attorneys, etc., etc., ad nauseum --- they, the parasite class, who create nothing but pain and suffering and eternal poverty and unemployment!

The Definition of a Terrorist

In Prof. Graeber's final paragraph, he sums up what a real terrorist truly is:

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.
Mercantilist societies like our are not Capitalist.

Just ask Adam Smith.
I don't personally know anyone working on salary who works less than 60 hours a week, including at least 50 in the office and another 10 from home. In IT, it's even worse, with 70 or 80 hours seemingly the standard.

Used to be, salary jobs were the cushy ones. Now, they eat your life, and if anything, the equivalent average inflation-adjusted pay per hour has been going steadily down the last decade or more.

Of course, hourly-wage jobs have been going down, too, and those with a mid-level salaried job are still comparatively lucky, income-wise, but the shittiness level is rising all over.
@7: i work an average of 40 hours per week on a salary. i take my extra hours as comp time, and don't leave any on the table at the end of the year. i am not a government employee.

we should meet, then you'd know someone who's not a martyr to their job
@1. Please register. Many users filter out unregistered comments. I only read yours to see @4 was complaining about.
@1 Right, but you're missing the premise of the article. There's no reason we have to organize an economy around the principles you mention any more, even if we charitably assume what you describe is how things actually work.

His argument is that the underlying reason resources and who gets to determine value are being rationed the way they are is social control. It surely can't be for reasons of production and distribution, as workers have been massively diverted worldwide away from these very tasks over the past 100 years. The economic theory you articulate is obsolete.
@10 I don't think he or she is missing the premise, and the point is valid that no employer would ever say they are employing people for no reason. Well maybe employers with a union workforce might say that from time to time. In our capitalist system, capital is allocated to firms that have a chance to turn a profit. That pizza delivery person derided by the anthropologist as being in a useless job has that job because enough consumers are willing to pay someone else to make a pizza and have it delivered. I dare say that anthropologists serve less of an immediate need than folks who deliver pizzas. Also it's silly for the anthologist to say that poets should be paid more so that they don't need to sell out and become corporate lawyers. If the demand for poetry were higher, good poets could command a higher wage. It's that simple. There is no global policy of social control or any other bullshit like that going on here. It's about supply and demand, and it's amazing and efficient. It's not equitable, but it's efficient.
@1 I agree that employees do offer employers a marginal benefit (as you rightly point out, why else would they hire them). However, I think you are conflating personal utility with societal utility. Let me explain by way of example:

Imagine there is an economy with 2 apple producers, Alex and Ben. Alex and Ben split the market for apples until Alex hires an advertiser, and begins to outsell Ben (advertising does work). As a response, Ben hires an advertiser, and Alex and Ben go back to splitting the market for apples, only now they have both pay an advertiser. Society has not gained any utility, and the producers (the apple farmers) have just lowered thier share.

This outcome is expected by game theory, and is a common example of where the equilibrium solution is not the optimal solution (like the prisoners dilemma). I think it is easy to extrapolate this to our current economy. So you are right, these bullshit jobs are a natural result of profit seeking behavior, but there existence is the result of a sub-optimal equilibrium.
We've had the forty hour work week (which, as a previous poster pointed out is a more of a guideline rather than a rule) for a while now. There are a couple reasons for this:

1) Greed. There are a lot of people who live large, rather than scale down for more free time. As a result, companies don't make any sort of allowance for people who want to spend time with their kids or just enjoy life. At least, in this country that is the way it is. In other countries, they have a lot more free time. Put it this way; when is the last time you saw a car that costs twice as much as a good, reliable car (like a Honda Civic)? Today, right? Now, when is the last time you ran across someone who works part time out of choice?

2) Labor has become weak in this country (as well as in England). It's not like the forty hour work week became a standard because people sat around and said "Hey, I just realized something. We are way more productive now. We can afford to pay everyone a decent salary and have them work forty hours a week. The bosses can still make good money and everyone can be happy. Great, let's do it!". No, it was more like "We are laborers, and we want our fair share. We want enough money to make ends meet, and we want to work forty hours a week. Give us that, or we will shut you down.".

Generally speaking, there are bullshit jobs and worthwhile jobs in every society. That isn't the problem. The problem in this country is that we took a big step to the right during the 1980s and never went back. Other countries didn't (like those in Scandinavia) and they are much better off than we are, despite the fact that we have the best universities in the world. It's like having a football team with the best players but the team keeps losing. Our coaches (and the system our coaches put in place since the 1980s) suck.
@11, 12 - As a student of anthropology, I would argue that we need anthropologies FAR more than anyone realizes, and I believe both of your posts contain clues as to why.

Humanity, I believe, can't continue to operate on cultural fictions to guide the social order any more. We need to be conscious about what is the actual breadth of human cultural experience and variability... in order to choose how to organize ourselves.

We can't continue to argue bullshit like "traditional marriage", when the anthropological evidence for human sexual relations and "marriage" styles are vast and wide... the most cursory review will defy any American Conservative's(tm) "traditional marriage" arguments and render them moot.

David, while your argument about apple vendors and advertisers is completely accurate and relevant, there are many different economic "realities" in the world, where the forces of positive-interest capital accumulation don't exist, and those incentives don't exist. "Money" as we know it isn't some sort of natural, universal entity; we can and have redefined it many ways, and I think we will have to again in order to remove the profit-maximization incentives in our current economic reality bubble. (This isn't to say you don't know this, but short space of your comment doesn't really allow explorations outside of that bubble your argument exists within.)

12, The prisoners dilemma and game theory in general are largely artifacts of Western thinking specifically, and do not work the same way in other cultures. In fact, the *majority* of human cultures playing the prisoners dilemma do not end up with the solutions that American's end up with.... our answers are at the *far end* of that particular bell curves. Citing those theoretical constructs is largely useless when talking about Humanity as a whole. (read this for more detail on that.)

Anthropological perspectives can allow us to recognize the full span of human options, so that we might realize wiser ways of organizing our societies.

With more than 7 bil people on Earth, can we really afford to harbor culturally-closed perspectives on such things as sex, trade, housing, self-sufficiency, work, death, and marriage? I think not.
The problem, I think, is that in a capitalist system you can't really get to a post-scarcity situation. The reason is once something becomes so cheap to produce that it's essentially valueless, it becomes unprofitable and producers will leave the market until it becomes scarce again. Of course...this means fewer workers are needed...

So what we have is a situation where the only thing that's post-scarcity is *labor*. As a result, fewer and fewer of us have employment, but we still need money to pay for the necessities of life. As times goes on the work force will shrink even more, and even fewer people will have the wealth to survive. This will continue until either a radical economic adjustment happens, or a revolution occurs; a small oligarchy ruling a large, desperately-poor peasant class is not a stable situation.
thanks so much for this tip; got me some readin to do. also; the pigeon feet piece was something special.
@ 15. I think you may have misunderstood my point. I was merely trying to describe how profit seeking behavior can lead to jobs which are bullshit. 1 was challenging the article by stating noone would hire a useless employee, but failed to distinguish between useful to the employer and useful to society. In my apple example, clearly society would be better without the advertisers, but the apple producers have been forced by thier own self interest to hire them.

Your challenge of game theory seems misguided. Game theory is the study of strategy in games where not all players have complete information. There is not a single "game theory" strategy, but many theoretical strategies, some of which explain obseved behavior in different cultures better than others. Saying game theory is useless when talking about other cultures because the Nash equilibrium solution to the prisoners dilemma is not universally applicable, would be like saying anthropology is not applicable to other cultures because the cannibalism taboo observed in western culture is not universal. In fact, the anthropologist in your provided link showed that different cultures need different game theoretical models, not that game theory is useless in trying to dedescribe behaviour of other cultures. Regardless, I was seeking to explain why our culture has useless jobs, so using models based on our culture seems sensible.

The point I was making was that in our society, where profit seeking is a motivator, jobs which are totally bullshit are to be expected. This indicates that our system is broken. This is why I agree that anthropologists are needed, they show us that the features of our society are not predetermined, and therefore can be improved.
I'm not sure they're bullshit jobs - they are perhaps in the service of non-core social wants (if not needs). Indeed, it's very very easy to conceive of any number of public goods for which there is no direct consumer market and yet are highly desirable: imagine the scientist/explorer world of Star-Trek (or, more blandly, US research institutions and NASA). There is no market demand for biologists who research endangered species, yet we definitely benefit from them.

The issue remains: we have attained such phenomenal productivity that we all ought to have tons of leisure time, and yet, the working week keeps creeping up, not down. Why is that? Instead fewer and fewer people are working more and more just to maintain the same cut of the action - and we have a bunch of excess labor (people)..the problem for the 'capitalists' is that they need those people as consumers - that is a form of trade imbalance (and see how much those capitalists already whine and bitch about keeping those consumers alive and consuming via EBT/SNAP).

The real problem for a capitalist society is that we've never figured out how to distribute (absent "socialist" 'redistributionism', that other bogeyman of the '30s) the productivity gains equitably throughout the society. All the gains go to a very limited subset of 'owners' - owners of "usufruct" of the economy.

The French are attempting to address this problem, which manifests in their unemployment rate, by increasingly pushing "work sharing" - that is, more and more leisure time in the form of a shorter and shorter work week. I think they're on to something. But that fundamentally requires the people who currently take the lion's share of the earnings from productivity (usufruct) to share that more broadly across the economy with dramatically higher labor costs.
Holy crap. This is a great thread. Couple of thoughts: I wasn't saying that we don't need anthropologists but rather I was questioning whether the anthropologist can really be the arbiter of who has a useless job and who doesn't. If the anthropologist were a benevolent dictator, he might decree that poets should get paid, let's say, $75K/year in current buying power. Of course in this world who knows if we'd even have money. Not all societies have had money, as pointed out above. But it would be pretty tough to create a society with the level of specialization we have without money. And even with all our warts and problems, capitalism coupled with democracy has made life a whole lot longer and better for a whole lot of people.

Another thought regards that excellent game theory example of apple sellers needing to hire advertising firms. Who's to say that those advertisers are really adding no value? They are building the brands of those farmers. Brands have value. Maybe the farmers can sell to new stores further away because those stores have heard of the farmers' products via the ads. Advertisers hire writers and artists and they pay newspapers and radio stations for ad space and air time. That provides revenue for newspapers and radio stations to operate, which gives consumers cheap access to news and entertainment. Ad writers with liberal arts degrees can pay their bills and have jobs that give them utility. Same with the artists. And little Jimmy gets to listen to baseball games on the radio because the games are brought to him by Farmer Brown's Apples: The Juiciest Apples in the Tri-State Area. "Get yours at your local grocer today." Do all those writers and artists and journalists and Baseball announcers really have bullshit jobs?
@19 It turns how we define the word 'value'. Let's nail it down a bit more:

"Value: Actions aimed at a certain goal involving a person deciding to produce something (which does not have to be material). This requires the person imagining said goal, and the relations it will take to create it, since man has the gift of imagination and is a social creature."

I'm actually paraphrasing Graeber's definition of value from "Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value". You can begin to see what he's getting at now. In the article, he's arguing that if a job is both inefficient in the production and distribution of goods, AND is devoid of anyone's observable conception of value, it's a bullshit job. As he says, it's always up to the person performing the task to determine if their job is of the bullshit variety. His definition of value is why he believes this to be so.

So Graeber isn't arguing that a benevolent dictator should be making any decisions about other people's conception of value. He's saying that value (his definition) should be democratized through the elimination of unnecessary work. You seem to implicitly take two different stances on this issue. On one hand, you're saying that nobody can truly tell another person if their work is valuable. I agree with this. If said person isn't deciding for themselves, we're actually talking about someone else's value being channeled through the labor of said person.

On the other hand, you're claiming that in fact the market is the final arbiter of value. At this point we need to examine who "the market" represents. And thus we go back to Graeber's quote in the article about 1% of the population controlling the majority resources. So when we use the euphemism of the market, we're really talking about the conception of value being controlled by the 1%.
@20, you make good points. I do believe that the market is what determines whether a job is bullshit, and those who manage to land high-paid consultant jobs are well paid because there is a high demand for what they do AND few can do it well. Those jobs are not bullshit at all. Many people can work on factory lines and teach children, so there is a high supply of labor and not enough demand for the price--the pay and benefits--to go up to the amount that the anthropologist with all his wisdom believes is the correct amount. Also, I am not at all convinced that the 1 percent is really driving what the rest of us consider useful. It's consumers in the aggregate who make those decisions--the wisdom of markets. There simply is no conspiracy by wealthy elites going on here. And he says "But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days." The only explanation? Really professor? Has Graeber given in to the idiots who think that anthropology is not a science, because I can't imagine a real scientist saying that there is only one possible explanation for anything.

That said, his general question of why aren't we all working 3-4 hour days is very interesting. Maybe it has to do with scarcity of housing and population growth. Our information economy is creating lots of high-paid not bullshit jobs, and those who have the jobs are buying nice houses that used to be affordable by a one-income family with a high-school teacher as the breadwinner. That's forming a feedback loop such that everyone needs to continue working 40-hour weeks to keep up. Or maybe we've got a lot more crap now and we need to work more and more to pay for it. Lots of folks spend $5 a day on coffee. That's ridiculous. In short, I think Graeber is asking an interesting question but following it with biased, uninteresting answers.
@20, if you're still around, could you please expand on "He's saying that value (his definition) should be democratized through the elimination of unnecessary work"? I don't understand this point and I think it's at the heart of things. The only way I can think of this right now is that somehow someone or a group of someones decide what work is unnecessary and gets eliminated. I've read his essay again but I'm coming up empty. He does mention a couple of corporate lawyers who feel that their jobs are bullshit. Lots of folks out there are disillusioned with their jobs, but that doesn't mean the job is the problem. Maybe the person isn't a great fit for the job.
@22 It's important to understand that Graeber draws a distinction between producing value and labor. Going back to his concept of what producing value means, a bullshit job is essentially labor in which the laborer is alienated from producing his or her conception of value through it, in addition to the job creating no efficiency gain in production or distribution. He also draws a distinction between being a conduit for someone else's value (a paper pusher at a multinational corporation, which fulfills some capitalist's vision of value for instance), and acting to produce one's own value. That's why he emphasizes the psychological violence inherent in a bullshit job. He sees the current system as literally robbing the vast majority of workers of their ability to create their own value.

Based on his premise that in fact we COULD all be working 15 hour weeks, he sees the current work regimen as a means of social control that rose up through largely organic market forces. It was bad enough in old-school capitalism when workers were forced to be tools for the production of someone else's value. Now a system has arisen that is in many cases value-free. It's just a control system, perpetuated by the concentration of wealth which forces the vast majority of workers to play along or starve.

Thus, by limiting work hours and at the same time expanding access to resources across the whole of society, people would be free to reproduce their own conception of value outside of the market control mechanism.
@22 I should to that last paragraph add he's not necessarily anti-market for the distribution of goods in a value-democratized society. He takes issue with a market implicating itself in all aspects of a person's life, when combined with said market being used to replicate radical inequality in access to resources.
@22 Think of it as a market-based solution. If he's right that 15 hour workweeks are all that's required to meet the production and distribution needs of society, then the bullshit jobs will be naturally eliminated by employers in the switch to a 15 hour week. But social pressure is the necessary catalyst to overcome inertia and other cultural factors that are currently propagating bullshit jobs. That's why he wrote a polemic on the subject.
TLA: Thank for the replies. I guess I just don't buy the premise of a control system that enslaves workers, and I didn't see any data in Graeber's article to convince me otherwise. Also, I'm amazed at what capitalism and democracy have brought the world, so I suppose I have a fundamentally different viewpoint. But this is very interesting stuff, and it would be cool if we could get to the world of the Jetsons in which George works something like 2-hour days. Wouldn't mind a 2-hour workday myself. Have a great weekend.
the replacement of monied to unmonied state transfer programs and by privately offered credit and the tilling of labor markets by the volcker fed and taft-hartley congress at the behest of the monied seem to me like oligarchical plots conducive to longer work hours

potentially that advertising that sponsors mostly crappy newspapers and bandwidth rentiers (I do love me some baseball and soccer) is socially useful but more apples seems better

certainly a reduction of the work week would be ideal, given the wounds on the planet rendered by current production and consumption

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