Finished reading: Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber 📚

I’ll preface this with my sympathy for my colleagues and friends currently struggling to find work after corporate layoffs. This book makes their plight even worse as it details people who do have jobs, but don’t believe they should as they don’t feel they offer any benefit to society. This is the (much) expanded version of a short essay backed up with references and sidenotes.

I’ve puzzled for a while at the notion of aiming for “100% employment” both from the perspective that “productivity should be improving with technology, so do we still need those jobs?” and the more social “is the goal really for everyone to be working more?” This book spells out those arguments in great detail and points out that, if all was going well, we could all be working 15 hour weeks with the rest of the time left to do whatever we want.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much to say that the conclusion of the book leads towards a universal basic income (not without its own issues and complexities) being a way to even the field - people not needing to take on work they really don’t want to do or feel they can’t leave because the only alternative is poverty and homelessness. The notion that we could take what we spend torturing the poor (by making them apply for housing, food-stamps, assistance, …, including paying the people who implement those programs, those who manage those people, and the infrastructure to support all of them) and just give everyone enough money to survive is a radical shift, and I suspect too hard to sell to governments who still take pride in having that many people “working” on helping others (despite most not actually getting any help).

I don’t feel that my own work is as futile as some of the testimonies, but I do see a huge inefficiency of every company hiring someone (or a team of people) to do the exact same thing for their data. The sheer amount of duplication that happens across companies is surely something that wouldn’t exist if money weren’t such a driver of why companies do what they do.

The brief mention of open-source work surprised me - Working in Public details how poorly this is supported, but this book highlights that when all of the “fun” work of building tools is open source, no one builds the “core” pieces, so a lot of companies end up spending a lot of effort “duct taping” those free, open-source solutions together.

This book also dives into the political landscape (mostly in the US but also elsewhere) and articulates why it’s all washed together now (and doomed, no matter which side you’re on).

As for what I didn’t like about this book - the footnotes take up so much space (sometimes an entire page themselves) that they’ve been moved to the end of the book, but they are so frequent (sometimes one per sentence) that I read the entire book flipping back and forth between them. I had to use two bookmarks. This was extremely frustrating, particularly when the footnotes were of little importance. Many had URLs which I haven’t checked, but are probably stale. Some were interesting, but this made the book much harder to read.

Definitely an interesting read, but if you hated society before reading it (I did) then you’re not going to be happier afterwards (I’m not).