Forget Piketty or Marx. Graeber (Anthropology/London School of Economics; The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, 2015, etc.) is calling bullshit when it comes to the wage-slave economy.
Cleaning gym lockers; prepping potatoes for the fryer; giving sponge baths to hospice patients. Those are the “shit jobs.” But then there’s working as a corporate lawyer, as an administrative vice president in a state college, or as an HR mediator. Now, as Graeber puts it, we’re in provisional definition territory: “A bullshit job is a form of employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.” By the author’s estimate, that’s about half the jobs in the economy, organized at the gracious consent of the mega-wealthy for their benefit, with a whole slew of jobs, from fast-food cook to dog walker, organized around the bullshit jobs to service the bullshit jobsters so that they can spend almost all their waking hours having at it. It’s a pretty cheerless view of the economy, but Graeber makes good points along the way, including the aside that the reason people hate unionized workers who do nonbullshit work—teaching elementary school, building cars—is precisely because they’re not stuck in bullshit jobs. The circularity aside, it makes for solid social criticism, especially when the author fine-tunes the definition: There are bullshit jobs, but within that broad category there are “duct-taping jobs,” the stuff IT guys do to keep the machines running instead of the company spending money to buy decent gear. There’s a logic to it all. As Orwell noted, “a population busy working, even at completely useless occupations, doesn’t have time to do much else.” Whence, as Graeber concludes, the eternal bullshit.
Overlong, but the book offers comfort to those who are performing the white-collar version of burger-flipping and hating every minute of it.