People escaping BS jobs (covered in my latest podcast episode) and going into business for themselves

Nine-Fairfax media is reporting Record number of companies launched as COVID drives contractors, entrepreneurs. A couple of things are going on. There are people whose jobs were destroyed by the pandemic and have been forced into self-employment, but there are also people who have reassessed their lives and decided to quit their jobs and become self-employed.

This shift toward self-employment is understandable, given data which suggests that many workers in advanced economies think their jobs are mostly bullshit or pointless, as the late David Graeber, who was Professor of Anthropology at LSE, emphasised in his thought-provoking 2018 book Bullshit Jobs. Graeber nicely identified the five different types of BS jobs: flunkies, goons, duct-tapers, box-tickers, and taskmasters. I’m sure we’ve all known people who could have been characterised as one of these (hopefully not us)!

Even though I strongly disagree with Graeber’s main conclusions (i.e. many of these jobs really are BS from society’s perspective and we need to radically reform our economies), I must say I really enjoyed reading the book and was inspired to record an episode of my Economics Explored podcast on it. So please check out EP95 BS or Pointless Jobs and let me know what you think about the idea of BS jobs and whether you’ve seen people give up BS jobs to become self-employed or start up new businesses.

Please feel free to comment below. Alternatively, you can email comments, questions, suggestions, or hot tips toΒ contact@queenslandeconomywatch.com.

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4 Responses to People escaping BS jobs (covered in my latest podcast episode) and going into business for themselves

  1. Thanks for this Gene,

    I’ll be interested to have a listen. I think my own reaction to Greaber’s book was somewhere near the opposite of yours. I thought the article was good, but the book seemed, at least from my dipping into it in the bookshop to be very much ‘the book of the article’. I didn’t realise Greaber was taken so seriously at the time. Anyway, what struck me was the absence of any economic underpinnings (perhaps today we’d call them ‘micro-foundations’ πŸ™‚

    It was as if these BS jobs erected themselves out of various people’s egos. Now that can happen around a CEO or whatever. And Vice Chancellors now have whole ‘courts’ of advisors. But the reason most of these jobs exist is because they generate returns for those who create them. PR is around 90% BS (a bit of it is genuine value adding when it explains stuff to people they can benefit from and didn’t know). But the jobs exist because it pays all manner of actors in our economy and society to spin their stories.

    It didn’t seem that Greaber paid that much attention so his story flagged at least for me. And it seems to me that economics has the right concepts to think about this. In different BS jobs one can assume they generate enough of a dividend to repay the employer. The question then to ask is ‘do they add enough value beyond the employer to be justified.

    As I’ve argued with PR I think the answer is ‘no’. With UX engineers, the answer was very definitely ‘yes’ when they produced the GUI, and is now probably on balance a ‘no’ as they try to get us addicated to our smart-phones. With Lobbyists, some of it is valuable β€” informing politicians of the issues as seen by stakeholders β€” but most of it is predatory.

    With marketing some is informative but most is zero-sum competition against other marketers. Advertising is worse again β€” except informational advertising. This is the way I’d have liked to have seen Graeber tackle the issues. Perhaps he did and I skimmed over that stuff, but I didn’t see it.

    On another note, on running into this story, I formed the impression β€” rightly or wrongly β€” that Graeber was one of those academics who manages to get caught up in the worst kind of academic politics β€” in which there’s escalating ruthlessness, rising to the nastiest character assassination around the smallest of prizes.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comments, Nicholas. I agree with you on the economics of so-called BS jobs and tried to convey my scepticism of the concept in the episode. That said, I did enjoy reading the book and it’s certainly more than the book of the article. Based on BS Jobs and his previous book Debt, Graeber’s super power was developing interesting and controversial frameworks and illustrating them with vivid examples. Many of the examples he offers of BS jobs are hilarious and the data he cites on how many people think their jobs are pointless suggest to me that we should take his theory seriously, even if I ultimately disagree with it. The quote from Obama (from around 41:15) on the employment benefits of the US’s terribly inefficient health care system certainly made me think long and hard about the possibility many jobs out there are indeed BS.

  2. Thanks Gene,

    Yes, no doubt there’d be lots of BS jobs in the American healthcare sector β€” or any sector where the professionals are the ones with the information and it’s a free for all for them in terms of getting revenue of others who know much less. Finance it like that β€” I even have a kind of General Theory of it πŸ™‚

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks Nicholas. Great points about the legal system in your competition delusion article. A lawyer friend of mine mentioned to me the other day that judges realise expert witnesses may be biased and hence are increasingly resorting to “hot tubbing” which seems like a good idea to me.

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