'Spectacular and terrifyingly true' Owen Jones
'Thought-provoking and funny' The Times
Up to 40% of us secretly believe our jobs probably aren't necessary. In other words: they are b******t jobs. This book shows why, and what we can do about it.
In the early twentieth century, people prophesied that technology would see us all working fifteen-hour weeks and driving flying cars. Instead, something curious happened. Not only have the flying cars not materialised, but average working hours have increased rather than decreased. And now, across the developed world, three-quarters of all jobs are in services, finance or admin: jobs that don't seem to contribute anything to society. In B******t Jobs, David Graeber explores how this phenomenon - one more associated with the Soviet Union, but which capitalism was supposed to eliminate - has happened. In doing so, he looks at how, rather than producing anything, work has become an end in itself; the way such work maintains the current broken system of finance capital; and, finally, how we can get out of it.
This book is for anyone whose heart has sunk at the sight of a whiteboard, who believes 'workshops' should only be for making things, or who just suspects that there might be a better way to run our world.
A tsunami of useless jobs is prime evidence of capitalism's moral derangement, according to this bare-knuckled polemic. Drawing on firsthand reports he gathered from workers, anthropologist Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) taxonomizes pointless busywork: the administrative assistant with time to watch YouTube all day; the PR consultant who writes reports that nobody reads; the subcontractor who drives hundreds of miles to move a client's computer a few feet; the museum guard eternally watching an empty room. Like an update of economist Thorstein Veblen's theory of a purposeless "leisure class" as interpreted by Kafka and Dilbert, Graeber's funny, incisive analysis dissects the absurd social protocols of looking busy when there's nothing to do, and plumbs the depression and self-loathing that erupt when the psychological drive to be useful is thwarted. Less cogently, he elaborates a thesis that capitalism has a sadomasochistic, quasi-religious obsession with unpleasant labor as a "sacred duty." In his quest to be provocative, Graeber himself sometimes strays into BS territory (many people, he contends, believe "we should reward useless or even destructive behavior, and, effectively, punish those whose daily labors make the world a better place"), but his many subversive insights into alienating labor make for an enlightening book that every office drone will relate to.