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Bullshit Jobs!

In “Utopia for Realists”, Rutger Bregman reminds us about the New York garbage strike of 1968, and then compares it to the bank strike in Ireland. Basically, it took six months to resolve the bank strike, and while there were certainly difficulties, people found a way to operate and they generally worked out alternative credit systems like writing cheques. Strangely though, while the Irish were able to soldier on for half a year, the New Yorkers found it rather harder to deal with rotting trash; in spite of Mayor Lindsay insisting that the strike was illegal and he wouldn’t give in on principle, the strike lasted less than a fortnight.

Being a “garbo” may not have the status of being a bank manager, but it’s pretty clear which one we notice when they’ve stopped working.

Bregman goes on to mention Dave Graeber and the whole nature of “bullshit jobs”. He points out that there are large number of people who are working at things that we just don’t need. Ok, the person working there needs to have a job, but if we reduced the number of telemarketers, how long would it be before you said, “Gee, nobody’s rung me in the middle of dinner to discuss funeral insurance”?

There are all sorts of jobs which may actually make a difference. Doubling the number of health workers – as opposed to hospital administrators – could make a noticeable difference and cut down waiting times. Increasing the number of people answering the phone at Centrelink would free up thousands of lost hours for the people waiting on the line. More counsellors and support staff in schools may be a factor in helping to prevent problems later on. I’m sure that you can add to the list.

However, we have a strangely perverse way of rewarding people where many of the well-paid jobs involve activities that only involve moving money from one person’s bank account to another. Short-term trading on money markets, for example, as well as many of the day-to-day share transactions on the stock exchange. How the value of Telstra can fluctuate by a few percent over a week with no announcements or even rumours makes no sense to me, but as with all shares, movements up and down are primarily based on speculating about future movements. Yet many of the people doing things like this will be more substantially rewarded than a Nobel prize winner.

Just as Scott Morrison is trying to divide debt into “bad” debt and “we can make big announcements and not have anyone ask how we’re going to pay for it” debt, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the world can survive with people working fewer hours than ever before and it’s time to start restructuring the economy so that we don’t simply have the “I’m overworked” and “Get off your backside, you lazy bludger” categories. While we’ve all had fun with the Liberals “jobs and growth” mantra, it may be time to actually question whether we’ve reached a point in human history where we need to consider what jobs are necessary and, if the jobs isn’t absolutely necessary, is it still worth doing? Maybe it’s time we sat back and asked why Keynes’ vision of people working a fifteen hour week thanks to technology hasn’t come to pass, and why it’s considered a good thing to aim for growth and for people to work longer and harder, rather than saying with a little bit of reorganisation, there’d be more opportunity for the unemployed and some of the workers would have more time to smell the roses.

Or even grow them!


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  1. Hume and Twain

    Exactly …. why some of these really obvious ideas can’t be implemented is beyond me … oh, that’s right, it would smack of “wealth redistribtution” to the conserves, and we can’t have that (despite all the obvious benefits and advantages.

  2. stephentardrew

    Good one Rossleigh first class.

  3. stephengb2014

    I am old enough to recall when the idea of ‘job sharing’ was a solution to mechanisation of the workforce.
    It was thought at that time that mechanisation (automation) and the subsequent reduced need for workers would free up the need for people to be working for even 8 hours a day so that jobs will have to be shared in order to share the nations prosperity that automation would inevitably bring.

    That was the late 60s, my how times have changed!

    So what happened of course business embrased automation and laid off workers, kept the 8, 9, 10, 11, etc hour days, deleted the ‘job sharing’ mantra called it casualisation of the workforce to avoide paying penalty rates, and created the so called ‘contractor’.

    In 1971 a republican lawyer, wrote a memorandum, to the then American Chamber of Commerce, his mame is Lewis Powell Jnr, what he wrote was to change the world as we know it.

    If you see yourself as a so called progressive, I emplore you familiarise yourself with the contents of this memo (it is on the web but not easy to find a copy of the actual words – but they are there. The memo describes in loose detail how the neoliberal phylosophy came into being.

    The other thing that seems to me to have come full circle is the sudden change by scomo to recognise that debt in itself is not necessarily bad (personnaly I think he knew all the time).

    This good debt, bad debt mantra is dangerous because in the hands of a person who follows the neoliberal mantra he will be interested in using to furthering the cause of the 1%, not the country.

    This Good Debt and Bad debt talk is also dangerous because the MMT’ers will see as a good thing in line with MMT thinking.
    In my view it is not, simply because MMT tells us that there is actually no reason for debt at all, that the sales or purchase of bonds is not borrowing, it is a means of meeting interest rate targets and merely an artificial constructed barrier, lest parliament should go mad and create so much money that inflation will run away, in otherwords an inflation barrier.

    Which brings me to the second subject that I emplore us so called progressives need to understand and that is how money really works at least at a macro level. MMT does this but as I alluded above, MMT is simple at a macro level but complex when you delve into detail.

    Anyway that is enough rant

    Keep up the good work AIMN, Rossligh, Kaye, Michael, John Lord, John Kelly, et al

    I look forward to reading all of your articles!

    Thank you

  4. Sir Scotchmistery

    Hume I’d never thought about them like that but it was the conserves who originally got us into this Jam. Excellent observation that person.

  5. Michael Taylor

    I’ve never had any bullshit jobs but I’ve had plenty of shit jobs.

    It is as they say: “No job’s a good job, it’s just that some are better than others”.

    However, much of what you say is correct, Rossleigh. (Geez, that’s a first ?).

  6. helvityni

    “Strangely though, while the Irish were able to soldier on for half a year, the New Yorkers found it rather harder to deal with rotting trash….”

    …and Belgium was without a Government for some time, (sorry can’t remember how long), and nobody was complaining…

    Maybe we could do the same, and live stress and fear free…? 🙂

  7. Keitha Granville

    more jobs IN Centrelink, definitely . The amount of totally wasted time for them and for us is ridiculous. The person at the door with the Ipad – wtf ??? Go back to the days when you just queued up and THAT person could then be someone who fixed your problem.

    Same in banks now – wasted people walking around in the foyer being concierges ??? And meanwhile there’s only 1 teller open.

    The world has gone mad

  8. win jeavons

    I am going t have to deal with Centrelink soon and it terrifies me. Many of their interminable forms are off putting and they seem to not want to help but to deter. I just want to talk to a human, not a construct . Sack the form writers ( perhaps already done, these may all be self generating algorithms) employ people to solve people problems . And let those who can’t find non existent jobs grow the roses.

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