Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bullshit Jobs

The "service economy" has always been weirdly circular.  Ian Welsh put it this way last Thursday:

It's crazy....(R)adical is saying why do we distribute surplus through jobs? All right, why do you need a job in order to survive, right? I mean the fact of the matter is 80% of the population could stop doing what they do tomorrow and all the food would still get produced, and all of the goods would still get produced. About 60% of the population does nothing but shuffle numbers at this point. What they're doing is keeping track of who owns what, right? The actual productive labor in the economy is remarkably little.

Trouble maker David Graeber puts it differently:
Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.
So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.”
In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).
But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations.
As far as I'm concerned there are plenty of productive things to do, like fixing bridges, pulling fiber to post offices and libraries, building high school science labs, even, yes, repairing water mains and making Supertrains.  But that's not what we do.