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Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber.
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Have you ever held a job that you felt was genuinely pointless? You're not alone. In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber argues that many jobs in contemporary industrial societies are, in fact, pointless. This flies in the face of our conventional economic thinking, in which jobs exist largely to fulfill a pre-existing need that adds value to society. In this book, he explains what pointless jobs are, why they’re proliferating, and why they make workers so unhappy.

David Graeber was an anthropology professor, activist, and self-identified anarchist. He began this book with an op-ed in Strike! magazine. When hundreds of people reached out to him to...

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Bullshit Jobs Summary Part 1: What Is a Pointless Job?

Broadly speaking, a pointless job is one that serves no purpose for society. Either no tasks are assigned to the worker, the tasks assigned are not useful, or—in some cases—the tasks assigned are actually detrimental to society. But how do you know a pointless job when you see one, and who determines which jobs are pointless? In this section, we'll cover how Graeber defines pointless jobs, then we'll explore the characteristics of pointless jobs as well as the four types of pointless jobs.

How to Identify a Pointless Job

Graeber argues that you can identify a job as pointless if the worker believes it is so. While critics might counter that this definition is too subjective, Graeber reasons that the person who spends most of their waking hours performing a task is the one who is best positioned to judge its uselessness.

He argues that workers have direct personal knowledge of what they do all day. They’ll see the impact their work performance has on the product or service their organization provides. If they suddenly start slacking off or working harder than before and find nothing changes, they’re right to conclude that their work has no point.

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Bullshit Jobs Summary Part 2: Why Are There So Many Pointless Jobs in Industrialized Countries?

Now that we understand what pointless jobs are, we'll explore Graeber's explanations as to why there are so many pointless jobs in industrialized nations. We’ve divided his causes into three broad categories: economic, political, and cultural.

Economic Reasons

Graeber defines two core economic reasons why there are so many pointless jobs in industrialized countries. First, he discusses the role of automation, then he explains how an economy that prioritizes wealth extraction enables the proliferation of pointless jobs.

Economic Reason #1: Automation Has Reduced the Need for Work

Graeber argues that automation in industrialized societies has reduced the need for labor, so there simply isn't as much useful work to be done by humans. He contends that technological advances in manufacturing and software now allow industrial nations to fulfill their material needs without their entire workforce contributing a full workweek. However, instead of reducing workers' hours or allowing part of the population to subsist without working, industrial economies have simply created unnecessary jobs to keep the entire workforce employed—even though many of these jobs actually...

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Bullshit Jobs Summary Part 3: Why Are Pointless Jobs a Problem?

Now that we've discussed the causes of pointless jobs, we can turn to their effects. Graeber doesn't just argue that these pointless jobs are inefficient, but that they are actually harmful to society. He highlights two major problems: They make workers chronically miserable, and they create deep social divisions. In this section, we'll explore Graeber's arguments about the destructive consequences of pointless jobs.

Pointless Jobs Make Workers Unhappy

Graeber’s research found that those who work pointless jobs often feel miserable. You might assume that people would be happy getting paid to do nothing, but that's actually not the case. Instead, Graeber maintains, deep down, most people genuinely want to contribute to society and feel frustrated and depressed when they can't. In this section, we'll cover the four psychological reasons pointless jobs make workers miserable: lack of agency, dishonesty, ambiguity, and indignity.

Pointless Jobs and Rational Choice Theory

The assumption that people would be happy getting paid to do nothing is [based on a set of influential economic ideas called "rational choice...

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Bullshit Jobs Summary Part 4: What Should We Do About Pointless Jobs?

Now that we have defined pointless jobs, identified their causes, and explored their consequences, we can turn our attention to how we can solve this problem. Graeber stresses that his goal in this book is to identify a problem rather than offer a solution. However, he still highlights one policy that he believes may offer a chance at solving the problem: universal basic income. In this section, we'll explain this idea and how it would impact the problem of pointless jobs.

What Is Universal Basic Income and How Would It Change Pointless Jobs?

Graeber explains that universal basic income would provide every member of society with an equal flat wage, paid by the government and funded through taxation. This is meant to provide a supplemental income that could be combined with other conventional forms of income. However, it is intended to be enough to support someone who is unemployed, giving them the chance to opt out of undesirable employment. Graeber argues this policy would address the problem of pointless jobs in three distinct ways: Workers could decline pointless jobs, care work would receive funding, and politicians would have no need to support work for work’s...

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Shortform Exercise: Reflect on Pointless Jobs

This exercise will give you a chance to explore Graeber's arguments about pointless jobs and reflect on your own experiences in the workforce.


Graeber argues that when workers consider their jobs pointless, they're usually right. Have you ever had to do anything at work that you considered pointless? If so, describe the task and explain why you thought it served no purpose.

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Shortform Exercise: Consider Universal Basic Income

This exercise will give you a chance to explore Graeber's proposed solution to pointless jobs: universal basic income. This policy would pay every citizen in the country a flat wage funded through taxation.


Graeber argues that universal basic income might provide a solution to the problem of pointless jobs. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

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