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Do you have a Bullcrap Job?  

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OK, I only called this Bullcrap jobs to get past the language filter.  I just read the book Bull**** Jobs and it blew my mind.  If you are interested in rethinking some assumptions about the way our society is structured, I recommend it.  The book defines "bull**** jobs" as "a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case."

Anyway, the book is basically a fleshing out of the author's premise in an article he wrote back in 2013 called On The Phenomenon of Bull**** Jobs.  Here are a few excerpts from the article:

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In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

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This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one's job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one's work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it's obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It's not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It's even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It's as if they are being told ‘but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?’

The book discusses all this stuff in much greater depth, from what bull#### jobs are, why they're bad, why they've proliferated, etc.  At the end he suggests that a Universal Basic Income could help fix the problem but makes clear that the book is about identifying the problem and generating discussion rather than proposing a specific solution.  I'm interested to hear from anyone with thoughts about this.  From a public policy perspective the book changes everything.  Politicians are always talking about creating jobs and the dignity of work, when the real crisis isn't that too many people are jobless, it's that too many people are doing jobs for no good reason while they could be enjoying their lives doing other things.  

Anyway, the book is highly recommended, interested to hear thoughts on its premise from the brilliant posters here, who I suspect, have a very high proportion of bull#### jobs.  

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Oh don't worry about me I'm comfortable enough.

when I consider i'm an engineer that designs servers for cloud infrastructure, I don't think bull crap when I realize the end result is that my mom can share kitten pictures to millions of people

Huh.  I would assume the opposite.  For example, I would consider most jobs in the financial sector (the sector that just moves money from one party to another) to be bullcrap.  To be more specific, a

LOL I think this OP might require an unprecedented level of uncomfortable self-examination.

14 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

I'll say something about Marx here. I think his conclusions and solutions were profoundly wrong and beyond damaging, beyond destructive, beyond estimation to human existence and peace. However. He did capture a snapshot of a wretched time and place in world history and what he saw was essentially correct - that technology and capital created huge disparities and injustices. The evidence was everywhere around him and that's what he described. The nature of labor and its effect on the soul of the workers, the bourgeoisie, and the course of human events has been what the world has been about since the industrial revolution. Sometimes the consequences are shocking and jarring. These things do not exist in a vacuum. Every human life reverberates. 

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I haven't read the book, but I did read a review of it a little while back.  It sounds interesting.

That said, the parts you excerpted don't make a very compelling case.  Obviously teachers, dockworkers, and garbage collectors are important for a well-functioning society.  And I have no doubt that there are mid-level PR people who would trade place with a teacher in a heart-beat were it not for the salary differential.  But no white collar worker wants to trade places with dockworkers or garbage collectors.  The author would need to provide a ton of evidence to convince me that there is a lot of pent-up resentment directed at dockworkers.

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1 minute ago, IvanKaramazov said:

I haven't read the book, but I did read a review of it a little while back.  It sounds interesting.

That said, the parts you excerpted don't make a very compelling case.  Obviously teachers, dockworkers, and garbage collectors are important for a well-functioning society.  And I have no doubt that there are mid-level PR people who would trade place with a teacher in a heart-beat were it not for the salary differential.  But no white collar worker wants to trade places with dockworkers or garbage collectors.  The author would need to provide a ton of evidence to convince me that there is a lot of pent-up resentment directed at dockworkers.

I don't think the author is suggesting that people want to be garbage collectors.  But in the book he talks about how garbage collectors went on strike in New York a number of years ago and it basically incapacitated the city.  And the reaction of people wasn't "wow, look how important garbage collectors are, we should probably be giving them more money or better benefits."  The reaction was decidedly anti-garbage worker, even among the many people in society who get paid more than garbage workers to do a far less demanding or important job.    

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Also, lot of bullcrap jobs look like bullcrap jobs until you find out what they actually do, and they're not bullcrap any more.  When I was a faculty member at my university, I used to see people come and go from our central administration building with no idea what they did or why they mattered.  When I moved into administration myself, I learned very quickly that the university would not be able to function without a lot of these folks. 

For example, our HR department has a person whose title is "Director of Personnel Relations."  His job is to figure out how to fire people who are all state employees covered by three different collective bargaining agreements.  That doesn't sound like a very pleasant job, but unless we want to employ faculty members who buy illegal drugs for their undergraduate girlfriends (real life example), you need somebody like that around.  

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Just now, IvanKaramazov said:

Also, lot of bullcrap jobs look like bullcrap jobs until you find out what they actually do, and they're not bullcrap any more. 

The author relies on self-reported surveys in coming up with his numbers.  If the person doing the job thinks it's a bullcrap job, there's a decent chance it's a bullcrap job.  Also, it's worth noting that often bullcrap jobs are necessary, but only because of some issue that is fixable but for whatever reason is not fixed.  For example, in the author's categories of different types of bullcrap jobs is the type he names a "duct taper."  The prominent example he gives is where, for example, a business uses two different computer programs that aren't compatible so they have to hire someone to make the systems work together, even though they could have just used programs that already work together.

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7 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

The author relies on self-reported surveys in coming up with his numbers.  If the person doing the job thinks it's a bullcrap job, there's a decent chance it's a bullcrap job.  Also, it's worth noting that often bullcrap jobs are necessary, but only because of some issue that is fixable but for whatever reason is not fixed.  For example, in the author's categories of different types of bullcrap jobs is the type he names a "duct taper."  The prominent example he gives is where, for example, a business uses two different computer programs that aren't compatible so they have to hire someone to make the systems work together, even though they could have just used programs that already work together.

Yes, this jogs my memory now that I saw this book discussed in Reason.  

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Just now, huthut said:

No one cries about the whale oil lantern lighters or whatever anymore, not sure why so much emphasis is on coal miners when it employs almost no people. 

OK, but that's not what the book is about at all.  It's about the middle manager sitting in his office posting at FBGs all day.

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These days my job is about 60-70% BS, 10-20% important stuff that could be done by a lot of different people, and 20% stuff that neither I nor anyone involved in my work would trust anyone else to do that also happens to be extremely important.  So, yes, 50%+ BS, but also very satisfying and rewarding at other times.

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1 minute ago, Henry Ford said:

These days my job is about 60-70% BS, 10-20% important stuff that could be done by a lot of different people, and 20% stuff that neither I nor anyone involved in my work would trust anyone else to do that also happens to be extremely important.  So, yes, 50%+ BS, but also very satisfying and rewarding at other times.

Well if your job wasn't 60-70% BS you wouldn't be here posting and that would be a loss for us, so is you job really 60-70% BS?

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Just now, BassNBrew said:

A lot of my job revolves around satisfying state and federal regulations.  I guess the answer depends on if you think these regulation are bullcrap.

Yeah, there is definitely some subjectivity in figuring out what counts as bullcrap.  

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I wanna read that book. Off the cuff I would assume I have a BS job although my position is considered a "revenue generating" for my employer. 

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The majority of jobs in my industry (banking) seem straight out of Office Space.  That isn't to say they can't get busy at times, but that time is often spent talking about cover sheets on TPS reports and then discussing how this TPS report should be tracked in another system etc....

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Well, what else is middle management going to do. 

I would guess that any company that gets to 10000+ employees has tons of inefficiencies and dead weight. I have worked for a few 50,000+ companies, and there are whole departments or entire sites that are essentially unnecessary. I am in a pretty high overhead cost line of work, and I would guess I have seen budgets of $100,000,000 completely wasted, funding a site for 5 years with 100 people with essentially no interest from headquarters. Just a bunch of people looking busy out of habit. 

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1 minute ago, huthut said:

Well, what else is middle management going to do. 

I would guess that any company that gets to 10000+ employees has tons of inefficiencies and dead weight. I have worked for a few 50,000+ companies, and there are whole departments or entire sites that are essentially unnecessary. I am in a pretty high overhead cost line of work, and I would guess I have seen budgets of $100,000,000 completely wasted, funding a site for 5 years with 100 people with essentially no actually interest from headquarters. Just a bunch of people looking busy out of habit. 

And they say robots are going to replace us.

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That is why I am always surprised when people talk about how inefficient the government is. Nothing is more inefficient than a large company. Though I do like it when people order extra $50,000 pieces of equipment that we already have because it comes with a free ipad. 

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I've been very fortunate to have the career that I've had, but feel relieved that it's winding down.  I look forward to retirement in 5 years should I be alive then.  My job certainly isn't a bull crap job because the software that I've written over the years helps patient care.  Very rewarding for a developer. 

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My job is necessary but it's really easy and I could be replaced by anyone meeting the basic requirements for my general profession. They haven't caught on here yet and I only have to fool them for another year or so. Or maybe they have caught on and have simply taken pity on me. I'm ok with that, too.

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Just now, roadkill1292 said:

Or maybe they have caught on and have simply taken pity on me. I'm ok with that, too.

Yeah the book talks about how at a lot of places there's an unwritten code not to actually call out the fact that coworkers aren't doing anything.  Like, I know that I don't do much.  Obviously my supervisor also knows I don't do much because pretty much everything I do goes through him.  And presumably most of the people I work with also aren't doing all that much either because if they consistently had a lot of work, I would imagine some of that work would get redirected to me.  But nobody talks about it.

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I used to be a consultant engineer and i would say 80% of my job was bull$$$$.  Lots of golf, lots of laughing at stupid jokes and coddling clients and such. Then, because it was such a huge firm, we would charge someone $1,000,000 for this or that project and we essentially just copy the last one and drink coffee.  Ctrl F one name in the report and replace with the new one

Now i have switched to local government and 90% of my job is coddling the stupid politicians.  They really ruin everything.  It's such an easy way for an absolute moron to get power and when they do they use it.  There is so much that could be done to make the city a better more cost effective place but those politicians are in the way every step of the way.

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On the OP post up top, i need to read the book but those are some interesting points.  I have lots of friends that work in 'business' middle management.  I'm not even sure they know what they do minus commute for an hour and sit in a cubicle

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2 minutes ago, Murph said:

One thing to bear in mind. These days it seems like a lot of jobs aren't intended to be 100% busy all of the time; but rather to be available to give 200% at specific times when it is needed.

Yeah, this is also discussed in the book.  The problem is that nobody will acknowledge "you're only here in case X happens, so as long as X isn't happening, feel free not to come into work or play video games at work."  Instead, superiors often make up stupid meaningless tasks for their underlings to do so that they will appear busy.

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1 minute ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

Yeah, this is also discussed in the book.  The problem is that nobody will acknowledge "you're only here in case X happens, so as long as X isn't happening, feel free not to come into work or play video games at work."  Instead, superiors often make up stupid meaningless tasks for their underlings to do so that they will appear busy.

I think this about sums up so many jobs.  

Throw in the american culture that says 'you aren't valuable unless you are working 60 hour weeks' and it's a recipe for awfullness

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57 minutes ago, Slapdash said:

The majority of jobs in my industry (banking) seem straight out of Office Space.  That isn't to say they can't get busy at times, but that time is often spent talking about cover sheets on TPS reports and then discussing how this TPS report should be tracked in another system etc....

Yet eliminate banking and society would basically collapse.

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Just now, Juxtatarot said:

Yet eliminate banking and society would basically collapse.

In the book he talks about how the banks went on strike somewhere in Europe for like six months and everyone got along pretty OK.  He contrasts that with the New York garbage worker strike which was far more devastating after just a few days.

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2 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

In the book he talks about how the banks went on strike somewhere in Europe for like six months and everyone got along pretty OK.  He contrasts that with the New York garbage worker strike which was far more devastating after just a few days.

I guess I don't understand.  One day without banking with people not able to use ATMs, debit cards, credit cards, ACH transactions, etc. and I would predict complete chaos.

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1 hour ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

 For example, in the author's categories of different types of bullcrap jobs is the type he names a "duct taper."  The prominent example he gives is where, for example, a business uses two different computer programs that aren't compatible so they have to hire someone to make the systems work together, even though they could have just used programs that already work together.

I wouldn't consider it a bs job to interface two old systems together instead of replacing them with one modern system, because buying or implementing or leasing a modem system all cost money, and the time and effort to migrate data over, map old business processes to a new system, configure the new system, retrain employees, retrain support, and perform ongoing administration is typically weighed against the cost of continuing to use the old systems. It's a lot of work to keep old systems alive and it usually requires people with specialized skills because kids aren't graduating with a lot of COBOL skills these days. 

Let's say you were a huge cell phone company ten years ago and people are coming in to buy cell phones and these new things called tablets. And you want your customers to see you running everything in the store on your tablets. That's great marketing right?  Except your business systems don't run on tablets yet or anything close to modern enough to get there.

It's not a bs job to keep the old systems running with all these new requirements dumping tablet data down into your old computer dungeon. 

It's not a bs job to keep totally unrelated systems running while the company uses a lot of its finite IT resources on getting the tablets up and running. 

It takes a lot of people to make things like that happen. 

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15 minutes ago, Juxtatarot said:

Yet eliminate banking and society would basically collapse.

Not to get off topic, but we would do just fine with most of the large banks being broken into much smaller pieces.  Perhaps I should have limited my comment just to that cohort.

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12 minutes ago, Juxtatarot said:

Which 50%?

I dont know what % it is but we dont need the crashing the economy while they get 50B checks part.

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2 minutes ago, Slapdash said:

Not to get off topic, but we would do just fine with most of the large banks being broken into much smaller pieces.  Perhaps I should have limited my comment just to that cohort.

Yes, I understand.  But the opposite could be true too.  I work for a smaller financial institution.  My company could be merged with a larger one and my job and others eliminated without much impact on society.  The point I'm trying to make though is banking is critical for a modern society to function and people have to be doing these jobs.  In that way, they aren't bullcrap.

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2 hours ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

OK, but that's not what the book is about at all.  It's about the middle manager sitting in his office posting at FBGs all day.

It reminds me of this article, particularly the "oiler" and "nipper".

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44 minutes ago, Juxtatarot said:

Yes, I understand.  But the opposite could be true too.  I work for a smaller financial institution.  My company could be merged with a larger one and my job and others eliminated without much impact on society.  The point I'm trying to make though is banking is critical for a modern society to function and people have to be doing these jobs.  In that way, they aren't bullcrap.

I recall studies saying that the economies of scale for banks stop around $50B.  Maybe it is just worse in the spaces that deal with a lot of the new regulations/CCAR that have started over the last decade 

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when I consider i'm an engineer that designs servers for cloud infrastructure, I don't think bull crap

when I realize the end result is that my mom can share kitten pictures to millions of people in seconds......yeah.

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1 hour ago, Murph said:

One thing to bear in mind. These days it seems like a lot of jobs aren't intended to be 100% busy all of the time; but rather to be available to give 200% at specific times when it is needed.

Very good posting.

I was screwing around for the last little bit fixing.  Customer just called with a tax question just as I sat down to eat and got 20 minutes of my time on demand and his questions answered.  Last night a customer needed me from 7-8pm.  Sometime working the right 20-30 hours far exceeds working 40 hours.

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Great topic @fatguyinalittlecoat

Work and the value of work and satisfaction and self esteem and meaning are all huge topics. 

One tangent angle is the community of work. Meaning the relationships and such that come about with work. 

Fantasy Football is certainly not very important. But I'd consider many of the relationships connected to my job to be very meaningful and important. 

 

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Not only do I have a bullcrap job, but in a perfect world, or even a slightly more sensical world, my entire field of work would not exist.  At least 90% of what I do accomplishes nothing but shifting some money from one huge insurance company or health/retirement plan to another.  I derive 100% of my sense of self-worth from outside my professional life.

 

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35 minutes ago, Joe Bryant said:

One tangent angle is the community of work. Meaning the relationships and such that come about with work. 

Fantasy Football is certainly not very important. But I'd consider many of the relationships connected to my job to be very meaningful and important. 

I understand this but I also think that if we didn't have to work full time we would be better able to form relationships outside the workplace.  And maybe the relationship would be people that share your interests rather than just the guy who happens to have the office down the hall from you. 

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13 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

I understand this but I also think that if we didn't have to work full time we would be better able to form relationships outside the workplace.  And maybe the relationship would be people that share your interests rather than just the guy who happens to have the office down the hall from you. 

That's interesting and true I'm sure. But I also know there are some very valuable relationships that I've developed that are solely because of my work. 

Like most things, I think it's a balance and prioritization. 

 

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7 hours ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

people with bull#### jobs are more likely to hang out in internet forums.

More like stress relief.  Job is time consuming, incredibly stressful, and definitely not a BS job.

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