Why Capitalism Creates Pointless Jobs

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.

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By David Graeber

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve 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.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. 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.

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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. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is exactly what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the very sort of problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.


Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

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?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Originally published on Strike!

David Graeber’s most recent book, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, is published by Melville House.

2016 September 27

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  • GJ

    I am not to sure the world could handle a more do as I want to do life style. But if so, then we could all get busy solving life’s riddles. But capitalism would have to be over with, and good riddance. What a sea of good that would wash over us, removing the BS and accelerating mankind’s instincts to create a beautiful planet. I’m with this guy.

    • John G. Maguire

      Read Kimock’s response.

    • Dan Stracco

      This is the direction I hope the “Automation Revolution” takes us. If our jobs are going to be ‘stolen’ by robots. Are we going to need to find more jobs for everyone? Or could we go in the direction of not having to work as much, and pursue other things like ‘do as I want’ lifestyle. Philosophy, art, creativity, meditation, etc.

      I think it is wishful thinking though, because that would require that the benefits from the automation revolution be spread across all of society, and I don’t think that would be the case.

    • Bradford

      I hope you’ve read Buckminster Fuller’s “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”….
      If you haven’t, please do! You’ll like that guy, too!

  • Grant Hall

    What a stupid fucking post.

    “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.”

    How is that if you spend some time understanding the occupations of these people, you don’t understand the function they serve?

    Private Equity CEOs find struggling businesses, purchase them, figure out what they’re doing wrong, make adjustments and sell them. They are improving the products and services people can buy.

    Actuaries manage risk — they figure out the risk of insuring a person or a company and set a insurance rate for them accordingly.

    Telemarketering is a dying industry that asks people if they are interested in the services they offer. *You* might find them annoying — but some people purchase products through them — justifying their existence.

    All the others are government-created-occupations. A government that you would like to grow, so that it can create more stupid jobs.

    Just because John Maynard Keynes made a prediction 86 fucking years ago, doesn’t mean unless it’s true, there’s been a plutocratic conspiracy.

    Your post reeks of resentment and jealousy for your standing in life. And your technocratic impulses, about what should and should not exist, were the same in Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany.

    Go fuck yourself.

    • Eric

      I think Grant Hall is in HR. Or something like it.

      • Wensleydale

        Yes. He seems dreadfully upset about the entire article. Almost disproportionately so.

        • chris goodwin

          Proportionate to what ?

    • If you look through the profanity and speculation about motives, what Grant says is true.

      • Bradford

        Just as it is EQUALLY TRUE that Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are the BEST candidates that the Republicrat and Democracker parties are fielding in the current POTUS election. Your education, hubris, arrogance, and ignorance ALL appear to vastly outweigh your intelligence and compassion….

    • Bradford

      Both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany were the creations of the “GREG B.’s”….-The Global Ruling Elites, and Global Banksters. You know, – the Bildergergers & the Illuminati. Your education, hubris, arrogance, and ignorance ALL seem to vastly outweigh your intelligence, common sense, and compassion….

    • Frank Larkin

      Private Equity is an industry that relies entirely on the carried interest loophole to take companies with healthy balance sheets and load them up with debt. You have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Draco T Bastard

    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?

    An interesting observation that I made a couple of months ago:

    Those people we need the most are paid the least while those we need the lest are paid the most.

    We need lots of builders, carpenters and cleaners but we need very few CEOS and yet it’s the CEOs that are paid far more then they could possibly spend in their lifetime. And, yes, I’m pretty sure that there’s plenty of skilled people around that could be CEOs and are willing to do it for a lot less but they just don’t know the right people to get the job.

    • Kimock

      Builders, carpenters and cleaners are paid less because the required skills are more common. Those skills required to be an effective CEO are rare yet, even if slightly better than an alternative possible CEO, can increase the value of a company by billions of dollars. As for “whom you know,” there might be some truth to that, but note that companies (i.e. boards of directors) very much want to most effective CEO. If there were, in fact, “plenty of skilled people around that could be CEOs and are willing to do it for a lot less,” these boards would search for them.

      • Draco T Bastard

        1. No they’re not. In fact, lawyers have been complaining that there’s too many of them and they’re having to lower their charges
        2. We don’t actually have enough builders so their wages should be going up. Instead they’re going down. Need should obviously be part of the value determination.
        3. The skills needed to be CEO aren’t rare at all. In fact, anyone doing a university degree are taught them these days.
        4. Research by the local social security office has it that 70%+ of jobs are offered through word of mouth. I’ve never seen the position of CEO advertised in the jobs column.

        • JDSousa

          3. You fail to explain why companies pay tons of cash for a good CEO, when they are dime and dozen. Company owners are all mad right?

          • Mark Talbot

            Because the pay boards are a small clique that all sit on each others pay board. Also most CEO’s are just lucky and are ridding whatever are the prevailing winds of the economy. CEO pay almost always goes upwards no matter what the prospects are for a company.

          • JDSousa

            You basically saying that owners (not other CEOs, who are employee) like to waste their money. I find that unlikely and believe that, like in any other profession, there are some people better at their jobs.

          • Mark Talbot

            Very rarely do the owners of limited companies have any say over who anybody is employed at a company. They generally don’t have a controlling stake and the have no right to veto a pay board settlement. So yes they are generally wasting money on exec reimbursement.

          • JDSousa

            Yes, CEOs are hired by magical fairies. The major stakeholders have nothing to say about it.

          • You’ve no clue how things actually work. You’re projecting your envy and ignorance in an attempt to explain something with which you’ve no experience.

            And it shows.

          • Draco T Bastard

            No I didn’t. CEO jobs go through word of mouth otherwise known as The Old Boys Network. The people who set the salaries are the same Old Boys.

            We now call them businessmen but it’s a similar inbred clique to that we used to call the aristocracy.

          • JDSousa

            Even disregarding the fact that engineers can also have salesmanship skills, I’ve seen salesmen “sell ice in antartica” (generating value from nothingness).

            Like I said, I’m an engineers, but I feel everyone brings something to the table in terms of value generation.

          • disqus_YdMXw2eUYB

            Selling ice in Antarctica would be scam, not value creation; I guess similar to most bullshit jobs.

          • Majyqman

            About that.


            Yeah, because it’s not really a free market system up there. And that’s exactly how they want it.

        • zxvf

          “Research by the local social security office has it that 70%+ of jobs are offered through word of mouth.”

          This is an interesting piece because it shows all the bullshit lies humans create to live in their worldview.

      • MilkywayAndromeda
    • Lexi Mize

      One reason CEOs are paid what they are is because it’s a ruthless job. CEOs are often sociopaths who are hired only to produce a net positive bottom-line and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the company delivers a dividend to the board. The average Joe is not a sociopath and couldn’t possibly do the nasty work that needs to get done for a corporation to aggressively build a monopoly.

      • Chris D’alessandro

        I dunno about you, but the fact anyone needs sociopathic tendencies to do a particular job positively screams that “Something is fundamentally wrong” with our system. But that’s just me.

        • Lexi Mize

          No argument there.

  • Duncan Cairncross

    There is a lack of understanding of how things actually work
    Some jobs are very necessary – BUT not all of the time
    You need enough fire-fighters to handle a major blaze – but such a blaze might only happen every 20 years
    A lot of jobs in manufacturing tend to be “preventative”
    Think about the reliability we now expect and go back just a few decades to when there were drip trays under the new cars in dealerships
    We have come one hell of a long way and we have expectations about how good things should be
    That did not happen by chance – and a lot of work is required to keep making new things cheaper and better
    To the outsider (and possibly to some of the actual workers) these jobs appear to be “overhead”
    but if we stopped doing them we would be back to the old 1 repair per hundred days

    • Yes. there are a number of problems with Graeber’s piece, but the most fundamental one is that just because you don’t understand why something is useful does not mean it is not useful. It is certainly true that the political process can create jobs that may not be very useful, e.g. administering a program with strong political constituency, or making filings required by regulations of questionable value. This is much less likely when the entity that wants the job done faces market discipline.

      To be more specific, a number of the jobs called out do have uses that the author just doesn’t understand:

      “private equity CEOs” – decide on capital allocation. Key to making sure resources are invested productively.

      “lobbyists” – may have a point here, but to the extent that they are helping craft rules and laws that affect millions of people even they may be doing some good

      “PR researchers” – people are more likely to buy products from companies they feel good about as it enhances their use experience. As long as this is part of human nature, PR is useful work.

      “actuaries” – make insurance possible. Insurance is the spreading risk which makes modern life possible, and people feel more secure.

      “telemarketers” – not to my taste personally, but the people who buy and make the products they are telemarketing presumably feel otherwise

      “bailiffs” – provide security in courtrooms that allow the legal system to function. Useful, unles you believe rule of law has nothing to do with progress and prosperity.

      “legal consultants” – structure transactions to spread risk and let mutually beneficial transactions happen. Enabling gains from trade is obviously valuable.

      It is true that not all jobs are useful because companies and governments make mistakes when they decide what needs to be done, but let’s think more about how we can reduce those mistakes. In my mind it means expanding the number of actors that are subject to market discipline, not simply dismissing large categories of occupations.

      • Bradford

        Can I sell you a backhoe? You could dig yourself a much deeper grave much faster than that hand shovel you’re using…. Read my replies above…. Your sacred
        “market” is an illusion planted in your head by propaganda. You’re free to worship the Almighty Dollar in your Church of Capitalism, but that will NOT make you FREE, or SAVE you….

      • Duncan Cairncross

        I suspect that in the “market” empire building creates more “useless jobs” than all of the politicians combined

    • Bradford

      Those “drip trays” were the result of a young technology, NOT poor workmanship or craftsmanship…. Things easily could, should, and would be much better, if not for the greed, arrogance, ignorance, and hubris of the “1%”. The rich need the “99%” far more than the “99%” needs the uber-rich. THAT is the source of abominations such as the “Georgia Guide Stones”…. google it, kiddo….

      • Duncan Cairncross

        When did I say that the “drip trays” were the result of workmanship or craftsmanship??
        Because they they weren’t!
        They were the result of a lack of attention to details at the design stage combined with a management that believed that “good enough” was OK

        And they were fixed by hard work by a lot of people

        “Young technology” had nothing to do with it –

        • Bradford

          I didn’t say you DID say that, dude….
          But, since YOU brought it up – *HOW* exactly were those “drip trays” necessitated by “lack of attention to details”, or a “good enough” management?…. As for “young tech” – which years *ARE* you talking about “drip trays”?….
          Sheesh, can YOU get any more petty and irrelevant?

          • Duncan Cairncross

            Hi Brad
            It’s not a petty difference – the British motor car and especially Motorbike industries kept with appalling design details for decades
            My pal had a Panther Sloper – when introduced in the 30’s it was reasonable
            But it was the same design when they stopped making it in 1965

            The motor industry started to move into the 20th century in about 1990 – a lot of other industries have still to make the transition

          • Bradford

            Thanks, Dunc – you pretty much proved the point I was making in my first post…. Motor cars & bikes as a technology are not even 150 years old. And, the current designs are FAR more complicated, but new ones don’t leak much oil. (The cars of the 1930’s didn’t have problems with their computer chips. Which they didn’t have anyway….)
            As interesting as that may be, it’s irrelevant to the point.
            Graeber is writing about how *THE**MACHINE*/Western Capitalism
            makes pointless jobs – “busywork” – for the sole purpose of employing folks doing *something*, even if it’s not productive, or even WASTEFUL of time, resources, human capital, etc.,….
            The motor vehicles you’re writing about had SOME utilitarian value beyond the jobs created in making them. A bloke building camshafts for a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was doing far more socially useful work than a telemarketer in the 1990’s…. (M1 Abrams tanks parked in a motor pool are often pictured with drip cans under the final drive access covers….)
            But I’d much rather argue with dipwads and tossers like Grant Hall….
            You seem to make too much sense, Dunc. But please try to stay on point, ok?

  • JTG

    Yes, but you should include school teachers as well. If there is any industry that looks like a jobs project to keep both adults and children from having control of their own time it is compulsory government school. What you’re saying is good for adults is just as good for the kids. Why should they be confined in a massive time wasteland any more than adults? The 15 hours a week you speak of is all we need for school. I think the youth having more control of their own time is seen as even more dangerous than adults who have already been broken down.

  • Лазар

    Let’s take a view from a liberal aspect. All those pointless jobs are somehow needed(from this system’s stance). If you are a dog washer, you are simply doing someone’s chore that they are trying to avoid. I don’t like washing my dog either, but, of course, I find much it much cheaper to do it myself, considering my student income. When it comes to corporate lawyers – of course it’s pointless, but it’s a part of much bigger problem – state, capital and their mutual interaction, just as their interaction with ordinary people. Holders of capital do think of corporate lawyers as a “necessary evil”, since they prefer fast circulation of capital and business decisions, which the state opstructs. I am not saying these jobs are needed. Many of them are just a consequence, and we need to treat the causes. Others are jobs intending to fix “first world problems”, or better say, shrinking middle classes’ problems. Greetings from a future corporate lawyer…

  • X-7

    Wulf Zendik 1984, improvised talk: The Money Monarchy
    “Paul Getty sucked as much oil out of the Earth and caused as much pollution as anyone and for rationalization he said, “I created employment, made a lot of jobs.” What’s a job? What the hell is a job? How sociologically superficial can you get—we’re up to our nostrils in the sewage of this corporate–run deathculture with its hold on humanity so complete that finally it controls all employment, or lack of employment, and somebody’s coining a term “joblessness”. I’m getting to despise that word, job, it’s such a political plumb. A job had better damn quick become what you do to insure ultimate survival.”

    Bullshit jobs, pols … bullshit code for relationship / reality interface.
    Like this:

    “The most fundamental phenomenon of the universe is relationship.” Jonas Salk — “Anatomy of Reality”

    “The story of human intelligence starts with a universe that is capable of encoding information.” — Ray Kurzweil “How To Create A Mind”

    We’ve generated unprecedented environs / relationships in-and-across all networks: geo eco bio cultural & tech. These new relationship environs are driven by exponentially accelerating complexity (EAC), which includes exponentially accruing knowledge.

    The idea that world culture’s dominant information-processing mechanism for calibrating and ordering complex relationships — humans using monetary code — could possibly generate selectable relationship hierarchies in the aforementioned networks, and importantly, across time … no, fail.

    The information processing lacks: reach, speed, accuracy & power … rendered dinosaurian by EAC.

    We’re in Anthropocene.
    Part of that: Human cultural selection increasingly drives natural selection.
    Part of that: We’re increasingly doing natural selection with world culture’s dominant code for relationship / reality interface: monetary code.
    FAIL. Exhibit A: Sky. Exhibit B: Ocean.
    Culture, Complexity & Code:

    (Can’t use equation math code in our complexifying environs: $5=5lbs of X. Exponential complexity demands the reach and dynamic fluidity of algorithmic code: software.)

  • Donna

    This is what I call the tyranny of the middle men. The sort of jobs you describe are just that, people who produce nothing and aren’t the market trying, like the lamprey, to skim a living out of some “service” that may not actually be necessary, but possibly convenient. This is all very well, until the middle men begin to run the show. Then they create a world that makes them appear most valuable, when in fact they are not, at the expense of occupations that actually provide an important service.

  • Kimock

    Like most articles on this website, this is a critique of economics from someone who does not understand its fundamentals. In economic theory, something’s value is demonstrated by someone else’s willingness to offer something, such as money, in return for it. This value will not be the same for all people. For example, I own an exercise treadmill because I value what it offers me enough that I was willing to trade a couple hundred dollars for it. Although my neighbor does not have one, presumably because he does not value what it offers that much, he is in no moral position to second guess my purchase of the treadmill as pointless, and I am in no position to second guess his recent purchase of a television. Likewise, some people hire workers in “financial services,telemarketing, corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations” because the services that these workers provide are valued by the employer enough to pay for them. It is foolish and arrogant for the author of this essay to call them pointless. Whether such work has value is for each and every individual potential employer to decide, not a single, apparently omniscient anthropology professor. Likewise, the workers value the income that they earn more than “a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas.” (Although hours worked per week have been decreasing steadily for decades.) The ultimate irony is that the crux of the author’s argument is that these jobs are “pointless” and “bullshit” because they produce nothing, yet he is an anthropology professor.

    • John G. Maguire

      I agree completely. To the person spending money to get a pizza delivered, the pizza delivery is not pointless. Services are not inherently different from objects manufactured. If I want my hair cut, I can hire someone to do it or buy a set of electric clippers and do it myself. I am the one who places value here. Who is to tell me that the service of hair cutting matters less than the manufacture of clippers, when for me they are two different ways of achieving the same thing. Kimock is totally correct and the author, Graeber, needs to read Sowell’s Basic Economics, 4th edition, and not say another word about capitalism until he has.

      • Bradford

        Buncha’ Dittoheads here, seems like….
        When that kid stood up and said, “But the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”, a guy near him said, “Sit down and shut up, kid!”…. You’re that guy, too….

      • Majyqman

        When the only pizza being delivered at 3am is because of people up working other jobs they can actually eat pizza while doing and which only serve to compete with the same jobs at other companies and not provide a good or service in and of themselves… yeah, that pizza delivery was pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things.

    • Dan Stracco

      In the article he clearly says that ‘pointless’ is inherently relative, and many would deem anthropology ‘pointless’. So no I don’t think the irony you point out is lost on him.

      I would argue that one if his main points springs from the most fundamental economic theory, supply and demand:

      “if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else”

      This jives very well with economic theory. We have high salaries in finance and law and not art, creativity or social services because those that benefit (demand) from finance, corporate law, accounting, etc hold most of the worlds wealth. Those that benefit from social services, public education, etc have less wealth, and it is very unconcentrated.

      Therefore, supply and demand, ‘pointless’ jobs (this is subjective) that benefit the rich minority are higher paid than jobs that are more valuable for most people.

      What is your objection to that reasoning with respect to economic theory?

      • Bradford

        You’re assuming that his “reasoning” is logical and rational. It’s not. It’s fear-based. He thinks like a girl…. A well-educated girl, but still….

        • Amelia Montllor Box

          grow up

          • Bradford

            You joined disqus *today*, and your FIRST comment is *THAT*….????….
            “Logical” & “rational” are words invented by *men*, to describe how *men* think…. A woman’s thought process is more nuanced, and is more concerned with relationships with other people. You haven’t read Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand, (subtitle: “Women & Men in Conversation”), HAVE YOU?…. What are you, like 20-, 30-something, *MAYBE*….????…. And YOU are telling *me* to “grow up”….????….
            I’m old as dirt, sugarlips…..

          • spacespeed

            The fact that you use asterisks and capitalized text in such a manner is the first sign that in fact, you’re not who you say you are.

          • Bradford

            yeah dipwad but i never said or claimed that am who i say i am, so what’s yur stupid point?
            note no caps or stars
            the fact that yur ignoring the point means yur a troll
            my reply was to “Amelia Montlor Box” R U HER?

    • Bradford

      When that kid stood up and said, “But the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”, a guy next to him said, “Shut up and sit down, kid!”…. You’re that guy….

    • Hi Kimock

      There is some truth in your assertion, that an understanding of some of the fundamentals has not been clearly demonstrated, and your response suffers from a similar (though one step deeper) lack of understanding about fundamentals.

      The fundamental that is most important at this time is that markets must value any universal abundance at zero.
      That is, anything that everyone has all they need of, has no market value, irrespective of how important it is, like the air we breath.
      In the case where things are naturally abundant (like air), you can say – yes, that’s entirely sensible. And that could be argued as a reasonable position when there was only a very tiny set of such universal abundance possible (air).

      However, that has now changed.
      Now technology allows us to produce a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services in universal abundance. We have that technical capacity. Having owned and operated a software company for over 30 years I am far more aware than most of that fact.

      The incentive under capitalism is to make profit.
      To make profit, there must exist scarcity.

      Most of the laws in any jurisdiction are about creating such scarcity.
      Some do so explicitly, like Intellectual Property (IP) laws, copyright and patent etc.
      Others are much more stealthy, and fall under the broadest possible heading of “health and safety” which includes most of the guild laws requiring qualification (be it medical qualifications or a trade certificate, or whatever).
      In all cases, whatever their public rationale (whatever the sales pitch used to get them through the many levels of whatever legal process exists), the practical outcome is to prevent universal abundance by the imposition of artificial barriers to such abundance.

      10 minutes on the job training can have someone being productive in a narrow field, in most cases. Sure, we all increase the scope and depth of our knowledge as we gain experience, and the evidence is clear, most people only need a couple of hundred hours of school room instruction to learn the basics of reading and mathematics, and then they learn best by engaging in something that actually interests them – only a very tiny minority find that in classrooms or any education system.

      The real fundamental issue is that markets are internally incentivised to prevent the emergence of universal abundance, which is what most of those in really high paid jobs actually do (in one way or another – certainly lawyers).

      The real fundamental issue is, that right now, we possess the tools and resources to meet the reasonable needs of every person on the planet for air, water, food, housing, transport, communication, energy, education, healthcare, sanitation, security, and freedom – but actually delivering such abundance would break the capitalist system (any system based on exchange or markets).

      Capitalism is a very complex multi levelled system that in times of genuine scarcity one could make a reasonable argument was actually in the genuine interests of life and liberty for most people.

      In an age of exponentially expanding automation, one can no longer make that argument with any level of integrity or coherence.

      Our exponentially expanding productivity has outgrown the scarcity based value-set that gave it birth.

      We need to transition.

      It is in everyone’s interests to make that transition as peaceful as possible, and of benefit to everyone (right across the capital distribution spectrum).

      I am confident that can be done.

      I am without any shadow of reasonable doubt remaining that it cannot be done within a market based set of values.

      We require something else.

      I seems clear to me, that a universal respect for individual life, and individual liberty is such a viable set of replacement values.

      That actually requires each and every one of us to think about how we can secure our own lives, and the lives of everyone else. Killing anyone is not an option – ever!
      The military industrial complex must go – and we must do that in a way that is stable and secure as possible (at all levels).

      Liberty, freedom, can never be without constraints.
      In complex systems, it is constraints that deliver form.

      We only exist because of constraints – from the subatomic levels on up.

      Meaningful freedom exists within constraints. And to be clear, I am not saying that our current sets of laws are appropriate constraints, and they are what they are, one level of constraints in a very complex set of levels of constraints.

      So we live in interesting times, and we really do need to understand the fundamentals – without necessarily believing any of the dogma from our history or cultures associated with those fundamentals.

      • Majyqman

        “But without capitalism, what competition will drive new innovation!”

        I dunno, how about 7 Billion people with full Maslow security and all the free time in the world?

        • Couldn’t agree more!

        • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

          That wouldn’t work and it hasn’t worked wherever it was attempted. The beauty of life is that life’s own hierarchy of needs aren’t Maslow’s insight but individual insight and the slippery slope is within the domain of definitions of those needs.

      • Your assertion about the inadequacy of market based set of values is right on point. The values absent represent the deep flaw within money market economics that is being exposed by the many and expanding failures emerging globally, pointless jobs being only one, environmental disruption, constant war, growing economic disparity and social destabilization being a few more. The missing values are related first to the natural resource limitations of our planet to sustainably meet our needs. The second is the failure of the money market economy to meet the needs of everyone thus creating a rapidly growing segment of humanity that will work to undermine the existing system if provisions are not made to incorporate everyone’s interests.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      I am afraid you are not getting it…
      The system is not working…
      Never you had so much capital available… and not used
      Never you had so much people available… and not used
      Never you had so much equipment available… and not used

      Pointless jobs (or bullshit jobs which was the original name) is ONLY one of symptoms of the obvious.

      You might be mistaken growth with development.

    • morgondag

      Well consider 2 corporate legal teams fighting about an aledged tradmark infriction. They may be valuable to their employers, but that does not mean they create anything useful for mankind as a whole. Whatever the outcome, money will move from one company to the other, or not. But they have not created anything like a chair, an invention, music, nor achived anything like curing someones illness or teaching.

      • morgondag

        To make it even clearer, suppose the legal system gets more complicated, so both companies now employ twice as many lawyers. Twice as many people work, twice as much wages are paid. But not twice as much real value is created. In fact no value is created at all.

      • MilkywayAndromeda

        IPR are a good example. IPR are just a way of creating an ecosystem of rent seeking and market dominance power. If the persons does not what are defensive patents, evergreening and so on they do not understand enought of economics to understand so well as you did the article. Well done @morgondag ☻

  • Mark Talbot

    So part of the reason for all of this has been the rise of the importance of accountancy. In standard business accounting producers are counted as costs and facilitators are counted as revenue generating. So the importance of sales people, traders e.t.c is over inflated beyond the important but facilitatory role, whilst the role of the actual wealth generators (designers, engineers, factory workers and craftspeople) have been downplayed. This has lead to the change in politics whereby financiers are lauded as wealth generators and people making things but barely making ends meet are ridiculed as scroungers and skivers. If we saw the true source of wealth generation, in the design and production of ideas and things, then we would have a much more stable and better society.

    • Bradford

      Thank-you for saying that. I concur.

    • JW Ogden

      Without sales and marketing a great new product might be overlooked lessening joy.

      • Mark Talbot

        That may be, but without engineers, scientists, designers and makers the product wouldn’t exist in the first place. As I said there facilitators of wealth creation, an important role, but not anywhere as important as it has become.

      • John Davies


      • Kurt Sperry

        Yes, because to enter the paid marketing space you first have to outshout every other voice in the room just to be heard, And yes here, volume = money. Opposite of economic productivity or efficiency.

    • Kimock

      You claim to know that designers, engineers, factory workers and craftspeople are the actual wealth generators while accountants and financiers are not. In each case, someone is willing to pay them to do work, presumably because that worker provides value to the employer. This creates two types of wealth: the worker gets a salary, and the employer gets the value of labor that is (presumably) greater than the salary paid out. (Otherwise, why would the employer hire the worker?) A furniture company hires factory workers and designers for this. And a bank hires accountants and financiers for the same reason, although the wealth generation may be more difficult to perceive from the outside. Do you believe that these employers are, for some reason, hiring people who produce LESS for the employer than they cost in salary? How do you know this? Have you managed a bank, both with and without accountants and financiers?

      • Mark Talbot

        Your confusing money and wealth. Money is an imaginary number created to help ease trading. Wealth is ideas and things.

        Banks do not generate wealth, they are facilitators who store money and help move it from one place to another. Their role is important but are just a cog in the machinery of our economy. The issue is that they have moved from being a cog to being the master and hence our broken system.

        • JDSousa

          “Money is an imaginary number created to help ease trading. Wealth is ideas and things.”

          Not really. And idea or a thing has no value by itself.

          • Mark Talbot

            Thats a very odd thing to say. Value is something intrinsic to an item or idea derived from its utility. Price (money amount) is the numerical value associated to this utility value by crowd sourcing it via trading. Its monetary value is a function of somethings utility, difficulty in production and by state backed market manipulation (IP e.t.c). Your comment brings to mind the old slur that somebody knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

        • Kimock

          I agree that money and wealth are different, and that the latter is what ultimately matters. My point is that the value of a good or service to someone is indicated by their willingness to pay for it. I could say that the workers may also be paid by barter, and my point would still stand. But as you said, money eases trading.
          And banks do generate wealth. They invest my deposits. Those investments provide capital so that business can go, providing the “ideas and things” (I would add experiences and services) that you call wealth. In the long run, that wealth generation is revealed as a return on the investment. I get a slice of that as interest.

          • Mark Talbot

            My point was that they themselves didn’t generate the wealth but help facilitate it’s creation. It’s an important role, but one that has be raised up far too high and is damaged the ability for the economy to function correctly.

          • Paul Gowan

            Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives.
            Presentation to U.S. Congressional Sub-Committee on World Game (1969) Edit
            R. Buckminster Fuller’s Presentation to U.S. Congressional Sub-Committee on World Game 4 March 1969

        • Paul Gowan

          Banks don’t actually store money. Your money is given to Bob for fixing John’s roof. John got a loan using his mortgage equity for many times the amount you thought you deposited. The bank did not have that amount of money to loan John all at once. It’s running a kind of ponzi scheme called ‘credit creation’.

          • swampwiz0

            And Uncle Sam in the guise of the Federal Reserve came up with whatever cash the bank needed in excess of the that which depositors have ponied up. The Federal Reserve can come up with new “deposits” by having some bureaucrat enter a number into a spreadsheet.

          • piccolit

            and charging you for using your money to make money when lending your money to Bob. Perfect!

        • André Terra

          Banks generate wealth by giving other insistutions access to capital (through financing). Without loans, most companies would not exist — VCs / equity can’t fund everything. Ergo, without banks, most companies would not exist. Banks therefore create wealth relative to a system in which they do not exist. QED.

          • Majyqman

            They do so much less of this compared to making 30 to 1 bets for Trillions of dollars on the chance that insurance taken for loans given out by other banks will have to pay out. IF it ALL went away we’d probably be better off. If they were put firmly back into their liquidity facilitator role we definitely would be.

          • André Terra

            There’s definitely lots to be debated on the boundaries of banking services and whether these should be managed by monolithic institutions or by a more diverse set of smaller firms. My reply was merely to counter the ludicrous notion that banks don’t create (or contribute to the creation of) wealth.

            Having said that, I actually believe that even speculating has a net positive effect as it is another form of increasing liquidity — there’s a reason the US capital market is second to none. At the end of the day, with so many tools at their disposal, investors enjoy significant freedom in deciding which kind of risk they want to be exposed to — and consequently, which other risks they want to hedge against.

          • Majyqman

            But, given the above premise… no there’s not anything to be debated (despite there clearly being), because the people in those jobs in those monolithic institutions are all doing productive work, none of it valueless or even of negative value. See the problem?

            And, no, banks don’t create wealth. They at best provide a net positive in the facilitation of liquidity… which may or may not go on to create wealth… but that’s only a requirement for the creation on wealth within one specific system. A system within which, I will note, they themselves have conveniently created the conditions that their existence is required to address.

          • André Terra

            There’s a strong correlation between liquidity and strength of capital markets and economic prosperity.

          • Kevin O’Leary

            I disagree. Synthetic ‘hedges’ are just casino bets that are inherently destabilizing because they offer the illusion of diversification while in fact they all may be linked in a complex chain of cause and effect (we should have learned this from the financial crisis). They also distract from the real work of evaluating the true growth potential of companies.

          • Roger van der Velde

            That may have been your intention, but you failed by not perceiving that all banks do is manage (or mismanage) money. The wealth they manage and play with does not fall out of the sky, it is the product of actual work done and being done in an ongoing way all over the globe by people who rarely see the benefits of its final potential.
            Stop coffee and tea production tomorrow (as one example) and the revenue of many “investors” will evaporate overnight. All the magic of investing you speak of can’t even function without that basic input. I therefore denounce it for the will-o’-the-wisp it is.

        • Agree with a lot of what you said, but with the caveat that our system is broken for far more reason than that … more accurately, it isn’t actually broken, it never really worked at all – it’s just the planet is so big and robust, that it took the momentum created by the population explosion & technological revolution for the flaws in the system to be revealed, because up until the last 50 or so years, the planet plus other species & the poor were paying the price for those things, and since the wealthy didn’t care about any of that to any great degree, they were happy for them to keep paying the price on behalf of wealthy humans … but as the system grew more & more out of control with now 7+ billion people, armed with high technology & motivated to maximally exploit resources per unit of time, while avoiding at all costs any responsibility for the deleterious ecological & social consequences of their actions (as this eats into profits), it became increasingly apparent the planet couldn’t handle it anymore.

          The reason this is a flaw not a break, is because the system far from preventing such an outcome, motivated nurtured and rewarded this outcome AND now aids those who fight against the solution & blocks those trying to provide a solution, because yet another flaw of the system is that it protects the vested interests of those in control no matter the consequences.

          The system isn’t broken, it’s just stupid & dysfunction.

          • Fred

            The larger “system” is not goal-seeking and does not recognize stasis as a “good” – it does not seek or want your “solutions”. The larger system is evolutionary and has built in disruptors that seed any human effort to establish stasis with the elements that will destabilize it.

            Such is life.

        • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

          The best and most representative definition for wealth isn’t ideas and things but practical solutions.

          • Roger van der Velde

            Clearly it isn’t or so many people wouldn’t still be in dire poverty. The ‘we are wealthier than a tycoon 100 years ago’ argument is claptrap. The suggestion that ‘choices’ and ‘individual needs’ are a noble aim is what dribbles out of the mouths of nearly every discredited political party (that’s nearly all of them’.

            ‘Personal solutions’ and ‘lifestyle’? Give us a break. These are bankrupt ideas coasting along on a wave of empty jargon.

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            So are you a socialist/ Marxist? If so, have you ever thought of how immoral and impractical (in real life) is the doctrine of “equality of outcome”?

          • Roger van der Velde

            Have you ever thought about how immoral massive inequality is? Something which is actually here in this ‘real life’ you mentioned. Of course you don’t really understand Marx, which is why you interpret ‘equality’ in terms of ‘sameness’ of needs and goods and a fencing-in of everyone to a set of middling standards. Strangely enough that sounds very much like the world as it is now: rhetoric of ultimate freedom with a reality of almost total control.

            It’s probably too complicated for you, which is why a simplistic ideology like capitalism appeals. The funny thing is, within your faith community, when everything fails you say it’s because the markets weren’t free and on the other hand you also say it is free markets that have created everything great in the world. Capricious to suit your own views and needs. It’s laughable.

        • valakos

          100000000% agree – the primary profit or money making that banks engage in is rent seeking for lack of a better word, they inflate the cost of money/capital (ie money lent) and take a cut eg mortgage lending, investing in property and taking rents, credit card debt, personal loans, forex fees etc. This is why fintech represents such a big threat, banks do not create any physical good and their continued skimming of capital represents a drain on the economy. As many fintech companies such as Transferwise show, the inflated cost of banking services can be easily countered by pure online competitors who do not create irrelevant positions in their organisations such as banks do and do not charge the margins banks do. Irrelevant positions and high margins are the reason cost of capital is so high.

        • Joe Blow

          Money is what pays your mother fu%$ing bills.

          You scream “greedy conman”

      • John Davies

        Yes, you need to understand the difference between money & productivity or wealth.

        Banks & central banks create money, which pushes up share markets & real estate values, etc etc. None of it productive or, ultimately, useful.

        • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

          There’a a difference between prices and estimating values. Real estate prices could get raised by the oversupply of money but value belongs definitely in the intrinsic domain.

          The problem for most is to make a dependable formula to evaluate accurately what a share or real estate really worths. I am talking about fair price for prospect ratio (value for money if you wish).

          Moreover, you cannot simply dismiss the importance of the role of money creation, monetary policies, inflation regulation, etc as they are interconnected to everything around us.

          To claim that “None of it (is) productive or, ultimately, useful” is like inferring that the oceans are empty after you’ve observed a drop of water under the microscope.

          • No it isn’t even remotely like that at all, in fact your ocean analogy is completely arbitrary and utterly disconnected. Furthermore, I’ve done nearly thirty years of research, I do not “simply dismiss” anything, I can quantify and validate precisely how flawed the entire property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm is … you just don’t see it because you’re blind and brainwashed.

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            Wow!!! 30 years of research and still under the “I-Know-it-all” delusion.

    • JDSousa

      “whilst the role of the actual wealth generators (designers, engineers, factory workers and craftspeople) have been downplayed”

      In a world without sales people, there would be no wealth generation because there would be noone to buy the products from. I’m an engineer, but I find the job of the salesman just as important as mine, we contribute equally to the value proposition. Without me he has nothing to sell, without him my production is worthless.

      I do agree that sometimes sales people are overvalued, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say there are no wealth generators.

      • Mark Talbot

        They do indeed have a useful facilitating role but I would question that without them there would be no wealth generation. You see this in the FLOSS and creative commons communities, who are generating wealth without any of these things. There may not be money but there is certainly an increase in wealth of society from them.

        • Kimock

          The article claims that these are bullshit jobs, which do not produce wealth. That can be wrong, in that they do produce wealth, without necessarily implying that wealth can only be created with them. The engineered products of JDSousa might sell OK without salespeople, but they sell better (making both seller and buyers better off) with the salespeople.

          • Kurt Sperry

            Yes, from any particular company’s POV, marketing obviously makes perfect sense. Hence the ginormous “sales and marketing” industry. You have to think way bigger to sniff out many bullshit jobs, most bullshit jobs can be pretty easily rationalized at company level. The inefficiencies of S&M have enormous cross-company synergies!

      • Without salesman your production is nowhere near worthless.
        You have been indoctrinated by consumer culture to believe so, and you are not guilty of holding such belief. We all are in this…

        Engineering products, whatever they may be, do not need a parasitic middle-man. They need an automated, connected to population automated goods redistribution/delivery-on-demand logistics… ..and not an marketing and lies, and infinite growth paradigm.

        Automated produce distribution,delivery,repair,storing logistics may be very well designed by using cybernetics and system’s approach in a manner which phase out sales person, and even adverts as necessity at any given point.
        Especially now, when people are wearing in their pockets mobile devises with much greater memory and computational power than whole NASA had under their Apollo missions.

        It is outdated value system and obsolete market system that creates such abberation… …and out of which comes into existence idea and manifestation of a very important person, a sales person..

        • MrKamikaze

          Nonsense, you can’t house all the skills necessary in one person or layer not can you automate everything. Thats why there are “Middle men” people that take there cut in order to facilitate. They then the other layer focus on what they do best.

        • This is irrational: how does a potential customer discover that well-engineered product if it exists on a shelf but is unpromoted? It’s pure folly to imagine an “automated distribution system”: who decides what should get distributed? And to where? And in what quantity, or color, or size; and when? Marketing, promoting, selling are essential elements of moving a product from problem to solution to implementation for customer satisfaction.

          You can’t demand it if you are unaware of its existence.

          • Ole Curmudgeon

            I agree, in that the product at least has to be placed on Amazon, so I can find it along with some [real] consumer critics….but beyond that, the very real danger is giving the promoters more credit than they deserve and/or are worth.

            A gentleman described to me, that in previous decades, you had 1 or two middlemen in the entire process between the producer/builder and customer; and that [of course] each wanted their piece of the profit….but it was reasonable. This jives with what I learned in highschool economics, were profit markups were described as being in the 15% range.

            Over the past few decades, we now have many more middlemen in the mix [who really do not add any added value to the product], and they all want much bigger pieces of the pie; hence much larger profit markups.

            And the unspoken…..Shareholders are not content with year after year dividends. They demand 20% profit increases year over previous year.

            I’ve never understood, why companies, after becoming profitable, simply do not pay out the initial investors/shareholders, and engender all employees as shareholders in the company.

            And then just keep making a billion wiggets per year, just keep employing their ‘sharehiolders’ year after year, making a million dollars profit year after year.

            I don’t accept the present system where the simple financial greed of otherwise disinterested investor’s, is the only motivating factor.

          • swampwiz0

            I think the reason why there is so much more intermediation is that the sourcing (i.e., China, India, etc.) is much more exotic, so there needs to be the intermediaries to act as a backstop in the sales process – e.g., an eBay “entrepreneur” buying from a Chinese distributor on Alibaba, such that entrepreneur will put up with the various issues of dealing with products made by labor making $2/day and half a world away.

          • glennk

            Maybe the reason we all seem to admire Steve Jobs ( ironic name for this discussion) is because he was both a brilliant artist / designer and a top notch marketer/salesman. Unfortunately, few people are both of these things at once.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            And was extremely well funded by “USA agencies”… something people to forget… it is happen RIGHT NOW with other “stars”… there slave-owners only because we allow their existence ☺

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            And he (SJ) was funded, as Keynes was bailed out and so… one thing is the map, the power point, the prototype the other thing is the territory, the market…

          • Carl Watts

            “Who decides what should get distributed?”

            Couldn’t you let the market decide? You could easily make a librabry which lists al products and lets you sort and categorize in different ways, kind of like a big reddit or amazon for products. I think better products would come more reliably into the hands of consumers in such a system.

            I think with cheap communication networks the middleman really has largely become obsolete just like in politics we could easily make some kind of nationwide forum or voting system. You could still delegate decisionmaking but you could directly vote on things you feel strongly about.

            There might still be some role for marketers and salespeople but their job would be to make the product initially known and then let it stand or fall on its own merits and let the market decide (instead of using morally questionable techniques of manipulation and association that have nothing to do with the functionality of the product). There shouldnt be spent so much money on trying to manipulate people into buying products, a small percentage should be spent on that if anything at all (look at for example tesla) while the lion share should go to actual innovation and improvement.

          • JDSousa

            That goes back to competition. If everyone gave up on marketing and let it go…. maybe… but that doesn’t make sense because economic agents will use all the tools at their disposal to sell more.

          • In a market economy, it is those that have money. Without money, you have access to nothing, not even the essentials that support life itself. This is a deep flaw in the money market economy from the perspective of creating a stable sustainable community. Thoses excluded by this system, more people every day, will always work vigorously to undermine this system. The poor however are not the enemy. The flawed system is the enemy of us all. “Pointless” jobs exist because this system makes them necessary to survive.

          • The core of a free market economy isn’t money, it’s freedom. And money isn’t a flaw, it’s a feature.

            Without money you get nothing: That is exactly as it should be, with some caveats. That’s one of the reasons why a strong family structure is important to a vital society: We are born into families that nurture and protect us, and they can do this because they create value that others are willing to pay for, freely; that’s freedom.

            As a society, we’ve decided that education should be freely available, regardless of station in life, and I believe that was a positive innovation over a pure free market economy. (I believe we messed up by having that social pact delivered by government schools, rather than funded by taxes and provided by private schools, but that’s a different subject.)

            Once you have been nurtured and you’ve gained sufficient knowledge and skills, you are compelled to create value in the free market economy: something others are willing to pay for. They only do that if what you offer is worth what they would pay you. Again: a feature, not a flaw. This means that the market self-corrects as needs change, as innovations occur, as the environment changes, as tastes change. It is incumbent upon the participants to ascertain what is needed, and deliver it. Entrepreneurs call this “finding your niche.”

            This is a feature, not a flaw.

            If someone wants to create what others do not value, there are consequences. If you have found yourself in a situation in life where you can bear the consequences, then feel free to create what others won’t value: Another feature, not a flaw.

            If, however, you can’t self-fund undemanded activity, or want to engage in no productive activity whatsoever, then it is on you to change so that you can meet someone else’s needs, and thus get paid for service/products provided. That’s a good thing. That creates innovation, it creates wealth, and it increases the standard of living for all participants in the society. That invisible hand guides people to make independent, self-motivated and self-rewarding decisions.

            Charity is for those who, despite a willingness to fend for oneself, might find themselves unable to fulfill the obligation to themselves and to society to be productive. Human love, and to some extent pity, certainly empathy, guides us there, compels us. True charity is freely given, and, interestingly–and not coincidentally–free market-based societies are the most charitable in human history.

            But to insert the government, with guns and threats to freedom as the path to “charity” is a bastardization of free markets, one that hurts the overall society. Those who receive “charity” via the government to often wind up with a sense of entitlement, and too often don’t feel compelled to end their dependence. The safety net can become a way of life.

            And in a pure free market economy, as I’ve said about this author’s initial premise, do NOT create pointless jobs, because there is no market benefit in doing so. So your last sentence, Gary, thrown in with no supporting statements, is flat-out wrong.

            The rest is ignorant of the way that free markets actually work.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            There are over 194 countries in the world… please, name JUST one where there is freedom market economy. or free

          • Though that’s beside the point, it obliquely makes the point of contention I have with this author’s central thesis: David Graeber claimed that free markets create pointless jobs, but that is incorrect. It is the bastardization of free markets that cause pointless jobs to be created. Since there are no purely free markets today–not that there shouldn’t be, not that striving for freer markets shouldn’t be the constant goal–one can’t claim that today’s economies are proof of a negative cause-effect relationship as stated by Graeber. In fact, its false on its face, since free markets value efficient creation of value, by definition.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            “David Graeber claimed that free markets create pointless jobs” is an assumption of dear Dave Andersen ☺

          • Title of the Graeber piece: “Why Capitalism Creates Pointless Jobs”

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            I think you understand that communism = capitalism.
            I think when someone is telling that communism is better than capitalism or vice-versa is more or less the same reasoning that pepsi is better than coke or that excrement of cow smells perfume and excrement of horse smells bad or vice-versa. ☺

          • Oh, well, have a good day.

          • MilkywayAndromeda
          • Kenneth

            I think I agree with what you are saying here. The jobs aren’t pointless, they must be creating value. They are a reaction to market pressures. A brand manager exists because branding helps to protect the company. If there was no competition, there would be no need for branding, and the company would be much leaner.

            Just like a shell is “pointless” if nothing is trying to eat the turtle, but useful if something is. These jobs are pointless outside of a free market, but useful within one.

          • The freedom to starve in a community who grocery shelves are full? The freedom to choose whether to feed your family or pay the price for the life saving medicine needed for a sick child? Are these the sacred freedoms the invisible hand of the free market bestows upon us all? You are heavily conditioned by a culture that demonizes the masses of refugees at the borders of the nations blessed by the invisible hand. The free market has destroyed their lives, their homes, their land. We are all victims of this deeply flawed and deeply conditioned set of market values. Who is responsible for the unprecedented rapid rise of atmospheric carbon and the lives disrupted as a consequence? The market thrives on these kinds of disruptions, increasing opportunities for profit and growing GDP. Endless wars are equally profitable to some. The đeep flaws in money market economics are very real with very real and rapidly growing impacts on all our lives.

          • Gary, you really should spend some time learning about economics and human nature, rather that reflexively spewing anger and resentment. The only way people get fed is if they have the resources to buy or produce the food. Should they get it all for free? What incentive do the farmer, the food processor/packager, the food distributor have for delivering food for which they get no compensation?

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Now I got curious… so when did people got money first time? Even before they got fed obviously according your reasoning…

          • Should they get it for free? Well, actually, yes, since we are now technically capable of doing exactly that. Why force people to do “pointless” jobs when they are not necessary to provide for everyone’s needs? We don’t yet have full automation and probably never will, but technically we move closer every day. What happens when we have fully automated vehicles? Many jobs today are related to the delivery of products. When drivers are no longer needed, do we need to insist that they all find some other means of obtaining money? Actually we don’t. If you would like to view it from that perspective, they could help other workers who are still engaged in “necessary” tasks, until those can also be automated, thereby cutting back on the total number of hours each person needs to work to meet the same ends.

            Instead, the monetary market “forces” people to work a fixed number of hours to meet even the most basic necessities of life for themselves and their families or else undermine the system entirely in some way, like becoming a thief. Why do you think the drug economy is so prevalent in economically depressed neighborhoods? Careful, your prejudice may begin to show. When the obsolescence of certain jobs has emerged as a problem in the past, the workers begin to fight to retain their jobs, necessary or not, while the business owners begin to implement policies like “planned obsolescence” as did the light bulb manufacturers in the early 1900’s, each in order to try and secure their piece of the artificially reinforced scarcity of the market pie. We don’t need to provide incentives to make people work when their help is not actually needed. When the market does that, we get pointless jobs, that need to be reinforced with huge marketing campaigns to create endless consumption cultures to prop up the flawed failing money market economy. I think perhaps you are the one needing an education in modern economics. I am more than happy to oblige.

            economy (n.)
            1530s, “household management,” …from Greek oikonomia “household management, thrift,” from oikonomos “manager, steward,” from oikos “house, abode, dwelling”…(

            Do you consider the creation of make-work jobs to be a wise management of our global household? Personally, I would rather sit down with friends and enjoy the benefits of our common efforts. A few would rather everyone remain their personal slaves, while they remain the primary beneficiaries of our increasing commonwealth. Better choose a side because times are changing and most of us prefer to survive. One way or another, the days of money market economics are numbered.

          • Hi Dave

            I share your love of freedom, and I take it a level further than you seem to demonstrate in your posts here.

            I agree that in the past, a strong case could be made for the association between market freedom and human freedom.

            And things are changing.

            In the past, we really did need most people to make active contributions in order to support us all.

            With modern automation, it is very difficult to make that case.
            With automation it is easy for 2% of the population to oversee the automated production and distribution of all the reasonable needs of the other 98%. In a very few years that number will halve every year.
            It is now clear that we could easily meet the reasonable needs of every person on the planet, for all the necessities of life.
            And markets always value universal abundance of anything at zero or less.

            Ensuring the everyone had a Universal Basic Income, is one possible strategy for transitioning away from free markets as a dominating force in human society and moving to a system far more tolerant of diversity (including the diverse notion of not engaging in market activity).

            Creating a situation where people must either participate in markets or die is hardly freedom. It has some very strong correlates with control (a similar level of control to communist states, just expressed differently).

            Real freedom must allow a reasonable level of freedom even for those who, for whatever reason, choose not to participate in markets and exchange.
            People can be very productive, without selling anything.
            Just because someone doesn’t participate in marketing anything does not equate to them not being contributing members of society, or any sort of bludger.

            There is a bigger dimension of freedom here that you do not yet seem to appreciate.

          • A couple of caveats here Ted:

            1 – you can only claim that “markets lead to freedom” at any point in history by ignoring the poor, slaves, the working poor, and every other sentient species on the planet … while further ignoring the fact that capitalism ONLY supports that which it already understands how to profit from, and does not support anything it can’t profit from, doesn’t know how to profit from, or doesn’t understand at all;

            2 – there has not been in the history of the world since Karl Marx wrote the communist manifesto, a single nation which was in any significant regard communist nor socialist as their core principles, NOT EVEN the USSR (which was socialist in name only) … even Karl Marx himself, after defining the principles, proceeds to completely screw up the implementation, and not one person put forward a proposal that was actually significantly aligned with the underlying principles. Totalitarianism, and systems of bureaucratic or military dictatorships, have far more in common with capitalism than communism or socialism.

            3 – capital is productive assets, and capitalism is the exploitation of productive assets for “profit”, therefore the USSR, China, North Korea & the rest were merely the totalitarian end of the capitalist spectrum, as they still ultimately revolved their economy around the notion of exploiting capital resources for profit in trade both domestically, and with the rest of the world … it’s just that the price was set to some degree centrally for a lot of things.

            4 – the nearest thing we’ve seen to socialism is the socialist democratic end of the capitalist spectrum … but we’ve seen nothing approaching communism outside of small sole-trader businesses, various commune type communities, and things like eco-villages … but nothing much really fully adheres to its principles.

            If you want freedom and responsibility to coincide without hierarchical authority, you need this >>

          • Hi Trevor,

            Point 1 – agreed, I did not make the claim that any market system led to freedom universally, and I think a reasonable case can be made that freer markets tended to deliver more freedom to the population generally (rather than the sort of trading guild system whereby one required dispensation from the king in order to trade for example). And one can also argue the toss as to which end of the spectrum the increase in freedom approached from – complex systems are often like that.
            I was only agreeing with Dave in the sense that one make a reasonable case for the claim he made.

            Your point 2, I can generally agree with, and there are some fundamental problems in the system Marx outlined, that still deliver significant issues for those of us committed to freedom (and I am also being explicit here that the sort of freedom I am committed to is one subservient to valuing sapient life universally, and is within a responsible social and ecological context – so not the free to follow whim sort of freedom, but something much deeper and more powerful). The issue are around taking anything from anyone, and who decides. With automation, such issues can be circumvented, as the automated systems make and deliver whatever is reasonably required (and there is a test of reasonableness, and such a test cannot have hard boundaries, but must remain infinitely flexible and extensible as required).

            Your point 3, that is more difficult. If you adopt a simplistic definition of something, it become tautological. The term capital has an interesting etymology. It comes initially from meaning the head, invoking ideas of control, and from thence developed into a designation of the seat of power, and then to mean the prime mover in a corporate venture, and eventually to meaning money more generally. It is an indicator of the sort of stealth take-over of the abstract concept of money – that it now names itself the head of things. It isn’t.
            The most productive thing any of us have is our own brains.
            It is ideas, and the technologies developed from them, that allow us to produce more with less, faster than our population is growing.
            And certainly modern communist states tend to be towards the more totalitarian end of the spectrum of state control, and that isn’t always the case.

            Your point 4, Socialism. I see too many dangers for freedom in socialism. I fear the tyranny of the majority as much as the tyranny of any minority. Real freedom can only exist where all the necessary conditions for life and liberty are completely distributed (decentralised), and individuals have complete freedom about which, if any, social groups they engage with.
            We are a social species, and most people enjoy and choose social interaction at many different levels.
            I am not a socialist.
            My highest values and individual life and individual liberty, applied universally, and that requires the exercising of many levels of responsibility in both social and ecological contexts.
            I am capable of extensive delayed gratification. I can accept far below what I am capable of taking in the present system, because I can see the potential rewards available from exponentially expanding technological capacity if we transcend the existing systems to ones capable of dealing sensibly with universal abundance of all essential of life and liberty. I can deal with relative poverty now, to create that sort of abundance in my medium and long term future.

          • The ONLY thing in Marx’s actual principles – leaving aside his contextual attempt to apply it to a status quo that he lived in – that was against “freedom”, is that which is against the freedom of one person to deny and restrict the freedom of another … and if that’s what you stand for, there is no euphemism you can find that I cannot debunk.

            Why should people not be free to follow a whim? Seriously? THE ONLY thing about our civilisation that requires it, is the support of the ruling class, without that, there’s zero need to stop people following whatever whimsy takes them.

            Regardless of what you say, my definition IS NOT simplistic in any regards, it follows the lexicographical and linguistic rules of how meaning is categorised in words … to the contrary, all you’re doing is using an excuse (cognitive bias) to force a word to mean something that is its antithesis, just so you can criticise it for something it isn’t guilty of. Which is invalid.

            Then at the end you merely restate your claim that totalitarianism is congruent with communism and socialism … WHICH IT IS NOT.

          • Hi Trevor

            Have you actually read Marx, read the communist manifesto?

            It is framed as a class struggle.
            The Manifesto states quite explicitly “In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”
            If one abolishes private property, then either one has no security, because anyone can take anything at any time, or one is subject to the control of the group in all things (as most meaningful actions require the use of property).

            Marx took one approach to the problem of asymmetry of power through control of the means of production – to make it a function of the group.
            I take an entirely different approach, to personalise it, through advanced automation.

            I am about first the right to life of every sapient entity, every entity capable of naming itself, and conceptualising of itself as an actor in its own model of reality.
            Secondly I am about the freedom of all such entities to do whatever they responsibly choose.

            And responsibility is much more than whim.
            Evolution seems to have equipped us with many heuristics that do not serve us well in a modern context – example our liking for sweet things. At the time we evolved such a liking the only source of sweet things was ripe fruit – that worked well both for us and the plants, as those fruit contained thousands of different nutrients we needed. Doesn’t serve us nearly so well when brand name sugar water comes in containers at the supermarket, and provides calories devoid of nutrition.

            That is a rather straight forward, and extremely well documented example, yet we still allow such things to be promoted, even when the link to cancer, heart disease and diabetes is beyond any trace of reasonable doubt. To my thinking, that is a violation of the right to life. People are making claims about products that we know to be false, and it happens because big money is involved.
            That is a really simple example.
            There are many examples that are many levels more complex.

            Responsibility is about reasonable levels of risk.
            Assume all the risk you want with your own life, I have no issue with that – but imposing risk on others for personal gain – that I have deep issues with.

            Marx did some really good work, and he made some errors. The conceptual tools he had available were very different from those available to us today.

            Marx had the reality of his day.
            Today our reality is very different.
            Today we have the technology to deliver all the goods and service all people reasonably need, with very little human input, the vast majority of the systems being able to be fully automated.

            Communism is about taking from everyone.
            I am about taking from no one, but giving to everyone.

            In respect of freedom:
            People need to be willing to first assess the risk to others when whimsy occurs. If the risk is minimal, by all means – whimsy to your heart’s content. And that step does need to be there. That is all I am saying.
            All actions impact all things.
            There is a test of reasonableness that we all have a responsibility to apply consistently.
            And what passes for reasonable may vary substantially with context.
            Dancing and bumping into things in a biohazard lab, not such a good idea, in a pub – no problem.
            All I meant is, that freedom must contain this aspect of social and ecological responsibility, of risk assessment, if it is to be real. Without that step, it is dangerous.

            Take a look at the term “capital” in the Oxford English Dictionary, read the entire entry, and spend a minute or two contemplating the relationships – that is what I did.

          • You’re missing the point … EVERYTHING he wrote breaks into 2 categories (whether he realised it himself or not):

            1 – his identification of the fundamental principles;

            2 – his identification of his own contextual circumstances

          • Hi Trevor

            Can you be explicit about what you see as significant in using that particular classification?

            I don’t seen any particular fundamental principles in Marx.
            He explored some new ideas for his time, but I don’t see anything fundamental in any of them.
            He basically just took some of the explanatory frameworks of his day and pushed them to their logical limits and noted the absurdities therein.

            His response was within the strategic frameworks available at that time.
            A lot more of strategy space has been explored in the intervening years.

            He simply didn’t have tools that I consider fundamental to understanding.

            I am trying to understand what it is you see as significant, and I haven’t got enough clues to localise to anything in particular at this point.

          • I already stated this several times in the discussion, and if you’ve read Karl Marx then how the hell could you possibly be so oblivious to the most obvious – and I think quite clearly – stated fundamentals of it … is it that you don’t know the meaning of “fundamental” and “principle”.

            If you seriously are not being disingenuous and you actually need that question answered, then I’m gobsmacked … but I’ll give you a chance to answer it yourself before I make you look stupid by answering the bleeding obvious.

            Seriously, if you are being disingenuous, don’t try to pull such bullshit simple tricks … you’ve vastly underestimated me if you think this isn’t a piece of piss to answer

          • Hi Trevor,

            I spent a couple of hours reading your, and following some of the links.

            You are quite explicit that you agree with both Peter Joseph and Jaques Fresco.

            I am quite explicit that while both have captured aspects of the issue, both have serious errors in their theses.
            I did a critique about 5 years ago

            I still don’t know what you consider the be the principles of communism worth valuing.

            When I look at:

            It starts out 1 — What is Communism?
            “Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.”
            Ok, I can kinda go along with that idea – as part of the general notion of individual liberty, everyone, however they be defined, needs liberty. So in that sense – OK – yes. And such liberty needs to be universal – so needs to include the rest of humanity as well.

            Points 2 & 3 define a set of assumptions, that contain many implicit false assumptions. And within the limited models available at the time, they had a certain logical consistency, and a certain correlation to reality, yet to me, now – are clearly false.
            The real situation is far more complex than indicated.

            Point 4 – How did the proletariat originate? does quite a reasonable job of making a coherent argument from a system of concepts that lack evolution, games theory, complexity theory, maximal computational complexity or quantum mechanics. So as an explanatory framework, fundamentally crippled.
            But within its scope it kinda works.

            The set of the points 5-10 are seriously crippled by the context within which they are framed.
            They are a very poor approximation to what a human being is, or what human freedom is, but do a better job of exposing some of the incentive structures with market based systems than most of his contemporaries.

            Point 11 is one of the better framings of the incentive structures present in market based systems, and the structural change in incentive structures present in that age, from that age. And it still suffers greatly when viewed from a modern context of the conceptual structures available now to interpret what was happening then. It does contain a statement “and since capital extends only through employing labor,” that is clear false, but was a close enough approximation at that point in history that the difference wasn’t significant. Same is not true now.

            The phrase “the more new labor-saving machines are invented, the greater is the pressure exercised by big industry on wages, which, as we have seen, sink to their minimum and therewith render the condition of the proletariat increasingly unbearable” hasn’t actually worked out that way in practice, and it is a definite pressure present. And automation is going to “force its hand” soon, and it will need to move towards one of the two major attractors present, they both cannot survive the transition, and only one of them is stable long term – but few people can see that strategic landscape.

            Point 13 is interesting – it almost gets there.
            The first section has been reasonably well validated in the intervening years.
            The second section almost gets there.
            Yes we have the industrial capacity to supply all needs, but it is the incentives of exchange as a concept that prevent it happening.
            I agree with Marx that the state “that every member of society will be in a position to exercise and develop all his powers and faculties in complete freedom” is desirable.
            I am also clear that systemic incentives within a market based (exchange based) system work against that outcome.
            There is a path forward, that both preserves freedom, and does not require taking anything from anyone, and that is to remove the need for markets and exchange through fully automating and distributing the means of production.

            On that issue, of the desirability of that outcome – I agree with Marx.
            But I agree with very little of what follows on from that.

            Moving on to 14 —
            “What will this new social order have to be like?””

            and I read
            “Above all, it will have to take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals, and instead institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole – that is, for the common account, according to a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society.

            It will, in other words, abolish competition and replace it with association.

            Moreover, since the management of industry by individuals necessarily implies private property, and since competition is in reality merely the manner and form in which the control of industry by private property owners expresses itself, it follows that private property cannot be separated from competition and the individual management of industry. Private property must, therefore, be abolished and in its place must come the common utilization of all instruments of production and the distribution of all products according to common agreement – in a word, what is called the communal ownership of goods.

            In fact, the abolition of private property is, doubtless, the shortest and most significant way to characterize the revolution in the whole social order which has been made necessary by the development of industry – and for this reason it is rightly advanced by communists as their main demand.”

            I simply cannot reconcile any of that with the notion of freedom.
            Under such a state one is free to do the will of the majority, and nothing else.

            That is not freedom.

            I could not live there.

            I am so far out on the edge of most normal distributions, that I would find little or no freedom in such a context.
            I know I am over 4 standard deviations off normal on several major metrics including IQ, visual system spectrum, auditory range, and lung capacity.

            Everything following on from 14 is crippled by the earlier problems.

            So I really, genuinely, fail to see useful principles in communism.

            I see a useful principle in respect for life (but that isn’t restricted to communism, and isn’t practised very well by many of the adherents to communism).
            I see a useful principle in freedom, and again, though Marx speaks it, he does not implement it in practise.

            So I am seriously and genuinely asking you to explicitly enumerate what you see as valuable principles in communism – I do not see them.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Great comment! ☺

          • You didn’t spend very long reading – nor any time thinking and observing what you read – if your summary of my views on TVP & TZM is that I’m “very explicitly supportive” of both, then you turn around and state that your view is they both have flaws AS IF that somehow contradicts my support of those two projects.

            What it actually shows is that you did a skim read, saw what you wanted to see, assumed it confirmed your views or could be used to confirm them … and then you went right on ahead and wrote this reply thinking “hahaha Mr Rose, I’ve got you now!”

            Perhaps you should have kept reading (likely the exact same article you read) … OR … giving you the undeserved benefit of the doubt – given this failure to show you did as much reading as you claim – that you should have perhaps focused a bit better on what you read … then you would have seen the bits where IN THE EXACT SAME DOCUMENTS where I state my support for TZM & TVP, I also state the caveats for that support, IN FACT it’s the only reason I ever mention them.

            You quite clearly only ever read things in such a way as to justify your existing view, this is quite evident & im done wasting time with you. Good luck to you.

          • Hi Trevor,

            Yes, you did have a couple of caveats.
            I guess it depends very much on how you read them.
            I read them in the context you provided of “I’ll happily say that I agree almost entirely with almost everything Peter Joseph (TZM) and Jacque Fresco (TVP) each have to say on these subjects ”

            I don’t say that.

            I align with far more of what you say, than what they say, and the idea of central control embodied in both TZM and TVP and even your version in practice, seems to me a cure worse than the disease.

            Kind of interesting that right now, if there is an emergency, emergency services can commandeer any resources they need, for the period that the emergency in declared – which is kind of the inverse of your proposal. They wouldn’t need to take from me, I would be actively out there offering assistance, as part of my commitment to life – universally.

            I don’t actually have a problem with a certain level of private property – about half an acre, and anything one can put on it, without any undue influence from others. That isn’t a problem for the planet and it does support a reasonable degree of freedom and diversity.

            That’s more than enough for the reasonable needs of most people.

            If you want to go beyond the basics, then certainly, a process of community agreement at some level.

            But I am not in any way shape or form in favour of central control of the sort proposed by TZM and TVP, and I am very up front about that.
            I am all for distributed coordination, and that is a very different thing from central control.

            And certainly, people can coordinate and cooperate, and most will, most of the time, if the incentives with in the context are supportive of it.

            To my mind, freedom needs to be the default state, with restrictions only on an as required basis.
            I do not favour inverting that presumption.

            Without my tools, my land, my energy and gardens, I have very little chance of survival. Those things are required for survival. Individuals need to be able to take personal control of the essentials of their own survival if they so choose and the expression of their creativity, and the latter leads into really complex territory.

            Private property in this sense is a necessary aspect of security, life and liberty, for many of us, particularly those who do not fit well into established patterns (and if we actually empower freedom, that will be an exponentially expanding set).

            I like your principles of:
            uses the least possible resources;
            for the greatest beneficial outcomes, and;
            doing the least ecological & social harm.

            And empower that individually, which means individual control of a reasonable level of resources to the greatest degree possible.
            Individuals need to learn to make such judgments.
            Sure some people will make mistakes – they are part of life, part of learning. Accept them, clean up, move on.

            If you look at the system we have now, at the operational level, there is a reasonable approximation to those allocation mechanisms.
            We can buy things,
            We can hire tools,
            We can employ people who bring their own tools,
            We can employ people who both employ others and hire tools.
            The existing system has this recursive flexibility and power to it at one level, yet comes with real systemic incentive issues at other levels.

            In my understanding, Marx used the wrong conceptual tools to develop an accurate picture.
            They were near enough for the conditions of his day, but not nearly close enough for the conditions of today.
            In order to see what makes complex systems work, one has to look at the interplay of incentive structures, at recursively expanding levels.
            Cooperation is absolutely required.
            Secondary strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies are absolutely required.
            Competition can play a role, and it needs to be secondary if security is a desired outcome (and it is for me).

            One can make a substantive case that our existing monetary, legal, and political systems are dominated by cheating strategies.
            And to be explicitly clear, it is the strategy sets that need to be removed in practice, not the people employing them.

            Most market theorists agree that if markets are to work at all, they require near perfect information, yet our legal systems have concepts of privacy, and Intellectual Property, which protect cheating strategies.

            And there is a sense in which privacy can also protect diversity in a rule based system, but if one inverts the priorities, and makes life and liberty the highest priorities, and restricts diversity only where it can be demonstrated to be detrimental (which some could argue is how the existing system is supposed to work, but clearly doesn’t for the majority), then markets could be a useful tool. But so long as market values reign over life and liberty, markets are a serious threat.

            Most of my interactions with people have little or nothing to do with money. The golf club is about golf, the cycle club about mountain biking, the coastal management group about the sorts of limits on human activity required to sustain local abundance in the marine ecosystem, the water management committee about the sorts of strategies, technologies and trade offs required to get the best balance we can manage between ecological, recreational, biophysical, and economic uses of available water resources (and that is a really complex set of systems, with multiple dimensions of distributions over time and space). And yes – we do live in a society where the influence of money pervades most things, as does the influence of air, and water, and biology, and weather, and ………….

            I recall a conversation some years ago with an advertising executive, who was clear that he was not interested in working on any product unless the margin between production cost and sale price was at least a factor of 10, and preferably 100. For Saudi oil that factor is about 200 FOB the port, and 30,000 at the petrol pump.
            Most improvements in technology don’t come with such margins, they come with a few percent.
            Most financial transactions have a minimum cost, which sets something of a minimum charge for products.
            There are a host of other financial factors that heavily favour incumbent systems, and act as brakes on the rate of change for many people, yet for all that, the rate of change in many key aspects of technology is on exponential trends with doubling times less than two years.
            So there is this powerful disconnect, between the interests of the system of money, profit and capital, and the interests of people generally.

            Marx did not have the conceptual tools to see that, though what he did see was profound in some aspects. It was definitely a move from fixed certainty towards unpredictability and change, though not nearly enough of a move.

          • Ted, I have been watching your posts on this thread far a while with growing interest. This morning I went back and read your 2011 wordpress post commenting on Jacques Fresco’s ideas and The Zeitgeist Movement. I have been an advocate of the idea of a resource based economy(RBE) and a proponent of TZM since watching “Zeitgeist Moving Forward” in early 2011, primarily because it made me aware for the first time of the deeper problems within modern society related to the monetary systems and the manner in which money is being implemented. It has taken me years to work through in my own mind the underlying cause of these problems. You seem to have hit upon a clear understanding almost immediately.

            “The problem is one I have highlighted many times, that is not even mentioned in this movie, that money is not a measure of real human values, it is only a measure of exchange value, and is thus related to scarcity. There is no economic value in universal abundance, and thus no economic system will, in and of itself, ever deliver universal abundance (to achieve universal abundance by definition the price point must be zero – ie all people have access even those with no “means” {exchange values they possess}). If we are to have universal abundance, then it can result from the use of a monetary system as a tool, but the money system itself will not deliver.”

            First, let me take a moment to defend the efforts of Peter Joseph in “Zeitgeist Moving Forward”. I think that your assessment is unfair when you say that it is “…not even mentioned in this movie, that money is not a measure of real human values…”. I would say that this is the entire point of the movie. Peter has repeatedly stated that the “real revolution is a revolution of values”. Your second big criticism seems to revolve around the idea of “central planning”. Having been directly involved with TZM since early 2011 in their educational activism efforts, I must say that this critic is based partially on a misunderstanding. “Central planning” is the “communist” idea that is often thrown in criticism at the Venus Project and TZM. Though the ideas behind a RBE have not always been well expressed by proponents, “central planning” is not a component other than in recognizing efficiency of production and distribution algorithms for resources in a very decentralized fashion, fully open and transparent to all. Such processes are used to maximize efficiency of production in manufacturing by many businesses. We teach these algorithms in our universities to engineering students. There is nothing “communist” about these ideas. The primary focus of the educational activism efforts of TZM have always been related to the reorientation of values to empower individuals, not to control them through central planning. Moving on.

            The recognition of the Earth’s resources as the commonwealth of all life on the planet is a critical component of the idea of an RBE. Now we are entering the realm of “private property” that is so threatening to many, perhaps even you? I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the missing “real human values” in the “exchange value” related to money. The efforts to share this understanding more widely is a large part of what the educational activism efforts of both TVP and TZM have been all about. But there is another component to this “value system disorder”. Also missing from “exchange values” or “market values” related to money is any recognition of environmental sustainability values. TZM is first and foremost, a sustainability advocacy movement. Without environmental sustainability, human values become irrelevant.

            I love the clarity of your systems thinking. Many are only now beginning to wrap their heads around the idea of interrelated systems. It is probably the primary reason we have so much misunderstanding related to global climate change. Even our best scientist are still struggling to adequately understand the complex ecosystem interactions in order to better understand the observed changes happen around our planet. Systems thinking can take us even a little deeper if we begin to recognize global human society as an ecosystem and the various components like our economic, political, social, military, etc systems as components of the larger overall human ecosystem and of the larger still Earth ecosystem. I think you and I share a common understanding related to certain “malfunctioning” components within the present global human economic system. I am not sure though if our ideas entirely mesh in relation to the idea of “private property.”

            Let me clarify my present understandings. Money and the monetary system as implemented being devoid of environment and human values except in an oblique manner is deeply problematic at the moment. The poorly controlled “gaming” of this system is a real problem both socially and environmentally. The very idea of “money” has no traction unless we first embrace the idea of “private property”. We discuss this often within TZM as moving from a system of “ownership” to one of “access”. The very idea of “ownership” is rather weird. We come into this world naked and take nothing with us when we leave. At best, we are “stewards” for a time of certain planetary resources.

            I guess I must mention one caveat to this that you may be embracing, the notion that technological advances will extend human life, perhaps indefinitely. This is somewhat similar to the idea of the inheritance of property being passed on indefinitely from parent to child. I recognize that there is a deeply embedded biological imperative to protect and preserve ourselves and our own offspring. Many people often falsely identify certain behaviors as “human nature” that are in reality social or cultural conditioning subject to rapid change when necessary but there are definitely certain components that are more deeply biologically ingrained and therefore much more difficult to change related behaviors. Ownership of land seems to have evolved in parallel with the idea of money and has become entangled with these biological imperatives.

            The question I would like to ask you, and the main point of this long post is “how do we fix the malfunctioning components in order to arrive at a sustainable human ecosystem in relation to the Earth ecosystem without addressing the idea of ‘private property’?” Generally speaking, I think my personal solution has been very similar to your own, a small plot of land (I consider myself a steward), as free and clear as possible from the chaotic economic and environmental turmoil engulfing our planet and efforts to promote clearer mutual understandings with our planetary “roommates”. I even agree with your efforts at political activism being a necessary component of our efforts. TZM activism has been focused on helping others to realize the deeply problematic nature of our present political systems, for reasons already discussed, and the recognition of the need for a mass mobilization of individual wills to overcome systemic inertia(reference the closing scenes of “Zeitgeist Moving Forward”). In this context, I view the present political chaos in America as promising, if we can avoid the global nuclear confrontation now being promoted by the powers that be. Within complex systems, the moment of greatest chaos is when the system can most easily change direction. Let us all work to nudge the human ecosystem towards one compatible with human life.

            I have found your posts to be generally very edifying, I would love to hear your feedback on the relationship of money to private property in particular when viewed from the perspective of the “incomplete values” within the monetary system and the ways in which this might be practically addressed. The primary problem from my perspective is the accumulated problematic individual behaviors within the existing human ecosystem. As individuals, we have a certain degree of control over the human ecosystem, small but cumulatively big. If we can tweek that control to adjust individual human behaviors before the planetary ecosystem is destabilized beyond a certain tipping point where the planetary system begins to change in unpredictable ways possibly very detrimental to human survival, I think that would be very good. Human behavior is the lever. Shared understanding is the fulcrum.

          • Hi Gary,

            Firstly, thank you, profoundly, for taking the time to write your thoughts. I really appreciate it.
            These ideas are extremely complex, lots of different themes tightly linked, which is not easy to communicate in an age dominated by tweets and txts.

            I did chortle a little when you wrote “You seem to have hit upon a clear understanding almost immediately” given that “almost immediately” spanned the period 1974 – 2010. For someone with a 160 IQ, I’m not always as quick as some might expect.

            I like Peter Joseph, and a lot of what he is proposing.
            What I dislike is centralised systems (which might sound odd coming from someone who has spent decades designing and producing computer system).
            Anything centralised is high risk, as it provides single point of failure, for either intentional or accidental types of failures.
            Biology usually solves risk by massive redundancy. Our brains are prime examples.

            Yes, there is a kind of point to TZM movies that is about values, but nowhere in any of them is the nature of monetary value explicitly framed in terms similar to my own that you quoted.

            TZM use the term “Global resource management system”, which to me is clearly a centralised system of management. To me, it is much safer to empower every individual with the means to produce whatever they reasonably need, and there will remain tests of reasonableness, and assessment of risks. Those are social functions. Individuals wanting to do things that involve significant risk to others will need to meet higher standards of risk mitigation strategies. Some things may be judged simply too dangerous to allow on this planet, and might need to be done in habitats in high orbit, well isolated from earth ecosystems. A lot of genetic engineering work will likely fall into that category.
            So while I agree with many of the identified risks, I see that many of the strategies adopted are themselves high risk in the wider sense.

            So, as I wrote in that 2011 critique TZM has “some really good stuff in it”.

            I was raised on farms, studied biology at university, with particular interests in biochemistry and ecology. In all my writings I stress the need for all actions to be responsible in both social and ecological contexts. So in this sense, we agree on that (some of the “good stuff” mentioned above).
            Environmental sustainability can be a derived value from valuing human life and human liberty.
            In one sense, we require an operating ecosystem to support us.
            In another sense, the complexity of ecosystems is one of the most interesting aspects of the freedom of existence and exploration, and is thus a core component of freedom. Freedom in a sterile environment is very different from freedom in an environment that contains both technology and complex ecosystems. I am all for increasing diversity while decreasing risk.

            Earlier today I was chairing our region’s Water Management Committee, and we had a presentation on climate from a climate scientist. Some very interesting aspects to it, and also very limited in the systemic options presented as mitigation strategies. And he did make the point that the last conference he attended that attempted to directly address that set of issues rapidly lost all cohesion as the possible options expanded out.

            I am in the camp of – yes, we have real issues with climate change, there is evidence beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that there is increasing temperature, and most of that energy is going into the ocean. And there is credible evidence and mechanisms pointing to CO2 and “greenhouse” gases as the probable lead agent in the warming.
            And we also live in a time of exponential technological change, far faster than any climate change.
            And right now, the “economic system” is not doing a great job of directing resources to developing effective risk mitigation strategies.
            So I see that climate change is a real issue, and to me it seems that technological changes of the coming two decades will make it a relatively trivial problem to solve.

            And yes – systems thinking includes all systems, all social and political and technical institutions.

            I don’t see the money system as being devoid of human values.

            I see monetary value as being the product of human value multiplied by scarcity. Set scarcity to zero (the definition of universal abundance) and the product becomes zero.
            No money system can deliver on universal abundance, in and of its own internal incentive sets. If it is to be part of the process of delivering universal abundance, it must be as a tool within a broader set of values and strategies.

            Alway context.
            Context is king.

            Marx got hung up on private property too.
            He was looking for a simple explanation of value.
            He got to a labour theory of value, which as a first order approximation is a useful heuristic in many situations, and it is much more complex than that.
            I am clear that evolution has encoded a vast set of heuristics at many different levels of organisation, and in both genetic and mimetic realms (bodies and culture {in the broadest possible sense of culture}), and that we each have our many levels of personal assessments of what is valuable to us (which will contain many levels of heuristics and some levels of choice).
            There is no such thing as universal value.
            Money works as a store of value only because we believe it will. And we believe it will because such beliefs have worked for us (and our ancestors) in the past.
            Evolution is often deeply, recursively, complex.

            I am all for stewardship.
            The Maori language has a word, kaitiakitanga, which is kind of like stewardship, and kind of guardianship, and kind of wise to the ways of complex interrelationships.
            I like kaitiakitanga.

            And all systems require boundaries. Without boundaries everything tends to uniform mixtures. In this sense, a degree of private property is an aid to stewardship.

            For me, there is real power in the notion of private property, and it has to be within a context of valuing human life and human liberty.

            Within that context of life and liberty, there is a minimum requirement for land and energy that must be available to every person, that nothing can take away, ever. That is the minimum acceptable limit to sustain an individual and deliver them the energy and tools to have reasonable choices in life. It doesn’t need to all be in the same place. It might be substantially in a house an garden in one place, with small plots being part of larger shared plots in various locations around the world devoted to growing things like coffee beans, or brazil nuts, etc.

            I am also a great fan of Elinor Ostrom’s work, and the sorts of strategies that can be successfully used to manage commons resources.

            So I do not favour any sort of system that is pure anything.
            Strength and security come from diversity and redundancy (at every level – recurs to infinity).

            So I am definitely a fan of every individual having at least a minimum allocation of property, that is private, and theirs to be responsible stewards of.

            Yes we are born naked, and unless we are born into a caring social context, we die then and there.
            Yes we are individuals, and all individuals exist in social contexts, and all societies are in ecological contexts.
            We all get language and so much more from culture.
            We all stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.

            About a third of the land area is too cold to be very useful to most life forms – so leave that out and consider what is left.

            My idea is that about half the remaining land area is managed as “natural” ecosystems in semi natural conditions.
            Of the remaining half, about half of that be allocated to individuals as private property, which individuals are free to swap and share as they choose (with existing use rights carrying substantial weight in the allocation process).
            Of the remaining half, about half of that be managed in various sorts of commons regimes (of which an infinite set seems possible).
            The remaining bit being available for use whatever ways communities can reach agreement on.

            And yes – in complex strategic landscapes, it is often necessary to have sufficient energy present to allow a system to move from one semi stable state to another; and other forms of change completely are possible, where entirely new paradigms reach a certain level and new modes of behaviour spontaneously stabilise.
            If one looks at the evolution of complex systems, one sees that new levels of complexity are usually the result of new levels of cooperation.

            When one can see that, one’s view of human nature changes profoundly.

            And yes, sometimes things have to get fairly bad in the “old patterns” before the “new patterns” are even visible to some.

          • My thanks must go to you Ted, as this is a discussion that very much needs to happen in the public dialogue. I agree we have some uncommon common understandings right now. As for the “immediately” comment, my personal journey has taken me from the release of Zeitgeist Moving Forward in early 2011 until now and is most definitely ongoing. You are right that the ideas regarding money as you express them are not stated explicitly in the Zeitgeist films but as you can see by my arriving at basically the same understanding as you, they are a direct conclusion from the implied understandings.

            Thank you also for clarifying your vision of the best path forward. The diversity you recognize as critical to resilience is obvious. I would also ask you, do you consider the global internet to be a “centralized” system? This is not a trick question, but I think you would agree that it is obviously subtle. This is similar to my understanding of the “central” planning you accuse TZM of promoting. Just one quick example. Buckminster Fuller talked about connecting the global power grid to allow for maximum energy production and distribution efficiency. In a collaborative global society, this is obviously a good idea from the perspective of the efficient use of resources. Not so clear how that collaboration would work out given our present lack of political willingness and trust. However, what Bucky proposed has both decentralized and centralized aspects. What TZM proposes is much the same. The internet today is a very chaotic global resource management system. Do you feel we can do no better?

            I think one of the ideas that emerges from Elinor Ostrom’s work is particularly relevant to the discussion of “private property”, her idea concerning clearly defined boundaries of common interest. In this respect, “private property” is just an extremely limited “boundary of interest” of the commons. Like all of us, I am just trying to feel my way here, so I don’t have a set belief as to what will emerge as we learn better means of collaboration. Neither does TZM by the way. One of the core ideas within TZM is the recognition of the scientific method of thought as the primary mechanism for constantly reevaluating and adjusting our understandings. This is one of the primary reasons people are so off base when they view the ideas proposed by TZM as Utopian. This is all about an emerging common understanding of better ways of achieving our common goals of survival and quality of life, both as individuals and as a global human ecosystem.

            Another idea you mention and have in common with TZM’s approach is the “Context is King” comment. Peter Joseph is constantly pointing out the “truncated frames of reference” most people use when thinking about these issues. I couldn’t agree more with both of you.

            “We all stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.” A paraphrasing of another point constantly being emphasized by TZM, especially in relation to the notions of “intellectual private property” so stifling to human innovation and to creating an economy of abundance.

            I do have a question for you though related to centralized control from the perspective of your approach to “private property”. You say, “My idea is that about half the remaining land area is managed as “natural” ecosystems in semi natural conditions.
            Of the remaining half, about half of that be allocated to individuals as private property, which individuals are free to swap and share as they choose (with existing use rights carrying substantial weight in the allocation process).”

            This sounds suspiciously to me like a monetary market based approach to the management of “private property”. How is this “allocation to individuals” accomplished if, “every individual having at least a minimum allocation of property, that is private, and theirs to be responsible stewards of.”? The “invisible hand” of the market will certainly not accomplish this. This appears to be the same criticism often leveled at TZM as “centralized planning” in a RBE, where the same lack of details as to how this is to be accomplished is the primary sticking point.

            There are any number of ways to redistribute property, systems of taxation, centralized government bureaucracies, force of arms, social and political revolutions, even the mechanisms and rules governing money itself, the list is fairly long and the “gaming of the system” that has been mention during our conversation is one huge mechanism of redistribution that gives rise to the seemingly endless laws we devise to try and contain certain ways of “gaming the system”.

            Many indigenous cultures side step this problem by not recognizing “private property” all together, leaning much more heavily towards communal or tribal property, and even then, merely as stewards. Historically speaking, one of the greatest sources of constant violence has been the clash between the civilizations embracing the idea of “private property” and those who embrace “tribal or commons” stewardship. This is, and has been, a big area of conflict within our present economic structure. The primary conflict is cultural and happens between individuals who derive their stories from the two very different approaches to the ideas of our relationship to the land. Native Americans had a lot of trouble at first wrapping their heads around the idea of “private property” so important to the invading European immigrants.

            I think resolving these differences in our common understanding is central to achieving a peaceful and collaborative and sustainable global human culture. These two very different cultural approaches give rise to entirely different sets of human behaviors in relation to one another and to our shared natural environment. I see rational public discussions like this one as our best hope of arriving at a “commons” management that works. The choice on our future is being made by individuals all across the planet right now based on this broad public ‘discourse’, sometimes rational, but too often being waged with extreme prejudice and violence of every type. Recognizing the “frame of reference” of this ‘discourse’ is the first critical step towards a rational understanding of possible resolutions.

          • Hi Gary,
            Again – thank you.
            Some of your points go in directions so deep I could write for days.

            We are strongly aligned – that is clear.

            And I have found it pays to be very clear about implicit assumptions when there is a significant probability of them not being shared. Failure to do so is an immediate block to communication. And I acknowledge that can be very difficult as the number of conceptual levels in models builds.

            Your question around the Internet as a centralised system is very perceptive, and very complex. The TCP/IP protocol was designed as a resilient protocol that would ensure message transmission through networks containing real-time disruption (in battle field situations). So the network protocol is designed to work on distributed systems.
            The current reality of Internet Service Providers and state security systems has delivered a set of physical infrastructures that are highly centralised in practice.
            Part of what I propose is a massive decentralisation of that.
            Developing physical hardware that allows multiple distributed mesh networks, using any sort of medium (wireless (multi-band), fibre, or cable) is a part of such liberation and security. Currently most routers only have one connection possible. I would like to see network router hardware that allowed routing between a minimum of 5 physical networks, with easily define rules about ports, paths, bandwidth, report of intrusion, auto-exclusion (with reporting) of failed connection attempts, etc. I would like to see such hardware standard in all cell phones, as well as all routers in homes and vehicles etc.
            The other key aspect I propose is distributed trust networks.
            So we can define levels of trust and levels of access in respect of individuals and topics, and we have very smart software monitoring and reporting to us any unusual activity in such networks. Aspects of these networks would be loadable into the firmware of our network hardware

            So yes – the Internet as it exists is a basically centralised system, and the protocols of the Internet allow it to be otherwise, even if economic and security incentives drive it towards centralisation currently.

            As to doing better, yes, most certainly. And it is hard to unpick the linkages between economic incentive structures and current legal and security systems. That is a topic of infinite complexity, that we can take as far as anyone wants to take it.

            And right now I am attempting to stay as much on target as possible.
            And I define target as:
            developing systems that deliver the greatest possible probability of individual survival and the greatest degree possible of individual freedom with both being applied universally (as soon as you make an exception, you might well end up in that category – it is a high risk strategy, particularly, if, like me, you are well outside normal distributions in many attributes).

            So my systems have to deliver real benefits in terms of security and freedom, to everyone, both the richest and the poorest, though the degree of benefit to the poorest may be many orders of magnitude greater on a proportional basis than the benefits to the richest.

            And, of course, all such benefits have to exist in responsible social and ecological contexts.

            No class struggles here.
            This is universal benefit.
            Everyone wins – no exceptions.
            And there will be change.
            Some practices from the past will clearly contain too much risk to be allowed to continue.
            Such will likely always be the case, such is the nature of the exploration of infinite domains of possibility.

            You are right, that allocation issues around property can be complex.
            I accept that there could be an infinite set of possible ways of achieving such allocation, and I accept that different communities might choose different methods.
            Existing large land holdings would need to be reallocated within the terms I outlined previously. And I was explicit that existing title holders would have as much say as possible in that. That would give them first choice of which bits they retained. At the next level it would give them choice of what category of land the remainder was parceled into – which could include assignment to friends or family etc, or to different classes of wilderness or commons. So they might end up with a central area private, surrounded by a ring of wilderness, surrounded by a wider ring of commons – if they were particularly fond of isolation for example.
            Such things would need to be done by agreement on a case by case basis, with some sort of final arbitration mechanism in the case of disputes that would not resolve by consensus.

            Yes, any system can be “gamed”, any form of cooperation is vulnerable to exploitation by cheating strategies, and that requires a certain sense of “Eternal Vigilance” as being the price of liberty.
            And if one is prepared to take that to whatever level is necessary, then resolution does seem to be possible.
            If there are reasonable mechanisms in place (recursively so) then the probability of being identified as a cheat escalates, as does the cost when caught.
            So while I acknowledge that there is no theoretical way to ever guarantee 100%, 100% should be achievable in practice most of the time.

            Getting into tribal cultures is getting into very complex territory.
            Yes they work, in a sense.
            And from a systems perspective they work because of the commonality within the group.
            Most such groups have quite strict limits, in practice, on the diversity expressed.

            If one is optimising based upon the value of freedom, then one must allow for diversity.
            Diversity requires greater degrees of boundaries.
            We exist because of the many levels of boundaries, from field effects around molecules, to concentration gradients around active catalytic sites, to cells, to organs, to bodies, to communities, to cultures, to paradigms, …….
            Our physical bodies have physical needs.
            Our expression of diversity requires an aspect of physicality that is best expressed in something like a reasonable level of private property (applied universally).

            Your last paragraph introduces the word “rational”.
            A cousin of mine made the very astute observation about 40 years ago about me – he said “You are not rational, but you are the fastest rationaliser I have ever met.”
            I spent a lot of time considering that comment.
            He was correct.
            And coming to a systems understanding of why he was correct transformed my understanding of understanding itself.
            Once I started to see that all knowledge is essentially built from levels of evolved heuristics, things that survived in practice, then my model of models evolved a level.
            It is hard to talk about abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, when all abstractions are by definition personal – they are not anything concrete (whatever concrete actually is) that can be pointed to.

            So I have some deep criticisms of rationality, as much as I use it and rely upon it – it is based on sets of heuristics which may not be applicable. Indeed the most open interpretation of the equations of quantum mechanics would seem to indicate that the assumptions of rationality are not valid. And it is undoubtedly a useful tool in many contexts. And I am not at all sure that anyone else alive will be able to make any sense of this paragraph.

            So I acknowledge my own, and everyone else’s, essentially intuitive nature, as well as any rationality present.

            I doubt that the idea of “common understanding” will have much validity, if it ever did. Plato’s republic in fascinating to me, in this aspect.
            I was in a conversation with a woman a few months ago, and she used a word, and I started to reply, then stopped, and asked her what she meant by that word in that context – I guessed I had about 200 possible interpretations, she did not understand my question, as clearly she had only one interpretation available, and I had insufficient information to localise to any one of the 200 some available to me.
            Common understanding isn’t common, and is likely to become less so.
            That is one reality of exponentially increasing diversity.

            Recognising the possibility of infinite sets of nested frames of reference is step towards understanding the limits of rationality.

          • I just quite genuinely wanted an explicit answer.

            I have seen many interpretations of Marx. David Harvey has one of the more complex I have encountered.
            I simply wanted an explicit set of the basics from your perspective.
            I’m not you, I’m me. When I am uncertain I ask. That simple.

            No insult intended or implied.

            Just pure, simple curiosity.

          • Also, communism IS NOT about “taking from everyone” … that’s absolute utter nonsense … communism itself – forgetting proposed implementation strategies for specific sets of circumstances – IS ONLY about the workers controlling the means of production.

            Now … IF you have a contextual situation where one group of people have been entrenched owners for generations while another have been entrenched servants & slaves for generations, THEN contextually yeah, the implementation strategy MIGHT require taking from the rich to give to the poor, especially if the rich are unwilling to make reparations for the past economic injustice of the prior status quo … BUT … this is a circumstantial issue of implementation NOT a fundamental principle of communism itself … AND … if they do refuse to share and make such reparations, they only have themselves to blame, because it’s a very small thing to ask, and they should consider themselves lucky that not only did they not have to go through what the workers & slaves went through, not only did they have a diametrically opposite (& relatively pleasurable – compared to workers & slaves) experience of life up until that point, but they also are lucky the workers aren’t asking for their heads.

          • The first 2 of the 10 points itemised in the Communist Manifesto are:
            1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
            2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

            If those two things are not definitional of “taking from everyone” then I do not know what is.

            I quite genuinely do not understand what you see as significant in what you wrote.
            I quite genuinely asked you for more information.

            All I’ve had are insults.

            I thought I asked for information and I thought I did so quite respectfully.

            I don’t think like most people.
            I never have.

            Sometimes things that are obvious to others are not at all obvious to me (and quite obviously, vice versa).

          • You have not “only had insults”, pull the other one … you’ve had quite a bit of engagement, but you keep ignoring the central point that I keep repeating time and time again as if I hadn’t re-explained it so that a primary school kid could get it … and then you go quoting 10 points that actually prove my case, as if you were completely oblivious to everything I’d said … wtf do you expect?

          • But since you still don’t seem to get it, let me repeat YET AGAIN: you are mixing up the fundamental principles of what communism IS, with his suggestions about how to implement it given his contextual situation within the culture and economy and the time in which he lived … could I be more clear? I can’t think of how to re-explain this in a way that is any simpler.

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            and if Marx was alive today he’d say that the means of production ARE, in fact, owned by the workers of today. Isn’t “means of production” your PC? (potentially) your kitchen? your car? a great idea (of an application, for example) that can be implemented in collaboration with others to create extra value? Heck, in this era, knowledge is considered “means of production”. I think you should redefine what wealth, prosperity and well being is.

          • And please try not to be so bloody condescending next time if you want to be treated with respect … because that response of yours does not deserve a respectful answer … it was fucked.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            This good thinking dear Ted.
            Would have opportunity to dwell in this topic in 2017 for 20 minutes and Q&A for 40 minutes.
            We have monthly session in Finland, Portugal and Ireland. Please, take a look of past TEAMNEURSHIP SPEAKERS:

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            You think before writing. Well done!

          • Thanks MilkMan 😉 … but to be honest, this isn’t (for me) that much effort in thinking before I write … I think i just appear to put more effort in than I actually do, because everyone else puts on so very little that it’s almost impossible to do worse … in fact it would take me more effort thinking to come up with dumber comments than I so often read, than it would take to come up with cleverer ones than I already do … I just don’t fucking relate to our species anymore, its driving me nuts living on this planet with all these insane monkeys!! 😂

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            I understand you dear Trevor, sometimes I wonder how species of Homo exist in the planet today!

          • If you have a look on the links page of my blog, you can find me via the FB page & group

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Done! ☺

          • billy bob

            I like that image till it complained about the state being a monopoly on violence. If you want police to arrive to save you/others instead of the horrible world where people have to defend themselves then the state needs to have a monopoly on violence, the alternative examples of the world are I not way a better alternative. Taxation is theft, but also a moral one given we don’t donate willingly to the right things.

          • I don’t know anyone who has ever been significantly helped by police who wasn’t a personal friend of a cop … but I know & have met (& personally witnessed) TONS of people who have been harassed even violently assaulted, injured & given permanent disability by police AGAINST THE VERY LAW THEY PURPORT TO UPHOLD. Not to mention also a case where the cops inadvertently helped the criminal and persecuted the victim, while failing to do ANY investigation of the claims of the victim against the perpetrator. So please, don’t start with that “if you want police to help” crap … police general DON’T help, they make things worse because the majority of them are poorly trained, ignorant of the law, and not very bright. THE LAST person I would now call in case of emergency are the police, as I have neither faith in their competence nor intentions.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            You are correct certain things to happen it needs that others things are in place ☺

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            This defines anarcho-capitalism and the fact that you liked Trevor’s comment above shows that you have no understanding of the immense differences between communism and anarchy and anarcho-capitalism. They are basically exactly the opposite.

            You should look into libertarianism instead. Trevor is most likely a fan of a huge state whereas you’d like to see a shrinkage of the former.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Thank you for illuminate my life. Now, I know what you think about you think I think. Brilliant! ☺

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            Actually Mao’s numbers are way “underestimated” here. If there is a book to read about modern China, it’d be Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times” and Jung Chang’s “Wild swans: Three daughters of China” (a book that is still banned by the Chinese government).

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            What a great discovery “Actually Mao’s numbers are way “underestimated” here.”… ☺

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            Trends towards automation are present for the past 200 years and they all made our lives better. Automation, yes, makes certain jobs obsolete, yet it creates others. Companies work to design and build these technologies, others are occupied with the maintenance of those machines and so on.

            At the end of the day the world becomes increasingly wealthier because of those.

            I define wealth as the abundance of practical solutions around us. Solutions that are there to satisfy our individual needs as distinct beings of this world. In this sense, us, average citizens of the western world, are wealthier than the Carnegies and Rockefellers of the past. They did not enjoy the health services we enjoy, the ease of communication, transportation, education, etc.

            Lastly, we are not created or living under equality. Life is what it is in its infinite diversity and advocations that propose central control and regulation over (a chaotic) reality are destined to fail miserably.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Dear Haris Iasonas Haralabides have you got an indication of what is the rate of job destruction and rate of job destruction now? Last 10 years? Last 50 years?

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            Hello, actually no. I would say that there are actually more professional categories than 50 years ago. If you happen to have data that suggests otherwise I’d gladly comment on it.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            What great discovery “I would say that there are actually more professional categories than 50 years ago. “… ☺

          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            If you are through with irony, tough luck, I’m through with you.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            The link does not bring news to me. It is more of the same rhetoric. I appreciate your effort. I thank you for sharing more links whenever you bump on them.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            I am through facts. You present facts, I learn. You do not present facts I do not learn. I use social networks to learn. If I would like to argue, I would had study law.

            I will be replying to you until the moment I feel that between spending time dialoguing with you it has a positive value in terms of learning for me.

            So far I did not get anything special to learn.

            Please, understand that unless you bring knowledge to the discussion I will not be able to continue to communicate with you. ☺

          • Agreed Haris.

            I suspect that trends towards automation have been exponential for thousands of years, but the signal has been hidden in the noise for most of that time.

            And my thesis is that the existing system of money and markets has gone just about as far as it can in that direction. We need to add in new mechanisms to replace those coordination functions previously done by markets, which is not a difficult technical issue with today’s technology and the internet, but it much more difficult in terms of the models of reality most people are using, and the legal, political and financial systems currently in place.

            In this country, when I was young I could make enough money in a year’s hard work to buy all the materials to build myself a reasonable house. I bought my first section for 3 months work. Today most people would need to save for several years just to buy a section, let alone put anything on it. The average person is not experiencing the sort of productivity gains that are there to be enjoyed. The money system works against them. The influence of people with money on the law making and law interpretation systems is significant.
            Few of those people seem to have a strong grasp on the sorts of exponential trends actually present today.

          • MilkywayAndromeda


          • Haris Iasonas Haralabides

            Hello Ted,
            How about reducing intervening mechanisms instead of introducing new ones.

            I remember a quotation, supposedly by an English banker in a book by Peter Drucker (If I’m not mistaken “The adventures of a Bystander”) that read:

            “(all) governments are criminal organisations that their sole purpose is to deceive and exploit the public. (Moreover) The only laws that they obey are natural laws”!!

            What I can distil from your above comment is that the government is too large and consequently is able to drain the US citizen from financial means that would otherwise provide for his/her distinct needs. How would central planning be able to alleviate the problem of effectively allocating financial and human resources when in itself asks for more (both kind) of resources to be able to retain itself?

          • Hi Haris,

            I’m not sure how you got from what I wrote to “the government is too large”, and I am confident that it will make sense to you in the model that you have. My model is very different.

            Looked at purely from a systems perspective, cooperation (which is a reasonable description of any system that allows individuals to peacefully coexist without resort to violence in disputes), can only be stable when there are effective attendant strategies present to prevent invasion by cheating strategies.

            The genetic sets of strategies encoded into our being equip us with brains with default sets of systems that allow us to operate in cooperative groups that are stable up to groups of around 150 (Dunbar’s number), which is the limit of the effectiveness of human brains at identifying individuals and reliably determining and recalling social interactions over time (on average over time – a massive set of overlapping probability functions).

            Various sets of social systems have evolved which have enabled us to extend Dunbar’s number, and create ever large sets of semi stable groups.

            If you look at the idea of money, and its impact on societies, it is clear that even the ancients understood the tendency of money to accumulate. Various different mechanisms were explored. Various societies developed semi permanent class systems, and strongly discouraged intermixing. Other societies developed alternative approaches. The Jewish tradition of jubilee saw an evening out to everyone every 50 years, and that mostly worked for them. Christian tradition used a mixed strategy of class and a stricture against the charging of interest. Lots of other alternatives at various levels, and all run into the same set of problems eventually:
            1 the creativity of individual brains being able to find effective mechanisms to circumvent any system imposed;
            2 the inability of brains generally to be able to hold enough information over a long enough period to effectively discover novel cheating strategies;
            3 the problem of novelty, new ways of doing things disrupting old patterns, which is part of a larger issue;
            4 the problem that many systems are fundamentally unpredictable, for any of an infinite set of possible reasons, chaotic systems, maximal computation complexity, emergence of new levels of complexity, etc; providing a level of “noise” within which cheating strategies can hide.

            What is fundamentally different about our age now, from anything that has existed before, is that we now have the tools that give us the technical ability to fully automate any process. Any process fully automated has the ability to deliver universal abundance. Any universal abundance has zero value in a market place (like air, no value because scarcity is zero, therefore market value is .zero).

            This is a real issue, because markets perform many levels of very complex functions:
            risk management;
            value storage;

            Yet the fundamental incentive sets of markets tend towards accumulation and the majority of people being at or below subsistence. The economist Robin Hanson has done some great work on where these trends necessarily lead. I respect that work, even though Robin and I are directly opposed about the desirability of such outcomes.

            Aspects of the existing system are set up like a giant winner takes all tontine. But tontines rely on people dying, and we are rapidly moving towards the ability to extend lifespans indefinitely. Such extension is a major systemic change, and changes the incentive sets present hugely – for everyone.

            Going back to Dunbars number, and stability, it is possible to read Asimov’s Foundation series as an extension of Plato’s Republic, and doing so requires third level abstraction in both cases. That is an interesting line of enquiry.

            Looking to possible alternatives, it is now clear that modern digital technology can extend memory and communication fidelity and network size to the point that Dunbars number can be extended beyond any human population any single sun is capable of supporting.

            It is also clear that we have the technical ability to meet the reasonable needs of every human being living, but the incentives of our existing monetary system, and the ways of thinking and behaving that it rewards, work against that.

            I am very clear, that the existing system of markets and money is now the single greatest long term risk to the each and every one of us.

            If one really does have individual life, and individual liberty as one’s highest values, then one must view both of those in the social and ecological realities that exist, and act responsibly in all contexts.

            Markets and money can be used as tools to deliver on our highest values, but the raw incentives of markets do not align with either human security or human liberty (applied universally, or even personally).

            I am saying that it is very much in the long term interests of every citizen, in all countries, to work cooperatively together to ensure that every citizen is provided with the fully automated tools, and a minimum allocation of land and resources, to enable them to do whatever they responsibly choose.
            That is a massive task of coordination, not achievable by any single individual. Any ten of the top 100 most wealthy individuals could between them fund such a project with little individual risk, and that seems unlikely to happen, bottom up seems much more likely.
            Freedom always comes with responsibilities.
            In a sense we all have the freedom to go dancing on highways, and the probability of extended lifespan from such choices is very low. Reality is like that. It has consequences. Pretending otherwise is not powerful.

            Real freedom, the sort that delivers long term security, and expands the options available to all, comes with flexible context sensitive boundaries.

            Yes we have to all look after our own interests, and we all need to be conscious of the interests of everyone else. Security demands at least that much from us.

            I am in favour of maximising individual security (life) and individual freedom, and I acknowledge that can only be done through responsible social cooperation, at many different levels.
            It is no longer good enough to rely on von Hayek’s information flow through markets, security demands we go beyond that.

          • Bartolomeo Grubbenvrau von Hau

            Dave, I am a leftist by heart, but I do agree with you totally, in every aspect. Money is a tool. The whole article, from the very start, was quite repulsive..

          • If we had free access to information.
            If we had distributed trust networks, that allowed us to share the degrees to which we trust others in different contexts automatically within those networks.
            Then we could make probabilistic inference about accuracy and utility and information about new products would naturally (and far more accurately and quickly than any advertising system) spread. (Arguably our world works in practice on the basis of such networks now, effectively automating them would invoke efficiencies many orders of magnitude higher.)

            Advertising has very little to do with the actual fit of a product to the specifics of any specific situation – it is something else entirely, much more like pattern entrainment.
            Sales is somewhere in between, and often tending towards the advertising end of the spectrum.

        • JDSousa

          “Engineering products, whatever they may be, do not need a parasitic middle-man. ”

          I terribly sorry you feel that way. Calling salespeople parasitic…. very sad.

          • brainhurt_and_fear

            That’s a disingenuous interpretation. Salespeople themselves aren’t parasitic; the parasite is the fact the sales industry’s needed at all.

        • Lol what a crock of shit

        • Peter Maina

          supposing you wipe the salesmen off the table.then in between producer and consumer will be a behemoth of an internet store that will have to employ a whole population of people manning the servers,ensuring the air circulating in there is just right for the products and the people etc etc. see what we just done,killed one ‘proffesion’ and created another.lets just say all jobs exist on a need basis, while need maybe taken to mean what we think necessary at any one time.

        • swampwiz0

          Well, while salesmen can be disintermediated to much greater extent, there still needs to be marketing folks to figure out what the demand is .

        • DiegoVan

          I obviously came to thus discussion late. Someone else in the discussion upvoted me and I took a look at his posts and saw this article.

          Middle men are not parasites. Their function is to move goods in time and space, thereby altering their value. Generally speaking middle men attempt to move goods to another place or time where people value it more. Hopefully it’s obvious that middle men are not engaged in business to shift goods to a lower value time or place.

          If you are a consumer of a particular good, but you don’t need it now, but in the future, then it’s the business of the middle man to figure that out. If you fill up your gas tank once a week, you hope that there will be gas next week.

          From the other point of view a farmer is not interested in storing his corn once it is harvested. Storage creates storage costs and financial risks that the farmer may not want to take or understand. A middle man purchases the corn, stores it and moves it to a higher valued time and place. The farmer is left to focus on the management of his farm. The middle man concentrates on the needs of food processors and consumers.

      • Kurt Sperry

        Sales and marketing add almost no value in most situations where its marketer vs. marketer times however many players are in that particular market. The marketers, except on the rare occasions when they *create new and lasting demand*, are just fighting among themselves over an existing demand and cashing paychecks. If all companies agreed simultaneously to halt marketing, would the gross demand for products actually plunge? And even if yes, does this then perhaps suggest that marketing’s impact globally is not only non-productive, but in a real sense, counter-productive?

        • JDSousa

          You propose an unrealistic premise and then say a class is irrelevant. Congratulations….. your alternate dimension is not our world.

          • Kurt Sperry

            Listen, I understand you are in S&M and so your paycheck depends on not understanding what I posted about the small value added by the bloated field. That’s OK, if I were in that field, I would also make darn sure I didn’t understand it either. My premise was meant to cause one to think about a hypothetical. The engineers don’t show up one day, everything obviously grinds to a halt; the production workers, or the transport, or the shipping guys, or janitors, or building maintanence or lots of others do the same, likewise. The marketers and sales people, not so much. Yes each company needs its S&M team to beat the competitors’ teams, but absent that competition–if *everyone’s* marketers stop coming to work, it’s not a game killer. Most of that stuff could be handled by a company website with a db on its back end that customers can interact with and find local retailers or order from. If people really want or need something and you offer it at the best price, the customers will find you–and probably more so lacking the bs typhoon that is the sales and marketing milieu. Yes, you’d need a small group to answer the phone to take orders and answer questions, but that’s all a company would really require.

            Anyway, you’ll never understand my point for the reasons given above, nobody wants to believe they aren’t important. I actually don’t want you to understand what I wrote either because if you did it might precipitate a crisis in your life and i wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

          • Majyqman

            This is simultaneously the heaviest and most accurate yet politest shade I’ve ever seen thrown. Kudos.

          • JDSousa

            I already said I’m an engineer …. Congrats on the prejudice.

    • Paul Gowan

      Buckminster Fuller gave a definition of wealth in terms of the abiluty to take care of the forward days of a number of people. That is where one needs to start. Livingry vs. Weaponry.

      • Buckminster Fuller was wrong … wealth implies value, value implies nett value, nett value implies that we’re NOT:
        – causing species extinction
        – causing habitat destruction
        – causing ecosystem pollution
        – etc etc etc
        … and doing it all for this oxymoron “profit” and this “wealth” he speaks of.

    • Alok Bharadwaj

      Yes, the main reason might be the rise of accountability. The CEO of a large corporation will not have expertise on important areas such as finance or legal issues. He needs someone to go through the intricacies of matters related to such subjects and give a firm opinion. Based on his/her opinion, the CEO makes his final decision. Thereby he’s transferring the accountability to the other person. For a CEO, this accountability is far more valuable since it reduces the decision making time (ideally, if the right person is hired to do this. In practical cases this may not be the case and it’s a different matter).

      According to the author’s rule, if we make all such administrative heads disappear, all important decision making (such as whether or to make a merger, to buy a company, to reduce employee retention etc) will directly be at the CEO’s table, which he may or may not be able to handle it. These are issues which cannot be delegated to a computer and expect it to spew out a well thought opinion – there is just not enough data to feed it in the first place. Thus, the company will be crippled by shoddy decisions it chooses. It’s not as obvious as the case of a technician or a garbage collector.

      • MilkywayAndromeda

        What is the main competence that a CEO must have?

    • Joe Blow


      *middle finger emoji*

  • chris goodwin

    Sorry, Graeber, but this is just not good enough. Keynes may be “big” around the LSE, but he remains a socialist twit. As are most people who rant on about the deficiencies of “capitalism.” It is really rather like complaining that your prayers were not answered, when surely (?) “God,” or the Holy Virgin, or whoever you prayed to, must be able to see the purity of your heart, and the rightness of your plea. Has it not occurred to you that the whole Jesus myth is just smoke and mirrors ? – and that Marx’s mental construct, “capitalism” is just as fallacious ? Capitalism does not, never has, nor never will exist, as Marx defined it. And no matter how much you move the goal posts around, you will never get a game going.

    Most of the rubbish jobs you indicate have the same origin: the ever increasing attempts by thge cancerous growth of government wonks to “control” things, to avoid imagined difficulties or to achieve impossible goals. Thus schools, basically a good idea, have been set the task not only of teaching the teachable, but somehow also “levelling up” the playing field, and making sure there are no losers. Animal Farm, anyone ? And then everyone has to go to uni, and get a degree, any degree, in something, anything, so that there will be “no child left behind.” Some people are just thick – and I do not just mean cabinet ministers. And no “hate speech” – someone might be hurt.Pavlov kept his little puppies in ultra safe spaces, where they were protected from the rough and tumble of puppydom – whereafter they annihilated themselves when released into a dangerous environment. Some people, (you, Professor Graeber ?) seem to want to see whole generations of schoolchildren similarly molly coddled into imbecilic, passive, but “safe” incompetence.

    All very depressing. But not due to (mythic) “capitalism.” More a case of too many politicians thinking that they, with the aid of a few well meaning experts, from places like the LSE, all collated by their civil servant apparatchiks, will be able to dream up “improvements” to a series of processes that they do not understand, never dirty their hands with, but on which have some “theories” of undoubtedly very great ELEGANCE, but no validity. Roll on Marxist ordure.

    • Bradford

      Dude, what kind of drugs are you on? I’m only asking because I want to make sure I don’t do those drugs by accident….

      • chris goodwin

        I’m on truth serum, actually. Quite powerful. Indeed, you have to be 100% fit before the doctors will prescribe it for you. You seem to be stuck on the ad hominem regime, which, like alcohol, increases immediate pleasure but at the cost of a dreadful hangover later, especially when you over indulge.

        When you think of an argument, (or if ?) be sure to bring it forth. It might even be of interest.

        • Bradford

          Isn’t YOUR calling Keynes a “socialist twit” ITSELF an “ad hominem” attack?…. Any time I see some commenter stoop to using “ad hominem”, I know they are either dense, stupid, over-educated, easily offended, unthoughtful, etc…. I’m not “name-calling”. Your ENTIRE comment, above, is in fact one LONG, AD HOMINEM attack! You really don’t get that, do you? I’ll leave you with a reply I first wrote, above….it applies to YOU, too:….”Can I sell you a backhoe? You could dig yourself a much deeper grave much faster than that hand shovel you’re using…. Read my replies above…. Your sacred
          “market” is an illusion planted in your head by propaganda. You’re free to worship the Almighty Dollar in your Church of Capitalism, but that will NOT make you FREE, or SAVE you….”….

          • chris goodwin

            Characterising Keynes as a Socialist twit is to give fair warninig that I do not respect the socialist assertions, and more generally Marxist mythology: that Keynes was a twit is obvious from the disconnect between what he said his policies were going to achieve, and what they actually achieved. Ivory tower economix.

            My comment was not one long attack, though I may have been carrried away in the joy of the chase in the first paragraph. In the second I gave an alternative explanation for the rubbish (me) or “bullshit” (Graeber) jobs that are the “fault” of “capitalism.” If you consider that part of an ad hominem attack, then I am afraid there is nothing I, nor probably anyone else can do to help you.

            I know not what you mean by my (?) “sacred market” – I have not referred to the market once in my comments here so far, so you will have to particularise. I do not worship the dollar, nor characterise it as “mighty” – nor do I worship in any church whatsoever, and as for Capitalism, let alone a “church” of it, I have just, quite specifically rejected the very concept: (see my first paragraph, penultimate sentence.) The only people who seems to want to build it up are the idiot marxists, who need some “Devil” figure, whose Evil machinations they need, as an explanation for the failure of their utopian dream to spontaneously arise. Illusions – propaganda implanted – sombody’s head – I think it must be your’n.

            I repeat my invitation: if you can think of an argument, please feel free to bring it forth. I repeat, it MIGHT even be of interest; but you’ll have to do better than this.

          • Bradford

            Well, that was fun for the short time it lasted…..

          • chris goodwin

            Rude ? yes. Ignorant ? yes. Inconsequential ? yes. Must remember never to go to Bradford again.

          • Bradford

            Graeber starts his essay with a bold – and ultimately proven wrong – prediction Keynes made over 70 years ago. Then Graeber uses Keynes as a further example of a larger conceptual error in economic prognostication. I don’t see where Graeber thinks K is “big”, but YOU have to start out trashing K., just to make your OWN point, and toot your OWN horn…. You’re not much good at self-analysis, are you?
            I’m knowingly, intentionally, and gleefully being condescending and rude.
            It’s *YOU* who WASTES 2 perfectly good comments in trashing K & Marx & “socialists”…. Let me know who wins, when you get done fighting WW1 & WW2 in yur head, dude….

          • chris goodwin

            I ALWAYS trash Keynes, whenever his name comes up, just as I always poke fun at Marxists, because they are so irritatingly arrogant. You know, dead but they won’t lie down. Intellectual zombies. The only thing they respect in argument is a flamethrower, but I cannot get mine to work through a cyberspatial link: perhaps that it the next big thing we can expect through the iPhone 8 ? Or perhaps the exploding models already available are the taste of “things to come” ?

            I can only “toot” my own horn: yours is both out of reach and out of tune.

            Nobody is much good at self analysis: that includes both me AND YOU.

            Condescension can only come from the superior to the inferior. You seem to be claiming the higher ground, but resolutely refuse to produce anything but abuse: no evidence, no argument, no data.

            I cannot see from your rants which two comments of mine you choose to characterise both as “perfectly good,” and at the same time as a waste. As I said above, I find it well worth the effort to “trash” both K and M and all socialists – communists, Social Democrats, Nazis, Fascists, Zionists, New Dealers, “Progressives” and the American brand of “Liberals” – a most illiberal crew – and the whole rag tag and bobtail of collectivist, Statist, arrogant control freaks. These bums have murdered more people, mostly innocent, than any other gang of misfits in all recorded history, and they are still at it.

            Finally you interpose the spectres of two world wars, and think I am anxious to fight them: you err. Not only did I not mention them, but I fail to see how they are relevant to Graeber’s argument. Perhaps you “think” (for some value of the word “think”) that dragging such a monumental red herring into the conversation is in some way to be considered the contribution of an argument. It ‘aint.

            Clearly, I have to widen the scope of my invitation. Come with an argument, or come without: you are an amusing specimen.

          • Bradford


          • StonedColdApathy

            Are you laughing or snoozing? You seem confused.

          • Bradford

            Both. First i Laughed, then i snoozed….
            There, now you’re no longer confused.
            You’re welcome!
            (….maybe you’re TOO stoned….????….)….

          • StonedColdApathy

            All I did was ask a question. That makes me confused and/or stoned? Your instant ad hominem attacks sorely discredit anything you might say.

          • Bradford

            “You seem confused” is itself a type of subtle ad hominem attack….
            Those persons who traffic in “ad hominem” are known as TROLLS….
            I really have no idea what “ad hominem” means – I’m merely repeating YOUR words back to YOU….
            WHY should I give a crap one way or the other, whether or not you “credit” or “discredit” my comments?
            You’re not my target audience, troll….

    • Carl Watts

      I’ve got 3 questions to try and make clearer in my mind your thoughts on the article and the phenomenon in general of pointless jobs (if there is such a thing).

      1) Do you think there are a lot of pointless jobs? If so pointless in what way?

      2) If so what do you think the mechanism is that led to this curious state of affairs where a lot of people are doing work that really isn’t necessary?

      3) What do you think are possible solutions to this problem of “bullshit jobs”?

      • chris goodwin

        Hallo Carl. In reverse order :-
        3) I think Professor Graeber is using the “I do not understand what is going on here, so it must be a waste of time,” argument. Condemnation through ignorance.
        Not really a problem.

        2) Lots of work APPEARS to be pointless, to the likes of Graeber. So ? One mechanism is that men who know a lot about subject “A” – and get to be professors of said subject, then confuse their grasp of things to think themselves qualified to pontificate on subject “B” (forget about C, D, E, etc.) Then they pronounce that a lot of jobs are “bullshit” jobs. (EVIDENCE ?)

        Another mechanism is that of bueaucracy. I recall (’twas only yesterday) when the army was conducting field trials of the then new 25 pounder gun/howitzer. Senior officers watched as the eight man gun crew drove the gun into position, uncoupled the gun and ammunition limber from the tractor, found the target, loaded, and fired. The shoot continued with much clicking of stop watches, as the gunners hauled the shells from the limber, swung them over to the breech, slammed the new shell in, adjusted the aim, and fired. After a little while one of the generals pointed to the eighth man, who was standing smartly to attention twenty paces behind where all the action was going on. “What’s that man doing?” barked the general. Quick heads together muttering, and then the answer came, “He is there to hold the heads of the horses so they are not too startled by the noise, Sir!” But there were no horses. Some desk whallah had omitted to trim the size of the gun crew. One workless job provided per gun, four per battery, hundreds in total .. just by not thinking. Happens all the time.

        1) So we come back to the perception of “pointless” (Bullshit/Rubbish,) jobs.
        When we see a vast expansion in jobs, there must surely be someone who needs their input. Have you seen tha library of books produced each year by the Federal Government, full of laws, and regulations that carry the full weight of these laws behind them, that have to be complied with ? Can you read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the equivalent of four or five different versions of the Encyclopeadia Brittanica (last time I saw it it was in twenty four volumes !) and do that every year to check for modifications, as a precondition of running an industrial plant ? Yes, there is a “point” to every regulation, prohibition or order, and if you get it wrong, then the all encompassing “they” can “get” you. Fines, (millions ?) imprisonment, delays, endless legal battles – these consequences are not “pointless” – so how can you thus characterise the jobs of the vast hordes of paper shufflers who can point out the exceptions that you need to exculpate yourself from charges of reckless, criminal or treasonable conduct ? Behind nearly (?) every “bullshit” job you can find some government regulation which has an apparently perfectly virtuous aim – health and safety in the working environment, but which is written by some armchair official who has no adequate understanding of the full range of conditions covered by his regulations, and so writes a legally impeccable, but practically impossible, totally unworkable specification. Go figure.

        The essence of a really complex system, (e.g. the economy of the world,) is that there is no man who knows all of it, or even all about some of it, unless you take it down to the size where there is only one man doing it. Control HAS to be self control. And I cannot understand the skill necessary to control e.g. a Stradivarius. I can only admire it.

        • Carl Watts

          You say that many jobs that might seem pointless aren’t actually pointless. Then you give examples of actual pointless jobs and a mechanism to explain it (bureaucracy and not thinking).

          You then go on to say: there’s all these jobs so surely someone needs there input, otherwise they wouldnt be there. Well that’s what’s being argued, that in fact the input of many jobs might not be needed. That they are in fact pointless. Your argument seems to be that the fact the jobs exist means they’re useful but this is just what’s being disputed by graeber.

          You give reasons for the existence of the many goverment jobs followed by criticism of them that makes them seem quite pointless to me or atleast horribly inefficient.

          Still not sure of your answers to my questions, your position seems a little incoherent and inconsistent to me. Some contradictions are to be found in there.
          1) You give reasons to doubt that are jobs that are pointless, you give examples of pointless jobs.

          2)You give a mechanism for existence of pointless jobs, you deny existence of pointless jobs (“if the job exists surely someone needs the input.”)

          3) I’m not sure you perceive a problem in which case there’s no need of a solution, in any case “you can only admire it” implies there isnt much room for solutions.

          As for my view: i think there are a lot of jobs which could be eliminated or automated easily without any serious consequences other than alot more leisure time. The problem as i see it is with the idea of labour for income and it perceived ethical value. Also the ignorance of the state of modern technology.
          Back to labour for income: in our economic system you simply need to work in order to survive. Unemployment is seen as a very bad thing while actually it should be embraced for it is a sign that humanity is solving its economic problem. Rising unemployment means that fewer manhours are needed for the same production. That’s what technology is for: releasing humans from drudgery to allow them to express their creative faculties and explore. Instead of embracing this, because of this principle of labour for income, new jobs need to be created.
          There is no mechanism in our economic system to adequately distribute the gains in productivity. We need the mechanism of jobs to distribute incomes and many jobs have been created without critical examination if they’re really useful or not.

          I’d say there’s no incentive to actively remove jobs because there’s no mechanism to ensure those people survival who lose their jobs. While this isnt exactly the same as pointless jobs its not much different.

          • chris goodwin

            2 months ago you had three question.
            2 months ag0 I answered all three.
            2 days ago you complain about not finding a coherent or consisntent answer: took you a long time to puzzle that one out.

            I would try to help you, but I also find you come with another question, which begins, “You say that many jobs that might seem pointless ..” BUT I cannot find the full extent of your question. So cannot answer it.

            I think the fault lies with Evonomics. Anyway, you did not pose a coherent or consisntent (or even consistent !) question, so I pass

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Ideas to fix this “There is no mechanism in our economic system to adequately distribute the gains in productivity.”, please. ☺

  • Elmar17

    I think this entirely ignores Say’s Law. Human desire is hard to limit. The more things that exist, likely the more things we want. When there is profit to be made in the making of things demanded they will be made. Hence we want more so we consume more so more things need to be produced to be consumed.

    If everyone had only the choices of service or good that existed when Keynes made that statement maybe we could get away with a 15 hour work week.

  • MilkywayAndromeda

    David Graeber belong to the group of persons in the planet with more understand of how the world works… He is brilliant! I will read his recent book!

  • Ken_Pidcock

    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.

    I believe humanity would perish from a disease originating in an unsanitized handset.

  • Mikerrr

    Count me among those who think their entire career is useless bullsh11. I even tried the law school thing, exactly for the reason stated in this article – but I couldn’t stand the people (too much like myself, I guess) and dropped out after a year. I once had a lucky break where I got paid decent money to do something that at least I considered worthwhile and fulfilling, but that gig fell apart after about 5 years and I was right back to doing what I do now. This article absolutely nails it.

  • JW Ogden

    Begin sarcasm:Yes, last time we elites met, we agreed how much hiring each would do to avoid the danger of people having free time. End sarcasm

    IMHO A lot has to do with crazy laws that require levels of bureaucracy. I.e. tax lawyers due to a very complex tax system.

    Much administration bloat is with universities and hospitals. MD’s may not be as needed as you think (see:

    If people work less at a job they have to work more at home. (Eating out cost more than cooking at home.)

    People can and do opt out. See: some even do.

    Water is more useful that gold and diamonds but we all know why it is cheap.

    In my profession, computer programmer, I constantly see things that should be automated but that we have not gotten to yet.

    Finance is bloated but is needed.

    Maybe I am taking you to seriously.

    • davidgraeber

      actually there were think tanks in Ivy League Universities discussing the crisis/problem of leisure and free time quite openly in the late ‘Honestly. You don’t know much do you?

  • Tom Abel

    Ok, I think I’ve recovered my sense of balance. This article, sorry to say, knocked me off the beam. I’ve read now and been re-reading Debt because it seems to have great value. It has been fun to look back at history that I thought I knew and see things with a new lens, to see things very differently in terms of money and war and slavery and debt of course. That’s alot of fun, to get somebody’s very different perspective. It’s been obvious to me that he’s a Marxist, student of the Cameroff’s, and of Sahlins (Elmer Fudd, a friend calls him). And obviously an anti-capitalist, ‘occupy’ person. Ok. The problem I have with them is that they lack a causal model, like energy self-organization, that might ‘explain’ society outside of dialectics or greed. But ok, I know that, the book still has been much fun because it seems to be well researched and he has a huge breadth of historical, maybe classical, academic knowledge. So I have invested in it, given it my typically plodding attention. So to read this article today is pretty disorienting. I expected to hear wisdom from the author of Debt, some new and fascinating take on why capitalism creates pointless jobs. Instead we get the meandering complaining of a whining academic (we all whine some). Not surprising, since as I said, Marxist’s fundamentally lack causal models, or explanations of social and economic functioning. Instead, to me, it seemed the article was a chance for him to blow off steam against excessive, over-administrating, that we all suffer from at universities today, a noble gripe, but hardly what I expected. And the funny thing was that he gave us that part of his argument in code, cabinet-makers and fish frying, another version of academics who can, do, those who can’t, work in administration (with the added twist that they resent greatly those who ‘do’). I’ll still continue with my re-reading of Debt, hopefully I won’t be discouraged, it has been exciting up to now.

  • Trevor Rose

    Capital := “productive resources”
    Capitalism := “the exploitation of productive resources for profit”

    Therefore ALL systems that use any version of a property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm ARE BY DEFINITION “capitalist”.

    The Soviet Union was NOT a socialist state, it was a dictatorship, and dictatorship isn’t socialism … people (including those who created it) can name it the USSR all they want … BUT … if it doesn’t adhere to the principles of socialism (ie – people pooling collective resources for the common good), and instead adheres to the principles of bureaucratic / totalitarian dictatorship (ie – people having their resources taken from them by a system of control) … THEN … what you’re describing is far more aligned with capitalism.

    When you say “such & such isn’t supposed to happen under capitalism” you’re completely missing the point about just how flawed capitalism is … CAPITALISM DOES NOT CARE ONE IOTA ABOUT ANYONE’S WELL BEING – IT HAS NEVER DONE SO NOR EVER SHALL DO SO.

    Capitalism ONLY cares about profit … so when something good happens, that is inspite of not because of capitalism; as Capitalism motivates, empowers, nurtures & rewards narcissists & sociopaths.

    Thus the USSR was in reality just one possible totalitarian manifestation of capitalism, just as free-market economics, democracy &/or feudalism are others … because no matter the political framework, no matter the social constructs & laws … IF you have an economic system that exploits capital for profit, THEN you operate some version of capitalism.

    Capitalism will always lead to the entrenchment of power, and if you happen upon a benevolent ruler or rulers, that’s called LUCK. Nothing but pure blind luck.

    If you want something that operates fundamentally differently, you have to move away from the foundational paradigm of property >>

    • I like much of your thinking. My understanding is slightly shifted though by the recognition that the idea of money as a representation of property is the flawed driver both of global humanity community and the myriad of global problems emerging as a consequence. Money as a placeholder for property or value is without any reference to human or environmental values. If we view money as an applied technology, this shortcoming is proving fatal in many ways, like those being pointed out by the author of this article. We work “pointless” jobs in an economy that requires money to survive because we must to obtain money. Money doesn’t recognize that I need to eat to remain alive only other people are capable of that recognition. Yet money is the highly successful technology that has facilitated cooperation on a global scale between relative strangers. By recognizing the role that money has played and the nature of its limitations, we have some powerful hints as to how we can begin to address the problems facing a global human community.

      • The only bit that I see is different, is that at the end you appear to be changing your mind and saying money is somehow redeemable (?)

        • Honestly, I don’t know if the technology of money can be redeemed. If not, we are in deep trouble.

          • That’s what I’m saying, it cannot be redeemed … it’s explained in my project blog … almost 30 years of contemplation, research and development

      • I must say though I disagree that money actually played any role in any kind of technical development … it either provides or doesn’t provide resources, but it has no bearing whatsoever on any technical function … I’d argue money has stopped more development than it has assisted, and the simple evidence for that is:
        1 – the insane potential of every human brain;
        2 – the insane waste of the vast majority of this potential.

        • When I talk about the Technology of Money, it includes the many variations on the central idea of Money that has evolved since it first arose in the human imagination. As you point out, the primary role that Money has played, as a universal placeholder for value in a transaction, has remained essentially unchanged. This is exactly my point.

          I have suggested the role that money has played is critical in terms of the emergence of global community. Money has allowed us to have commerce with those well beyond our immediate circle of acquaintances. Money does this quite effectively. If I am involved in a transaction with a close friend, I may well not use money, a handshake might suffice, and the offer of money might even be considered offensive. The big difference here between this type of personal transaction and a money transactions is that I “know” a whole lot more about the individual with whom I am engaged while the money transaction happens with a relative stranger.

          This difference is highly significant and almost always overlooked when people talk about today’s economics. This huge void of information in money transactions is the deep flaw that removes those transactions into an area where relevant human related values are entirely disconnected. The true depth of human transactions is lost when the transactions only use money. As a consequence, we struggle constantly to reengage those human values in our economies through contracts, laws, governments, treaties, protests, boycotts, etc.

          As you clearly point out, the vast human potential inherent in people is largely ignored in money economies. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you contribute to the overall well being of the human community, only whether or not you have enough money, regardless of how you came about that money. You might be Nicola Tesla and you would not be able to buy food without money.

          Recognizing the nature of money, what it facilitates and what it does not, is critical to being able to provide viable answers to many of the issues facing a global humanity. I would argue that the wide ranging discussions happening here in response to this article largely miss this key understanding. We have the global economy we do because of the qualities and characteristics of money as it is implemented today. We are clever enough to understand this and attempt work arounds but perhaps what we really need is a Money 2.0 that incorporates social and environmental values into its operating system?

  • Onar Åm

    ” In capitalism, this is exactly what is not supposed to happen.”

    You are absolutely right. This is NOT supposed to happen under capitalism. That gives you a huge, huge, huge clue: we are not currently living under a capitalist system, and it is absolutely mind-boggling that someone who claims to be knowledge fails to make this obvious connection. In the late 19th century United States, there was practically laissez-faire capitalism. Not anymore. Not by a long shot. You want to see the source of bullshit jobs? Here:

    It’s called GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS. The welfare state has also ballooned to insane proportions so that people have to work longer to pay for bullshit jobs in government and for wasteful government spending.

    I mean, how is it possible not to see this and blame capitalism for something which has the exact opposite cause?

  • Nadir Butt

    So, on one hand, your website will complain about minimum wage, inequality, and people not being given a chance to bring themselves up.

    On the other hand you say ‘pointless jobs are being made to stop people from being happy’. Tell me, if these jobs didn’t exist and the people who do these jobs would be even poorer than they are right now, how happy do you think they’ll be? What kind of upward mobility would you expect them to have when Big Bad Capitalism won’t be there to give them pointless jobs that do nothing but increase their income and living standards?

  • Alessandro Mennuni

    I take the starting point that some (many) jobs seem useless, but come on:

    First there is an attempt to imply that if we have unnecessary jobs is because of consumerism: if that’s the case, surely these jobs would feed consumption needs…

    Then the blame that 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth: and why would this ruling class want pointless jobs which curtail their profits? The greedy ruling class would have all incentives to find productive jobs for the masses since it “expropriates” 99% of their output!

    Here is my alternative to this neo marxist theory:

    Technological improvements allowed a larger variety of goods (and jobs), which is great. But technology is such that it is no longer clear who produces what. This gives rise to asymmetric information issues such as moral hazard jobs (jobs that are useless). Same implications of the noo marxist theory (useless jobs), but very different policy implications: we don’t need to blame the rich or demonize consumerism; rather, the information problem gives a rational to having more service sector such as logistic or information technology: these jobs reduce the information rents of the less useful jobs in our society!

    • davidgraeber

      you really can’t read very well can you? I reject the notion that pointless jobs have to do with consumerism immediately.

  • JDSousa

    Since somebody is eager to pay for the services provided for these “bulshit jobs” I fail to see why they are bullshit. Market Competition doesn’t solve this “problem” because there is demand, even if irrational one created by our eagerness to accumulate ever increasing piles of cash.

  • Ole Curmudgeon

    and if/when you can’t keep them distracted with pointless jobs…sit
    them down in front of a tv [sports channel], or in a pro sports venue,
    feed them beer [charging them money for both] … and your oligarchy,
    is secure.

  • Panzerbjørn

    While this might seem like it makes sense, a lot of it doesn’t really…

    Although I would love to have a 4 hour working week…

  • Emma Clark

    This is exactly what Karl Marx was warning us about 150 years ago. And it will continue to deteriorate unless we do something about it.

  • Karlheinz

    I’d argue that the reward of the system is not inversely proportional of the value generated. Because you can observe it in our daily lives, corporations or people who improve most lives are the ones who get the biggest reward. Some examples: Authors (Bestselling books), Engineers (Facebook, Google etc). Of course this is also true on (depending on the perspective) negative impact, weapons industry, tabaco industry.
    So to me te equation is simple: Reward is proportional to impact. Make more impact and you will get rewarded by capitalism. Even the pointless jobs are explainable by this equation, most of the time the jobs who get less paid are the ones barely noticed by people.

  • Most who have joined this discussion seem to understand that “pointless” jobs is a value judgement. Within the context of a Money economy, many jobs have values related only to the role they play, but no value in an absolute sense. For example, in an economy that doesn’t need or use Money, bankers would essentially be “pointless”, while in an economy driven by the endless growth needed to satisfy debt, many jobs are created and valued simply so people have a source of Money otherwise they cannot even buy a can of beans at the local market, bankers and accountants are essential. The Technology of Money is at the core of every economic system existing today. It is the Technology of Money that people have leveraged to move humanity from tribal communities to a global community.

    What the endless arguments and discussions over economics always seem to overlook is the flaw at the heart of the system, Money itself. Money as a technological tool has proven itself extremely successful for the limited role it has played in helping to develop a global human community. However, I think hardly anyone today will argue that our global community is healthy and sustainable. Why? Simply because the underlying values that drive health and sustainability are not part of the manner in which the Technology of Money functions. The Technology of Money exchanges only a limited kind of value that is very simplistic in relation to the subtle social interactions based on human centered values that drove relationships within tribal communities. As individuals, we are incapable of knowing seven or eight billion other human beings on a personal level, so the social self regulation that functioned naturally for our tribal communities fails miserably on the level of global community.

    Money works as well as it does today only because a global humanity has come to believe in the story of Money. Yet, the Technology of Money is extremely immature in relation to our needs as a global community. Many of us have begun to recognize the ways in which the Technology of Money has been rapidly evolving over recent decades. Many more have began experimenting with local community based alternatives to Money. Countless others join the growing protests that promote human and environmental values in an economic landscape devoid of them. Our global community must find ways to reintegrate the social wisdom of our tribal communities into a story of Money that is wise. I know wise Money sounds like contradiction of terms, yet humans can be technological wizards, that I believe are capable of transforming the flawed story of Money into one with a happy ending. Imho, a peaceful and sustainable global civilization makes for a better ending than will a tragedy of the commons.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      Well done! You think!

  • John Davies

    Lovely article, thanks. My life has ever been impoverished and meaningful, for which I’m grateful.

    I’m not sure about doctors being an exception. If R & D and promotion of non-drug modalities were funded dollar for dollar with pharmaceuticals, I believe medicine as we know it would soon disappear.

    “I firmly believe that if the whole material medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind—and all the worse for the fishes.” – Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes

    • honey

      Well what are we going to replace materia medica with then?

    • Marc

      Oliver Wendell Holmes? Couldn’t find a more contemporary source to support your argument, eh? It might surprise you to learn that there has been some marginal progress in medicine in the past century.

  • Michael

    I wonder if we will realize money is both obsolete and the root of all our major problems before we go bye bye. Prolly not.

  • MrKamikaze

    The fact is the vast majority of unnecessary jobs are performed in the public sector. Since the government doesn’t generate wealth and there is no accountability for spend; coupled to the near impossibility of firing useless Government workers (for any reason) billions of tax payers money are wasted yearly.

    The true wealth generating corporations would not exist if there were any significant amount of pointless jobs.

    It has nothing to do with consumerism or capitalism but with bad leftist government.


    I think you’ve overlooked the primary reason for how work is done.

    If anyone COULD do only fifteen hours work, and be paid enough to live their lives as expected, then they would. The reason why this hasn’t happened, is built in to how capitalism is “done” here. Specifically, once a job can be done more easily and in less time, wages are NOT adjusted higher in order to keep the worker income stable, they are effectively REDUCED instead. Workers are called upon to either reduce their incomes and become part-time, or must add duties, in order to continue at the same income level.

    Employers don’t do this because they are “mean,” or even because they are especially “greedy:” they do it, because if they don’t, and a competitor does, then their entire business will fail.

    Essentially, the existence of “make work,” is a side effect of capitalism itself. It is due to time delays between the propagation of a new labor replacing/saving technology, and the invention of something else to replace the need for that labor.

    As long as the economic system is designed around requiring everyone to EARN their life need fulfillment, every advance in technology which reduces the need for labor, will threaten to create a DECREASE in the number of costumers able to buy the products and services provided by that technology. Thus, advances in technology can easily cause an overall decline and even a collapse in real wealth.

    Very ironic, really.

    • Marc

      Your argument is missing something. If automation causes goods and services to be made more cheaply, and with less human labor involved, then your assertion that the cost of labor will fall is true. However, you’ve neglected the other side of the equation. The same market forces that cause wages to fall also cause the cost of these goods and services to fall. This is called deflation, and it can increase the standard of living, even as wages fall. Witness the cost of pretty much every kind of basic foodstuff in the past 125 years:

      • MEMUNSON

        Yes, but that aspect of the equation isn’t comprehensive. That’s where it falls down. The cost of the thing which is made more efficiently does fall, but the cost of other things such as housing does not, because there’s no direct linkage between productivity increases in one area, and the cost of living for the workers in all areas.

        If the cost of your housing for example is the equivalent of seventy percent of the hours you work making clothing or something, that wont fall because you make more clothing per day. Only if you are lucky and the number of people buying the clothes you make rises exponentially as your productivity increases, will you continue to be able to make enough to continue to pay your rent or mortgage. You will still need to work a full schedule in order to survive, even though your employer (your customers) will no longer need nearly as much of your time.

        In short, unless you start doing something else in addition to making clothing, you will end up as a very well dressed homeless person.

        • Marc

          It’s an interesting point, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand why the housing market is so often treated as a special exception in economic analyses. Housing is a good, like any other good. As such, increased efficiencies in home construction and cheaper building materials would follow the same laws as any other commodity.

          The only difference is the availability of land on which to build houses, which is limited (Mars notwithstanding… all apologies to Mr. Musk). If one considers, however, that land is vacant plentiful in the US, and that vertical space is practically unlimited, then this point is fairly moot.

          Regardless, even if housing prices do rise due to, for example, desperate attempts to re-inflate the housing bubble, this rise should be offset by the decreasing the cost of living in general. A full analysis is left as an exercise to the reader…

  • David Graeber- clearly, you’ve spent far too long in the halls of acedemia to even begin to understand how things work in the real world. When I went to college for engineering, my favorite course was cultural anthropology, so youlll see no dismissal of your chosen field of interest from me. But your thesis is mistaken on two levels. One, you have taken garden party chitchat and turned it into a worldview. You listen to lamentations over afternoon drinks and believe you understand all of the millions of people in this economy and how their jobs are worthless. Anthropology is a science, yet you seem to ignore scientific method when defining a worldview.

    Second, you generalize from a corporate lawyer that huge swaths of workers and their work are equally worthless, yet fail to take into consideration the vast impact on corporate law and those who pursue it of governmental regulations. The level of perversion of a true free market by the overbearing nanny state can’t be overstated. The impact of thousands upon thousands of regulations from dozens and dozens of regulatory entities would drive even the most enthusiastic employees completely batty: is it any wonder a former singer in the band would find corporate law numbing?

    Don’t blame free markets for creating useless jobs: they don’t when they’re uncorrupted.

    Don’t project from your ivory tower and your garden party and your tenured office how useless work must be, and that it’s free markets that make them useless.

    • davidgraeber

      you’re the one projecting from an ivory tower, you refuse to argue about the world as it really exists but insist on some utopian “free market” that never existed and never will. You also know nothing about my life or experience or who I spend my time with. Total fail.

      • That was such a perfect response. You have no idea how perfect.

  • Marc

    In all your disapproval of corporate law, with which I heartily agree, you seem to overlook one obvious fact. It isn’t the corporations or the notoriously demonic 1% who are bizarrely hellbent on wasting money on expensive litigation. These jobs exist at the behest of the state, which provides ample opportunity for litigation by producing ever-growing piles of legislation. One is forced to wonder if, in your opinion, the overpaid legislators, who can’t seem to distinguish a bottom line from a ballot box, also qualify for the “bullshit job” stamp.

    Solution: Junk the corporate tax code. Deregulate industry. Allow the free market to do what it does best: eliminate waste.

  • It is amazing to me that despite near universal failure, some people still have a romantic view of socialism. The author, while reaching no actionable conclusions, laments the supposed oligarchy of capitalism that would only be better, we are left to conclude, if there were more central control from a bureaucratic state. This article completely misses the organic movement of freelancing that is only made possible by the advance of free enterprise. Millions of workers today have unprecedented access to leisure time and a variety of creative work options because they work for themselves.

    Designing a website for a non-profit from a coffee shop before meeting friends for a hike (as is often the practice here in Boulder, Colorado, USA) is not a “bull—- job”. And how could the freelance designer work for the non-profit if it were not for the donors who support the cause?

    And I wonder where those donors come from…? It seems capitalism is doing alright.

    • Fredrik Weisethaunet

      I’d say that Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland is quite far from being universial failures. All countries with a social democratic system (far more socialist in nature than the US, with universal health care, education, free higher education, free elder care and significant social welfare systems).

      And guess what, all of said countries rank quite high in standard of living and income pr. capita.

      My point isn’t that socialism in and of it self is the answer to everything. My point is that socialized systems can bring stability and growth in pure economical terms as well. Norways pention system is funded completely by the largest financial fund in the world, thanks to the governments decition to nationalize it’s oil resources back in the 70’s. As a norwegian citizen, I’m quite happy with that decition.

      • You might enjoy my work on the quantification of Ecological & Social Justice & Sustainability using principles of Ecological Systems Modelling & Thermodynamics for systems of non-species-biased, non-property/trade/currency-based & non-hierarchical (aka anarchic) law economics & politics >>

    • A totalitarian military dictatorship such as the old USSR, China, or North Korea, is by definition the antithesis of socialism … your problem is that you think naming something is what defines it … you can name a potato “Black Beauty” all you want, but you’ll never ride it to a win at the Grand National Derby … a potato is a potato, a horse is a horse, and reversing their names makes no difference at all to their being nature or function … the USSR was socialist in name only.

      The USSR used capital resources to generate profit, it was therefore capitalism with a totalitarian leadership who mistakenly believed they knew how to implement the ideas of Karl Marx, whom himself actually failed to envisage how to implement it … thus there has never been a completely communist or socialist nation.

      What we do have are slightly socialist democratic capitalist economies, such as most of Scandinavia and many parts of Europe, and they shit all over the free market capitalism of the USA

  • Marc

    Now as for financial service providers… If you will indulge me, I will describe the purpose of this job *in principle*. Please bear in mind that, in the real world, these jobs are largely about sales of bloated financial products, bullshit tax accounting (imposed by your friend, the state), and soon-to-be automated operational roles. But, let’s just ignore all that and consider instead the intended purpose of the whole financial industry, which seems too often to be lost on the good folks who do the “real work”.

    Let’s start by considering the meaning of the word “investment”. This means taking your excess productivity (i.e., whatever money you don’t spend), and putting to to some use for the *future*. This is pretty much why people invented money: to be able to plan for the future. For example, one may choose to buy a small part of a productive facility which makes cheese. Doing so enables the cheese factory to grow, and there is more cheese for everyone. Great. But what if the cheese factory goes bust, perhaps due to new legislation as a favor to the anti-cheese lobby? You’ve lost your investment. This is to be avoided. Enter the financial services industry. A friendly analyst will guide you to diversify your investments, to hedge your bets with options, to consider investing in other types of assets, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Of course, if you’re bored by all this, you can just put your money in an unmanaged index fund, thereby leaving all these decisions to other investors and analysts.

    The point is, somebody needs to decide how to direct the excess productivity of a society. In a socialist economy, that somebody is the state, through the magic of forcible wealth confiscation. In a free society, it’s the investors themselves who decide – no guns needed. Personally, I prefer the latter.

    To address the “15 hour work week” argument, yes, that is what financial services are supposed to provide. If one is free to invest money and reap the returns, then one may envision the future that one wishes. A properly managed portfolio, free from onerous and arbitrary tax rules, should provide the returns that would enable one to survive nicely on 15 hours of work per week, with 12 weeks of vacation, and retirement at age 45.

    Plenty more to say about all that… but this isn’t my day job.

  • Marc

    “the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.”

    Yes, I’ve often made this same observation. The key word here is “obviously”. Many (not all) of the roles you describe at not “obviously” productive, but are very much so, regardless. One only need the capacity for abstract thought to appreciate the usefulness of people who write articles about the meaning of work, for example.

    “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.”

    Were these jobs to disappear in a puff of smoke, a huge hole would be left in the economy. If, however, they were to vanish in a puff of automation… then what? Only those who had failed to own the means of production (to borrow a phrase) would be standing around not knowing what to do without income. The sad fact is that about 50% of Americans live hand-to-mouth, and a good number more rely on their jobs for income. Thanks to ever-increasing automation, the “job = income” equation will soon become inapplicable to most lines of work. The only way, in a free society, to avoid seeing 100 million or so desperate job-seekers would be to start encouraging ownership of the robots immediately.

    I am, however, afraid that this ship has sailed. Equities are now priced such that a person of middling income has little hope of ever investing enough money for the returns to sustain him/her. And you can thank consumerist policies for that, too.

  • Holden Robbins

    Two words, Central Bank. Artificially Low interest rates (i.e. below 4%… currently 0%) drives up cheap debt. Enabling companies and individuals to borrow massive amounts of money they don’t need to buy things (goods and services) they don’t need.

    In the case of public companies, they buy back their own shares with debt to reward their shareholding executive management with massive payouts, for doing nothing other than taking a loan they’re not going to have to make good on. No innovation or efficiency gains, no hard decisions to cut fat, just borrow more from the bank. Same for us all.

    It’s not capitalism, it’s crony capitalism, which is pretty much socialism.

  • Paul Gowan

    Most of this was also said by R. Buckminster Fuller in his book ‘Critical Path’ (1981). There are direct quotes online.
    I doubt that people would really want to work only 3-4 hours a day if they could do things that really interested them.
    Buckminster Fuller proposed paying people to work at home rather than commute, paying people to go back to schiol as researchers to do whatever it was that they would have done before someone told them they had to ‘earn’ the right to live. If they want to go fishing rather than act like a telegraph repeater, they should be allowed to go fishing. Maybe that is the source of their best thinking.
    See also Dr. Richard Wolfe re: consumer debt and suppressed wages.

  • Paul Gowan

    Yes folks! This transparent acrylic toilet seat with embedded $100 bills will make you the envy of your neighborhood and keep orphans in a foreign country employed at sweatshop wages and hours! You really need this and Obnoxico delivers!
    Wait! There’s more! If you order now, you can get a free subscription to our paperless news app ,’Thinking on the Job’!

  • Matthew Richardson

    This article is stupid. We all need jobs because we arent allowed to accumulate wealth. Mr Brady from the Brady bunch was a simple archetect, kept his wife home, had a made and paid for six kids. One paycheck, two cars in the garage, no mortgage. Taxes, easy debt, compulsary college education, increases in costs of living; this why mom needs to work too. American workers are competing over a bigger piece of a smaller pie.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      So, why is the article stupid, please?

      • Matthew Richardson

        Because capitalism doesnt create compulsary labor. Capitalism creates wealth whereas regulations, taxes, college education, forced investment in realestate and stock markets; they all destroy wealth. Production makes goods and that production has left America. Service based jobs dont produce durable goods and our service based ecomony is tantamount to us spinning our wheels, rubbing eachothers backs. The only way we’ve been able to get away with not making things for so long is that we’ve held defectors to the petro dollar millitarily and all of europe foolishly gave the US most of their gold leading ip to WWII giving our central bank and treasury trumendous power over FOREX.

        • MilkywayAndromeda

          It seems to me there is a contradiction between “Because capitalism doesnt create compulsary labor.” and the rest of your comment ☺

        • Capitalism doesn’t create anything other than control … nature and the efforts of living beings create wealth, capitalism just exploits it.

          • Matthew Richardson

            This answer is as insightful as your point: No it doesn’t. You don’t know what capitalism is.

          • Capital: productive resources
            Capitalism: the exploitation of productive resources for an oxymoron “profit” that only a capitalism apologist is stupid enough not to see is indeed an oxymoron.

          • Here’s one as detailed as yours: yes it does … but correct where yours is not.

            Is this what you call an argument? The automatic gainsaying of the other? I think Monty Python debunked that.

  • DSI Materials

    I thought of something the other day when a friend of mine’s son died from a drug overdose. I am thinking that the down (negative) side of Capitalism is the drug trade. The drug trade is pure capitalism: No governmental regulation, supply and demand rule the day, no consumer protection, no environmental concerns, no worries about workers rights, and large amounts of money change hands without taxation. Isn’t that perfect Capitalism? The market is self-correcting. So ……. would it be good if all business was conducted that way? Who gets rich and who stays poor? I’m just saying …….

  • Scalar Intelligence

    articles this long should have an audio component so I can listen while on the go, and best of all, you wont be discriminating against the blind
    I simply do not have time to stop and read a giant article every time I see an interesting one. This is very lazy on writers part and a clear refusal to get with the times. Simply making a free youtube video to accompany this would easily increase coverage. why not do it?

  • Rubbish, mediocre thoughts.

    >>the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically…

    Life as a farmer is hard toil, millions across the global would and have left that life for factory work. And cleaning someone’s chamber pot is more “productive” and dignified than clerical duties?

    Why haven’t we seen a massive reduction in work hours? Perhaps because most people find their work more meaningful than this article would let on. Many enjoy the challenges and sense of accomplishment. Most people would rather use their time, in the prime of their lives, to work and earn a better life for theirselves. Even people who win the lottery often keep working because of the fulfillment it brings.

    This writer clear has a warped sense of the value of service sector and administrative jobs. He wholly discounts as “bullshit jobs” anything that didn’t involve physical labor. Seems he’s been asleep for the past half century.

    “There is more money
    in designing a shoe than in actually making it: Nike, Dell and Boeing can get paid for just thinking, organizing, and leveraging their know-how and ideas while subcontracted factories in developing countries do the grunt work and engineers in cultured and mathematical states do the noncreative technical grind. The American economy has leveraged itself heavily on the idea generation….”–Nassim Taleb

  • André Terra

    This is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve read all year.

  • Rohan Kirkpatrick

    This article is, quite frankly, bullshit. I understand that academics have this caricature what the private sector is like; this article reads exactly like the stereotype of the ivory tower academic.

    You see the author continually makes this assumption

    ‘According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens”I.e that certain jobs he has deigned to be worthless from an economic or business perspective – are in fact worthless. He then goes on to describe pretty much the entire service sector of the economy as “worthless” because he had a friend who once didn’t like their job.

    Like it or not, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, et. al. all actually serve function in the economy and in business.

    The author creates these faulty premises that only service to highlight a complete lack of knowledge

    “he number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours ”

    Citation needed.

    Then here:

    “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.”

    The author simply argues that professions of which he has no domain experience are inferior or serve less economic purpose simply because he doesn’t like them, or doesn’t understand their roles.

    Arguing that a poet or ska musician serves more of an economic function that legal consultants or “private equity CEOs” isn’t just wrong, it’s outright absurd; and only serves to highlight this “because I like it therefore it is good” bias.

    “This is a profound psychological violence here.”

    This is a profound example of a pseudo-intellectual hyperbole. Or to paraphrase Rick Sanchez “You can’t just stick a humanities word in front of another word and hope it means something”. Not liking your job is not “profound psychological violence”, it’s not liking your job.
    Furthermore, this isn’t evidence, it’s anecdotal. Just because one person didn’t like their role at one time in one company doesn’t mean that all corporate lawyers feel the same way. I’m sure many of them like their job and feel value in what they do.

    “I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not”

    Except that you are. Not only this, you’re essentially telling all the people who are the cogs in the machine of the society which you enjoy, that they are meaningless and their jobs serve no function. But if they all were to disappear overnight you’d be pretty aware of it, and probably the first to complain.

    The thing is you seem to believe that people can only add value when they are directly involved in manufacturing or production. But in order to support that premise you need to actually back up your conclusions with evidence. Instead this reads like a hark back to the good ol’ days when America made it’s own cars; it’s both a protectionist and statist rant at once.

    When you say “real, productive workers are being squeezed” it reeks of hypocrisy because you’ve just spent the rest of the article slagging off plenty of productive workers purely on an arbitrary dislike of their job titles that is only borne from a complete lack of knowledge of how they add value. To say that from the comfort of an anthropology tenure kind of makes you a piece of shit.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      Why do not read it again, please?
      Your comments might be perceived you did not get the meaning of the article… ☺

    • Glendon Kuhns

      well said.

    • davidgraeber

      you’re a boss, right?
      pretty much every single person I talk to who works in the private sector and is not themselves in charge of hiring people immediately agrees with the premise of this article.

    • Shaheen Samavati

      I don’t think the author is saying that these jobs “serve less economic purpose.” He’s saying that serving the economy is not a very good purpose, because our economic system disproportionally benefits those at the top. He’s saying that many jobs are designed to help make the rich richer, not to actually benefit society as a whole.

  • tamarque

    Nice article but it misses a basic point which belies the cognitive dissonance ongoing. The
    ‘system’ is not that accidental nor did it derive strictly from trial and error. We have had cabals of power mongers who have met in secrecy throughout the history of western society, and perhaps even before. These groups meet to plot and plan their methods of population control as well as how to exploit them and other resources for their own benefit. The whole over population myth was a device created and promoted thru the Club of Rome, a Rockefeller group. Environmentalism was also created then as a marketing pitch to gain support of young and liberal people. It has worked very well and even allows good liberals to not feel so bad hearing about 1.5 million Iraquis killed in an illegal American war for profit. Not do they feel that bad when millions of Africans are slaughtered in the name of democracy as those are just some excess “useless eaters” as per Bush. The elimination of millions of others thru war, starvation and manufactured disease is also justified by the alleged population explosion which needs a thinning of the human herd. This is capitalism planning. These people who pull the puppet strings work diligently behind the curtains, spinning false flags and creating diseases all designed to distract the public from what is really happening. Thus, this article fails by not calling out this blatant truth. And the only reason for this lapse is what is called cognitive dissonance which is that social science concept that explains why people cannot attack their core belief system even when it is to their benefit to do so.

  • InklingBooks

    Quote: “Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. ”

    Take a moment, an hour, or a month to reflect, any you’ll come to the same conclusion, that Keynes and this writer are wrong, that in the range of work from 15 to 40 hours people do prefer more toys to less hours. Indeed, it’s the more toys that make those hours more interesting. What’s the good of a 15-hour week, if you’ve got no money to spend on enjoying those additional free hours?

    Equally silly is the idea that corporations sacrifice their individual profits (and executive pay) to hire hosts of unnecessary workers to protect the larger system of capitalism. Why should they? The first company that fired its unnecessary drones would reap enormous rewards and suffer no political consequencies? All the rest would soon follow.

    • Shaheen Samavati

      I think his argument is that these “pointless” jobs DO make money for the corporations, but that’s all they do. They don’t add value to society as a whole; they benefit a very small group of people.

  • Victor

    As in the old adage, God is good, Beer is a blessing, and People are crazy!
    You are enlightening in this article. Posted this to facebook, heh.
    Eloquently put down and driven home into our coffins and coffee this halloween season.

    I’m saving this and putting it into my own little personal GIT_hub for the dose of sanity I’ll need
    When I save the whole world and am charged nine dollars and nine-nine cents for the entitled priviledge because, you know!

  • Victor

    your email link for sharing broke!

  • mrjonny

    I agree with this article that _so many_ jobs are pointless in today’s economy and it’s b/c those with power are responsible. “Work” is validation of something done. And – I say this anecdotally without any qualified research to back it up, but I think I will find some agreement that – we all need validation. Where does validation come from, and what does it yield? Again, this seems like a research project, but it doesn’t appear to matter where it comes from, and it yields subjective peace of mind that can then be used to validate others. So it’s a closed loop system, validate -> peace of mind -> validate -> peace of mind. Capitalism is a system that allows individuals to store and transfer validation using currency without state oversight. So if you have a lot of currency, you have a lot of peace of mind and therefore you have a lot of validation to offer. We call this power. Now… how much validation anyone deserves is derived by some excessively complex combination of variables that we are yet to truly understand. Read Khaneman’s prospect theory for some fascinating experiments that reveal just how willing or unwilling people are to part with their currency depending on how much they have, where it came from and when. Bottom line – and finally my point – _sacrifice of time_ is worth a HUGE amount of validation. And I think this is because without time, you cannot seek validation elsewhere. So it’s a loophole in capitalism because someone with power can offer validation without losing much peace of mind. We are fortunate to live in a place and time when peace of mind for anyone (referenced by Jefferson and Franklin as the “pursuit of happiness”) is recognized as further validation for everyone, however clearly this is still an ideal that people with a lot of power cannot commit to fully. Maybe one day…

  • rrr

    In true capitalism, if job isn’t efficient, i.e., it doesn’t create product/offer service that is in demand, it is an inefficient allocation of capital and should be eliminated in order to maximize efficiency. We cannot forbid anyone to operate inefficiently, though it is in their best interest to do otherwise. Or is it not really capitalism, but the state that mandates existence of those pointless jobs with needlessly complicated law system, artificially restricting efficiency? Surely, if law system were simpler, not as many of those corporate lawyers you speak about would exist. Though this begs the question, who exactly and why made law so complicated in the first place? Could it be that it were some of the big companies to protect their own business and make life harder for competitors, raising barriers to entry? If so, please note, that it’s against the spirit of free-market, where everyone is supposed to have equal opportunity to participate.

    Also remember that creation of job opportunities isn’t a primary goal of most companyies Profit is. Either way, state surely can interfere with that goal.

  • Manowaffle

    This article is a great ode to the tyranny of anecdotes. Capitalism has introduced vast complexity into the economic system, and ever since Ford first divided the assembly line down into basic tasks workers have gotten further and further away from the finished product. Having 12 legal aides working on a corporate case sounds absurd, until you’re talking about a $200 million lawsuit. Being a social media manager for a brand sounds ridiculous, until you look at what social media advertising is adding to sales. Organizations have become vast black-boxes where it is difficult to value each task performed, and without a doubt many people could get comparable work done in a 32-hour week, but that doesn’t make the task pointless.

  • Michail Kaus

    Ok as a sales person (e-marketer) I can tell that without my work people wouldn’t even know that some wonderful products even exist. People simply wouldn’t find it 🙂 I can find a poor craftsman and make him rich by promoting his products. Selling and marketing is as important as manufacturing, especially in a world of 7 billion people.

    The other thing is – these jobs are boring. This is why people doing them tell you they are not meaningful. It’s because they don’t see value in what they, not because they actually don’t produce value. They hate their jobs.

    As a carpenter that hates his job – he will tell you “all I do is making chairs and tables, it’s really meaningless… I want to save dolphins fkr living, not this”.

  • Richard Green

    I think it is possible to make a good argument that there is a such a thing as bullshit jobs, but this article totally fails to do so. The argument is extremely weak, and doesn’t deserve publication on a site that pretends to serious argument. In fact, if you wanted a template for how to make a crappy argument, you now have it.

    Step 1- Treat a couple of personal anecdotes as if they great insights.

    The fact that a failed musician buddy doesn’t see the point in being a corporate lawyer is no basis for any serious conclusions. The same applies to conversations you had at parties. (Could it be, maybe, that the social circle of left wing academics and successful corporate lawyers who enjoy their lifestyle don’t overlap much)

    Step 2 – Wildly over-generalize into a global issue

    Because you hate doing university admin and think its pointless, and have met some corporate lawyers who hate their job, that means the vast majority of service workers secretly feel the same. Totally ignore the fact that huge complexity and range of activities covered in a complex economy. Top this off with a bit of sneering contempt for jobs you don’t understand or approve of, like bailiffs, actuaries, marketers and those damn university administrators.

    Step 3 – Blame a popular hate figure via some bullshit theorizing

    Pick a bad guy whose fault it is (financiers – boo!). Endow them with amazing and unexplained powers to control the economy in incredible detail, and to twist popular sentiment to support their plans, and blame them for the problem. Make the unsupported claim that they do this to stop the popular revolution, which nearly came off in the 60s apparently.

    Round off with a spectacularly arrogant claim that this is

    >the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 >hour days.

    And voila!


  • Matias Furia

    The author has this almost naive notion that what he calls bullshit jobs are not economically sensible. This jobs exists because they make profits. It’s bullshit profits for the elites are the driving force of humanity’s collective productive power, but the problem doesn’t originate in morals or ideology but in the economic systems underneath it all.

  • Kehvan

    Pointless jobs?

    As in left wing social justice warrior?

  • Capital = productive asset
    Capitalism = exploitation of productive assets for “profit”
    “Profit” (capitalism oxymoron definition) = ignoring all deleterious ecological and social consequences that I can get away with ignoring, while stealing all possible benefits.

    When people say “oh but that’s not real capitalism” (ie – capitalism apologists), they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about … every single economic system fitting the above definition is one or another version of capitalism.

    Just because one system as a totalitarian dictator at the head, while another has a bureaucracy and another again is rules by an oligarchy / corporatocracy, doesn’t change the fact that the economic system is one or another version of capitalism.

    Every failure you see today – ecological or social – is the direct result of capitalism … as capitalism has had control of all the world’s resources for a very long time indeed … and as it evolves and changes, the only thing it does is accelerates the rate of destruction, because the fundamental basis of the paradigm is this:

    – maximally exploit resources per unit of time and per unit of resource;
    – take the least possible responsibility for the ecological and social consequences of your actions to protect profits.

    If you develop infinite green power, capitalism will use it to destroy the world faster with “eco-friendly” power <>

  • alex

    Great article. However I wish you made a statement regarding a potential solution. I cannot agree more – teachers should get paid more, but what about the so called “meaningless jobs”? In the end we all have to make a living and food comes before self materialization. Isn’t naive to assume everyone can contribute in his own way once the bullshit jobs are cancelled? Doesn’t bullshit somehow protect the ordinary people with ordinary capabilities and ordinary wishes?

  • Deep Green Jobs book explains how we can employ the next ten generations by rebuilding our cities toward balance with nature.

  • Jon Gray

    You forgot Tilly. Tilly and his War making and State making as organised crime back in the 80’s. Bureaucracy is essential to organise large groups of people. It’s sad to think that paper pushing can relate to such noble enterprises as reaching the moon but a good argument can be made for just that.
    It’s a good article and thank you, but it’s a huge generalisation and while it sounds like it would be nice to believe, I don’t.

  • swampwiz0

    The author paints a picture that is generally correct, but the conclusion is a bit simplistic. I don’t think for a second that members of the Rentier Class individually seek to hire folks to assuage the “French Revolution” that lurks in the Working Class; such folks that do seek to do so are called limousine liberals, and they advocate for redistribution.

    Now what has happened though is that the value of devoting money to hiring accountants, PR specialists, lawyers, etc. has gone up as the risks to losing money has gone up; this is not a whole lot unlike rich folks deciding to spend a little more to live in a gated community.

  • billy bob

    “There can be no objective measure of social value”. Why not? Can I not objectively say that killing innocent people for cash is of less social value than playing your favourite video game in an online money-earning tournament?

    Otherwise, great read. I especially like the economical hell of “Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.”

    You have now been relocated to a video: Humans Need Not Apply

    • Not only can there be, but I’ve actually figured out how to quantify it, when my current PhD candidate friend asked me (nearly 20 years ago): “can we quantify justice”, and I found the question so fascinating, that 2 weeks later I had an answer for him … over the years since then I’ve refined it further.

  • rmzungu

    This pretty much sums up life for me. I have a PhD in a field I love, but the limited numbers of jobs and absurd politics of academia have kept me out of the universities. I’m a creative person who would love to spend my time entertaining the world, but I need health insurance. So I work at a crappy job, answering angry people on Facebook and generally doing nothing to help them.

  • Les Brown

    This problem is easily solved. Just half the hours worked and double the pay. Everybody’s economic well-being is maintained.

    Sooner or later with machines taking over more roles, Self- Driving Cabs, and AI-accountancy, in fact AI (Artificial Intelligence) in most business administrative roles are going to drive millions of currently low-skilled and professional jobs out of the market. Yet we all need to maintain a standard of living.

    Why have we settled on 40 hours a week as the end all be all of full-time employment? It seems to me that we could arbitrarily decide on any amount of work/week as what is full time. It used to be 80 or 90 hours in the early industrial revolution, but somehow now we are stuck for nearly 100 years.

    I think we would have so much better community/society if we took the standard work week down 25% with no reduction in pay, and it could easily be done by eliminating so many meaningless, non-value-added tasks in our workdays.

  • TomGPalmer

    Wow. I thought upon reading this that it’s one of the most uninformed and clueless things I’ve ever read. But then I realized that it has a point. We are so wealthy that we can afford to pay people to write utterly pointless and stupid articles.

    Any of us can live on less and consume less. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Graeber wrote this essay on a computer, not a typewriter or a legal pad, and he sent it via internet, not through a hand-delivery service run by uniformed agents of the government. He could write less bullshit and get paid less and give up his internet service and computer and go back to sending things written by longhand. I hope he tries.

  • Thindi

    Enough with the pointless jobs, the class division, the stress, the environmental destruction, all the bullshit!
    There’s a better way, so why not do it instead of keeping up the suffering?
    A better world is possible and feasible. It’s up to us.

  • John Redman

    David, you are soooooooo wrong on this. You posit that capitalism invented featherbedding. No, UNIONS did that in spite of capitalism. To the varying extent that featherbedding exists within corporations, even in the absence of unions, you can blame CORPORATISM. This is a different animal (monster, really) because central planners (communists) substitute for unions or pile on more when they exist. You ought to see (if you have not already) the inside of government bureaucracies for redundant workers. They are ALL redundant since nobody in their right mind would give them oxygen in a private enterprise scenario. Unless you are educated and operating in the Austrian School of (real) economics, you are dealing with smoke and mirrors (like Krugman) and not worthy of the name. Maybe you support the broken window theory as well. Grow up after taking some classes at the Mises Institute.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      What is “broken window theory”, please?

    • davidgraeber

      nope, unions don’t create telemarketers, corporate lawyers, human resource consultants, or “strategic vision managers.” Try again.

  • Sulla

    Pointless jobs and bureaucracy are not created by capitalism. They are created from government regulation of businesses and a desire to centralize power. True free market competition would eliminate these compliance related jobs and create many others more directly related to producing products and services customers want.

    • Nonsense, people always make bizarre claims of what “true free market capitalism” would do, and they’re always baseless and in stark contradiction to every observable fact … the closest parts of capitalism to what you refer to as the “free market” do exactly the opposite of everything you people claim, and they always have.

      • Sulla

        Not nonsense. And, given that you state that all statements anyone makes advocating free market competition contradict EVERY observable fact, then the bar is low to demonstrate that you are not exactly interested in anything other than your own ideology whatever that may be. Computers are faster and cheaper now because computer companies compete with little government regulation around chip design. Seems like an observable fact to me.

        • Oh really? So you think I can’t easily validate that claim? Your “observable facts” are nothing more than an indication of how heavily brainwashed you are, and how oblivious you are to your own cognitive bias.

          1 – define capital: a productive asset;

          2 – define capitalism: the exploitation of productive assets for economic gain within the context of the property/trade/currency-based (capitalist) economic paradigm;

          3 – define free-market capitalism: capitalism without regulation by 3rd parties;

          4 – define “true free-market capitalism”: a redundant term used by capitalist apologists who don’t want to take responsibility for the failures of capitalism, so they say “oh well free-market capitalism wouldn’t do that”, and when free-market capitalism fails also, they say “oh well TRUE free-market capitalism wouldn’t do that” … as if somehow there was a difference.

          NOW … your claims:
          – pointless jobs / bureaurocracy not created by capitalism;
          – they’re created by government (implied “only”);
          – their purpose is to centralise power;
          – free-market capitalism would remove compliance jobs;
          – free-market capitalism would deliver more jobs (implied “greater quantity”);
          – free-market would deliver those jobs for consumer benefit (implied “better” jobs);

          NOW … let’s debunk:

          – capitalism IS the entire economic system, it contains all sorts of organisations other than just for profit businesses … neither you nor anyone else gets to set a rule that says “no individual person nor collective group of people may form an organisation which is not a for profit organisation” << THIS IS FASCISM … you don't get to do that, people can form whatever kind of organisations they want, and it will still be part of the capitalist paradigm EVEN IF their focus on "economic gain" is merely to cover costs so they can perpetuate the organisation at the lowest cost possible to members (as is often done in the case of local community arts & sports clubs and other such groups);

          – capitalism ISN'T just for profit businesses, they are just as circumstantial as every other type of legal entity, joint venture, firm (for law), practise (for medicine), and so on … capitalism is the underlying system;

          – the true purpose of "governments" in a democracy was not supposed to be for control, authority & centralisation of power, nor are our modern day examples of such structures the only possible type … as the "government" of a small village could equally be a town council of elders who just make decisions on issues which affect the whole community … the fact that larger scale versions of such things have been corrupted IS LARGELY THE FAULT OF CAPITALISM, since it is the capitalist system itself which creates a financial incentive for controlling society, thus controlling governments, and thus turning them into the very things you're complaining about;

          – governments purpose is supposed to be using collective resources from taxation to do the things that business doesn't want to do (because it isn't profitable) &/or to do them in a manner that business doesn't want to do them, because of the exact same reasons … business never wants to do what is best, it wants to do what is profitable, and they argue that what is profitable is synonymous with "best" without any evidence or rationale whatsoever;

          – government exists BECAUSE OF the failures of capitalism & free-market capitalism … to say otherwise is to devalue and dehumanise most of the population of Earth;

          – capitalism AND free-market capitalism produces MANY pointless jobs even outside the government sector OF capitalism (which it is a part of no matter how much you might not like that) … just ask all the people who have to do those jobs, and I've done more than 100 jobs in my life, so I'm pretty qualified to tell you that most of them were utterly pointless AND ONLY A SMALL NUMBER OF THOSE were in the public sector;

          – if one is to use the exact same logic by which you accused the purpose of government being to centralise power – ie: merely looking at what it is presently doing as "evidence" of its purpose (which is an invalid argument, but let's ignore that for the moment) – by the same logic, the purpose of free-market capitalism is to centralise power in corporations (and many of them have more power than national governments);

          – it is not a valid argument to look at existing function as evidence of generic purpose … for anything ever … and it never will be;

          – free market capitalism produces shit jobs, then makes them redundant, produces intentionally redundant products, inbuilt obsolescence, and if left unchecked would accelerate the rate of social dysfunction & ecological collapse.

          EVERYTHING you believe, is bullshit.

          • Sulla

            It sounds like you are an expert on pointless jobs, having had over 100 of them.

            I hope one of these days someone hires you to do more important work. Maybe it will help you lighten up a bit.

          • Sounds to me like you’re incapable of a rebuttal, so you went for the ad hominem because you’re also of low character, and you’re arrogant enough to assume that you’ve ever done “more important work” than what I already do and have been doing for nearly 30 years unpaid … not to mention psychic that without me even mentioning ONE of those 100 jobs, you mysteriously know that none of them were “important”, while simultaneously assuming such a term isn’t the epitome of subjectivity.

            Sulla, you’re out of your league, and that should have been apparent when I dismantled you so completely … go play somewhere else child.

          • Sulla

            I see no reason to debate you because you are pretty wrapped up in your own ideology plus I think most readers would find your writing unpersuasive at best. Your assertion that everything I believe is BS when you have little idea what I believe reduced your credibility to zero. Having a conversation with you is pointless, thus providing one example for the author that pointless effort comes from many sources.

          • That is as funny as it is stupid & disingenuous … you clearly wouldn’t be capable of any kind of debate with anyone, because you’ve still done nothing but make unfounded assumptions, and quite possibly don’t even know the difference between your opinion and EVIDENCE.

        • Furthermore: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY are to thank for chip design NOT the person who paid for it … THE ONLY impact of the person who paid for it being:

          – how many alternative technologies got blocked by economic (not technical reasons);

          – how technical considerations are interfered with for economic reasons;

          – and how conflict minerals and child labour & other slave labour are used because “free-market capitalism” isn’t regulated, and even when it is regulated in regular capitalism, they’ll spend vast resources dodging that regulation if they think it’s in their interests.

          Free market capitalism is MORE flawed than any & every other possible version of capitalism

  • Pavlos Papageorgiou

    Economies are graphs. What matters is patterns of connection, who is connected and who is isolated. Value flows along some edges of the graph. Money flows along different edges, not necessarily symmetrical. The graph exists to accommodate people, not to maximise flows or aggregates. So we occupy our niche and push pretend-value, only to maintain the money and true-value flows to us. Ultimately we work to maintain the illusion that value and money flows are symmetric and fair.

    The world has yet to come to terms with the fact that human labour is now surplus. We have vastly more than we need, or at least more than we need to meet effective demand given raging inequality. So we marvel at workers striking, depriving firms of labour that will not be missed, and wondering at the loss of their bargaining power. Labour can no longer be the basis of egalitarian demands. The right understood this a while ago. The left has yet to come to terms with it, and substitute universal humanity in its place.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      Would be so kind and expand your thoughts on this one, please, [Ultimately we work to maintain the illusion that value and money flows are symmetric and fair.]

  • The main problem has begun when we started seeing making money from money as the end goal in itself. The most successful business people are those people who make nothing. They only write complicated contracts that end up giving themselves the lion’s share of the wealth of the nation while having contributed precisely 0 to it.

    We should start by taxing money markets at 90%. There are now more open contracts than there is money in the world. Somehow that makes sense. Let’s stop this nonsense and force bankers to provide the service they are there for to provide and not much of anything else.

    It has to be one of the biggest ironies of the world that money, that ephemeral and fluent social convention, is now more important than humans are. The moment that started to happen revolts should have started. Heads should have rolled.

    This is a stupid species with stupid priorities.

  • Guilherme

    The theme and the starting claim is wonderfully useful, we should really be discussing that all time until we improve “the system”. Nevertheless, your explanations of the problem are , at least, obscure (not to say wrong). If it’s not a big plan, a big conspiration, then what? Do you really think elites keep people busy so they don’t start a revolution? It’s possible, but not likely in my opinion.If a company, for example, is not willing to spend in useless job, why does it do that? I offer an alternative explanation: there is a vicious circle of uselessness because of both market and state inefficiency. Corporate lawyers exist because there is bureaucracy. In fact, in my country, the bureaucracy is so ridiculous that we actually spend a lot of money hiring accountants and lawyers just to calculate how much we have to pay in taxes (I mean, companies do that, but we all pay for it). I believe big companies just don’t care, and their owners have a lot of money to spend, so that they hire useless telemarketers (when they could hire only a few, highly-prepared, useful ones). Also, for lack of intelligence or willingness to do things more efficiently, many owners, even the ones who don’t have the money, reproduce the standards, hiring lots of useless people. Human beings are prone to reproduce behaviours they watch others doing. Benchmark can be counter-producing? You won’t have an HR team to hire people, are you crazy? Maybe not, maybe that will just waste money and these people will hire worse employers than someone from the field that requires that new employer would do. And let’s not forget that who decides what will be the jobs and their tasks, and who will be hired is not always the owner. Sometimes, these people also don’t care, they just care about whether their own work LOOKS efficient, not if it really was. So, they might hire useless people, and that goes on and on.

    To put in one word: I think the world is lost in processes. Lots of innovation, population growth, changes in the world, and companies and State do not know how to deal with that efficiently. They start specializing things, more and more labour division, to a point where waste surpasses efficient work.

    • davidgraeber

      it’s very silly to take a piece which says “this was not a conspiracy, nobody planned it” and say it’s a conspiracy anyway just because it suggests that the ruling class in any sense actually rules. The use of this term has become abusive to the point where it’s slightly ridiculous. Actually, worries about work being largely eliminated and the resulting “dangerous” social effects were rife in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it wasn’t secret at all. The endless political pressure to create more and more jobs, coming from both right and left incidentally, is just as much public. Policy isn’t conspiracy. There are deeper moral and psychological reasons as well. But the focus on social control is hardly inappropriate.

  • Mike

    What does not make sense is how does a corporate Lawyer not add value to businesses and the economy? Corporate Lawyers advise businesses on whether business decisions are legal. This can go as far as ethics, in the fact that the law is supposed to be designed to protect individual rights. Therefore they will advise businesses on not engaging in businesses practices that will infringe on the rights of others. Corporate lawyers will also help protect the property of businesses and individuals with their physical property but also more often with intellectual property. The author as a professor should understand the value of intellectual property and therefore the role of corporate lawyers in protecting individuals and businesses intellectual property. They also facilitate the setting up of new businesses as well as people who are expanding their businesses by dealing with the legal side of registering companies depending on the type of company (partnerships, pvt companies or public companies). This can also apply to other jobs where just because the employee might not value the work being done, the employer is willing to pay someone to do the job which means the employee must be creating some needed value to the business and therefore for society.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      Are you a corporate lawyer? ☺

      • Mike

        I’m not a corporate lawyer but am in fact studying for a commerce degree. One of my courses is commercial law and we do discuss these issues 🙂

        • MilkywayAndromeda


    • Protecting the rights of individuals and protecting property rights are two entirely different ball games. The two sets of “rights” are deeply entangled in the American constitution and in the minds of many people, which is the source of much confusion and conflict. Humanity is facing a clear choice, people or property. We can have both to a certain extent yet we must decide which set of “rights” is of highest priority. Individual human rights based on natural human needs are foundational. The right to private property is an add-on, that should never compromise the basic rights of any individual. If I have some food and a person standing before me is starving, their right to have the food they need to survive takes precedence over my ownership of the food. In my mind, the choice is clear, but the separation has to be recognized in order to understand the inversion of values that is such a persistent and problematic issue in our legal institutions and laws. Corporations are not people, they are communities of common property ownership. The basic human rights of all individuals should be recognized as existing on a level above all ownership rights. We need a new constitution.

      • Mike

        That is definetly true and I don’t think we should ever value property of people. But it is also the greed and corruption of people that is the biggest problem. The problem of individual human rights being violated is ultimately a human choice by individuals. I personally don’t believe the way to solve issues is with more regulation or a change in regulation but lies within human value systems. This is where religion I believe can play a role in educating people to be more compassionate. These religious beliefs can even apply to atheists as Alan de Botton argues this in a Ted talk called atheism 2.0. Religion can provide a foundation on how we can live together more equally Even in regions it is the problem of individuals who twist the system and corrupt what the system actually stands for. I am a Christian and the way the church should handle corrupt individuals is through unity and fellowship. This means full accountability and keeping your neighbours in check and vice versa. 🙂

        • Religion is one of the powerful ways we apply deep cultural conditioning. Deep cultural conditioning is one of three powerful influences on our lives, the other two being our natural environment and our genetic environment. People often mistake cultural conditioning for “human nature”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cultural conditioning represents some of the most adaptive qualities of human beings. When you say the biggest problem for people is “greed and corruption” this is a cultural problem, not a problem of “human nature”.

          Perhaps the best way to understand this issue is related to understanding human behavior. Though genetics and epigenetics, we can understand the range of possible human behaviors. Within that range, there is a huge variation based on cultural conditioning or learned behaviors. These learned behaviors include just about everything we associate with being human, from walking upright to the ability to speak. The human behaviors you describe as “greed and corruption” are only perceptions based entirely on relative cultural context. Today it is considered normal to go into business in order to make a “profit”. Those who are able to create profitable businesses are considered to be highly successful business persons. In many other cultures that are more communal and not property based, personal profit motivated behaviors are consider a corruption. These types of judgments are always culturally relative and should not be considered as “human nature”. For one thing, they are easily changed by changing the cultural conditions upon which they are defined.

          To say that cultural conditioning is “easily” changed is only true relative to making changes that are truly part of our genetic and epigenetic inheritance. Genetic and epigenetic qualities are what I would consider to be “human nature’. For example, the social capacity to learn behaviors from other humans, in other words the ability to learn through cultural conditioning is a fundamental quality of “human nature”. It has served human beings quite well until now in terms of human survival and genetic selection. This “modern” human behavior seems to have emerged sometime before 70,000 years ago and has remained largely unchanged since then, though we have had a constantly changing and adaptive set of cultural conditions that have been transmitted through this capacity to learn. In other words, culture changes, human nature does also, but much more slowly.

          If we use this perspective to examine the need to change modern human behaviors into a more sustainable set of behaviors, it is easy to understand that the changes that need to happen will likely not be changes to “human nature” but to cultural conditioning. Our failure to properly identify the distinction between these two generators of human behavior is related to some of the mechanisms of cultural conditioning that work to perpetuate existing conditions, like identifying some behaviors as corrupt and others as honorable. Ideas like profit, money, private property, etc are all highly conditioned cultural memes that serve to define what is “corrupt” in terms of human behavior.

          Purely in terms of human survival, these cultural memes have outlived their utility. As more people come to recognize the unsustainable human behaviors emerging from our adherence to these culturally conditioned economic institutions, a cultural shift has begun, a movement of the Zeitgeist. A deep cultural revolution has begun that will either facilitate a strong shift in human behaviors towards sustainability or will end in the failure of the human experiment.

          • Mike

            In my post i was also referring to cultural conditioning. I mentioned human value systems and these systems are what make up our society and are not built in through genetics. The meaning of corruption that i refer to is “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery” (Oxford English dictionary). I fully agree that corruption can be cultural conditioning but this does come from greed. Greed however has been shown to be part of genetics. Greed is part of natural selection as it is a survival tool to desire more to consume more in the future. Greed no longer fits into the society of today because why should i desire what my neighbour has, for example his cellphone when there are other options which are more affordable and do only what is needed.This perception that just because “my neighbour has something better than what i have, i must have it” mentality is intensified by our cultural conditioning. This leads to corruption to get the same as what my neighbour has. The problem therefore stems from individuals who will do whatever it takes to satisfy greed. So here i agree with you that the culture needs to change and i believe that religion does provide answers for this. Jesus warns “watch out, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke12:15). The 10th commandment found in Exodus 20:17 said “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” This shows that God condones greed and tells us it is a very serious Sin long before Christ became man.

      • MilkywayAndromeda

        Bingo: “Humanity is facing a clear choice, people or property.”

        • Gray Matter

          Why can’t we have both? There’s always a choice C, and D, and E…

  • piccolit

    don’t you worry with automation we’ll very soon be all out of a job. The issue will be who will buy what can be produced not whether you have a job because all or most jobs will be automated. This, as long as there are other market can be sustained but not for long, and then billions will live in misery

    • davidgraeber

      there is no greater proof of the idiotic nature of our economic system that the prospect unpleasant work will be eliminated is a PROBLEM.

  • Mario López

    So, uh, as much as I like David and enjoyed ‘Debt’, his argument is pinpointed by 1 anecdote. A friend who is unhappy. Wow.

    I am sure he could start shaking off that butt of his to get a survey going among bullshit job staff. It would make his argument more compelling. Otherwise, the piece is good.

    • davidgraeber

      actually my work was not based on one anecdote but 55 years of life experience, but it was more than confirmed when a YouGov poll was made based on the wording of the article. It found that 39% of Britons feel their jobs make “no meaningful contribution to the world” and 11% aren’t sure. 50% are sure theirs does. That’s impressive. I was assuming more like 25% thought their jobs were bullshit.

  • Jezoskoczek

    Did you steal the graphic from the top of the article or bought it?

  • Peter Mersch

    The article made me almost speechless. For me it falls into the category: “Why Science Creates Pointless Results. It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless research topics just for the sake of keeping us all working.” And indeed this was my main experience visiting an endless number of scientific congresses: “Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their work really is.”

    Especially it bothered me that the article argues totally unevolutionary. Example:

    Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.

    This falls way behind Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Even worse: It sounds almost conspiracy theoretical.

    Of course: Capitalism and markets produce a lot of waste (as science, which is a market too). Geoffrey F. Miller pointed out, that if you find a lot of waste in nature you can almost be sure that intersexual selection is at work. Intersexual selection was the evolutionary invention of markets and property rights (“my belly belongs to me”). The most obvious result of the invention was: Further innovations (creativity) and waste. Charles Darwin struggled a long time with the phenomenon as it seemed to contradict the consequences of natural selection at first sight.

    But what is capitalism? One of the most important characteristics of capitalism is the existence of corporations who possess and develop their own competencies. Karl Marx tried to prevent this. One of his main messages was that corporations must not own and control its resources of production (see ). If they do not possess these resources, they cannot own, control and develop their own competencies.

    But capitalism did not follow Marx. One consequence of this is, that we now have a new class of living systems: the corporation. As all other living systems, corporations have their own competencies and their basic behavior is “comparative competency loss prevention” (this basic behavior is deducible from Second Law). So eg. in a competing market of smartphone producers all participants will try not to fall behind the others (they behave like nightingale males which try not to lose their competencies in regard to the selection criterias of nightingale females and in relation to competing males). In cooperation this produces a situation which is known as “Red Queen principle”.

    That means: Humans are no longer the “crown of creation”, but human corporations are (similar to honey bee colonies which dominate solitarily living bees).

    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.

    As corporations now rule the world the following is true: In our society the more obviously one’s work benefits corporations, the more one is likely to be paid for it. And: The more resources a competitive corporation has the better the payment usually is.

    That means: Most people do not longer work for other people. Instead they work for a corporation to pursue its business goals. This exactly is the reality for the majority of all people in the industrial countries. If they get fired by one corporation they try to get hired by another one. I was very surprised that the author does not seem to know this. Is it possible that a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics has lost the contact to the reality of 90% of all other people in his country?

    Some other remarks to the text:

    … to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas

    Which nobody requested. This would possibly lead to even more porn productions and consumptions.

    … working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

    In most corporations knowledge processing is of increasing importance. This leads to the situation, that knowledge reproduction (learning, information gathering and analyzing, attending seminars and meetings …) takes more and more time. It is similar to reproduction in nature: It takes 18 years to produce a new human adult but only days to produce a new honey bee queen or worker.

    If you had watched Albert Einstein while he was developing his Relativity theories you may have come to the conclusion: This guy is almost doing nothing. Most of his time he is sitting around and frowning.

    … in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value.

    Once again: Not managers or administrators are the ruling class, but corporations rule the world. Corporations are self reproductive systems. Not the managers control the corporation, but the corporation controls itself.

    And did I hear there some envy? It is quite obvious that no longer science is the major factor in changing the world but technology corporations like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple etc. And indeed in a typical management meeting of such corporations you usually can find much more highly qualified and dedicated persons than at scientific congresses. The competition is usually much higher.

    And what is clear and undeniable social work? Inventing silly concepts and theories like gender theory or islamophobia?

    It is my firm conviction that we must take more control on corporations in the future. But to make a fool on those people who are working for corporations or are even forced to do so is definitely the wrong way.

    • The problem isn’t corporations but the inverted set of values that currently drives their behaviors, in pretty much the same manner in which the same inverted values influence individual behaviors across the entire planet. A cancer is a very efficient cellular system within a body composed of cellular subsystems, but it is also extremely destructive to the overall health of the body. Some cellular systems behaviors are not inherently destructive but supportive of the overall well being of the body system, like the heart , the lungs, etc. Corporations could be supportive of the overall health of the Earth ecosystem and its human subsystem if the behaviors are driven by a healthy set of priorities. Profit over Planet and People is the primary value inversion that exists throughout the corporate world today that is threatening the global ecosystem and Earth’s capacity to support all life.

      • Peter Mersch

        No the problem has nothing to do with inverted values.

        Take doping as an example. Does doping exist, because all sportsman have inverted values? Would no American or English sportsman use drugs for performance enhancements if there are no controls?

        The problem with doping is, that if one participant is cheating all others have a disadvantage. So if one participant performs extraordinary well, many others will assume that she is cheating. As a result they will also take performance enhancement drugs. This cannot be prevented by appealing to the good in humans.

        Former societies used the punishing God as in instrument of control. The message was: If you behave too selfish, God will notice this and after your death you will roast in hell.

        We have similar problems with corporations (which do not roast in hell after they have gone bankrupty). If one large corporation can save 1 billion dollar by relocating its headquarters to a small Caribbean island, all its competitors must follow, otherwise they have a disadvantage. The saved billion dollars could easily invested into better products and services or to buy new technologies.

        Again you cannot solve the problem by appealing to the behavior of the participants. The problem is strongly connected with the Tragedy of Commons and the Red Queen principle. Especially the Tragedy is not solvable by better behavior.

        To be realistic you should assume that all participants are comparative competency loss preventing systems. With this assumption you may be able to find stable solutions for the problem. With moral you are not.

        • MilkywayAndromeda

          Isn´t a system framed for cheating without being caught?

          In addition:
          When you have athletes competing have made already a selection of excluding person who can not eat, who can not train, who can not… simply because were born in the wrong country or from the wrong parents in the right country…

          • Peter Mersch

            Isn´t a system framed for cheating without being caught?

            Sorry I couldn’t translate this into my words.

            When you have athletes competing have made already a selection …

            Of course like in all markets and disciplines. If you talk about the suns of the Milkyway you have surely excluded the suns the Andromeda galaxy.

            What I was trying to explain in my comment is more or less common sense in economy and biology. Even nobel prizes have been given on that topic. David Sloan Wilson recently wrote an article about the problem:

            There would be no “Tragedy of the Commons” if all participants behaved 100 % socially. In an allmende all cattle farmers would first all other cattle farmers using the same allmende if they can put another sheep on the land. But reality usually isn’t that nice so we have to talk about the “Tragedy of the Commons” and how to solve it.

            The problem then is: You have to make some realistic assumptions about the behavior of the participants. A typical assumption in economy is: All humans and corporations behave like the so called homo economicus. A typical assumption in biology is: All agents behave as if their genes were selfish. My proposal is: All participants behave “comparative competency loss preventing”.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Dear Peter,

            Regarding this:
            “Isn´t a system framed for cheating without being caught?”
            I mean people (collectively) who have access to imposition of norms on others make sure that if in the case “they” (the ones who are in imposition side) are caught are not penalized.

            The point is that you have to be capable of cheating without being caught. That feature (not being caught) is available only to those who impose norms or to the rest random “smarts”. For example, the entities that provide such services are rending pointless jobs.

            Regarding homo economicus I really fail to understand why you still think that homo sapiens sapiens is ONLY homo economicus. ☺

          • Peter Mersch

            I mean people (collectively) who have access to imposition of norms on others make sure that if in the case “they” (the ones who are in imposition side) are caught are not penalized.

            Okay now I understand. Therefore it is often mandatory to separate those who make the laws from those to whom they apply. In sports/doping this is currently the case.

            The point is that you have to be capable of cheating without being caught.

            In times without any efficient doping control every sportsman was capable of cheating.

            For example, the entities that provide such services are rending pointless jobs.

            This may be common for public sector jobs but should be very rare for private business jobs. The same was observed when communism broke down in Eastern Germany more than 20 years ago: Many people had pointless jobs.

            Regarding homo economicus I really fail to understand why you still think that homo sapiens sapiens is ONLY homo economicus.

            I do not think that. Even more: I sharply critize the paradigm of homo economicus in my book (especially in chapter “Verhaltensmodelle” (behavior models)).

            In his book “The Origin of Wealth” Eric D. Beinhocker (who publishes on as well) writes in chapter “Agents” on p. 115:

            At the core of any economic theory there should be a theory of human behavior. (…) All we need is for there to be some basic regularities in human behavior, and then by understanding those micro-level regularities, we can better understand the macro-level behavior of the economy. As we will see in this chapter, human behavior is full of regularities.

            I agree one hundert percent to this. Therefore I am talking in almost all of my comments of behavior of agents (of humans, corporations, living systems in general). I believe one should have a model of the behavior of the relevant agents to develop economic theories.

            In my book I discuss different prominent behavior models for agents, from Selfish gene via homo economicus to behavioral economics.

            And here it comes: My thesis (deduced from Second Law of thermodynamics) is that the basic behavior of all living systems (inclusive superorganims like bee colonies or human corporations) is comparative competency (knowledge) loss prevention (avoidance).

            Here are some examples of “comparative competency (knowledge) loss prevention”:
            – Searching for food.
            – Trying to attract mates (like the singing of birds)
            – Reproducing genes (producing offspring).
            – Learning
            – Research
            – Publishing scientific papers
            – Specializing on core competencies
            – Cooperation

            My thesis is to some extend a generalization of Selfish Gene and of basic results of behavioral economics (especially loss aversion).

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            Nice to conclude that we have more areas of agreement than of disagreement! ☺

          • Peter Mersch

            I agree. Thank you for the discussion.

        • I am not suggesting some set of abstract moral values. There is a hierarchy of systems in nature. We often act from truncated frames of understanding regarding the relationships between systems that guide our behaviors until nature corrects our misunderstanding. It is not a moralistic judgment of corporations that I am suggesting. It is a recognition that a false understanding(inverted values) of natural systems interactions is inevitably self correcting.

          When I was a teenager, we had an ice storm that coated everything with 6 inches of ice. Of course school was cancelled so we were able to play. Near our home was a hill we often used for sledding, but on this day we didn’t need sleds. The soles of our shows worked quite nicely. Once we had made our way to the top of the hill, I started a standing slide, gathering momentum rapidly. Unfortunately, I was heading straight for a single large tree at the base of the hill. Unable to steer, I figured I would use my outstretched arms to slow the inevitable collision. However, I had misjudged the strength of my arms in relation to the gravitational momentum I had achieved and so my arms buckled and I collided with the full length of my standing body, including my face with the tree trunk, knocking me unconscious and laying me out flat on my back. I had an inverted set of values that were informing my behavior concerning the strength of my arms in relationship to the power of gravity. Morality had nothing to do with knocking me silly, nor does it have anything to do with correcting the corporate behaviors that are driving global climate change.

          • Peter Mersch

            I had an inverted set of values that were informing my behavior concerning the strength of my arms in relationship to the power of gravity.

            With other words: You didn’t have the competencies to do this.

          • Yes, in the same way the monetary market system and its derivative corporations, lack the competencies to deal with global warming. Once I recognized my mistake, I reassessed my behavior so as to not be knocked silly by a tree trunk in the future. Profit as the primary motivator of human behaviors is a deadend, using the word ‘profit’ from a monetary perspective. It operates under an “inverted set of values” from the perspective of natural law. That recognition has not yet managed to register with some and so humanity is engaged in a cultural clash of values as we try to change direction. Until we change direction, we will continue to be a culture in decline. People are the ones who will arrive at this recognition and the ones who will eventually change behaviors or perish. Corporate behaviors will change when human behaviors change. The mistake made by many is conflating profit motivated behavior or greed with human nature. Greed is a cultural value, not human nature. And so the present conflict is cultural as the tree trunk of climate change and the instability plaguing our communities smacks us in the face and redirects our behaviors. The shift has already begun with “nature” continuously informing our behavioral shifts as the systemic realignment of the Earth’s ecosystems initiated by some mutation within hominids some 100’s of thousands of years ago plays itself out. We are an experiment of nature, the human experiment. No matter how this experiment turns our for us, nature will abide.

          • Peter Mersch

            Profit as the primary motivator of human behaviors is a deadend, using the word ‘profit’ from a monetary perspective. It operates under an “inverted set of values” from the perspective of natural law. That recognition has not yet managed to register with some and so humanity is engaged in a cultural clash of values as we try to change direction. Until we change direction, we will continue to be a culture in decline. People are the ones who will arrive at this recognition and the ones who will eventually change behaviors or perish. Corporate behaviors will change when human behaviors change. The mistake made by many is conflating profit motivated behavior or greed with human nature. Greed is a cultural value, not human nature.

            This is unevolutionary thinking. I recommend to read the articles which are published on this site eg. about the Tragic of the Commons.

    • MilkywayAndromeda

      It is a petty that a mind capable of uniting dots as your comment proofs that you are capable of… do not see it… try this book for example…

      • Peter Mersch

        I discuss “Why Information Grows” from Hidalgo at length in my book “Die egoistische Information” (The selfish information) – -. A very interesting book, unfortunately it did not convince me in some major points, eg.:
        – the connection of information with order. Order is a very unspecific concept.
        – the separation of the information concept from meaning. In my book I show that meaning is constructed by evolution. Without meaning it is even almost impossible to talk about knowledge and competencies.

        • MilkywayAndromeda

          This is interesting.
          Have got your book in English? If yes, can you autograph if for me and send it to me, please? I pay before you send of course.
          Did you read “The Gifts of Athena” by Joel Mokyr. If so did you experience something special?

          • Peter Mersch

            Have got your book in English?

            No I haven’t. I am waiting for those (discussing here), who believe that in the very near future everything will be delivered by automated systems, so I could translate it into English or any other language by simply pressing a button. 😉

            This is about how fair the world currently is.

            Did you read “The Gifts of Athena” by Joel Mokyr.

            No, I didn’t. Thanks for the hint. But what I’ve seen from the description is that it fits perfectly into my more general and abstract theory. Mokyr tries to describe how the process of knowledge generation worked in detail in the past, while I try to find out the general principles behind these processes.

            But on the first sight, one point seems to be missing in Mokyr’s book: The extraordinary importance of “division of competencies” (division of knowledge) and of Ricardo’s theory in this context. Economists usually talk only about “division of labor”, but this clearly misses the point.

            Most animals have stored their evolutionary relevant knowledge almost exclusively in their genes. Especially Richard Dawkins does not stop to explain, that biological evolution is primarily an evolution of genes (i. e. an evolution of the knowledge that is stored in the DNA). In the description of his book “River Out Of Eden” you can already read:

            The river of Dawkins’s title is a river of DNA, flowing through time from the beginning of life on earth to the present – and onwards. Dawkins explains that DNA must be thought of as the most sophisticated information system imaginable: ‘Life is just bytes and bytes of information,’ he writes.

            In my book I show – amongst other – how to transform Ricardo’s theorem mathematically from “division of labor” to “division of competencies” (aka division of knowledge) which makes the theorem even simpler: It is much easier then to generalize it to n agents and m competencies.

            What humans (and human superorganisms like corporations) distinguishes from all other living beings is, that humans can evolutionary develop different knowledge pools (not just its genetic knowledge pool). All human agents contribute to the different pools, because they are all “comparative knowledge loss preventing systems.” With Ricardo’s theory you can then show, how big the advantage of this method really is and that everybody is almost forced to join in, once the division of knowledge is there.

            If you reduce knowledge pools to the “genetic knowledge pool” (the knowledge stored in the DNA), “comparative knowledge loss preventing system” is more or less just another word for “Selfish gene”, so this theory really generalizes biological evolutionary theory.

            Unfortunately I develop all my ideas in German so nobody of relevance has currently ever heard about them.

          • MilkywayAndromeda

            It is a petty I do not command the beautiful German language. It would be great to read your book. I am curious with your Ricardo´s centricity. I am rereading Mokyr´s book because of Hidalgo.
            If you have the opportunity please read it and see if you get some special feeling when you have the two books in front of you.

          • Peter Mersch

            I am curious with your Ricardo´s centricity.

            The reason is: Only humans can evolve separate competency (knowledge) pools. To explain why there is a permanent creation of new competency pools during human evolution, you need Ricardo’s theorem. For human evolution this theorem complements natural selection.

    • davidgraeber

      wow that must be the stupidest usage of ‘conspiracy theory’ I’ve seen yet. No, it’s common sense. If you have twenty people trading, and one has a million dollars and the others all have twenty dollars, then the needs of the guy with a million will tend to be more important SIMPLY BY THE WORKINGS OF THE MARKET. I mean how can that not be obvious? How could anyone miss this?

  • Andrew Maillet

    The fact that capitalism creates pointless jobs may be related to an inherent flaw in the idea of the profit motive.

    There is evidence to suggest that when people are engaged in meaningful work that actually matters (whether singing in an indie band or working as a lawyer for an NGO fighting corruption or whatnot) they are motivated very little or even negatively by desire for profit. This thesis developed in the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink.

    When capitalists realize that people are not motivated to do meaningful work by profit, and in many cases would do it regardless of their payment (as can be shown with the phenomenon of Wikipedia, gigantic free internet music cultures such as SoundCloud), they naturally reduce wages for these workers, often justifying such action by stating that the work is so enjoyable or intellectually stimulating that “the reward is the work itself.”

    As technology becomes cheaper and more widely available, industries driven by creative and intellectual activity tend towards exploiting this free labor more and more, meaning that jobs people actually get paid to do are more frequently those that are unnecessary and meaningless. It also means that as corporations absorb and isolate more and more of the capital at the top, people are “employed” in a new way as consumers-for-hire, compelled to behave as mindless datapoints in social-media-driven advertising campaigns.

    I’m interested to see Graeber’s work on this subject developed further.

    • Gray Matter

      Great point. Goes to show how far removed “economics” (as we presently understand it) is from people and their true needs, it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors, measuring things that aren’t really quantifiable and backed up by the faulty belief that “we only get paid because we don’t want to do it”.

      Now that we’re past all the manufacturing, mostly, and well into providing services, which is a more abstract level of profit, we’re gonna have to again level up and decide that money can also be a reflection of the value that certain labor provides, and especially when it is meaningful to people.

      Either that, or it looks like money will slowly become outdated because it’s like a middleman that kinda takes away from the nature of give-and-take relationships involved in ‘exchanging’ time/labor (give) for a bigger purpose (take). In those cases, one can even argue it limits those relationships and slows human growth, because money makes the organic more mechanistic. Can we merge the two or not?

  • destinal

    This is along the lines of Bernie Sanders saying “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.” It doesn’t matter what you think, that’s like condemning the waste of resources on pet rocks. The market isn’t about giving people what they should have (there’s no objective way to know what you “should” have), it’s about giving them what they want.

    • davidgraeber

      didn’t read the piece did you? It doesn’t blame consumerism.

      • Cesar Turcios

        Great article and insight, Mr. Graeber.
        As an ultimate solution, how plausible is a world economy without money? So many groups have sprung up advocating this, most notably, and implicated by this article, the Resource Based Economy (as termed by The Venus Project).
        What’s your take on this? Is it merely an ideal and ideology, or is it inevitable and ultimately necessary?

    • Gray Matter

      “It’s about giving them what they want…”

      Yeah, let’s just ignore how advertising and artificial demand works altogether.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    This article appeals to my personal experience. I had to do many meaningless, self-denigrating jobs to make a living.

    • davidgraeber

      if you care to, tell me about them! [email protected]. I’m collecting stories for the book version.

      • Luis Gutierrez

        Fabricating mathematical models to make reports look scientific. Fabricating data to pass quality inspections. Resisted as much as I could, was demoted and fired as a result. Will not mention names. It happens all the time.

  • Margaret Winkle

    fewer hours–not less hours

    • GrueHunter

      Because a single prescriptivist named Robert Baker expressed a loose preference for ‘fewer’ over ‘less’ in 1770, going against a thousand years of precedent that ‘less’ is just fine? Christ, Margaret, if you’re going to be a pedant, at least be a good one.

  • Steve

    You’re completely right that finance capitalism creates pointless jobs. It has to in the w3qavain attempt to create a flow of total sufficient aggregate demand to liquidate total systemic costs which as a flow always exceeds the former. And that’s why all “dyed in the wool” capitalist theorists/pundits who ignore the problematic nature of the business model of finance are actually unconscious advocates of a socialist work state. Do I beat my drum for socialism? No, re-distribution of scarce demand is not the solution to an inherent scarcity of demand. However, if you integrated the dynamism and efficient allocation of resources of capitalism and the intention of economic democracy of socialism you would get a third more unified and whole monetarily gracious and abundant and yet efficient distributive economic system. Integration of the truths in opposites is always wisdom. What economists need is a new philosophy, an integrative Wisdomics that takes us out of the idiocies of obsessive theoretical contention and toward a new thirdness, wholeness and oneness of theory.

    • @Steve, I agree that “finance capitalism creates pointless jobs”, though the discussion here has been extensive and argumentative. I am curious though, about exactly what you mean when you say, “the intention of economic democracy of socialism”? Are you referring to some redistribution of wealth along the lines of the reformations of Roosevelt during the great depression? “Monetarily Gracious” actually seems to be an internally contradictory phrase to me. “Scarcity of demand” in a monetary system generally refers to a scarcity of money. In a truly efficient economic system, which I think you mistakenly imply is created by capitalism rather than through scientifically applied systems management, algorithms determine factors like sustainable use of resources and the efficient delivery of goods and services. Monetary interests tied to capitalism are an add-on derived from the monetary market system that is used to decide distribution and resource allocation rather than true efficiency and sustainability algorithms. We currently have a rather arbitrary system of distribution based on monetary wealth we might call economic classism.

  • Kevin O’Leary

    I was quite excited to hear an empirical economic cause and effect when I read the title, as I have come to expect from articles in Evonomics. Have I missed something?

  • Roger van der Velde

    Technology is the key to this puzzle…and by that I don’t mean ‘the solution’. It’s evident that in the age of the internet the idea of an economy of material production and actual interaction is easily rejected by people drunk on an ideology of minimum input for maximum output. So actual real-world jobs, like e.g. post carriers, are abnormally forced into the tiny mould designed around the idea of the ‘online business’. It is a stopgap measure until the technological solution to delivering packages is finalised. Then people and vehicles and all the costly, inconvenience of paying for them to use their hands and ingenuity, can be dispensed with and replaced with an small group of ‘self-employed’ postal technicians working from home on a smartphone. The ‘army’ of useless workers will be those managing them and dreaming up new ways to reduce costs.

  • Felipe Lavratti

    Very nice reading.
    Except I’m not a fan of blaming a given elite. I recognize it is probably correct that job positions are reflection of the view of the richier 1%, but this is a two way street, actually. The 99% remaining population buys it. The real people to blame are us, the 99%, becouse in the lack of maturity we accepted the lame job and didn’t do anything about it. It is always easier to do what you are told, or to do what everybody else does. The path of authenticity and fulfillment is way harder and if you are not willing to try it, all you will do is to buy the bullshit that is more frequently repeated around you.

    • Gray Matter

      You’re being contradictory though, saying it’s a two-way street and blaming one group over the other. I’d say it’s more complex than that and that both parties are responsible for this. Leave blame out of it entirely.

      True, it takes only one side to stop the cycle of madness, that can be either the 1% or the 99%. But to simply say it’s a lack of maturity on the part of 99% is too simplistic and ignores the multitude of variables that play into it like the belief systems that most people share (goes for the 1% as well), how those beliefs came to be (input-output relationship between both “sides”… which I put in quotations because there are no real sides), why it’s actually not a case of how ‘easy’ it is to do what you’re told, how fear universally plays into it, etc.

      The path of authenticity and fulfillment applies to the 1% as well. And it’s only “harder” because it goes against the grain–the collective beliefs that push against authenticity that we easily see evidence of. Really though, at the same time it’s the easier path because it involves surrendering to your truth instead of pushing against an enormous lie.

  • Pappa Bear


  • Darknut

    ” Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. ”

    No, given the choice between paying living wages for less hours and making people work more hours for bigger bonuses and profits… the rich chose the latter.

  • Joe Blow

    Bunch of rich pricks, sitting around their piles of money, creating bullshit jobs for people that want to make a difference & have a purpose—but need to survive. #Bullshitjob

    *middle finger emoji*

    • chris

      what’s your solution? humanity has always been about survival. Would you rather shit in a hole, raise a family of malnutritioned kids? capitalism is just a form of survival, the entrepreneurs create ways for jobs to exist. The standard of living has increased due to innovation. Jobs were never meant to be meaningful. I’m sure we’d all like to pootle in and out of our ivory towers or latte at lunch coffee meeting or cycle to work 10 minutes away and have a good old chit chat. This guy gets paid a professors salary of what £60k a year? to come up with this shit? of course capitalism creates pointless jobs… the whole point is to innovate new better ways of making money which so far is the best tool for survival. Personally, it’s the fucking pension house paid for 3 holidays a year brand new car lot that expect to live into dementia age that infuriate me. Nobody said we were meant to have it this good.

  • Brett G

    Wow… what a fantastically one sided article that uses dumb personal opinions that support your own views on capitalism. My favorite part was were where you said that dog washers and pizza delivery drivers were pointless jobs. Yes they may not be as useful to society as a tube operator but if you are drinking with friends or do not own a car and would like a tasty pizza delivered what would you do without a pizza delivery driver? Interrupt your night and walk for miles or pay £2 for delivery between you and your friends. If you have a large dog such as a St Bernard that molts do you want to mess up and maybe scratch your bath tub or pay for it to be washed.

    The tube drivers you mentioned earlier do cripple the entire underground tube system when they strike because they are important. Their wages reflect this as they are getting paid around £50000-£60000 which is over double the national average wage whereas dog washers and pizza delivery drivers do not.
    Supply and demand

    I would also love to see how a country would operate with the 3-4 hour work days with the current technological advancements we have. This may be possible with advancements in artificial intelligence in the next 100 years as software and robots can take over menial jobs such as pizza delivery drivers, tube workers, fast food workers and so on but at this point in time if companies could save money doing this they would be. Take for example the fast food restaurants that are trialing touchscreen order points so they don’t have to employ minimum wage workers to do it.

  • Pandaemoni

    I am a corporate lawyer and was formerly with a prominent New York firm, and what I did was not bullshit.

    There are many ways in which the job added value to society, but I will take the most basic role I had: I helped people understand each other and understand the risks their loose use of language was obscuring.

    Every time you get two people trying to agree and cooperate on anything complex, even if the seem to completely agree (in fact, especially when they seem to completely agree), if you probe deep enough, it turns out they are talking past each other on certain elements of their plans. Because language is imprecise and because we want to assume that “the other guy” is on the same page as us, we do assume it.

    Contracts get to be long and dull and detailed because the lawyers are taking our usually imprecise language and defining concepts in exceeding precision with it. What you find is–when that precision is achieved–the two sides only thought they agreed on many of the details. Usually, the corporate lawyers and their clients can then negotiate to reach a more complete agreement on all of these points, winning some and losing others but emerging happy with the final, fuller understanding. It’s good that this happens before the venture is joined, because afterwards you are in a position where you are trying to unscramble an omelette.

    In some cases, you find that the two parties actually disagree to such an extent that they simpoly cannot reach a final agreement with the other side. And it is definitely better that that happen in advance rather than after the fact.

    There are other aspects to the job that create real value (as well as criticisms of the job and the ways the profession could be improved), but most of the corporate lawyers I know, and it is a lot, are aware of the social value the job adds.

  • Cesar Turcios

    Great article and insight.
    As an ultimate solution, how plausible is a world economy without money? So many groups have sprung up advocating this, most notably, and implicated by this article, the Resource Based Economy (as termed by The Venus Project).
    What’s your take on this, Mr. Graeber? Is it merely an ideal and ideology, or is it inevitable and ultimately necessary?

  • mac

    Before enlightenment: corporate lawyer
    After enlightenment: duh, corporate lawyer don’t DO enlightenment

  • Mark Kuramoto-Headey

    A friend who worked in Papua described the system of ‘law’ that exists in the rural areas. Somebody borrowed a tractor from a neighbouring village. He sadly died when it tipped and fell on him. His village then went to their neighbours and killed the school teacher, on the grounds not that he was the owner of the tractor, but that he held a similar status in his village as the dead man did in his.

    This system has the benefit of beaing incredibly cheap; no police, no lawyers, no judicial system to maintain. Now, obviously this is not a system I or most people would care to live in. However, it does make one think about the jobs people do and what value they genuinely give to the society. Criminal lawyers I would want, but beyond that I think, as does the author, we should be sceptical.

  • John Congdon

    An interesting and thought provoking article. I enjoyed the read, thank you.

    I think that you could definitely add doctors outside of trauma care to the list of BS jobs. In China, perhaps elsewhere where prevention comes first too, there used to be a system that the doctor was paid when the patient stayed healthy. If the patient got sick he would not be paid. Here doctors are paid when we get sick and we have a system that depends on disease and not health. This also ties into pharmaceuticals which treat symptoms mainly and not the imbalances that cause the disease. Little incentive exists to actually develop and promote preventive therapies with the same relentlessness when so much can be made from disease.

    Many people will of course defend their profession as being of value and there are apparent disagreements and some substantial comments in that area, The corporate lawyer is clear about his contribution in terms of clarification and communication which is quite accurate amidst the ambiguity of words. What he does not discuss is if the proposed contract actually contributes to the overall good of the population.

    In the multiplicity of creation it is easy to find defenses and offenses for different or individual points of view. A fairly good criteria to use is analyze who is to benefit? Is it balanced and fair to the larger group. Real benefit comes from expanding beyond the limited ego identity and being able to encompass the needs of others within the endeavor. There exist projects which benefit most everyone. Then there are projects which benefit a select few or the individual promoter only at the cost of others. War and politics are obvious examples. This can become an applicable criteria for determining what to promote as meaningful or essential and what is BS. l. And that will most likely be an ongoing conversation and investigation.

    It has been said that love dissolves all polarities, all differences. That is unconditional love of course, not the ego based desire to find satisfaction from the contribution of the other to oneself. Every individual has completeness with in himself and has that to share. Anything that moves us towards a love based economy that supports all will be a step towards fulfillment.

    “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
    Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

  • John Congdon

    Well, we might as well add in all the military industrial employment which in the end serves death, not life; increased government bureaucracy and information gathering (spying), tax accountants and their assistants which in the US the cost is staggering; derivative financial markets and a considerable amount of banking. The increase of administration in the public school sector at the expense of teachers is astounding.

  • TJ2000

    lol… Capitalism??? Talk about throwing something on its head. All these UN-productive jobs ( paper pushers ) you speak of are either a direct result or a direct position of socialistic laws. Your right in pointless jobs created by pointless government – you just fail to associate the problem with the root cause.

    • Cesar Turcios

      The point of this article is that pointless jobs are created by capitalism, not “by pointless government”. Though, such an inference is accurate: there really isn’t anything “socialistic” about anything in this world, since a social take-over by the world’s working-class masses towards a moneyless stateless world hasn’t ever happened (which is what ‘socialism’ actually is). What you call “socialistic” is rather leftist capitalism, which government is integral to, as it is also integral to right-wing capitalism. All of it is capitalism, run this way or that. All bullshit jobs are capitalist jobs, left-winged or right-.

      • TJ2000

        I like to keep things simple –
        If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck. Instead of trying to say its not really a duck but a particular breed of duck that is just like a duck but not.

        Socialist- is someone who supports the
        political philosophy of socialism, which is a governmental system that
        advocates community ownership and control of all lands and businesses
        rather than individual ownership; 32% of the US is Socialist (Federal land) – then there’s the FDA, FCC, FTA, EPA, IRS, etc.., etc…, etc… ( actually the list is quite endless ) that I’m sure covers at least 32% of anybody’s ownership right the instant they say “open for business”.

        Capitalism – an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and
        industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the

        • Cesar Turcios

          ‘Socialism’ was originally termed and defined by Karl Marx, as ‘the inevitable social take-over by the world’s working-class masses towards a moneyless stateless world of communism’ (‘communism’ also termed by Marx as that inevitable moneyless stateless world).
          Every claim of “socialism” and “communism” since is also called “marxist” because is derives from that Marx manifesto. The problem clearly is that derivation propaganda, which clearly has resulted in nonsense erroneously yelling “socialism!” and “communism!” yet propagating into the ignorant acquiescence of popular assimilation. Popularity doesn’t determine actuality; actuality does that.

          Since actual ‘socialism’ has nothing to do with government, an actual ‘socialist’ has nothing to do with any government advocacy/support.

          U.S. nation-state property is state-capitalist property, not socialist, since ‘socialism’ is social control by the working-class masses not control by any state.

          Capitalism is hierarchical ownership of resources. Simple. States are hierarchies. The United States is a hierarchy. Statism and capitalism go hand in hand, we don’t have any one without the other.

          That is why Marx predicted the ultimate resolution of capitalism by his termed and defined ‘socialism’ as the global livelihood worker-class masses’ take-over and control towards the moneyless stateless world of ‘communism’.

          • TJ2000

            lol… You just tried to change the acceptable definition of socialism.

            Your definition – actual ‘socialism’ has nothing to do with government, an actual
            ‘socialist’ has nothing to do with any government advocacy/support.

            Dictionary definition – Socialist- is someone who supports the political philosophy of socialism, [[[[ which is a governmental system ]]]] that advocates community ownership and control of all lands and businesses rather than individual ownership

          • Cesar Turcios

            No one’s trying to change anything. Marx’s terming and defining of ‘socialism’ is exactly as I pointed out there; he originated the term.
            Insisting on any other definition is ignorance at best, especially when the actual definition is being pointed out to you.

            Learn history before insisting on contemporary propagandised vernacular.

            Dictionaries follow cultural vernacular, not original terminology. Some statist dictator decided to state and claim “socialism!” in his “revolution”, followed by capitalist propaganda aimed at publicly smearing its antithesis – ‘socialism’ – all successfully ruining public perception of non-capitalist realities, particularly accomplished through language abuse and public ignorance. All leading to erred popularist language calling socialism what it isn’t, exactly as capitalism wants.

            You either follow popular notions, however veracious or not, or learn the truth and actuality of things such as words, terms, ideas and intents.

            Capitalism is hierarchical ownership of resources. Whether philanthropic or monopolised or oligopolised or conservatively austere or liberally expended, capitalism is hierarchical ownership any way it’s run. ‘Socialism’ and ‘communism’ is its antithesis, in statelessness and moneylessness, both etymologically and as originally authored by Marx and the marginally public ideas that spurred his publishings.

            Stop conforming and start questioning economic incentive and its mass cultural flaws.

        • GrueHunter

          Capitalist: Somebody who whines about socialism but expects government-funded police to turn up if they’re in trouble.

          • TJ2000

            Rather a pathetic attempt at trying to infer – All Government is socialist. Typically, humans can logically distinguish the difference between criminal protection from others and a personal “safety net” ment to protect one from their OWN consequences.

  • robert hingston

    Of course capitalism is far from perfect but what’s the alternative
    … and don’t tell me communism or
    socialism because they are just a bigger drain on the public long term

    • Cesar Turcios

      Karl Marx termed and defined ‘socialism’ as the livelihood take over by the world’s working-class masses towards an interconnected global moneyless and stateless community – ‘communism’.

      The key of ‘communism’/’socialism’ is its retort of incongruous “drain on the public”. As long as the public isn’t in control of their very own lives, they are being controlled – drained, exploited, alienated, divided, owned, ruled, etc. Hence, the resolution is indeed ‘anarchy’, or merely rulership by everyone, also known as ‘democracy’ – no, not “representative democracy”, not any aristocracy, no quasi-democracy, no propagandised democracy, no feigning of democracy; but actual democracy, direct democracy.

      When it is left up to the public, the people, there isn’t any verb onto and over the people – no drain, no exploited, no divided, no alienated, no owned, no ruled over. If it is left up to the people, they do what is best for themselves and each other.

      Karl Marx predicted the inevitable, intrinsic self-destruction of capitalism, and the money system itself that bore it.

      Rather than trade or quantify indebtedness, rather than mistrust and distrust and be separated and divided and alienated and stay in such rudimentary mindsets, people shall gift and share and collaborate and sustain in actual resource abundance, propelled by unprecedented revolutionary science and techlonogy. Without hierarchies monetising everything, actual democracy – anarchy – will enter a second dawn of man where the interest of the people will be in the hands of the people rather than some upper rulership.

      It is inevitable. Capitalism, rightist, leftist and statist alike, has destroyed public perception of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’. Now, this direly necessary inevitability has different monikers – Resource Based Economy, Freeworlder, FWC’s Open Economy, Ubuntu Contributionism, One Community Global, Open Empire, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, and so on and so on.

      Another destructive propaganda that is currently being dispelled: barter. There isn’t any evidence whatsoever that barter led to money, or that barter ever existed much at all before money. What the evidence does show is that money itself derived from quantifying gifting’s empathic reciprocity – indebtedness. Nation-state taxation – to fund militaries – institutionalised it.
      Further, moneyless trade has always occurred in alienation and its aggression. The money system systematises this, hence the either outright or structural violence that undermines our everyday lives.

      Capitalism has to go. The money system has to go. As products of the environment, humans aren’t at fault unless we choose to leave our environment as is. Surely that ability to resolve problems at their source isn’t beyond intelligent beings. It is either that, or our own oblivion.

    • Universal Basic Income is the solution. It ends wage slavery, freeing people to work on whatever they chose.

  • maa89

    Pretty sure teachers also see their work as meaningless. After all, they are only teaching kids to prepare them for pointless jobs of the future.

  • maa89

    Also, nurses in the US are very well paid.

    • Cesar Turcios

      The article mentions that physicians are an exception.

      • maa89

        Yes, it does, but (a) nurses aren’t physicians, and (b) it lumps nurses in with garbage collectors and dock workers, even though those jobs are also very well paid in some cities. The argument that “necessary” jobs are not paid well is nonsense.

        • Cesar Turcios

          While nurses aren’t ‘physicians’, it does implicitely lump nurses in with ‘physician workers’ etc.
          Based on ‘necessity’, garbage collectors, dock workers, and other “necessary jobs” aren’t paid nearly as much as they should be, which is the article’s whole point argument. It is totally sensible.

          • maa89

            They’re paid the market rate, not what they “should be”. If sanitation workers were paid $300,000, people who would otherwise to go medical school would apply to pick up trash. As it stands, once the best paid jobs (physician, lawyer, executive management) are filled, there’s still a large pool of people willing to be garbage collectors for $60K per year and union benefits, so that’s the going rate.

            Longshoremen in Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA, or Elizabeth, NJ, make six figures anyway; not sure why they’d be paid any more.

          • Cesar Turcios

            “Should” here refers to the ‘necessity’ – they aren’t paid nearly as much as their necessity. There is huge discrepancy between how necessary their jobs are and how much less they get paid.

            If the market rate doesn’t pay what workers ‘should’ be paid, then the market itself is illogical and immoral, period.

            Again, as the article specifically mentions, physician workers -medical schoolers – are the exception to necessary jobs being paid so much less than their necessity.

            As you have mentioned, and as the article also points out, lawyers and executive managers are indeed bullshit jobs, bullshit jobs that get paid obscenely more than non-bullshit necessary jobs.
            That is the result of capitslism – obscene wealth and resource distribution, as further exemplified by salaries of bullshit jobs and necessary ones.

            Surely the article didn’t mean that physician workers are the only exception. Longshoremen perhaps is another rare exception. Yet perhaps their jobs are bullshit also. They are docking superfluous commodities that feeds capitalist-fueled consumerism that is exhausting the world’s natural resources and contributing to global ecocide, all in the name of capitalism rather than necessity and sustainability.

            Look at farmers. Food is the most necessary resource, yet farmers don’t paid anywhere near the necessity of food. And why? Because of capitalism, that’s why.

          • Cesar Turcios

            “Should” here refers to the ‘necessity’ – they aren’t paid nearly as much as their necessity. There is huge discrepancy between how necessary their jobs are and how much less they get paid. And since the market doesn’t pay what people ‘should’ be paid, then markets themselves are illogical and immoral.

            Again, as the article specifically mentions, physician workers -medical schoolers – are the exception to necessary jobs being paid so much less than their necessity.
            Many people pursue careers for their affinity of that career’s work, not for the pay. When people instead pursue careers for the pay, they usually end up very unhappy with their work.

            As the article also points out, lawyers and executive managers are indeed bullshit jobs, bullshit jobs that get paid obscenely more than non-bullshit necessary jobs. That is the result of capitslism – obscene wealth and resource distribution, as further exemplified by salaries of bullshit jobs and necessary ones.

            Surely the article didn’t mean that physician workers are the only exception. Longshoremen perhaps is another rare exception. Yet perhaps their jobs are bullshit also. They are docking superfluous commodities that are exhausting the world’s resources and contributing to global ecocide, all in the name of capitalism rather than necessity and sustainability.

            Look at farmers. Food is the most necessary resource, yet farmers don’t paid anywhere near the necessity of food. And why? Because of capitalism.

  • maa89

    How are tube drivers important or in meaningful jobs? They are simply ferrying other people to and from their meaningless jobs. How can running a train on a predetermined route, stopping every 0.5 miles, a meaningful job?

    • Gray Matter

      Was thinking the same thing. It’s not like jobs happen in a vacuum with that job over there being meaningless and this job over here contributing to humanity. It’s all connected and part a feedback loop.

    • Anaïs Urlichs

      I think you did not understand the message behind these statements.

  • Roberto Delpopolo

    Hi to all of you. I would like to understand something more about the DIA. Excuse me if it looks out of topic however it’s worth to find the good information about how the DIA could cause more spending by doubling it because DIA is a quite strange defense team and I assume they are working against the flow therefore it may contribute to make useless contracts with useless contractors. The Army and the Navy were both against DIA when it was esthablished. My questions are the following: is american DIA and the italian DIA the same thing? Does DIA have anything to do with the Carabinieri? The Carabinieri are usually working against the police force in Italy. Is now the Eurogendfor coming out from those who stick with the Carabinieri? Eurogendfor is said to be a European Gendarmerie. Why is the word “Gendarmerie” being used for a European police force? The Eurogendfor is said to be a violent and racial police force and people is compalining about their nazi style way of doing things. What color are the uniform of the Eurogendfor? I hope is not red and black. Some people online said that the Eurogendfor does not exist. Isn’t strange they do not appear on pubblic TV?

  • James Lang Smith

    Yes I agree with the futility of having no meaningful utility. However this is how painful it feels to me to be in the middle of the churning of the machine.

    Cheerleader Boxes

    Unseen unaccountable balance sheets asset strip profit and loss. Bean counters have had their way human beans have had their day. The few offered the choice illusion the majority redundant shame. That pint of milk you bought yesterday has a longer shelf life than these unknown colleagues. They wander a last day away carrying random stuffed office storage boxes to the edge of a known universe bounded blank by office walls. It reminds you of a family house move. The removal van will never come these boxes have to move themselves.

    Bright green inked corporate branded merchandise celebrating a tax dodge spin off merger scatters on desks abandoned to purpose. Their bold cheerleader rah-rah future dream of a naive yesterday raped by the coach lays green stain spattered. You are gripped by survivor’s guilt. Half-remember a quote, “and the best of us did not survive”. For a moment you can’t quite believe your own thinking. Maybe if it comes to it anti-discrimination cancer legislation might come in handy after all? You give a silent thanks to unsung labour politicians, lawyers and trade unionist praying your speculation never comes true.

    You are told, sit wherever you like. For the first time in your haphazard career you get a window seat a corner window seat even a whole row to yourself. You break into the office desk locker. Throat lozenges, double strength headache pills, paper clips in a paperless office. Even working from home 24/7 breaking down you never felt this alone, this murderous.

    I would suggest watching Alan Watts Zen Buddhist now no longer living who talks about this the first 5 minute is a bit of a preamble if you can bear with it you may find it insightful especially the gold metaphor.

  • Logan Waltz

    Omg, this is such crap. Its all cost/ benefit and efficiency. This article just shows the extreme ignorance of basic economics by the writer. How do these people get jobs?

    If you think that these jobs are so pointless, go find a cheaper, more efficient way to get them done. You’ll be filthy rich. Jesus, you probably don’t know why a business would fail when technically, the information to make a business not fail is out there somewhere. Everybody doesn’t have all of the answers or we would always be right, no business would fail because unnecessary businesses wouldn’t be made and existing businesses would run flawlessly, all employees would be in the perfect job, nobody would ever get fired, etc.

    All jobs exist because they are a net benefit in some manner. (Not counting jobs people get just for being best buds with a rich corporate dude, which are a ridiculous minority) if you can replace all of these jobs with something that is more cost effective and efficient, go start your own companies or consult companies and you will be filthy rich.

    • Robyn72

      My lord you missed the whole point.
      The argument is that these jobs, and the demand behind them, should not exist at all. There’s no doubt that the bullshit jobs are organized and accomplished in the most efficient way possible. That just begs the question.
      Money and resources have moved from the productive to the (totally) non-productive. These are parasites, not entrepreneurs. Markets are based on the belief that human beings are economically rational.
      Unfortunately, there’s not a shred of evidence for this.

      • Logan Waltz

        That isn’t an argument. All you did was say that these jobs shouldn’t exist and are not productive and gave no argument or evidence for it. If you knew what you were talking about, you could fix it all and be a billionaire. Too bad you are wrong and have no clue.

        • Murray Ross

          Sorry Logan your are assuming that the economic system on which we operate … the so called free market has to generate the most efficient solution . How can you justify your statements ? There are several reasons for starters why many bullshit jobs have been created .. Overcapacity in production created by automation has created crowded marketplaces for our real needs leading to an arms race in advertising and promotional expenditure just to compete Secondly the vast number of jobs related to risk control .. Not only the ones directly involved but those litigating, the layers of management etc . Unfortunately the reason these are created by the corporate and public sectors is to protect the careers of those making the decision making not for reasons of efficiency . Your argument that they wouldn’t do it unless it made money only applies to privately owned small business .

    • Last Comment

      all jobs exist so you stay where you are and you do not bother us on the beach or the ski slope, your job with the wage you get is your slave contract, enjoy it


    “In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right.”

    Please indicate “every reason” that Keynes was right.