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[dupe] Meaningless jobs that are killing the human spirit (bloomberg.com)
44 points by velmu 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

basically a dupe of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16995389 . That's an article written by the author of the book.

The 2013 "Bullshit jobs" essay got lots of submissions and discussion on HN:


Who does this guy's PR?

I can't help but think of the telephone sanitizers from planet Golgafrincham in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy whenever someone makes the claim that a class of jobs is useless.

These tales of impending doom allowed the Golgafrinchans to rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population. The story was that they would build three Ark ships. Into the A ship would go all the leaders, scientists and other high achievers. The C ship would contain all the people who made things and did things, and the B ark would hold everyone else, such as hairdressers and telephone sanitisers. They sent the B ship off first, but of course the other two-thirds of the population stayed on the planet and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone. [0]

[0] http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Golgafrincham

I've read a lot about Douglas Adams and it's my opinion that these pieces of his books are aimed exactly at what the article is about.

For instance, consider the poor souls whose work entails implementing the ubiquitous feature of automatic phone systems: when you call about a bill or service issue, you have to speak your name into a computer system; once you’ve articulated “speak to an agent” some 16 times to said computer system, waited 20 additional minutes, and finally reached a human being, you immediately have to provide the same information you already gave the system.

So funny and so true. With respect to software development, I've worked on so many projects that were cancelled before ever being released. Built e-commerce and warehouse systems for a $300M company that went bankrupt. Millions of lines of code just disappeared. It's hard to take software development seriously after experiencing this a few times.

This profession is a money grab, get what you can while you can get it, before the bubble bursts. Surely developer salaries are in a bubble, right?

The quote you provide shows a breakdown in process, not software. Wherever this human being is, they do not have access to the information provided beforehand (lack of communication between human software and phone software), did not look/can't find it (lack of training), or they have to go through a checklist of processes regardless of information provided (managers don't trust the phone system to do the job right).

Either way, I do not understand your correlation between that quote and how your lines of code disappear - as with all things, when a company does, sometimes so do the products they offer - there is nothing different here.

I happen to agree with both you and the parent. You both have a valid point. It's not as bad as the parent implied; it's still quite bad.

Speaking to the parent's bubble salary point. You've seen the salaries being offered to Magento developers? Perhaps the easiest six figures you can make in tech. In exchange, you have to work with a giant flaming pile of software trash that shouldn't exist in the first place.

The correlation is if you spend months or years working on something that has no value or that immediately ceases to exist, then your job is BS.

So does that mean the scientists and astronauts that worked on Space Shuttle Challenger had a BS job?

Arguably the entire shuttle program was BS. It was a huge white elephant for NASA: prodigiously expensive, saddled with impractical requirements by the Air Force, and producing negligible new scientific results compared to the unmanned probes.

Oh really. The whole point is to figure out ways of inhabiting outer space. The " negligible" results gave such silly things like advanced radiation shielding, thermal clothing, advanced air filtering, developments in radioisotope generators and solar panels, material science, even project planning (though saddled with bureaucracy).

What it did not improve is the cost of space travel.

Doesn't that mean you were providing a service instead of creating a product?

> It hardly matters if Graeber’s history is accurate. His best-selling Dept: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, $22.99) garnered some controversy in this regard, with academics identifying myriad false claims—for instance, that Apple Inc. was started by former IBM engineers.

Sigh. I was thinking of reading the book until that point.

Here's from a review of it:

> Now, this may sound a little silly - if someone wrote a book called "Metal: The First 5,000 Years," and then filled that book with stories of war and bloodshed, never failing to remind us after each anecdote that metal was involved in some way, we might be left scratching our heads as to why the author was so fixated on /metal/ instead of on /war itself/. And in fact, that is indeed how I felt for much of the time I was reading Graeber's book. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Graeber continually talks /around/ the idea of debt in other ways, mentioning debt crises (without reflecting deeply on why these happen), the periodic use and disuse of coinage (which apparently is just as bad as debt in terms of enabling the capitalism monster), and any other phenomenon related to debt, without weaving these observations into a coherent whole.


I found one section of this particularly ironic:

"For instance, consider the poor souls whose work entails implementing the ubiquitous feature of automatic phone systems: when you call about a bill or service issue, you have to speak your name into a computer system; once you’ve articulated “speak to an agent” some 16 times to said computer system, waited 20 additional minutes, and finally reached a human being, you immediately have to provide the same information you already gave the system."

We work with rural smallholder farmers in Kenya, building phone systems to serve them and help them get information about better farming and helping service their agricultural input loans.

I don't feel my job is pointless at all. Then again, we're on track to build much better phone systems than the average mega-corporate in the US builds, but I still think this is amusing.

A few problems:

1. Lots of basic scientific research historically has not panned out. Does that mean that scientific research is somehow intrinsically unvaluable? To me, it seems not. There are lots of jobs out there that end up not themselves being valuable, but because society tried lots of different things some of them end up being valuable.

2. "To the ancient Greeks, he claims, you were either a slave and your whole life was owned, or you sold a good" - there certainly were paid laborers in Ancient Greece. See eg, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_drachma#Value - a drachma was roughly a day's wage.

3. Is the claim people make that the existence of unnecessary jobs is somehow a unique problem to Corporations in Capitalism? Are there not unnecessary jobs in socialist of communist societies? Are there not unnecessary jobs in government? Arguably, governments today "are less and less about making, building, fixing, or maintaining things, and more and more about political processes of appropriating, distributing and allocating money and resources" - why the fixation on corporations?

The article felt like it had a definite political slant.

>Anthropologist David Graeber’s new book accuses the global economy of churning out meaningless jobs that are killing the human spirit.

You know what really kills the human spirit? Poverty, starvation, war.

Maybe there are a ton of crappy jobs people are taking, but they are making a living in the most peaceful and prosperous times in human history.

>“That one person’s time can belong to someone else is actually quite peculiar”

Huh? You come into this world with nothing, of course you're going to trade your time for other things you want. It is possible to not do this, but then you're probably not making money, relying on family/state for financial assistance, and generally not being productive. Business owners' time is owned by their customers, by the way, that's how they make their living.

>He says he periodically receives “unsolicited communications” from such people, who insist that no one “would ever spend company money on an employee who wasn’t needed.” LOLOLOLOL.

Of course the free market isn't 100% efficient. You can criticize and laugh at that all you want. But good luck coming up with a better alternative. Lord knows we've tried, through all of human history.

>By positioning themselves as job creators and maneuvering the political system to laud any and all jobs, rather than asking if they’re meaningful or help society or the employees, “they” can maintain power indefinitely. (This would be Graeber’s ruling elite, the 1 percent targeted by the Occupy Movement.)

Ah yes, that pesky 1 percent. They earn 21% of all income. But guess what? They pay 40% of all income taxes [1]. The top 1% pays as much in taxes as the bottom 90%. Such terrible people.

Of course they're not perfect, let's get rid of all rent seeking behavior, but let's also not throw the baby out with the bathwater by demonizing the most productive and highest contributing people in society.

People don't appreciate the foundations of their society that they take for granted. They have a hard time feeling useful, so they criticize. Nothing new.

[1] - https://taxfoundation.org/summary-latest-federal-income-tax-...

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