best posts from the forums
- Aspie_Muslim_Economist_ posted in What are tHE rHizzonE reading? (15910 posts)
- It’s a shame the book apparently sucks so much because it’s a really interesting topic. From what I can tell (and I haven’t read it, just a few reviews and the original essay back when it came out—I may be wrong) he provides a variety of very different definitions of “bullshit job”, never settling on one. I think there are three distinct types of jobs that fall under these definitions, with two subcategories for type 1:
1. Jobs that are unnecessary, even under capitalism.
. a. Jobs that are productive from the firm’s perspective but amount to attempts to cut the firm a larger slice of a fixed pie (Example: most marketing jobs).
. b. Jobs that are productive from some internal manager’s perspective, but undercut the firm (This seems to be the class Graeber is most incensed by—unnecessary bureaucrats, among others.)
2. Jobs that are necessary under capitalism, but not necessary under socialism. (Example: most contract lawyers).
3. Jobs that are necessary under any feasible, functional mode of production, but have a bureaucratic or managerial character, or otherwise feature a remove from the direct act of production (Example: managers, analysts).
There are important differences between 1 and 2—jobs under 1 are unequivocal indictments of existing capitalism and are possible targets for reformists, jobs under 2 are in a very different rhetorical space—convincing someone that they’re bullshit requires openness to socialism, lest they be dismissed as “the cost of doing business”. 3 represent false positives for (some of) his definitions.
His failure to tease out the differences between 1 and 2 pose a problem for his most aphoristic definition: jobs where it wouldn’t matter if they all disappeared. This definition corresponds exactly to 1, but doesn’t cover 2 at all. He seems to talk a lot about the uselessness of business law, but if you suddenly eliminated contract law in a capitalist country the economy would fall apart. Capitalism devolves production decisions to individuals encouraged to be selfish and pitted against one another in ruthless competition—not just with peer businesses but with other links in the supply chain, consumers, and workers. Without a legal framework to punish defection, most business agreements--from wage contracts to supplier deals--would be reneged on, and companies would have to fall back on less effectual (and more violent) organizational structures. An economy based on cooperation can get away with less tortuous rules, but that economy requires many more changes than simply getting rid of lawyers.
The other major definition, something along the lines of the classical definition of productive labor—work that creates capital goods--with some allowances made for other forms of physical labor, puts group 3 in the “bullshit” category. Graeber’s not a big fan of bureaucracy—surprise!—and it seems like his position really boils down to a reflexive dismissal of any job that carries its stink. However, some form of information gathering, analysis, and “management” (not necessarily under that word or with the same baggage) is necessary for any sufficiently complex productive enterprise to function well, regardless of the mode of production. The effort cost of sharing information between all members of organization increases with the square of the number of people (actually n(n-1), but whatever), so at a certain point it’s unavoidable that tasks related to collecting information, identifying problems, and directing production will be concentrated in a small group of individuals, and in sufficiently large and complex settings multiple layers of “management” may be needed. This doesn’t need to correspond to a class difference or be exploitative, but totally unstructured workplaces don’t generally work beyond a certain scale and complexity. Given the technological changes of the last few decades and the shift in the composition of labor in the core, we could expect an increase in the number of managers and the time spent collecting, inputting, and analyzing data and forms to have increased even in the absence of “bullshit” jobs.
None of which is to say that these jobs don’t exist. I think every category of “bullshit” job Graeber identifies does exist. But it doesn’t seem like he’s contributed much to our understanding of how prevalent they are. As Cars mentioned, he could have answered some of these questions just by looking at SOC/NAICS crosstabs of employment data. That would get you categories 2 and 1a, which you can identify by industry or occupation (marketers, finance, lobbying, etc.). That’s useful information, but I think the pointlessness of these jobs and their prominence in the economy pretty is well established and widely known at this point—no new insights there.
What you couldn’t get with that sort of basic analysis, and what would make a really interesting book, is a deep dive into 1b—pointless jobs created by the internal politics of capitalist firms. These jobs absolutely exist, but it’s very difficult to identify them from headline employment numbers, much less from armchair musings and convenience samples of your friends on Twitter. Individuals involved in data collection/form filling may be providing valuable (to the firm) information used to make pivotal decisions, or they may be filling hard drives with files no one reads. Assistants may have sinecures provided by a boss who just wants minions, or they may perform a variety of valuable (again, to the firm) functions. You need to get in very close to identify which is which. Given that Graeber is an anthropologist, I’d hoped he would have done the footwork and worked through some organizations top to bottom, interviewing workers and connecting the dots to figure this out.
Even if he didn’t want to do all the legwork himself, there’s a huge literature from business anthropologists and business sociologists that looks at exactly these issues in granular detail. While these papers are obviously funded by capital and written for CEOs and shareholders, they contain a huge trove of qualitative and quantitative data about pointless jobs, and since they’re written with the aim of improving profits by “trimming the fat”, they don’t ignore or minimize these problems. Repurposing and synthesizing that literature from a left perspective would be really valuable, and was what I was hoping this book would be.
- shapes posted in How safe is Tor? (25 posts)
- when the Seymour Hersh story about Osama bin Laden's death came out, one of the things that struck me as particularly more realistic vs. the official US story was how they found bin Laden in the first place. in the US' story, it was straight out of '24'...high-tech surveillance, "TRIANGULATE THE POSITION AND ENHANCE", with some good ol' waterboarding that *really made the difference.* in the Hersh version, the Pakistani government just bribed the shit out of Pashtun villages until someone gave him up.
this is what crypto-nerds do not get about intelligence agencies: most of their solutions are "all too human." the FBI does not need to spend countless hours researching if there are loopholes to a properly executed Diffie-Helman key exchange in order to spy on your communist org. they just get a snitch in there. the entire intelligence industry is powered by infiltrators, snitches, sell outs, useful idiots, and blackmailed schmucks.
the point that Yasha was trying to make isn't that Tor's algorithms are unsound. who gives a shit if they are? his point was that, judging by the number of military contractors and state department actors involved in the creation of Tor, the US is clearly not worried about Tor as any kind of real threat, despite what guys like Snowden might think. why would they be? until there's a Google Glass plugin that automatically points out informants, there's not much that Silicon Valley is going to do that'll affect how the CIA does business.
t's much more likely that the US would try to weaponize in use against Iran or China than it ever being used to successfully circumvent the US intelligence industry in any kind of serious way
- Soviet_Salami posted in Everybody hates the NDP (91 posts)
- My boss was complaining because the NDP raised the minimum wage. Normally I treat him like a cop; say nothing, make no eye contact. But for some reason I blurted out "You're lucky they're not throwing you in the fucking gulag". I think I successfully played it off as a joke, but it's hard to tell cause I think he was stunned that I dropped an f-bomb in front of his kid.
- drwhat posted in j. sakai's "the most dangerous class" reading group and discussion station (193 posts)
- this contributes nothing to this discussion - i don't know anything about spine-crushing new york hot dog men or the proper definition of "lumpen" - but once upon a time a read a whole bunch about the victorian era london "cats'-meat man". i had to look into it because the term made me worry that they chopped up cats for the poor, but in fact, the cats'-meat man (or woman) rolled a wooden cart down the streets and handed out tripe to cats once or twice a week, paid on a subscription basis by the cat-owners every so often. they made very little and probably smelled like death but they made the cats happy.
contemporary accounts claim that the cats knew which cats'-meat man was theirs and would ignore any others coming down the same streets, which suggests to me that they wouldn't even need rebar.
in retrospect this seems like an obvious scam in which your cat eats a bunch of random meat that was collected from the back of a butcher shop and then every once in a while the man says "oi you owe me two shillings" or something but, heartwarmingly, i didn't come across any negative portrayals of the cats'-meat man, so i choose to believe only good things about them.
- getfiscal posted in Get off the off-site: Let's play "Real Life" (7173 posts)
- by the way, if anyone wants me to promote their shit on twitter, yes, i will probably do so. twitter's algorithm is broken and has agglomerated a bunch of journalists and rose emojis into my followers, and it's important to pepper their eyes with maoist facts.