Bullshit Jobs: Review and Summary Notes
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
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The book starts with the question “How is it possible that in an ostensibly capitalist society that there exist highly paid jobs that are totally unnecessary?”
This book presents the case that “libertarian reforms” often are not about “efficiency”, because the work that’s being downsized or offshored is blue-collar, front-line work. But organizations that use scientific management to optimize their front-line workers often then balloon in white-collar, managerial staff.
Therefore, the author makes the argument that many of these reforms do not actually create efficiency, but instead are a form of wealth transfer created by upper-class workers to reward their in-group.
It’s an interesting thesis and you can see this anecdotally in certain organizations but he doesn’t back up his claims with data nor address the diamond-water paradox at all1, nor the idea that white-collar work is higher leverage (and therefore “inefficient” when measured in terms of direct output, but not in terms of indirect output). I also get the sense that the author has never run a complex organization nor understand what it takes to do so, and Tyler Cowen’s review posits the same.
Most of the book is skippable but I found most interesting the many anecdotes of situations where white-collar workers are being highly paid for in-group signalling purposes, not for productive output, as these are situations you can improve by designing better forms of signalling (though the author does not offer this solution).
The author brings up Alex Tabarrok’s criticism but just dismisses it by saying “how come I can’t point out the problem” without actually addressing his point. ↩