The basic premise of this book, that some jobs are pretty much pointless and that the world wouldn’t skip a beat if they disappeared, is incontestable. But I think the author goes too far on too little evidence. He presents plenty of anecdotal quotes from people who believe their own jobs fall into the bullshit category, but no real assessment of whether or not these job holders are right. Not knowing what the benefit of your work might be doesn’t necessarily mean there is none.
There were two of his subcategories of bullshit jobs that I found especially problematic. He called one of these duct tape jobs, which exist only to fix mistakes that need not have been made or to make things work together that weren’t designed to work together. Holders of this kind of job seemed to be complaining that their own jobs wouldn’t be needed if others had simply done their jobs properly in the first place. Well, maybe, but people make mistakes, and they’re not omniscient. You can’t be expected to perform a job flawlessly 100% of time or to know if or how someone might want to leverage your work to accomplish something else. Compensating for someone else’s poor performance or lack of foresight may be infuriating, but it is not pointless.
The other questionable category is “box tickers.” By this, I think he means jobs that basically exist to verify that all the steps in an established process have been taken. Jobs like this can certainly be boring, but are they pointless? In some cases, maybe, but in most it seems a reasonable way to ensure the safety, reliability, or quality of a service or product. Think about a pilot’s preflight check, or a safety inspectors’ checklist. Again, if people were perfect, if they never made mistakes or got distracted or forgetful or negligent, if they got things 100% right 100% of time, these box ticker jobs might not be needed, but people aren’t like that.
That doesn’t mean that truly, or at least mostly, bullshit jobs don’t exist. They do. From where I’m sitting, pretty much any job containing the word analyst, consultant, advisor, director, chief, or coordinator in the title is likely to be at least 50% bullshit. I’ve held a few jobs like that, and yes, they did contain a fair amount of bullshit. The seemingly ironic thing about these jobs is that they tend to pay far more and are more “respected” than truly essential jobs like garbage collectors or teachers or nurses. The author suggests why and how this came to be, but doesn’t really delve deeply into the question.
As with most books of this type, which point out a societal ill, he concludes with some vague notions about how the situation might be improved, including implementing some kind of UBI (Universal Basic Income). I think this is an idea worth exploring, but this book doesn’t really do that in any depth.
Although it doesn’t approach the level of a scientific analysis, this book succeeds in getting the reader to think about bullshit jobs in a way they might not have before. While I agree that there are bullshit jobs, I personally don’t see them as a fundamental problem. I see them as a symptom of a larger and broader issue, and I have my own ideas about how that might be addressed. I may have to write about that, someday. No one is likely to read it, of course, but that doesn’t mean the effort would be pointless.
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