The Cliff Notes for "Bullshit Jobs"

If you have heard of Bullshit Jobs and heard of the precariat, then you have been exposed to the ideas of David Graeber. Despite being able to popularize catchy memes, like "we are the 99%", his books are somewhat prolix. That's why I'm recommending what amounts to Cliff Notes for his recent book, "Bullshit Jobs".

Dr. Wright provides capsule summaries of Graeber's five types of bullshit jobs: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. But then he gets to the part that's important: why have bullshit jobs been proliferating like rabbits?

Graeber’s own answer is that capitalism has changed its character since the days when it somewhat approximated conditions of perfect competition. When capitalism was mainly about producing things competitively, the argument that free-market enthusiasts give against the notion that corporations would ever hire unnecessary workers to do bullshit jobs made sense: maximizing profits meant paying the least number of workers the least amount possible. To hire a large number of redundant workers would be absurd. But, as Graeber argues, the logic of the economy has changed in the last forty years, with the rise of financial capitalism and the FIRE sector (including insurance and real estate). The main object now is not to produce goods competitively but to distribute large sums of money, to distribute the proceeds from enormous amounts of debt, to create money (by giving loans) and then move it around in very complex ways while extracting fees with every transaction. “The results often leave bank employees feeling that the entire enterprise is…pointless.”

So, “when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.” It can then find pretexts to take more cuts, even acting against the interests of its clients, and using its profits to hire more people and grow bigger. There seems, indeed, to be a tendency inherent in large bureaucracies, whether corporate or political, to expand, to suck up more resources as an end in itself. Graeber gives a name to the “new” dynamic that has emerged in capitalism: managerial feudalism. It’s supposed to be analogous to the creation of hierarchies of nobles and officials in medieval Europe through a process of devolution called “sub-infeudation,” in which a king would grant land to a duke, who would use the resources from that land to support a huge retinue of courtiers and vassals, many of whom would be granted their own plots of land that could support their own retinues, and so on down to local knights and lords of the manor.

“The rise of managerial feudalism has produced a similar infatuation with hierarchy for its own sake.” Managers manage other managers, each with their own staff; various levels of managers market things to one another...The notion of managerial feudalism is evocative, and Graeber is clearly onto something with his suggestion that “there seems to be an intrinsic connection between the financialization of the economy, the blossoming of information industries, and the proliferation of bullshit jobs.” What exactly that connection is, though, is hard to tease out.

- Chris Wright, On “Bullshit Jobs”

The connection between looting by financialization and bullshit jobs felt like a lightbulb going off. Of course I knew both facts, but the idea that BSJ was the logical outcome of financialization had never crossed my mind. When I look at the unlucky people who have BSJs as peasants handed to feudal lords by the market monarchists, everything becomes clear. (My hat is off to Dr. Wright, an actual Ph.D. historian, for making Graeber's thoughts accessible in a five minute read.)

The connection gives me a conversational hook anytime someone moans about their BSJ. I can say, "you realize that Wall St. is the reason that most of the available jobs to non-connected, non-Ivy League grads are BSJs." I can riff about financialization.

The financializers produce nothing except deals and profits. They are literally stripping every American asset they can find, including future assets. They long ago deindustrialized America by offshoring its factories (literally dismantling and moving some of them to China). The real estate bubble almost killed them. As Graeber says, they still need more and more churn on their money. Absent any more swag to take to the pawn broker, for the past decade, more than 100% of corporate profits have been extracted for consumption today via stock buybacks, instead of being invested for the future. That's why America will soon fall far behind places like China, who are investing heavily in the real world of manufacturing, transportation, and telecommunication.

You can also explain our military spending as "the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible."

As Caitlin Johnstone said, the only thing stopping a massive revolt is the propaganda narrative that is blasted out 24/7 by the media, blaming the victims for having BSJs. Dr. Wright counters that narrative in what amounts to an "elevator pitch".

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The Aspie Corner's picture

I'm forced to go for a Bachelor's Degree. All because after the Space Shuttle Program ended in Flawer'Duh, the people in it went into the tech sector and since I don't live in a big city and could never get a drivers' license (they demand it for security reasons, supposedly), let alone relocate, I'm basically screwed. So much for getting around my disabilities. I'll never be 'marketable' enough, or 'competitive' enough.

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arendt's picture

@The Aspie Corner @The Aspie Corner

I hear you about being a techie, but not living in a tech hotspot like SV, RTP, Seattle, or Boston. Of course living costs in such places are ridiculous and eat up much of the decent pay.

But tech has it's own BSJs. The constant language churn - new languages every day. Scripting languages, markup languages, presentation environments like Tableau. You waste half your career running on the language treadmill.

Then there's Big Data. What no one mentions is that BD is 90%tedium, known as "data wrangling". That is, you have to manually discover every spelling variant, punctuation variant, column organization variant,... in giant data sets of dubious reliability sourced from multiple organizations. It's pure scut work. BD is approaching its peak moment in the "hype cycle". Biz is demanding results, i.e. profits.

The average sys admin job is a lose-lose proposition. If everything works, no one notices you, but when some virus gets loose, you are blamed. The whole malware situation has taken all the joy out of programming and internet surfing.

Then there is M$. Constant updates that break things. Constant attempts to grab more control and fees from users. M$ is a swarm of mosquitos trying to suck my blood. It has driven me to Linux.

Sorry for the rant. I feel for any techie stuck in the boondocks.

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Deja's picture

@arendt
I work at a small, rural community college whose IT department is severely understaffed and underfunded. Our only sys admin is also our only IT security admin. Two Saturdays ago, he was alerted there was a problem. Just after 8:00 am, he walked into "The Dungeon" (server room) to find the separate air conditioning system for the room had failed. It was HOT in a room I call the fridge. Because we have no maintenance personnel on-call ever, he changed an a/c fan belt himself. Happy Saturday and no overtime because -- salary.

How many sys admins do you know who can troubleshoot, diagnose, and then correctly repair HVAC?

The thing is, our prez, and board members will likely never know that the entire IT infrastructure of the entire college (multiple campuses) depends on those servers not overheating and that a disaster was averted by one, very smart, quiet man.

Yes, we have backups. One resides on a server in the dungeon -- smart, eh? What most people don't understand -- our president, board, and dare I say my own big boss, the VP of IT, is that restoring from a backup isn't just flipping a switch, with everything back to normal in the time of a typical reboot. There will be blood, and gnashing of teeth as well.

I've been questioning the type of place I work since my first month last year when a group of us manually scanned and cleaned a couple hundred desktops due to malware. My lowly self questioned why we weren't pushing it out from servers. And, why we had ZERO anti-viral progs on any of our systems. The answers? The prez and board didn't want to spend the money.

Legend has it a man took research findings about pay disparities between our college and comparable in size colleges in our state before the board, to lobby for pay increases. The man was moved, and moved, then fired. So, trying to get more money for silly things like hardware, dependable air conditioning, and adequate personnel is a no-no.

Cherry topping: the sys admin/security guy retires at the end of the year with no replacement in sight. BSjobs, indeed!

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15 users have voted.

"The gatekeepers must change."
Prince

arendt's picture

@Deja

And you are in a so-called establishment of higher education. Wow. However, your job is not a BSJ. It actual does something useful - keeping the college's computers running so students can get an education. Its more like the rest of the poorly paid, but vital, jobs like truck driver or hospital worker.

What they're doing with your IT department is analogous to underfunding the repair shop in a trucking company. You can only dodge bullets for so long with the false economy of underfunding maintenance and support. In the case of computers, its not just breakage that must be dealt with, but active sabotage (malware, ransomware - as in the case of the UK NHS!). But this is the kind of slumlord behavior that neoliberalism encourages. Do the minimum, collect the rent, when the tax breaks run out, flip the property for a profit

I sort of blame American attitudes about math/science/tech for the management/IT disconnect. We have this myth running that math is incomprehensible to all but some genius types. Based on this meme, teaching of tech subjects is abysmal; courses are there to filter out people who can't teach themselves. Another bad myth is "the hacker" - that all computer guys are really pirates or lazy bums at heart. These myths allow the technically illiterate to look down their collective noses at the "navvies" who keep the systems going.

Thanks for sharing your situation. Hope you find a way out of it.

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Hawkfish's picture

@arendt

It’s an exploration and analysis environment that can be used for presentation. A lot of journalists use it for interactive data. (And even if it was, have you ever tried to use something like business objects? It sounds like you are familiar with Excel though...)

I work in this space, though, and I agree with a lot of what you say. Wrangling is a hideous time sink that occupies most of the time spent on analyzing data (which is why it is one of the problems I work on).

The language thing is double edged. A lot of the time these days people try to make the next cool language just so they can gain some sort of platform monopoly (I’m looking at YOU Java). Sometimes languages look new but aren’t really (JavaScript seems like an undergraduate tried to reinvent functional programming by mashing up C++ and Common LISP). And as I get older, I just get really tired of languages for their own sake.

It the tricky thing about languages is that one can make an argument that programming IS language design: you create a set of objects / functions / etc that allow you to describe the solution to your problem concisely. So it’s kind of hard to get away from.

(Edited bc I hit save too soon)

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We may find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud.
- Pink Floyd, On the Turning Away

arendt's picture

@Hawkfish

It was just a side factoid in this OP, so I was too lazy to look up exactly how it billed itself. Mea culpa. I had tried to use it once and couldn't easily find under what menu some basic capabilities were hidden, so I quit before I became functional in it. (That's what happens to motivation when you have no job to force you to learn the tool.) Since I already had R, MATLAB, and iPython, I wasn't interested in learning yet another IDE that no one was paying me for.

My problem is that I came up with computer hardware from the early days of sililcon. I understood everything that the hardware did. I wrote assembly code for 6502s and pdp-11s. I tweaked optimizing compilers for VLIW processors. Fooled around with assembly code for exotic hardware designs like Transport Triggered Architecture. I designed chip multiprocessors. I completely understand the convoluted explanations of the Meltdown bug and the speculation pipeline that is the cause of the trouble. I have always grokked the hardware and the algorithms, because they are just engineering.

---RANT---
It is the software that drives me nuts. So many layers stacked up on top of the assembly code. Compilers and interpreters and procedural languages and functional programming languages and hypervisors and on and on. It is still as brittle as hell. Does software really have to be such a bloody tower of Babel? How much of software development is the exact kind of BSJ that this OP is about??

For over thirty years, people have complained that software has not kept pace with hardware development, that parallel programming sucks. Look at GPUs. You have to understand the architecture of the warps in order to write efficient code. (Now that might seem contradictory, since I claim to know H/W. But, my point is that software writers have been unable to automate code translation for these complex hardware designs; so humans have to get in the loop and do a lot of scut work to make GPUs hum.)

Software documentation has gone out the window. I have had really good programmers tell me that documentation is non-existent, that if you want help, type a question into StackOverflow or some other webstie and wade through the answers.

Its as though you couldn't get by in day to day America unless you know English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, two dialects of Arabic, and all the latest hiphop and jive slang. Is it really progress to have this bloody chaos? Or is it a contest to dominate people by sheer logic chopping?

Here is an awkward analogy that I am writing off the top of my head. It would be easy to just dismiss it; but I am trying to describe an issue: that at some point, the quantity of knowledge one has to keep in one's head to be an effective programmer becomes a qualitative change - only people with massive memory and stack capabilities can play this game. Programming has gone from being a common language to being some kind of entry exam that excludes more and more people from playing the game.

---END RANT---

Sorry, that wasn't all aimed at you.

As you can see, I have strong feelings about the mess that is software today. Smile

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Hawkfish's picture

@arendt

We seem to have similar backgrounds. And the lack of tooling for basic operations like parallel programming is infuriating (not to mention SIMD).

But I don’t think it’s due to modern complexity so much as laziness or maybe siloed skill sets. Brett Viktor has an entertaining talk on this.

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We may find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud.
- Pink Floyd, On the Turning Away

arendt's picture

@Hawkfish

Pardon me if I put on my tech hat for another semi-rant. Let me know if this is not what you want to discuss.

But I don’t think it’s due to modern complexity so much as laziness or maybe siloed skill sets.

Re: Siloing

I think siloing is inevitable given the huge amount of software development. I think we have lived through that point in time where we have seen the last Rennaisance-coder, a guy who knew everything about software. That probably happened in the 1980s. Since then, there is simply too much for one person to track.

I experienced a similar realization when I worked at Bell Labs. Each component of the phone system was perfectly rational; you could even decipher acronyms you had never seen before - that's how logical and consistent all the development was. But no one could possibly know the details of the literally hundreds of components (called "white boxes" because they all came in the same white chassis), much less the complete snarl of how they were assembled into the phone network (that snarl was called "the cloud", and that's how people drew it when making presentations).

With that said, I have a little more understanding of why today's software world pisses me off. The phone network may have been incomprehensible, but it was rational, orderly, and well-"siloed". Things worked the way you expected them to. You could extrapolate without doing a face plant. But today's software is just a giant mess of kudzu. Components (silos) proliferate like mad and step all over each other's turf. Whenever something actually works and becomes widespread (i.e., standardized), it is immediately treated as a target by hackers (ransomware, DoS attacks, spoofing, rootkits,...).

So, instead of a common goal (a functioning phone network) driving everyone to cooperate, we have incentives for balkanization, for a Hobbesian war of all against all. As the "standards" fight the hackers, the standards become more and more convoluted, more brittle.

----

I think that, at some point, a winner will emerge from this Darwinian struggle. Dog save us if it is M$! That winner will become "the" standard. We will have peace and order again, but it will be a dictatorship - like the phone company was before the breakup. But, at least the phone company was a regulated monopoly. I don't see the government, infested by corporate apparatchiks, doing anything but rubber-stamping the winner.

Unfortunately, rubber stamping is a two-way street. Tech companies, by and large, are politically naive. We can expect to see more of the way Facebook has been bludgeoned into allowing the "Atlantic Council" (a bunch of Ukranians with deep ties to the CIA and the MIC) to set up the Facebook fake news censorship apparatus. Its all starting to look rather Blade Runner-ish.

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lotlizard's picture

@Hawkfish
In math, in order to communicate a concept, you have to have a precise terminology and notation for it — either adopting someone else’s notation convention, or coming up with a new one.

A lot of times it seems as if, after an appropriate — and, importantly, elegant — notation was found for something, “everything just kind of fell into place.”

the tricky thing about languages is that one can make an argument that programming IS language design: you create a set of objects / functions / etc that allow you to describe the solution to your problem concisely

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Hawkfish's picture

@lotlizard

So maybe that’s why I put it that way! But yes, any time you read an important proof, there is a lot of preliminary exposition that even the practitioners call “machinery”.

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5 users have voted.

We may find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud.
- Pink Floyd, On the Turning Away

arendt's picture

@Hawkfish

but, due to a bad teacher at a critical moment, I switched to physics.

any time you read an important proof, there is a lot of preliminary exposition that even the practitioners call “machinery”.

ON EDIT: I changed the brackets on the 3 level nested parentheses from my stream of consicousness. Big apologies.

In my experience, mathematicians don't think the way the proof is stated. They get the idea first, then fill in the preliminaries based on the idea. In so many cases, the whole lemma/corollary/theorem jargon is so ossified and tedious (sort of like the format for scientific papers [methods, results{stated without the connections between them, sorta like declarations in code}, discussion{the connections themselves}, conclusion]). But, I do appreciate that proof is necessary and increasingly hard to come by. The 3-color map theorem proof was the first one to require a computer to check all of the possible cases.

Sorry. Rambling. Its just fun to talk tech. I miss it.

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Lily O Lady's picture

accessible. I did click on the piece, but it really was TLDR.

I remember reading how wealthy the average American was as opposed to those in other countries, as long as those countries were third world nations. The comparison never seemed to be between the US and the developed nations. Now, of course, we suffer by comparison, but only Bernie Sanders (love him or not) seems to notice.

Our corporate overlords are using the justification of fat, happy Americans to strip the country bare of assets. We were set up for the slaughter.

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19 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

arendt's picture

@Lily O Lady

I've snipped out his detailed descriptions of the five types of jobs. I think they are readable and stand alone.

Graeber suggests a rough five-fold classification of bullshit jobs.

First are flunkies: jobs that exist “only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.” This includes doormen, many receptionists (those who have hardly anything to do and find the job oppressively dull), some HR assistants, and the like.

Second are “goons,” jobs that have an aggressive element but “exist only because other people employ them.” For instance, most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers, corporate lawyers (“I contribute nothing to the world and am utterly miserable all of the time,” one said), and national armed forces, which exist only because other countries have armies. “If no one had an army, armies would not be needed.” As for PR specialists, one of them probably spoke for many when he opined that every person who works in or for the entire advertising industry simply “manufactur[es] demand and then exaggerat[es] the usefulness of the products sold to fix it.” He concluded, “If we’re at the point where in order to sell products, you have to first of all trick people into thinking they need them, then I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that these jobs aren’t bullshit.”

Third is the category of “duct tapers,” people whose jobs exist only because of a glitch in the organization, “who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist.” Often this includes underlings who have to fix mistakes made by incompetent superiors. Or do nothing but deal with customers irate because something went wrong.

Fourth are “box tickers,” who allow an organization to be able to claim it’s doing something it actually isn’t doing. One testimony is from a guy who was Senior Quality and Performance Officer in a local council in the United Kingdom; most of what he did involved ticking boxes, “pretending things are great to senior managers, and generally ‘feeding the beast’ with meaningless numbers that give the illusion of control. None of which helps the citizens of that council in the slightest.”

The fifth category is taskmasters
, people who do nothing but assign work to others, create bullshit tasks for others to do, or supervise bullshit. Middle management frequently falls under this category, as when managers oversee workers who could perform just as well, or sometimes better, without oversight. “I just got promoted to this job,” one manager says, “and I spend a lot of my time looking around and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing.” That’s a common complaint: being forced to supervise people who don’t need supervision. Frequently positions with the word ‘strategic’ in their names—Strategic Dean, Vice President of Strategic Development, Strategic Officer—are bullshit. “All I could do,” one such person said, “was come up with a new strategy that was in effect a re-spin of already agreed-upon strategies.” But these people are given their own staff, which they have to try to find work for.

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CS in AZ's picture

@arendt

This line describes my job perfectly: underlings who have to fix mistakes made by incompetent superiors.

My work is to edit, rewrite, and format a multitude of documents and presentations that my “superiors” then put their name on and get credit for, and of course they also get the paycheck that reflects their apparent brilliance and skills and knowledge.

Our CEO once even said to me, quite correctly, that he knows my job is to “make sure we don’t look stupid” — and he said he appreciates that. Ha. Which is obviously why I make a fraction of the salaries of those executives whose work I do to make them look smart and capable.

When new managers or executives come on board, their first question is usually “who and where are my minions?” Because they cannot possibly write a coherent white paper, or an article, or even a simple memo, or create a basic a PowerPoint presentation, without an assistant to “help” them. Then we redo it a hundred times because with every version they keep thinking of things that need to be added or deleted, because they can’t get it right and even telling *us* clearly and coherently what they are trying to communicate, is evidently impossible for them.

I realized years ago that this is a bullshit job, that if these “superiors” were competent and worth the money they make, they could and should be able to do this work themselves. They honestly feel they are too important for “grunt work” like putting words on paper or a screen that actually say something and make sense. What they are good at is basically just talking bullshit and acting important while faking it.

Fortunately, I do like writing and editing and information design and desktop publishing. I even went to school to learn these skills to be able to do this bullshit job. And I don’t care anymore about getting credit for what I do. I gave that up a long time ago. I’m here for the paycheck and insurance, not to be fulfilled or happy because my work matters. I’ve had much worse bullshit jobs than this one. And because I can do it now with little effort most of the time, I have time (some days) to sit here and get paid to play on the Internet, read my favorite blogs, and even read books at work, if they are discreetly on iPad so I can look busy. Smile

One quibble with the article, I think we don’t keep doing these bullshit jobs because of a misguided work ethic or an imagined sense of meaning to it. We do it because if you don’t, you have no money. And that’s a problem. So bullshit jobs are necessary, and I’ve learned to love my incompetent, helpless “superiors” who can’t get through their day without me, instead of constantly resenting them for getting too much money for my work. Sanity above righteousness.

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Deja's picture

@CS in AZ

They honestly feel they are too important for “grunt work” like putting words on paper or a screen that actually say something and make sense. What they are good at is basically just talking bullshit and acting important while faking it.

I have a little sign in my office most people don't see, or I'd get ragged on, but it says, "Ohh! You have two Ph.Ds? That's great! Can you try clicking 'Change Password' for me?"

My coworker had a seasoned professor insist she edit his syllabus for him. I've been screamed at because a department head couldn't remember the new password she set before lunch. Telling them to submit a simple tech support ticket is as if we've told them they will now become raw-only vegans. A tech has to attend every board meeting because none of them can operate the projector remote control. They literally throw fits when someone else doesn't do what they feel entitled to have done for them.

Pitiful, just pitiful!

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12 users have voted.

"The gatekeepers must change."
Prince

arendt's picture

@Deja

The running joke is that IT answers the phone by saying "Have you tried turning it off, then on?"

The IT crowd was very funny. The top management were played as total buffoons. Of course, both the IT guys were socially inept; one was lazy and slovely, the other was a space cadet. But the IT guys got all the laugh lines.

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Deja's picture

@arendt
Will look again. Our network admin is a total asshole, and our webmaster is known as the invisible man. One of the programmers recently called everyone over and over in the dungeon (caller ID & everyone laughing, ignored the calls) because her mouse stopped working rather than walk her ass over to our building and get a new one, or just subit a ticket and have one brought to her.

Sounds like I hate my job, but I really love it most of the time. I'll be seriously sad when our system admin retires, though.

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7 users have voted.

"The gatekeepers must change."
Prince

Hawkfish's picture

@arendt

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We may find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud.
- Pink Floyd, On the Turning Away

arendt's picture

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CS in AZ's picture

@Deja

Telling them to submit a simple tech support ticket is as if we've told them they will now become raw-only vegans.

Too funny, too true.

Last month one of our execs accidentally deleted his presentation from his local computer, after having moved the “final” version from the network server to his hard drive and decided to “make some final tweaks” just before it was due to be sent off.

We retrieved a backup of the file from the server, but he was livid the restored file didn’t have his last minute changes in it! He could not comprehend why the network backup didn’t have a copy of a file he had intentionally taken off the network to change, then managed to lose his own file.

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Deja's picture

@CS in AZ
How dare you not work magic, especially for him! When in reality, you saved his ass.

He's the type I fantasize about turning his monitor display upside down one Friday afternoon when I know he's coming in over the weekend. Wink

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7 users have voted.

"The gatekeepers must change."
Prince

arendt's picture

@CS in AZ

In most of the computer/biotech companies I worked for, the scientists were better at computers than the IT staff. At one company, in addition to his full time scientist job, one chemist maintained two UNIX clusters with over 500 CPUs because the IT staff didn't know UNIX. Sophisticated users played all kinds of games with licenses - resetting the timeclock back a year was a fun one until the software vendors caught on. Of course, licenses got way more secure as a result of all this, not much fun any more.

Not all techies are that smart. At another company, an electrical engineer was looking for a ferrule (little Male-male coax connector thingie) for some RF equipment he was building. He couldn't find one in the storeroom, so he removed one from the Local Area Network, which promptly went tits up. It took IT half an hour to find the disconnected cable, behind someone's desk. So, not all techies are brilliant (and/or ethical).

I can imagine high level managers in the business world that you describe. I read about them in Dilbert for decades. I saw them in Office Space. It sounds horrible. You have no idea how blessed I feel to have avoided all that. Although, at my last startup, I was forced to redo the slides for a conference presentation five times, once for each layer of management who had to sign off on publicly talking about the material. The last signoff, from the Chief Whatever Officer, was all about the size and color of the type fonts. No content related changes, just how it looked to him. Like the techies in the audience would have cared. :eyeroll: Sheesh.

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CS in AZ's picture

@arendt

This is the Dilbert that I’ve had hanging somewhere at my desk for years, through several jobs:

88FF47A7-38E4-48B8-BA71-90139FAA9F28.gif

If you got out with only five rounds of changes, you were lucky!

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arendt's picture

@CS in AZ

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@CS in AZ
Really him. Really. He's worse than portrayed. She (a programmer) used to write intentional grammer and spelling errors in her documentation or he would "correct" her code.

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

@arendt specifically to be the taskmaster, supervising people I had NO business supervising and who in fact should have been promoted. I managed to not alienate the people "under" me, but damn it was hard some days and I absolutely hated that fucking job. Took me almost two years but I finally left there.

My job today is pretty much a BSJ. But there's "job security" in having to edit multiple Power Point presentations for people who can't make up their minds, so I stick with it for yup, the paycheck and the insurance.

Our own IT department has been pretty much completely gutted and outsourced, although they do still have an office one can travel to for help when it is necessary, and I feel for those guys as they're always overworked and understaffed. And of course our help desk to call is in India and has been for quite a few years now. Most in my group are just hanging on like me, they don't all have BSJs but some do. It's a big company, room for lots of BSJs.

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arendt's picture

@lizzyh7

and outsourced".

Yeah, that's how I got involuntarily retired. They decided a biotech company, running piles of bioinformatics and cheminformatics software tools - you know, simple stuff like quantum chemistry calculations - didn't need a bioinformatics department (as opposed to an IT department). They kept one guy to run the Database and canned the rest of us. Claimed the scientists could just call the software vendors for support.

The outsider they brought in to play Chainsaw Al was gone within a year, having over-promised what he could deliver. Soon thereafter they started placing ads for informaticists to restaff. It was like something from a bad sitcom.

----

Of course, as you mention, the real issue is outsourcing of conventional IT to India. I have seen that for decades, to the point where Indian IT companies like Tata and Wipro have a lock on the market. Problem is, the system is degenerating due to nepotism and fraud. These consultancies foist incompetents (nepotism) and outright liars (phony degrees, inflated resumes) on clueless US companies. Last I heard, US companies were starting to onshore their IT because the cost savings were not worth the hit in performance and quality.

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11 users have voted.
JekyllnHyde's picture

@arendt @arendt

It's been over eight years since I last posted this editorial cartoon. In it, Cartoonist Lloyd Dangle is making fun of statements made by Robert Gibbs, Obama's first press secretary, in early 2010 pertaining to objections by many about the watered-down Obamacare Bill signed into law. I still get a chuckle every time I see it.

pro·fess·ional · left, n.

Etymology: from Medieval Latin professionalus and from pre-Chaucerian Olde English lyft.

Dates: 1253, 1606, 2010

Usage: a “term of endearment” first used in August 2010 by an uninformed bloke named Robert Gibbs to describe a group of professional kvetchers who are creating American jobs by the thousands. To cite British spy novelist John Gardner in The Man From Barbarossa paraphrasing Karl Marx, the ‘Professional Left’ is firmly secure in its belief that if 20th century Communism was the exploitation of man by man, then, surely, 21st century American capitalism is just the opposite.

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9 users have voted.

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Big Al's picture

bullshit jobs. Perhaps humans just aren't smart enough to figure out a way for all people to contribute to society via employment in a meaningful manner. Makes me wonder how UBI could ever be instituted. For now though, I think the bigger problem is the lack of respect and value for what people do for work. Some countries value the waitresses, janitors and receptionists as much as the doctors, lawyers and professional athletes. In this country, the value is tied to how much money people "earn".

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13 users have voted.
arendt's picture

@Big Al

The devil is in the details. It depends on how large the income is, which government programs are eliminated, and what kind of rules there are for throwing people off UBI for "infractions".

If TPTB get to write the rules for UBI, we will be screwed even worse than we are now:

Here, sucker, your UBI is $500/month. You still have to pay your own medical, and there is no retirement system.

As long as corporations are running the government, UBI will not be a good idea.

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10 users have voted.
Big Al's picture

@arendt I certainly wouldn't be for just giving it to people no strings attached, which was my point. I've seen laziness and entitlement up close and personal and it ain't a pretty thing.

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7 users have voted.
arendt's picture

@Big Al

Some countries value the waitresses, janitors and receptionists as much as the doctors, lawyers and professional athletes. In this country, the value is tied to how much money people "earn".

In Japan, restaurant workers are relatively overpaid. Its their version of workfare. The workers can keep a roof over their head and can keep their dignity, which is very important in Asian culture. It also keeps the prison population down, because these people aren't doing petty crimes to make ends meet.

In Australia, it used to be a very egalitarian income distribution, due to strong labor unions. Again, paying the bottom of society a little more contributed immensely to social stability and the legitimacy of the system.

I think that in-person, human-performed services will become luxury goods, so long as those services are much better than automation can provide.

Having said all that, I think that raising the minimum wage is a lot easier than implementing UBI.

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10 users have voted.

@arendt @arendt
But you forgot to include a landlord raising the rent $700 .

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7 users have voted.

A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

gulfgal98's picture

R J Eskow did a recent interview with David Graeber on his book Bullshit Jobs for those who may want to view it.

Although I have been retired from local government for some time, I saw the proliferation of bullshit jobs in the government too. With every new boss at the top level, department heads and even mid management levels, the bureaucracy expanded while the people doing the actual work either remained the same or even decreased.

What I saw this as was the creation of mini fiefdoms in which the worth of each manager or department head seemed predicated upon the number of yes people under them. In addition, it put more layers between the people doing the actual work and the top management, thus diluting their responsibility and thus insulating themselves from blame should something go wrong.

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12 users have voted.

"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West

"There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare." Sun Tzu

arendt's picture

@gulfgal98

About 8 minutes in, he really nails what happened.

(Paraphrase) Trickle down gave all this money to rich people and told them "you're job creators; create jobs." But since everyone else was broke, they couldn't buy anything. So the rich had no incentive to invest in manufacturing. Instead, they took the money and bought flunkies to make them feel good about themselves."

Doesn't that just say it all in a few sentences. Trickle down is a closed circle from the rich to the rich.

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14 users have voted.
Lily O Lady's picture

@arendt

since it is propaganda anyway for what was called Supply Side Economics. In one of his rare honest moments, George H.W. Bush called it “voodoo economics” since it would be pure magic if much ever trickled down. Then he became Reagan’s vice president and went back to lying.

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12 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

arendt's picture

@Lily O Lady

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12 users have voted.
Lily O Lady's picture

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5 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

TheOtherMaven's picture

@Lily O Lady @Lily O Lady

I am NOT kidding. It was the title of an article in "The Objectivist Newsletter", long before HW started going on about it.

(I went through that swamp and out the other side, but it took me a few years.)

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9 users have voted.

There is no justice. There can be no peace.

Lily O Lady's picture

@TheOtherMaven

actually trickle down? My impression is that she felt Objectivists could never be too selfish.

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3 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

thanatokephaloides's picture

@Lily O Lady

Maybe we should find a better name for “trickle-down”

Urination?

Wink

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5 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

arendt's picture

@gulfgal98

He ties the teachers strikes to the proliferation of BSJobs and the over-managerialness of education over the last 30 years.

The same concept applies to insurance BS paperwork for doctors and nurses, and to the complete frustration of progressive Dems in a party that caters to the managerial/BSJ-creating class.

He has a quote from Obama about how would we employ 3 M insurance workers if we implemented single payer, so we shouldn't. Bullseye!

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9 users have voted.
edg's picture

It's likely a good thing for TPTB that BSJs exist. Otherwise, there'd be revolution. BSJs soak up the labor market oversupply inherent in an automated consumerist society. For each elevator attendant eliminated, 0.5 to 1.0 BSJs germinate.

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8 users have voted.
arendt's picture

@edg

We've all see the productivity vs pay graphs. We are now, collectively, so productive that we should all either get a raise or be able to work less for pay capable of buying the same stuff (which might be cheaper due to productivity). This was predicted long ago by people like Keynes.

Instead, the 1% grabbed the productivity gains and told everyone else they could have BSJ-"welfare". (Actually its worse than welfare because you gotta pretend to like the job; and they can harass you and fire you at will.)Since people gotta eat, they take the BSJ. Big win for TPTB, as you say.

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14 users have voted.
Big Al's picture

what about all the cops, the prison guards, the people who work for the MIC, the soldiers and sailors of the imperialist military machine, the people who work for the CIA, NSA, the TSA agents at airports, and countless others. Talk about real bullshit.
Maybe everything is just bullshit.

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13 users have voted.
thanatokephaloides's picture

@Big Al

Maybe everything is just bullshit.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

-- Jewish Scriptures, Ecclesiastes 1:1 (KJV)

Same as it ever was.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

-- Jewish Scriptures, Ecclesiastes 1:9 (KJV)
source

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7 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

arendt's picture

That is, work that protects the ill-gotten gains of the 1%. Whoever did the labelling included jobs like tax accountant and patent attorney as threat labor, since they are there to help the rich keep their money safe from, respectively, the government or someone who wants to sing happy birthday without paying a royalty.

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10 users have voted.
thanatokephaloides's picture

@arendt

someone who wants to sing happy birthday without paying a royalty.

"Happy Birthday to You" has been found to be in the public domain by a court, which also ordered the supposed "owner" to cough up 14 million US dollars in restitution for royalties it wasn't entitled to.

Sometimes -- far too rarely -- the good guys win.....

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7 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

arendt's picture

@thanatokephaloides

I hope the $14 M hurt the assholes who were shaking people down for singing a song with their family. That is down there with Martin Shrekli gouging people for off-patent necessities, although nowhere as fatal.

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8 users have voted.
detroitmechworks's picture

That sucks up resources, does nothing for the thing its growing on, and constantly seeks to grow larger, overtaking everything.

Yep, While managerial Feudalism is great for people who understand big words...

For the masses, I'd suggest Civilization Cancer.

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11 users have voted.

I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

arendt's picture

@detroitmechworks

It was probably too technical for most people - unless they had watch a relative get ravaged by cachexia.

To anyone who lived in the 1950s or 60s, today's America is an emaciated, deranged ghost of a once-powerful country. It is quite clear that the financial/insurance industry is a parasite that is siphoning off vast amounts of money. When 25-40% of corporate profits go to the non-productive paper-shuffling of Wall St, and when our health care costs are twice that of other first-world countries, its clear that our economy is no longer about creating value, but only about extracting wealth - from the corpse of the middle class. It is also clear that the military-intelligence-police-prison system is another bloodsucker, whose costs are completely out of proportion to the "value" they provide. Locking up millions of pot smokers and chasing a few hundred "terrorists" with nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers is the cover story; the reality is the creation of empires and mercenary armies abroad and paramilitary police forces and domestic spies at home - answerable only to corporate warlords.

When 20% of GNP ($1 Trillion per year for each of Wall St, health insurance, and the military) is being skimmed off to fund these parasites, while our infrastructure rots, unemployment soars, and classic job creation measures (as opposed to shoveling more money to the rich) are ignored, it is fair to say that the U.S. economy has entered the equivalent of cachexia - the terminal wasting away of the patient in order to feed the cancer.


The Warburg Economy and Cash-exia

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14 users have voted.
earthling1's picture

@detroitmechworks
fits your parameters.
Ya think?

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6 users have voted.
detroitmechworks's picture

@earthling1 And it saddens me to see noble intentions turned to foul purpose.

Ah well, that's a whole nother play. Smile

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7 users have voted.

I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

k9disc's picture

from inefficiencies.

CAFE standards for vehicles> less gas purchased = less GDP. More gas = more GDP. Better fuel efficiency means less stopping; what would drive-by country do without people having to stop 50% more frequently?

No more oasis development in between city centers - Urban Sprawl - no houses being built, no gas stations, no convenience stores, no 3rd wal-mart in the area...

My argument was that economics as we know it has become a zero sum game. And when that happens inefficiencies and destruction/reconstruction become the only places you can extract profit.

Of course, this explanation is far more clean and clear than mine, but it is the same argument.

I also saw someone I respect as an intellectual talking about how modern US Capitalism is similar to Stalinism without the mustache and boot to the face. Super stoked to have these ideas run through my head from the outside in.

Thanks for the breakdown, arendt.

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10 users have voted.

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

arendt's picture

@k9disc

NOTE: Sorry to not respond directly to what you said. Its late, I'm tired, so I'm saying what came to mind because that's easy to write. If I have time in the morning, I will try to respond directly.

----

The best example of that is the electric light bulb. In a firehouse in California, there is a lightbulb built in 1909 that is still working, in use continuously for over 100 years.

After the initial build out, when everyone had light bulbs, and many of them were as durable as the one cited above, sales started to drop. So, the manufacturers started making the filaments smaller, so they would burn out faster, so that sales would go up. (Or, you could say that they tried to make the bulbs cheaper and that burnout was an unintentional side effect - but the result is the same no matter the motivation.)

P.O. really got into gear when manufactures had lots of parts, so that the failure of any one part meant either a repair or a new purchase. Cars built in the 1960s fell apart or rusted through in five years. Fortunately, the Japanese automakers rescued us from such blatant planned obsolescence by beefing up and hardening the weak components.

But, the same behavior is starting to crop up in those "long lived" LED lightbulbs. They want them to burn out faster than 20,000 hours.

And, all that was in the manufacture of physical products. When the product is a financial service, it is all about fees. And, the more inefficiency, the more product sold.

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7 users have voted.

Or The Office According to “The Office”

Now, after four years, I’ve finally figured the show out. The Office is not a random series of cynical gags aimed at momentarily alleviating the existential despair of low-level grunts. It is a fully realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore. The theory begins with Hugh MacLeod’s well-known cartoon, Company Hierarchy (below), and its cornerstone is something I will call The Gervais Principle, which supersedes both the Peter Principle and its successor, The Dilbert Principle. Outside of the comic aisle, the only major and significant works consistent with the Gervais Principle are The Organization Man and Images of Organization.

Found that link tucked inside a comment on HackerNews about a review in The New Yorker "The Bullshit-Job Boom" a couple months ago, I am still not even close to reading the actual book. But the comments on HN were just as frightening, maybe... like the first one:

I've been working in a financial company for the past six months and honestly there's more bullshit than real work. I'm now convinced that the entire finance world is the biggest scam of all time, but that's another matter really.

There are entire levels of people whose only real purpose seems to be putting together PowerPoint presentations for other people. Literally producing entertainment for others who spends most of their time consuming that entertainment.

I'm glad other people have observed this too. It makes me feel more sane. I hope to be back in a small tech company soon.

Finance world biggest scam of all time? duh no shit sherlock. I wish it made me feel more sane, but no. it'll take more than observation for that to happen. tough beans

Thanks a lot for the essay and comments y'all. My advice is never let the pay masters put "Specialist" in your job title, that is the beginning of Clueless with rapid advancement toward Sociopath, the whole way is juiced with big paychecks and no conscience. It drove me crazy. Windows should be banned from the face of the earth, it is such a dysfunctional OS. Viruses? In 2018 are you kidding me? Bill Gates should be in prison, that's what I think.

good luck

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5 users have voted.
arendt's picture

@eyo

...don't forget The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to σ; however in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity (sub-area B2 of quadrant B in figure 3) and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals (area H in basic graph, fig.1). Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the σ fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.

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3 users have voted.
thanatokephaloides's picture

@eyo

Windows should be banned from the face of the earth, it is such a dysfunctional OS. Viruses? In 2018 are you kidding me? Bill Gates should be in prison, that's what I think.

I trust you've upgraded from Windows to Linux or BSD?

Wink

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3 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides thanks, I run Slackware everywhere since 2009, praise Bob! Nothing in tech is good for the environment, brings out my grumpy inner Luddite. It helps if my OS comes with a sense of humor, as the world burns. ~shrug~

Patrick Volkerding is a Dead Head too. I love using Slackware. Thanks Pat!

/. Y2K (Slashdot, Year 2000):

The name (Score:5, Funny)
by sanityimp

How did you come to the name Slackware? DId it hit you during a long nights of smoking from the holy frop with bob? Did stang climb in your window and wisper it in your ear while you were asleep? Was it the Xists?

Patrick:

Yeah, ok, I'll admit that it was SubGenius inspired. In fact, back in the 2.0 through 3.0 days we used to print a dobbshead on each CD. The name didn't come from Stang... I ran into him last summer and he asked me if that Red Hat organization was my company. I still think it's a pretty good name. I've been trying to put an ease-of-use spin on it, but it doesn't quite work. I think I'll just start telling people all the good names were taken to get them off the subject.

Music by Rev. Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO, with animation by Rev. Ivan Stang and artwork by Nenslo, St. Kenneth Huey and Mr. Fernandinande LeMur. Dedicated to Slack master and Sex God J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, who discovered the Conspiracy and an invasion by UFOs, and founded The Church of the SubGenius, an adults-only religion for mutants, misfits, weirdos. No nudes in this one.

what! no nudes? oh well, have fun.

The first time I ran Slackware was 1996, for an Intro to UNIX course. I was doing support for Novell Netware back then, LOL! shakes fist at sky
ABEND

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4 users have voted.