Your Job Is Meaningless… The Rise of ‘Bull—- Jobs’

Have you ever stopped to ponder what you truly contribute to the world through your job? This isn’t about your job title or routine tasks; it’s about the real value you create, improve, or contribute.

For many, this is a straightforward question. But for a middle manager at an insurance underwriting company, for instance, the answer might be a bit more elusive.

In our service-dominated economy, where 80% of jobs are in the service sector, the true impact of our work often remains a mystery.

Let’s get into the intriguing world of ‘bull—- jobs’, a term coined by anthropologist David Graeber, exploring its origins, impact, and the peculiar relationship between work, value, and self-worth in modern capitalism.

The Rise of the Service Sector

The service sector, often visualized as coffee servers, retail workers, and hotel staff, indeed adds tangible value. However, this sector is much broader, encompassing roles from call centre employees to CEOs.

The expansion of this sector and the prevalence of ‘bull—- jobs’ — positions that seemingly contribute little to nothing — challenge the notion of a self-regulating, efficient market.

Echoes of Soviet Labour Ideals

The concept finds an unlikely parallel in Soviet communism.

The Soviet Union revered work as noble and dignified, leading to ‘worker hoarding’ and the creation of redundant jobs. Modern Western capitalism, while different in many ways, shows alarming similarities in its creation of seemingly pointless roles.

Unpacking ‘Bull—- Jobs’: A Graeberian Analysis

David Graeber, in his book “Bull —- Jobs,” categorizes these roles into five types:

  1. Flunkies: Roles like doormen and assistants, existing primarily to make others feel important.
  2. Duct Tapers: Those fixing problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
  3. Box Tickers: Employees fulfilling tasks to maintain appearances rather than add real value.
  4. Goons: Jobs with a negative societal impact, like corporate lawyers or lobbyists.
  5. Task Masters: Managers of people who don’t require oversight.

These categories reveal a corporate ecosystem filled with roles that, at best, add minimal value and, at worst, perpetuate a negative impact.

Reflections on Modern Capitalism & Soviet Parallels

While the Soviet Union created ‘bull—- jobs’ to ensure employment for all, modern capitalism does so through bureaucratic complexities and misaligned incentives.

Just like Soviet propaganda glorified labor, modern corporate culture glorifies busyness and the illusion of productivity.

Societal Solutions & Individual Realities

To address this issue, society might need to embrace fewer working hours and recognize that not all jobs are black and white in their value. However, individuals in these types of jobs might have limited immediate options, potentially finding solace in understanding the nature of their roles or seeking fulfillment in side projects.

A Glimpse Into the World of Virtual Bureaucracy

Interestingly, this phenomenon isn’t limited to the physical world.

The online game EVE Online has developed a complex financial system with its own version of ‘bull—- jobs’, mirroring real-world economic intricacies.

The Journey of Understanding

This exploration into the nature of modern work and the pervasiveness of meaningless jobs is part of a larger journey to understand the complexities of our economic system.

We invite you to question the nature of your work, and ponder on the real value you contribute to the world.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.