Basic Income and “Bullshit Jobs”

An article on advocates for a basic income because it would free people from “bullshit jobs.” Rather than automation killing jobs, which author Rutger Bregman isn’t sure will actually happen, Bregman makes a case for the basic income as a matter of freedom from bullshit jobs:

“To begin with, basic income would give us all genuine freedom. Nowadays, numerous people are forced to spend their entire working lives doing jobs they consider to be pointless. Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities, and government offices. “Bullshit jobs,” the anthropologist David Graeber calls them. They’re the jobs that even the people doing them admit are, in essence, superfluous.

And we’re not talking about just a handful of people here. In a survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission. Another recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a bullshit job.

What is more, the very reason we don’t have personal robo-butlers and flying cars yet may be precisely because we don’t have a basic income. How many brilliant would-be entrepreneurs, inventors, and musicians are at this very moment flipping hamburgers or driving for Uber? And imagine just how much progress we’ve missed out on because thousands of bright minds have frittered away their time dreaming up hypercomplex financial products that are ultimately only destructive.


Nowhere are there as many bullshit jobs, however, as in Silicon Valley. A survey of 5,000 software developers and engineers last year found that, in the words of The Economist, “many of them feel alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated.” Only 19% of tech employees say they are satisfied with their jobs. A mere 17% feel valued. Or, as a former math whiz working at Facebook lamented a few years ago: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

But I don’t think a basic income would actually solve this problem. Much of what the middle class uses it’s money for is to buy positional goods such as housing in “good” neighborhoods, if the basic income goes to everybody, the positional goods will just rise in price, requiring people to supplement the basic income with work. And there aren’t very many middle class part-time jobs, so for most it’s 40 hours a week or 0. Under this scenario, only a small portion of the middle class will withdraw from the workforce, this will indirectly benefit the rest of the workers by decreasing competition for jobs.

A better alternative to a basic income as far as accomplishing this goal is to further restrict working hours. Make the work week 32 or 35 hours rather than 40. This will reduce competition for jobs and raise wages while allowing everybody to relax rather than just a small minority of people who will drop out of the workforce. With a true shortage of workers, companies will be pressured to eliminate unproductive BS work. And there’s no problem of how the government will fund it.(Though a smaller basic income may also be a good idea.We should expect per hour wages to increase, but not necessarily by enough to cancel out the fact that they will have less hours overall.)

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2 Responses to Basic Income and “Bullshit Jobs”

  1. Anon7 says:

    “Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities, and government offices… Superfluous.”

    “BS jobs” have mostly been squeezed out of private industry. When companies had their information on paper, or in the heads of employees, armies of people with good cognitive ability (white collar college grads) were needed to help gather information to guide companies. Companies have all their info in computers now, getting answers is done by a few analysts.

    I have to laugh at the young people (I’m 60) who complain that their jobs don’t fulfill their needs as exceptional, creative beings. In my time, and my fathers time, you worked because otherwise who’d take care of you when you turned 18? You’d starve and be homeless for crying out loud – go to work! Give me a break.

    The biggest problem we have in the US right now is wage stagnation and unemployment caused by immigration (legal and illegal) and the removal of our nation’s manufacturing base. These causes could be addressed but are not, owing to our second problem, the fact that our political class is owned by rich people.

    It may all be moot anyway: automation will take away tens of millions of jobs in the next decade and you’d better believe that the owners of the means of production are not going to share.


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