David Graeber has written a book about a problem that, as he puts it, ‘most people don’t even acknowledge to exist’. The problem is that of ‘bullshit jobs’, which Graeber defines as ‘a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence’.
Bullshit jobs proliferate under capitalism today. According to one YouGov poll cited by Graeber, 37 per cent of Britons believe that their job does not make a meaningful contribution to the world. Indeed, in its sheer tedium, work for many appears to resemble the job of Frits van Egters, the sardonic youth in Gerard Reve’s postwar novel The Evenings: ‘I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.’
In the Cold War era in which The Evenings was written, it was communism that generated a superabundance of bullshit jobs. The decision taken by various politburos to create ‘full employment’ left every workplace teeming with an excess of staff who sullenly waited out their lives in the ranks