Bullshit Jobs and the Wellbeing Economy

Sep 17, 2020

By: Rabia Abrar

We were all saddened by the recent loss of David Graeber, a true visionary for radical economic change and an unwavering advocate for politics based on kindness. 

His work as an influential anthropologist, political activist and professor was instrumental in building a vision of an economy designed to deliver social justice on a healthy planet. 

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In particular, David’s research on ‘bullshit jobs’ outlined the problem with the nature of work in the current economic system:

A “bullshit job” is one that even the person doing it secretly believes need not, or should not, exist. That if the job, or even the whole industry, were to vanish, either it would make no difference to anyone, or the world might even be a slightly better place. 

Something like 37-40% of workers according to surveys say their jobs make no difference.  

There is an almost perfect inverse relation between how much your work directly benefits others and remuneration.

The question for me is: why isn’t this situation seen as a major social problem?

His work didn’t stop at criticising the status quo – he also discussed a ‘New Way’ to respond to common needs of humanity and the planet: designing jobs that meet fundamental needs and are remunerated based on the social value they create. 

“People want to feel they are transforming the world around them in a way that makes some kind a positive difference to other people. In a way, that’s what being human is all about”.

Just think what kind of culture, music, science, ideas might result if all those people were liberated to do things they actually thought were important”.

I’d say: let’s just give everyone enough to live on, some sort of universal basic income, and say

You’re all free now to decide for yourselves what you have to contribute to the world‘”.

David will be sorely missed, but his work will live on as inspiration for our collective efforts to bring about a wellbeing economy.  

Explore some of his ground breaking work:  

  • Bullshit Jobs: The Rise of Pointless Work, and What We Can Do About It  
  • Debt: The First 5000 Years, which was turned into a 12-part BBC radio series, and explores the ways debt has shaped society over 5,000 years. 
  • The Utopia of Rules 
  • The Democracy Project 
  • Direct Democracy & the End of Capitalism

Photo: HIROYUKI ITO / GETTY IMAGES

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