Dennis Grauel ‣ Batmip
Wurundjeri Country

Batmip is a somewhat dysfunctional family of 3 cuts, exploring how the hand’s influence (through modulating axial stress) can be captured within the pixel grid. I aimed to challenge the premise of the pixel constraint by resisting its logic. Where the pixel grid pushed me towards making decisions that favour it, I resisted, exaggerating non-vertical stress rather than minimising it.

Pixel fonts can be iterated very quickly. As such, Batmip has been a testing ground for shaping a base character set that I can consistently support across my library.

Current Version: 0.3
Started: August 2020
Last Update: October 2020

You can download and use this typeface for testing purposes, student work, or explicitly non-commercial, local-scale community organising work. For commercial applications, licenses can be arranged via email.

▤ License Pricing ⤓ Download v0.3
Roman
Landscape in the Mist (1988)
The language in common is not merely the constellation of symbols, hashtags, and performative tactics mobilized in the context of social movements. It is the mode of communication of a revolutionary collective coming into being.
On Monuments and the Rules of Engagement
1. Continued origami on the sly (9)
The internet began with the dream of a common language. The vision was a network of networks, bound together by a protocol that let a global community of computers speak to one another—an Esperanto, but for machines.
bicycle freedom
Snitches get stitches
HB pencils – 20pk
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All Cats Are Beautiful
injection mold
Internet archives and socialism
RIP
truculence
grey marle drapes
Tatum, Travis (2005). “Reflections on Black Marxism”. Race & Class. 47 (2): 71–76.
endure
Scrum Half
Constitution Amendment (No. 9) Act 1980-1981
Ewan
backhanded compliment
fig. 7
RP 3100AW
The anti-global
Italic
The internet began with the dream of a common language. The vision was a network of networks, bound together by a protocol that let a global community of computers speak to one another—an Esperanto, but for machines.
Landscape in the Mist (1988)
1. Continued origami on the sly (9)
The language in common is not merely the constellation of symbols, hashtags, and performative tactics mobilized in the context of social movements. It is the mode of communication of a revolutionary collective coming into being.
On Monuments and the Rules of Engagement
RP 3100AW
Beans and 2 veg
Ewan
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Warning – to avoid danger of suffocation, keep this bag away from babies and children.
Crimson #DC143C
(pregnant pause)
You are free to choose your own pathology provider.
Internet archives and socialism
tonal tendencies
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Fraktur
On Monuments and the Rules of Engagement
The internet began with the dream of a common language. The vision was a network of networks, bound together by a protocol that let a global community of computers speak to one another—an Esperanto, but for machines.
1. Continued origami on the sly (9)
Landscape in the Mist (1988)
The language in common is not merely the constellation of symbols, hashtags, and performative tactics mobilized in the context of social movements. It is the mode of communication of a revolutionary collective coming into being.
45%
Noise Reduction Rating: 12 DECIBELS
4 005401 125020
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So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

Italic 16px

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Sunday, July 23rd of 2017, a 22-year-old Uber driver Guilherme e Silva Maia was waiting for a passenger at Ancuri, a peripheral neighbourhood of Fortaleza, when two unknown assailants shot and killed him. Authorities claimed that the murderers had mistaken him for a member of their rival gang, as his car’s dark windows were closed, disobeying informal rules printed on the walls upon entering the neighbourhood: “Remove helmet. Lower car windows. Turn on light inside the car”. Three years later, on October 21st of 2020, a group of drug dealers shot Christiano Coimbra, an O Globonewspaper employee, after having entered the community of Cidade Alta, following a transit app suggestion to bypass traffic on Avenida Brasil, a major artery of Rio de Janeiro.

Episodes like these tend to reignite discussion about the need for an “avoid dangerous areas” feature on these apps, which is reportedly available on Waze for some cities in Brazil. On Waze, these areas are supposed to be collaboratively marked, just as with the other alerts in the app. But in the future, this task might fall to an algorithm,  with no guarantee that, through machine learning, it won’t simply label informal settlements as violent spaces. Handing over the control of marking potentially violent areas to new stakeholders (such as Uber or Waze) without the moderation of democratic state institutions represents a major shift in the territorial governance of cities in the Global South. This shift may end up substituting the pursuit of a good, inclusive, public mapping system, for one governed at the whim of corporate interests, whose agenda is not often convergent with those of vulnerable residents of informal settlements. And by “good, inclusive, public mapping”, we mean a system that is attentive to the voices of the residents of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods, capable of supporting a democratic urban decision-making process.

The cases of Silva Maia and Coimbra underline the importance of identifying who controls and moderates spatial information. Algorithms act according to what they are trained for, and human beings are the ones training them. Therefore, when algorithms are clearly reinforcing existing inequalities, it is crucial to question who writes these algorithms, and in whose interests they are writing them. More importantly, these people should be held accountable for the socio-spatial effects of their products. 

The last decade has seen a great proliferation of digital georeferencing tools based on urban mapping algorithms: from spatial data banks such as Google Maps and Bing to location collection functionality on social media apps such as Whatsapp and Twitter. This might constitute an opportunity for boosting democratic decision-making in the urbanisation process, as the technology enables people without technical training to share maps tailored to their needs. However, this is a two-way street: citizens map but are also being mapped. A person’s location data is a valuable resource, which has been commercialised largely under the noses of both individual citizens and their representative democratic institutions. 

For decades mapping was an expensive, time-consuming and hand-made process. Therefore, in the cartographic field, power was concentrated in the hands of a few people, from colonisers in the early centuries to, more recently, technicians usually hired by the state. Before the popularisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS),  residents of the unmapped spaces did not officially exist, as they were absent from planning agencies’ databases. At the end of the day, this absence denied them certain opportunities afforded to those with the status of full citizenship: including government investment in their neighbourhoods and welfare. The image below from the community of Lauro Vieira Chaves illustrates a typical situation of major metropolises in the Northeast of Brazil where the subdivision design proposal approved by local planning agencies differed from the actually existing built environment. Here, urban development had occurred informally, bypassing existing land use control mechanisms because they presupposed plot sizes and streets much larger and wider than an average urban dweller could afford. Public utility companies would often deny services to settlements that did not conform to these plot sizes, on the grounds that they were illegal, and, in any case, dismissing them as exceptional cases. As such, in the same image, we see that the network of sewer systems does not cover the informally opened streets.

Fraktur 16px

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.

So far, we have established three broad categories of jobs: useful jobs (which may or may not be shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically just selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else. In each case, I think it’s fair to trust that those who have these jobs know best which category they belong to. What I’d like to do next, before turning to the typology, is to clear up a few common misconceptions. If you toss out the notion of bullshit jobs to someone who hasn’t heard the term before, that person may assume you’re really talking about shit jobs. But if you clarify, he is likely to fall back on one of two common stereotypes: he may assume you’re talking about government bureaucrats. Or, if he’s a fan of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he may assume you’re talking about hairdressers.

Let me deal with the bureaucrats first, since it’s the easiest to address. I doubt anyone would deny that there are plenty of useless bureaucrats in the world. What’s significant to me, though, is that nowadays, useless bureaucrats seem just as rife in the private sector as in the public sector. You are as likely to encounter an exasperating little man in a suit reading out incomprehensible rules and regulations in a bank or mobile phone outlet than in the passport office or zoning board. Even more, public and private bureaucracies have become so increasingly entangled that it’s often very difficult to tell them apart. That’s one reason I started this chapter the way I did, with the story of a man working for a private firm contracting with the German military. Not only did it highlight how wrong it is to assume that bullshit jobs exist largely in government bureaucracies, but also it illustrates how “market reforms” almost invariably create more bureaucracy, not less. As I pointed out in an earlier book, The Utopia of Rules, if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.

Nonetheless, the assumption that government is necessarily top-heavy with featherbedding and unnecessary levels of administrative hierarchy, while the private sector is lean and mean, is by now so firmly lodged in people’s heads that it seems no amount of evidence will dislodge it.

No doubt some of this misconception is due to memories of countries such as the Soviet Union, which had a policy of full employment and was therefore obliged to make up jobs for everyone whether a need existed or not. This is how the USSR ended up with shops where customers had to go through three different clerks to buy a loaf of bread, or road crews where, at any given moment, two-thirds of the workers were drinking, playing cards, or dozing off. This is always represented as exactly what would never happen under capitalism. The last thing a private firm, competing with other private firms, would do is to hire people it doesn’t actually need. If anything, the usual complaint about capitalism is that it’s too efficient, with private workplaces endlessly hounding employees with constant speed-ups, quotas, and surveillance.

Obviously, I’m not going to deny that the latter is often the case. In fact, the pressure on corporations to downsize and increase efficiency has redoubled since the mergers and acquisitions frenzy of the 1980s. But this pressure has been directed almost exclusively at the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the ones who are actually making, maintaining, fixing, or transporting things. Anyone forced to wear a uniform in the exercise of his daily labors, for instance, is likely to be hard-pressed. FedEx and UPS delivery workers have backbreaking schedules designed with “scientific” efficiency. In the upper echelons of those same companies, things are not the same. We can, if we like, trace this back to the key weakness in the managerial cult of efficiency—its Achilles’ heel, if you will. When managers began trying to come up with scientific studies of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to deploy human labor, they never applied those same techniques to themselves—or if they did, the effect appears to have been the opposite of what they intended. As a result, the same period that saw the most ruthless application of speed-ups and downsizing in the blue-collar sector also brought a rapid multiplication of meaningless managerial and administrative posts in almost all large firms. It’s as if businesses were endlessly trimming the fat on the shop floor and using the resulting savings to acquire even more unnecessary workers in the offices upstairs. (As we’ll see, in some companies, this was literally the case.) The end result was that, just as Socialist regimes had created millions of dummy proletarian jobs, capitalist regimes somehow ended up presiding over the creation of millions of dummy white-collar jobs instead.

We’ll examine how this happened in detail later in the book. For now, let me just emphasize that almost all the dynamics we will be describing happen equally in the public and private sectors, and that this is hardly surprising, considering that today, the two sectors are almost impossible to tell apart.