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Bulls**t jobs vs key worker jobs

  • by JW

“Everyone with a fake job gets to stay home and gets paid;

everyone with a real job has to be a frontline pandemic worker or gets fired.”


How do you measure the value of a person’s work?


Jobs in many critical services aren’t those that tend to be highest valued in society. Many of the best paid jobs only exist to facilitate exchanges; to make money. They serve no wider purpose to society: they are what the anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”. Yet because they make lots of money we have lots of consultants, a huge advertising industry and a massive financial sector. Meanwhile, we have a crisis in health and social care, where people are often forced out of useful jobs they enjoy, because these jobs don’t pay them enough to live.

The fact that so many people work pointless jobs is partly why we are so ill prepared to respond to COVID-19. The pandemic is highlighting that many jobs are not essential, yet we lack sufficient key workers to respond when things go bad…

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This is how we value key workers:

One-third of key workers earn £10 an hour or less, study finds |


Here’s a list of “10 ‘key’ coronavirus workers who earn so little they were deemed low-skilled by the government not long ago:”

Supermarket worker

Banking customer service adviser


Bus or coach driver



Farm workers

Nursery teacher

Social worker


Tory MP says people considered ‘low-skilled’ in post-Brexit immigration system ‘actually pretty crucial to running of our country’ |


Or, as Twitter user @MikiZarzycki put it for the coronavirus era: “Everyone with a fake job gets to stay home and get paid to drop funny GIFs into Slack, everyone with a real job has to be a frontline pandemic worker or get fired.”

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With some more perspective:


Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus

… Just before the pandemic exploded I was reading the book “Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber. As I have written about here before the main thesis of the book is that a lot of people have bullshit jobs, they know that they have bullshit jobs, and they are deeply dissatisfied with those bullshit jobs. But what this Covid-19 pandemic is revealing more than ever is exactly how many of us have these jobs and how much the economy of the West relies on them.

In the first few chapters of Bullshit Jobs, Graeber – an anthropologist – allows the people who work these bullshit jobs to flesh out the definition for themselves. After several delightful chapters and with plenty of first person observations he arrives at this definition: a bullshit jobs is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Within this definition, Graeber identifies five major types of bullshit jobs: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. With the taskmasters being the very worst of the bunch…

Bullshit jobs have turned into a sort of “workfare” for the educated classes.

That’s a fact that seems inescapable now as the Coronavirus pandemic has deemed essential and non-essential. The essential people are the folks stocking shelves in the supermarket, driving long-haul trucks, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, people manufacturing essential goods (medical and otherwise), farm workers, and food workers. The rest of us are told to stay at home, shelter in place, and devise new things to do with our time, to prove that we are productive…

Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus |