Johann Savalle

Product designer and full stack developper living in france
< Back to all articles

Bullshit Jobs to Basic Income - Redesiging economic rewards

September 30, 2020

Bullshit Job : not what you think

David Graeber has turned what would have happily stayed a colourful expression of our daily lives into an actual concept. In his book Bullshit Jobs - A Theory published fairly recently in 2018, he expands on the concept :

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

Not to be confused with a shitty job which is what is says it is : hard and poorly paid.

Bullshit jobs are first of all pointless.

To the point that if one would stop going to work it would make no difference.

In 2016, a spanish civil servant made the news worldwide because he stopped working for 6 years before anyone notived Source One out of many other examples in his book.

His estimate was that the job market is made of about 40% of such jobs. Source Sometime the job itself is useful but it is bullshitised by an non-negligeable about of useless task and meetings existing for the sake of complying with some policy that everybody forgot even why it was here on the first place.

An officiall poll in the UK found that only 50 percent of those who had full-time jobs were entirely sure their job made any sort of meaningful contribution to the world, and 37 percent were quite sure it did not.

Beyond the mere observation of a clearly interesting phenomenon, it begs the question of what would happen if for some reason, these jobs would come to disapear, what would happen?

I am not saying this is what will happen, but if say, an economic crisis of some sort would shake the foundation of our economy (let's imagine if for instance a world-wide pandemic would drive our economy to an halt - crazy I know - but who knows...) so those jobs who were merely keeping people busy until now would likely go away... There is probably some limit to how much you can keep a bullshit job when nobody can pay your salary anymore...

What fundamentaly is the difference between giving a check to somebody tasked to hold a door open 40h a week, and simple giving a check to somebody? I mean what crazy could happen if you'd let him free to go about his life instead?

Because in essence, basic income is basically handling a check to somebody, without the obligation to do something that everybody knows is a massive waste of time.

Somehow, intuitively, I would we find it crazier to give free money to people, than to keep them in the virtual prison of a useless job for the same money...

How about the we think about this beyond a very binary choice.

Redesigning economic incentives

Think of a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, ( MMORPG are a thing) where you can can contribute to your own development or to the development of those around you, the more you play by the rules that contribute to the general development, the more you can gain credits.

To some extends this was meant to be the promise of any social model that came up - capitalism, communism, socialism, all these are a set of social heuristics in a game that always end up biased against the weak and the innocents.

I am not trying to get full emotional, just to point out that after all this smart talk, this is probably harder than it sounds on the one hand. One the other, the general climate in which we are today give some feels we should probably start to think of a solutions to this very problem.

Education is an economic game

While we may not entirely redesign the whole game of society, we can try in smaller ecosystems, where we can build products that try to play with these variables of contribution, and to gamify our relationships, at work or elsewhere, to see what kind of reality we can create.

And design with an impact. Not just some bullshit job.

To be continued.

< Back to all articles