Economy

Take Pride In Your 'Bullshit Job' — It's The Future Of Capitalism

Some see the invention of bogus-sounding professions as a sign that work has become less and less necessary. It may also just mean that capitalism is being transformed.

Bullshit jobs reflect the impossibility to name tasks that are more and more intangible.

PARIS — Stuck at home and prescribed a diet for an early case of gout this year — a punishment familiar to those with a love for decadent meals — I found myself sober and with enough free time to do all types of useless things, like exploring my LinkedIn account.

If it seemed natural not to personally know most of my 3,500 contacts, I was surprised to find that I didn't know the title of many of their professions either. Some job sectors that are obviously popular, but that I had never heard of, included: "Networking Enhancement," "innovative strategies," "holacracy," "global innovation insight," "transition transformation," "change management," "global strategy," "creativity and innovation..." And so on.

The confusing concept of "strategy," in particular, appeared often in job titles. But, the one that baffled me the most was that of "thought leadership." Doesn't it sound like like Yoda's professional profile?

The dose of exoticism was high in the job titles of my contacts: They are experts, counselors, senior advisors, business managers and even officers. Many directly appointed themselves as boss, CEO, founder, owner, managing partner — i.e. "self-employed" more often than not, as one profile honestly admits. Lost in the midst of intergalactic-sounding titles are a minority of traditional job titles that define themselves as modestly "traditional": architect, landscaper, banker, professor, accountant, airline pilot, doctor and director.

Elite prefer enhancing useless functions to justify their own legitimacy.

Beyond the megalomania inherent to social media, the proliferation of "global strategy CEO" indicates a changing economy and society. It is a sign of the times, as predicted by anthropologist and anti-globalization activist David Graeber — the arrival of "bullshit jobs." Such positions characterize the bureaucracy of global commerce, with its human resources, public relations, in-house counsel, experts in influence and their myriad of consultants armed with PowerPoint presentations.

The global success of this expression, used by Graeber in an article for Strike! Magazine in 2013, then expanded into his essay The Utopia of Rules, is itself revealing. After publication, Graeber set out to create a more empirical study and collected testimonies at the address doihaveabsjoborwhat@gmail.com. He classified bullshit jobs in five categories: flunky (trying to make one's superior within a hierarchy look good), goons (in which a company recruits because its competitors have done the same), Duck tapers (whose mission consists of solving a problem that doesn't exist), Box-tickers (signaling the business wants to seem fashionable), and task-masters (who are there to supervise those working fine on their own). Somebody should ask LinkedIn to include these classifications.

Graeber interprets bullshit jobs as an artifice deployed by capitalism in an effort to survive in a universe where work has become less and less necessary: Rather than falling into idleness, the elite prefer enhancing useless functions to justify their own legitimacy. I would like to propose an alternative explanation: Bullshit jobs reflect the impossibility to name tasks that are more and more intangible, where intelligence takes priority over technical skills. In this way, bullshit jobs stand at the center of the meteoric progress of capitalism; they go beyond the specialization of work to better find the value of the entire human being.

Nothing terrifies me more than having to express "what I do for a living." My hesitations immediately cause suspicion (especially at customs). Depending on circumstances and the identity of my interlocutors, I alternate between writer, activist, professor and humorist. I may actually need to categorize myself by these new signals of modernity: to think of the jobs that we are rather than the jobs we have. Let us not be ashamed of our bullshit jobs. The next time someone asks me, I may just try: "thought leadership."

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Economy

Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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