Daniel Lemire's blog

, 8 min read

Why we make up jobs out of thin air

9 thoughts on “Why we make up jobs out of thin air”

  1. Chris Nahr says:

    Excellent observations. The Marxist utopia of artists and philosophers was canceled due to a lamentable lack of artists and philosophers. Instead, we got the post-industrial reality of bureaucrats, busybodies and status seekers.

  2. Benoit Hamelin says:

    Disturbingly interesting. I was wondering why for the last few months, I was so interested in learning how to make a garden, how to bake bread, how to cook from as little pre-processed ingredients as possible. This post pulls my underlying question out of the covers: this good job (read: well-paying and stimulating in the sense that it feels like a game) I work is just a step underfoot towards eating, resting, playing, e.g. what I really want to do.

    If working is so often for prestige and status, it is quite satisfying to realize how little I care for prestige anymore. Confronted with the choice of a job, my main criterion is that it should enable my baking my bread and my sheltering my wife and kids; fun comes next, and everything else comes last. Empowering.

  3. Suresh says:

    “I think most professors would feel exploited if they had to lecture every single day.”

    And yet, we work every day (including weekends!) on research, which is basically what we are paid to do. If we were told that our job was to teach and not do research, then some of us would leave academia, and the rest would indeed be teaching every day, and doing lecture prep on weekends (as do most professors in teaching-intensive positions)

    I admit that this is a minor aside to your main point, but it’s also annoying to see the “professors don’t do any work” canard propagated.

  4. Marie says:

    Cool article. I often wonder why so many students go into med school after university graduation. Do they really mean to “help people”, or is the med degree really a status symbol?

    I have to nitpick one example in your post:
    “I bet that even gangsters and prostitutes are strongly motivated by the social status of work. The most respected among them work with great intensity, beyond their need for financial compensation.”

    To say that prostitutes are motivated by social status rather than by poverty, or coercion is a very strong claim. Do you have a reference that points to some behavioral study on this?

  5. @Suresh

    I did not meant, nor did I write, that “professors don’t do any work”. I think professors often work very hard, precisely to acquire a high social status.

    I was trying to make a case that Celine Dion was a hard working person. That is how she got and maintains a high social status.


    Lots of sex workers are motivated by financial or survival needs. You should not take my statements literally.

  6. Dominic Amann says:

    Your assertion that governments are getting ever bigger needs some backing. It is indeed a popular belief, but I have yet to see real data backing the claim.

    As far as I know, the US government has had a general average over the last 40 years of about 20% of GDP. In lean times, that rises, in good times, it falls. In the heart of the Clinton era, it was at or below its recent historical average. Starting with the 2nd gulf war, it has risen to about 26% lately – with most of that being increased medicaid and social security, as well as declining tax revenue as people have lost their jobs.

    I like the main thrust of your thesis – but very little of the anecdotal data you introduce will stand up to rigourous inspection.

  7. Dominic Amann says:

    I agree that we desire higher status jobs, and that we invent jobs all the time to reflect that desire. I do not buy that government is larger because of this.

    Perhaps instead government is less effective because of this – we are paying more and more useless middle and upper management, who get paid 10x (and more) the wage of the people who actually do things – and so without expanding government, we are getting less done than we should. This is an interesting thesis – it would indicate that instead of welfare for the least well off, it is welfare for the middle class.

    I have no way of proving this idea of course. It just seems very strange that in the past we could build highways, subways and railway systems, but we can’t afford to do it now on similar budgets (as %gdp).

  8. @Dominic

    There are certainly components of the government where they have been improving efficiency and shedding jobs, but these mostly correspond to blue collar (low status) jobs. To compensate, governments have created a comparable number of higher status office jobs… even though advanced information technology means we should need fewer office workers than ever.

    (…) little of the anecdotal data you introduce will stand up to rigourous inspection.

    Please do poke holes in my analysis but consider that I don’t mean it to be literally correct.

  9. K says:

    Sorry to give life to an old article. I ‘ended’ up here through other links.

    That said, this is a very very very insightful and unique article.