One of my favorite books that I read this past year was “Bullsh*t Jobs: A Theory” by David Graeber. In the book, Graeber describes what he sees as meaningless jobs. According to Graeber, a meaningless job is one for which, if the job disappeared, nothing would happen. Graeber claims that “huge swathes of people, in Europe and North American in particular” have meaningless jobs and “spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.” Graeber also points out that one of the most interesting characteristics of a meaningless job is that it’s usually relatively highly-respected and well-paid (think corporate lawyer, for example). In Graeber’s words, “There seems to be a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.”
From our visit to Hasiru Dala today, I learned that waste pickers in Bangalore earn 6000-7000 rupees per month on average, which translates to around $2.85-$3.33 per day. While this is above the poverty line in Bangalore at 2500 rupees per month, it seems to me to be less than they deserve for performing such a crucial service for the city. Nalini Shekhar, one of the co-founders of Hasiru Dala, conducted a study showing that informal waste pickers within Bangalore manage 1,050 tonnes of waste per day, saving the city 840 million rupees or around $12 million per year. Alas, given their small incomes in comparison to their huge service, it appears that the “meaningless jobs” problem is as much Indian as North American or European.
I wish I could somehow redistribute just some small, small fraction of income from corporate lawyers, middle managers, and advertisers to waste pickers, but I guess for now I’ll stick to reminding others of just how important, useful, and respectable these waste pickers are. As Graeber wisely said, “Say what you like about…garbage collectors, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic.”