Brazil’s bizarre — and flat-out bullshit — public jobs

. Sep 10, 2020
bullshit jobs

This is Part 3 of The Brazilian Report’s special series on the Jair Bolsonaro administration’s proposal to reform public service in Brazil. Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 4.


In his best-selling book “Bullshit jobs: a theory,” American anthropologist David Graeber argues that millions of people across the world are knowingly toiling away in pointless, unnecessary jobs. Mr. Graeber considers a “bullshit job”–– one in which even the person doing the job can’t really justify its existence, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist. “That’s the bullshit element.”

The description perfectly describes a myriad of positions within Brazil’s public administration. From typists (which were kept even after computers became universal), locksmiths, VCR and telex operators (hello, 1980s), and even DJs, there are thousands of public jobs that seem obsolete, to say the least.

</p> <p>Among its goals, <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/09/04/bolsonaro-half-hearted-plan-to-reform-civil-service/">Brazil&#8217;s newly-proposed administrative reform</a> aims at eliminating these positions.</p> <p>Based on public data, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> made a survey of the most obsolete —&nbsp;or bullshit, why not — positions in Brazil&#8217;s public service.</p> <h2>Congress is a paradise for bullshit jobs</h2> <p>No area of the Brazilian public administration has more outdated jobs than the Congress.&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2,894 servants employed by the lower house earn between BRL 16,000 and 31,500. For comparison sake, the minimum wage in Brazil sits at BRL 1,045. There are another 3,260 outsourced employees performing services such as cleaning and maintenance, security, IT support … but also 12 videotape archivists and 50 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/25/world/americas/brazil-rio-de-janeiro-elevator-attendants.html">elevator attendants</a>, the latter group at a <a href="https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/especial/noticias/ao-custo-de-r-5-milhoes-por-ano-congresso-mantem-74-ascensoristas/">price tag</a> of BRL 3.7 million per year (USD 711,000).</p> <p>Other jobs kept on the taxpayer dime are also dozens of agents charged with printing and organizing documents — even though most of them are now published online. Moreover, both congressional houses employ an army of waiters and bellboys to pour water and coffee for politicians, journalists, and people invited to the Congress building.</p> <p>In the Congressional garage, 32 men manage a free valet-parking operation for politicians, while another 12 wash and polish your excellencies&#8217; vehicles.</p> <p>And most of the expenses in the Lower House are mirrored by the Senate, where over 100 workers are employed in a publicly-owned editing house, for example.</p> <h2>Typists and telex operators</h2> <p>The Executive branch and higher courts also account for their fair share of positions that strain the public budget —&nbsp;and don&#8217;t have much more value than providing officials with a luxurious lifestyle.</p> <p>Still, some of these jobs are truly bizarre. Besides the 44 elevator attendants spread around ministries&#8217; buildings, the federal government employs 576 phone 2,591 typists —&nbsp;hired for their skills using a typewriter —, 14 telex operators (for younger audiences, the telex was a customer-to-customer switched network of teleprinters that emerged in the post-World War II period and declined in the 1990s), one VCR operator, four glass-blowing professionals, one bomb detonator, and a disc jockey.</p> <p>Many of these professions can easily be performed by contracted companies —&nbsp;or could be simply erased from existence without anyone noticing the difference. The reform proposed by President Bolsonaro could end —&nbsp;or reduce — their existence. But the bill would only concern future servants, and removing the bullshit from public service might take a decade or so.</p> <p>In the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil&#8217;s second-highest judicial body, there is even the noble position of elevator attendant supervisor.</p> <p>Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has never shied away from showing his utter contempt for civil servants, calling them &#8220;<a href="https://blog.grancursosonline.com.br/paulo-guedes-servidores-publicos-saqueadores/">looters</a>&#8221; and &#8220;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8QqCWDSvcY">parasites</a>.&#8221; While we can&#8217;t condone Mr. Guedes&#8217; attacks on the public sector, there is a real issue in terms of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/08/25/budget-discussions-in-brazil-could-see-spending-cap-breached/">money wasted</a> on these &#8220;bullshit jobs.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>At least some of these funds can be spent on something a bit more productive than operating the elevators of the Supreme Court.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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