We Have It Worse

In the 1970s there was much talk of a ‘leisure age’ in which, thanks to automation, we would scarcely work at all — and a spate of books brooding earnestly on how we would fill our new spare time without becoming hopelessly lethargic. Anybody spotting one of these forgotten tracts in a second-hand bookshop today would laugh incredulously. The average British employee now puts in 80,224 hours over his or her working life, as against 69,000 in 1981. Far from losing the work ethic, we seem ever more enslaved by it. The new vogue is for books that ask anxiously how we can achieve ‘work-life balance’ in an age where many people have no time for anything beyond labour and sleep.

Francis Wheen, Das Kapital: A Biography (2006)

Rather than the pathetic equivocation of “work-life balance,” I propose a shift to older terms — working conditions. Don’t let some scowling supplicant to Capital from a previous generation tell you that you don’t know how good you have it; by every objective measure we have it worse.

(“Chained to your job” is less a metaphor than you might think, as unpaid prison slave labor proves so much cheaper than decent union jobs… but prisoners are often prone to radicalization…)

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