Are You a Wage Slave?

Can we create a future where people no longer have to work at jobs they hate?

Nir Eyal
6 min readDec 4, 2020

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In 100 years, some things we consider normal today will make people say, “Wow, how barbaric — I can’t believe people did that! How were they okay with that?”

Wage slavery, I hope, will be one of those things.

Being a wage slave means you are stuck doing a job solely for the money. You can’t quit, because leaving would have terrible consequences for you and your family. For example, in America, leaving your job not only means a loss of income but can also mean losing your healthcare coverage as well.

This seems inhumane. For many wage slaves, leaving a job puts them one broken arm away from bankruptcy, so they stay put, whether they like it or not.

During the pandemic, many workers, like meat-packers, have little choice but to put themselves at increased risk of catching the virus while on the job. Tens of millions of Americans (and likely billions worldwide) are trapped doing jobs they hate but can’t leave.

It’s helpful to think about work in terms of four categories:

If you’re getting paid to do something you like doing, that’s great! You have a dream job.

If you’re doing something you like for free, that’s good, too: you have a hobby.

If you’re doing something you don’t like for free, it’s drudgery; that’s just part of life. It’s not necessarily enjoyable, but we have to fold the laundry and do the dishes.

But in the final quadrant, if you’re getting paid to do something you don’t like but are stuck doing, you’re a wage slave and it sucks.

Every job involves doing some tasks we don’t enjoy. A job doesn’t have to be perfect all the time to be a good job. As long as there are reasons other than “my family may become homeless” that keep you coming back, it’s not wage slavery. Enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues, riding the goods and bads, or enjoying other perks, can make a job honorable and worthwhile.

Nir Eyal

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