Ezra Klein interviews George Saunders
Link: The Ezra Klein Show - 2022, Nov 09
On the way to work I listened to George Saunders being interviewed by Ezra Klein, on his podcast’s last episode. Among many things, they touch upon a topic that I had not thought of before: “wage slavery”. I do not have an opinion on this, but I want to think about it a bit more.
Here are the transcripts of the part that caught my interest:
EZRA KLEIN: So I’m a horribly literal nonfiction writer, who has all the concepts always at the front of my brain and just sits there arranging them like pieces on the chessboard. And the term that — the one that often comes up to me in your work, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” particularly, which is one of my favorite stories of yours, is an old term that used to be very common in critiques of capitalism, which is wage slavery. And we don’t talk about wage slavery anymore because we very much adopted the idea that if you consent to a job, if an employer offers you money, and you have agreed to do the thing for the money, whatever your conditions are, that is a freely chosen agreement.
And as such, we’re all good in all directions. But there’s a long running view, on the left, particularly, that people are often not in condition to consent. That when the alternative is indigency or your daughter cannot get the health care she needs, that the things people will do should often be understood as inhumane, whether or not they will say yes to them.
Maybe it’s better than the alternative. But that’s because the alternative is a kind of horror. And that just seems to me to be a very present concern for you, that question of, when should our consent be good enough?
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Right. For me, it’s just interesting to watch and see what does the work do to your spirit? That’s really the question. If you can take joy in it, great. I know when I was working the tech writing job, I found a way to take joy in it because that was a survival mechanism. And it wasn’t the gulag. But there is a way in which I could say, well, I would rather be elsewhere. But thank god I’m not somewhere worse.
I would say we’re very, very tolerant of misery now for our workers. The idea that somebody would work three jobs and not be able to afford a house is pretty crazy. And that’s been a slow drift that I think was enabled, in my experience, in the Reagan years, where you were never to complain about working conditions and so on.
And, apparently, the book they discuss also contains a story with some parallelism to the severance tv series. Very interesting!