In the scholarly debate about the increasingly flexible, informal, and precarious nature of employment relations, it is often suggested that these trends are new. This is especially true for the advanced capitalist countries. “Previously,” employees had permanent jobs, with good social benefits and a vast array of rights, whereas “nowadays” they are losing these forms of security and are more vulnerable to market whims. These observations do not take into account that standard employment relationships in fact came about relatively recently. In the past, insecurity and absence of rights were at least as prevalent as they are today. Standard employment appears to have been generalized rather briefly in a small part of the world. The crucial question is not why the old lack of security is returning, but why it was possible to reduce such insecurity for a small share of the world population for a few decades. While the answer to this crucial question remains unclear; studies reconstructing the course of events over several centuries will clearly be necessary to solve this problem.