Casual employment in Australia is more prevalent than temporary work in most European nations, and casual employees have fewer rights and entitlements than comparable temporary employment categories in Europe. Yet, despite Australia's long history of industrial activism and political representation of labour, there are fewer examples of social or political movements in Australia resisting precarious work than in Europe. This article provides a partial explanation of this puzzling lack of social resistance to casual employment. It begins from the idea, developed by the Frankfurt School tradition of critical social theory, that economic systems can create or sustain norms that conceal their more harmful social effects from public view. It then uses conceptual categories drawn from critical social theory to show how individual and social costs of casual employment have been overlooked or 'reified' in the workplace and in public political discourse. The study is based on existing qualitative research and on a new analysis of attitudes to work and economic organisation in Australian public discourse.