laboring just a little less

Maybe the biggest downer of this argument for giving Americans the down-time which Europeans, even the Japanese, enjoy in quantities denied us you here is the part about our greed for consumption being the engine of our own social destruction. You mean we can't just blame it on the bosses, the ones who take as much time off as they please, emulating or being emulated by the august one in the White House, notorious for his commitment as a leisure enthusiast?

But four weeks off in one chunk? Real people have to really struggle to get more than one week at a time, always risking being charged with a different kind of lack of commitment. The French, and most Europeans, routinely claim eight weeks and are now talking about ten.

As long as we're scrutinizing the relationship between companies and their shareholders and pensioners [this year], how about looking at the inflexible work norms imposed on workers?

During the last six months, a national "Take Back Your Time Day" movement has gained momentum, urging Americans to take the day off on Oct. 24, 2003. The date, coming nine weeks before the end of the year, symbolizes the additional nine weeks Americans work in comparison to Continental Western Europeans.

In the end, even more than work schedules, incomes and employment are at stake: our choices affect the rest of the world. For the last half century, America's tendency has been to consume more, rather than work less. This propensity to work is central to why the United States is among the world's wealthiest nations as well as the unrivaled leader in resource depletion, carbon-dioxide emissions and environmental impact. By next Labor Day, perhaps, the message will be that we're slowing down, sharing the work and consuming a little less.