are we nuts, or just crass materialists?

In today's anniversary memorial to both the pragmatism and the idealism of the 1930's the NYTimes seems to say it's the latter.

On April 6, 1933, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have made the standard work week 30 hours. Anything more would be overtime.

The bill passed by the Senate was an effort to reduce a national unemployment rate that stood at 25 percent. It had strong support from labor and religious leaders who argued that working people needed time for family, education, recreation and spirituality as much as they needed higher wages. But the bill failed in the House. The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed five years later, gave Americans a statutory 40-hour workweek.

The report goes on to say that while American productivity is now several times what it was 70 years ago, most of us still find it hard to get our work done in 40 hours, and millions are without work altogether.
What happened? In effect, the United States as a society took all of its increases in labor productivity in the form of money and stuff instead of time. Of course, we didn't all get the money; the very poor earn even less in real terms than they did then, and the largest share of the increase went to the richest Americans.

The harmful effects of working more hours are being felt in many areas of society. Stress is a leading cause of heart disease and weakened immune systems. Consumption of fast foods and lack of time for exercise has led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Many parents complain that they do not have enough time to spend with their children, much less become involved in their community. Worker productivity declines during the latter part of long work shifts.

To put this in perspective, we could look at the picture in Europe. Because of differences in workweek hours and vacation time, Americans now labor a full nine weeks more each year than Western Europeans.
. . . over the past 30 years, Europeans have made a different choice — to live simpler, more balanced lives and work fewer hours. The average Norwegian, for instance, works 29 percent less than the average American — 14 weeks per year — yet his average income is only 16 percent less. Western Europeans average five to six weeks of paid vacation a year; we average two.

Work and consumption are not necessarily bad. But producing and consuming can become the focus of a person's life — at the expense of other values.

And now with fears fanned by a radical nationalist regime since September 11, the freedoms which have always been the most worthy blessings of American society are being traded for an illusory security. What can we offer ourselves, or anyone outside who might manage to make it through the walls surrounding the new fortress America, but more stuff we never have time to appreciate? In the end is that all that will remain of the idea of America?