Overconsumption and the stresses facing modern workforces are causing a rethink on work-life balance and, ultimately, calling into question the importance of constant economic growth.

American author and filmmaker John de Graaf says the US is one of just five countries in the world not to have a law stipulating at least some paid vacation time.

In this respect, the super power is in the company of Suriname, Guyana, Nepal and Burma.

It is believed that as many as 39 per cent of Americans get no days of annual paid leave.

De Graaf, who founded Take Back Your Time, an initiative “to challenge the epidemic of work”, told delegates at the RIAA International Responsible Investment  Conference  in Melbourne that his involvement in a campaign proposing paid-vacation legislation in the US, stipulating one to two weeks of paid annual leave, had left him stunned.

“You would have thought from the reaction that we were demanding the end of Western civilisation,” he said.

“The conservative reaction was that we were trying to turn America into a twenty-first century France… as if we were all going to be forced to appreciate good food and wine.”

De Graaf says similar attempts by groups lobbying for paid sick leave or family leave were always met with the same response: what will that do to the economy?

This caused him to question the role of the economy and how successful the US had been, relative to other wealthy counties, in safeguarding quality of life for its citizens.

“The United States fares very poorly… we ranked last in almost every category relative to 14 peers,” he said.

“We are now living in a global economy, and certainly in the US a national economy, that is something like the Titanic. It is cruising blindly towards catastrophe when dealing with the natural systems of the planet. We really have to turn that around and we don’t have much time to do it.”

Staying with the events of 1912, de Graaf referenced the Bread and Roses strike (pictured right), when textile millworkers in Massachessets demanded more money and shorter working hours.

The bread is an obvious symbol of higher wages, while roses – the time to smell them, let alone own them – portray the meeting of non-material needs that is so often overlooked in the modern world.

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