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Traveling is a great way to learn about other cultures and ways of thinking. While most of our encounters with a host country’s legal system usually revolve around visas and Customs offices, there is a much broader and underlying set of laws that guides the flow of daily routines and reflects a people’s values and beliefs.

Here are 23 laws from around the world that, while maybe not perfect, could be steps in the right direction to make the United States a better place to live.

The Law of Mother Earth

Bolivian President Evo Morales recently enacted his country’s Law of Mother Earth (Pachamama) and Integral Development to Live Well, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that redefines the Earth and all its inhabitants as a living system with rights instead of a commodity to be exploited.

Gross National Happiness

Expanding conventional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measurements of wealth to include non-monetary factors like psychological well-being, community vitality, and environmental quality, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review similar to an Environmental Impact Statement in the US.

Renewable Energy Act

Germany’s Renewable Energy Act mandates that 80% of the country’s power will come from renewable sources by 2050. With new wind and solar installations as well as huge investments in overhauling its entire grid, a complete conversion to renewable energy by 2050 is now becoming a realistic target.

Climate Change Act

The UK and Mexico are the first two countries in the world to have put long-term climate targets into national legislation. The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act mandates an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases from its 1990 baseline by 2050, along with a range of measures to achieve this goal. Mexico’s recently adopted law establishes the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, a centralized agency to oversee the implementation of all its climate policies.

GMO ban

While about 90% of American corn, soybeans, and cotton are currently grown from genetically modified organisms (GMO) and 70% of all American processed foods contain GMO ingredients, a growing number of countries have enacted partial or total bans on GMO seeds and products. Kenya and Peru are the latest additions, joining Russia, a number of EU countries, and Bolivia, which has enshrined a GMO ban into its Law of Mother Earth.

GMO labeling

Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, India, Chile, and South Africa don’t have outright bans on the import or cultivation of GMO crops, but they do require labeling for foods containing GMOs. A recent ballot initiative in California (Prop 37) that would have enacted GMO labeling failed by the narrowest of margins, but it may have signaled the beginning of a growing awareness surrounding this issue.

Urban Agriculture Law

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, eliminating over 50% of Cuba’s food imports, the country had to adapt to feeding its own population almost overnight. The Cuban government realized the huge opportunity not just for a healthier but more sovereign and efficient food base by enacting an urban agriculture law that makes it not just legal, but free to adapt unused, public land into food production plots.

Environmental education

Countries around the world have come to recognize that promoting the value of environmental stewardship to its youngest citizens is instrumental to the future of the planet. In Costa Rica, one of the pillars of its comprehensive eco legislation is the Environmental Protection Awareness in Primary and Secondary Education Law. In the Netherlands, a bicycling ordinance requires children to take a written as well as a riding test, administered by the police at around age 10.

Cycling laws

There are special traffic laws for cycling in the Netherlands. The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan of 1999 spells out these traffic laws designed to make cycling safer and encourage a growing bicycle culture. For example, if there is a collision between a car and a cyclist, the driver’s insurance is automatically held liable.

Same-sex marriage

The Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Mexico, and Canada all permit same sex marriage. Most recently, Argentina became the first country in South America to let gay couples marry and adopt children, despite its overwhelmingly Catholic population.

Third gender recognition

Following a Supreme Court ruling that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Nepal recently began implementing its Third Gender Law by issuing citizenship certificates to people who don’t want to be identified as male or female.

Automatic voter registration

While voter registration in the United States is voluntary and often leads to election day confusion and low turnouts, a number of other major democracies have federal voter rolls that automatically register individuals as soon as they turn 18 or become citizens. In Canada, for example, 93% of eligible citizens are registered to vote, compared to 68% in the US. France and Chile also have automatic voter registration laws resulting in election turnouts over 90%.

Campaign finance laws

While the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court has all but sold American elections to the highest bidder, other countries have strict campaign laws. Israel imposes a ceiling on money allowed to be spent in elections. The United Kingdom prohibits paid political advertisements, giving parties and candidates free air time on public television instead. In France, campaigning for President is not allowed to begin until two weeks prior to the first ballot.

Compulsory voting

Ten countries, from Singapore to the Democratic Republic of Congo, enforce compulsory voting. In Australia, for instance, the 1924 Commonwealth Electoral Act requires all citizens over 18 to show up at the polling place on election day and cast a ballot. To facilitate voting, elections are held on Saturdays and citizens can vote at any polling place or mail in their ballots.

Universal health care

While passage of the Affordable Care Act moved the United States closer to providing health care coverage to all its citizens through compulsory purchase of private insurance plans, almost all other developed nations have mixed models that provide basic universal coverage through public funds, supplemented by private payments through employers or additional insurance.

The UK’s National Health Service is a good example of a completely publicly funded and operated health care system where everyone is covered and patients have no involvement in the financial and administrative aspects of their treatment.

Parental leave

All but four of the world’s nations have some form of parental leave policy enabling workers expecting a baby to stay at home with their child for a period of time. Vietnam grants six months of leave at 100% of pay. Estonia, Hungary, and Spain guarantee three years of unpaid leave.

In Canada, parents can split a year of leave at 55% of their salaries. The US is in the exclusive company of Liberia, Swaziland, and Papa New Guinea as the only countries that do not guarantee parents paid time off to take care of their newborn children.

Mandatory paid vacation

While US law does not mandate any paid vacation for employees, European Union labor laws grant workers a minimum of four weeks of paid vacation a year, in addition to holidays, sick days, maternity leave, and other paid leave under European law. Last year the EU’s Court of Justice even ruled that “a worker who becomes unfit during his paid annual leave is entitled at a later point to a period of leave of the same duration as that of his sick leave.”

Flexible work hours

As Americans’ work days are getting ever longer and more numerous, EU labor laws, such as the requirement for part-time hourly pay to be on par with full-time pay for the same work, have been shifting workers’ gains made in productivity towards more leisure time.

Europeans now work only 80-85% as many hours as Americans, thanks to legislation such as the UK’s Right to Request Law or Holland’s landmark Working Hours Adjustment Act that allows employees to reduce their work hours without the threat of losing their jobs, benefits, opportunities for promotion, and pay.

Balanced budget amendment

The Basic Laws of Germany, Spain, and Italy, as well as the Swiss Constitution, all require the state to spend no more than it takes in. While most US states have balanced-budget provisions, the federal government is under no such restraints.

Restorative justice

Focused on a cooperative rather than a retributive process, restorative justice practices originated in indigenous cultures, from the Maori in New Zealand to First Nations in North America. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission assembled after Apartheid in South Africa gave both perpetrators and victims the chance to recount their experience and heal the wounds of the past. In Norway, the National Mediation Service Act defines criminal acts as conflicts, enabling actors to repair the harm caused by the offense.

Strict gun laws

With some 300 million civilian firearms in circulation and 20 times the homicide rate of all other western nations combined, no other developed nation makes access to guns as easy as the United States. Japan, the developed country with the fewest guns and second-lowest murder rate in the world, has had a law on the books prohibiting the possession of firearms since 1958. Countries like Australia and the UK have seen gun-related deaths drop significantly after passing strict laws in the wake of gun massacres in the 1990s.

Marijuana decriminalization

While the Netherlands, with its famous coffeeshops, is best known for the decriminalization of marijuana, countries like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Croatia, Czech Republic, and Mexico all have varying degrees of tolerance towards the personal use of it. In Cambodia, marijuana can easily be purchased and smoked in public areas without the threat of arrest.

Portugal is the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs, treating drug users as sick people instead of criminals. In the US, the states of Washington and Colorado recently voted to legalize marijuana, but it is still illegal at the federal level.

Beer purity law

In the end, what’s the point of it all if you’re drinking crappy beer? Germany’s “Reinheitsgebot” (Beer Purity Law) dates back to 1516, when the Duchy of Bavaria decreed that the only ingredients to be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.

While the 1993 Provisional Beer Law slightly expanded the Reinheitsgebot to allow yeast, wheat malt, and cane sugar to be used in certain beers, Germans like to still refer to their national beverage as “Gerstensaft,” or barley juice. Cheers!

Activism + Politics

 

About The Author

Sven Eberlein

Sven Eberlein is a San Francisco-based freelance writer with Swabian roots who seems to magically attract themes with a hopeful, earthy drift. He used to travel just for the fun of it, but tries to stay focused on the more meaningful trips in the age of climate change and shrinking natural resources. When he’s not roaming around his neighborhood in search of tasty street food and random acts of creativity, he can be found musing on his blog, svenworld.com.

  • Scott Hartman

    Yep X 23!

  • Jeanne DeFrisco Strauss

    Thanks for this enlightening article – I’m with you!

  • Marci Caballero-Reynolds

    This should all be implemented ASAP…..oh how different the US would be.

    • Raj Bunstein Goldnug

      Many of these will never happen because of our leaders short sightedness and powerful lobby groups.

  • This European Life

    Four main areas: labor, healthcare, environment and finance. The States are many years behind some countries that we call “civilized” in these aspects, but we must also keep in mind that not everything is bad or outdated in the wonderful country that the US is. I do not necessarily agree on the gun control law aspect of it, or in the fact that you will go to jail if you shoot a burglar in your own home anywhere else in the world; but I must say that the big bulk of these laws would make the United States a whole lot better. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • This European Life

    Four main areas: labor, healthcare, environment and finance. The States are many years behind some countries that we call “civilized” in these aspects, but we must also keep in mind that not everything is bad or outdated in the wonderful country that the US is. I do not necessarily agree on the gun control law aspect of it, or in the fact that you will go to jail if you shoot a burglar in your own home anywhere else in the world; but I must say that the big bulk of these laws would make the United States a whole lot better. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Marielle Lily Walter

    Brilliant.

  • Marielle Lily Walter

    Brilliant.

  • Doug Walsh

    To suggest Americans are drinking crappy beer shows either a distinct lack of knowledge about the craft brewing explosion that has taken place over the past ten years (many of which win international festivals and are celebrated throughout europe) or reveals a college student’s budget.

    And wait a second: did you really just reference Spain as a model for financial responsibility? SPAIN?

    Thumbs up on most of the others though… one can dream, right?

    • Meg Noneofyourbeezwax

      “The US is in the exclusive company of Liberia, Swaziland, and Papa New Guinea as the only countries that do not guarantee parents paid time off to take care of their newborn children.”
      Yeesh…..

    • Ethan Espie

      I dont know much about Spain’s economy; not exactly an expert on ours either. But here’s one metric where they’re better off than us:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt

    • Doug Walsh

      True that. They also have 26% unemployment and may possibly bring the Euro to its knees (with the help of Greece, of course).

    • Doug Walsh

      This was no supposed to get posted to my wall. Aye carumba. LOL!

  • Doug Walsh

    To suggest Americans are drinking crappy beer shows either a distinct lack of knowledge about the craft brewing explosion that has taken place over the past ten years (many of which win international festivals and are celebrated throughout europe) or reveals a college student’s budget.

    And wait a second: did you really just reference Spain as a model for financial responsibility? SPAIN?

    Thumbs up on most of the others though… one can dream, right?

  • Mark Anglo

    What a leftist rag this Matador site is.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thank you!

  • Anisha Sharma

    Thanks! Putting these on my wishlist for India: Restorative Justice, GMO, Balanced Budget Ammendments, Strict Gun Laws, Automatic Voter Registration, Compulsory Voting, Mother Earth Law, Cycling Law :)

  • Evan Tennant

    sooooo lets make drugs legal and criminalize law abiding firearms owners? hippy talk if I have ever heard it.

    • Ryan W. Marshall

      Apples and oranges, Evan. The right to bear arms, is taken out of context today guns in 1791 were a bit less dangerous than they are now. I am all for possessing firearms for personal protection but under what situation is a semi-automatic assault rifle necessary to do so. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; yes that is true but should people have the means to end multiple lives at anytime? That is a lot of trust to put into 300,000,000 people, and you wonder why your murder rate is substantially higher than all 1st world countries. In Canada where I am from if I decided that I am fed up with the world and I wanted to take out as many people as I could, I would have no means to do so, thus basically eliminating the problem in its entirety.

    • Evan Tennant

      i live in canada and am a firearm owner and i am sick and tired of being judged and punished due to the actions of rare screw ups by psychopaths. the right to bear arms is also to protect against a tyranical government. gov has big guns, we should be able to defend against them if need be. Also the better the gun the less likely to injur an animal and not recover it so why wouldnt i use the best equipment available.

    • Molly Olivia

      marijuana is bad and firearms aren’t? i’d argue exactly opposite

    • Mike Lerner

      Uhmm… didn’t someone use a bomb to kill multiple people??? Get over the semi-auto nonsense…

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

    • Mike C Smith

      Could be worse. Pro abortion, but save the whales:)

  • Kaylin E. Stephens

    Interesting ideas. I agree with many (but not all of them, entirely). In particular, I’m very partial to the ideas of mandatory paid leave and universal health care.

    • Keflyn Mahon

      You should also drop the jay-walking law.

    • Kaylin E. Stephens

      That’s not a law everywhere

    • Keflyn Mahon

      Where is it a law?

    • Kaylin E. Stephens

      Jay-walking laws are usually city/county ordinances or state laws, but it’s not a law in every state or city. It’s up to the state/city/county. Pretty sure it is not a law where I’m from.

    • Jordan Nelson

      I strongly disagree with the GMO ban. There are literally millions of people who would have starved by now if it weren’t for them.

    • Kaylin E. Stephens

      I disagree with the ban, but agree with the idea of labeling them.

  • Richard Duran

    Please keep your braindead progressivism out of this country.

    • Molly Olivia

      all of the right-wing/conservative replies to this article involve name-calling and/or negative stereotyping. interesting…

  • Molly Olivia

    yes please

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It's not just a car, but an instrumental part of a pretty damn cool travel project.