Traveling is a great way to learn about other cultures, including gaining a deep consideration of other countries’ laws we might want to adopt ourselves. Hopefully, your experience with laws from other countries is largely confined to obtaining visas and Customs offices, but much can be learned from acquainting ourselves more intimately with the laws that govern other nations. From gun restrictions and mandatory voting, the following foreign laws could improve the quality of life in the US, and we might even want to seriously consider adopting them.
1. The Law of Mother Earth — Bolivia
In 2012, Bolivian President Evo Morales 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. The law aims to reduce the risks posed by climate change through a series of measures designed to preserve the natural world and limit human impact.
2. Gross National Happiness — Bhutan
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.
3. Renewable Energy Act — Germany
Germany’s Renewable Energy Act was enacted to ensure that the country reduces its greenhouse gas emissions and increases its reliance on renewable energy sources. The act strives to make Germany greenhouse gas neutral by 2050, and significantly reduce emissions by 2030. 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. The act is renewed on a regular basis with goals updated to reflect new technological advancements. Clean Energy Wire reported on the most recent version of the act in 2021.
4. Climate Change Act — UK
The UK was the first country in the world to have put long-term climate targets into national legislation. The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act mandated an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gasses from its 1990 baseline by 2050, along with a range of measures to achieve this goal. In 2019, that target was made even more aggressive, now aiming for net zero emissions by 2050.
5. Urban Agriculture Department — Cuba
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, eliminating over 50 percent of Cuba’s food imports, the small island nation had to figure out how to feed its own population almost overnight. The Cuban government realized that this was a huge opportunity not just for a healthier, but more sovereign and efficient food base, by enacting an urban agriculture law. The Urban Agriculture Department was instrumental in distributing food selling permits around harvest time, and helping gardeners secure free land use rights. Now, it’s not just legal, but free to adapt unused, public land into food production plots.
6. Cycling laws — Netherlands
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. The Strict Liability law is the most well-known — and perhaps controversial — example. The law holds that if there is a collision between a car and a cyclist, in many cases the driver’s insurance is automatically held liable. It might sound harsh, but laws like these have undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of cycling in the Netherlands, making it an attractive alternative to the less eco-friendly car.
7. Automatic voter registration — Canada
While voter registration in the United States is voluntary and often leads to confusion on election day 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. Canada, for example, gathers voter information when citizens interact with various government agencies, with the aim of creating a universal voter registration system. This means citizens don’t have to undergo a special registration process to be eligible to vote, but can simply show up at a polling place on election day.
8. Compulsory voting — Australia
One way to fix poor election day turnout is by forcing people to vote. Several countries around the world, 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. Failing to perform their civic duty can result in fines of up to $57.
9. Universal health care — UK
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 an 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.
10. Extended parental leave
The vast majority of the world’s nations have some form of parental leave policy enabling workers expecting a baby to stay at home with their child. Vietnam grants six months of leave at 100 percent of pay. Estonia, Hungary, and Spain guarantee three years of unpaid leave.
In Canada, parents can split a year of leave at 55 percent of their salaries. The US is in the exclusive company of Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea as the only countries that do not guarantee parents paid time off to take care of their newborn children.
11. 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, and that’s in addition to holidays, sick days, maternity leave, and other paid leave set 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.” That means Europeans can take paid sick leave during their paid vacation, should it become necessary, without losing any vacation days for the future.
12. 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.
Thanks to legislation such as the UK’s Right to Request law or the Netherlands’ landmark Working Hours Adjustment Act, employees can reduce their work hours without the threat of losing their jobs, benefits, opportunities for promotion, and pay.
13. Strict firearms laws
With over 390 million civilian firearms in circulation and one of world’s top homicide rates, it might be time for the US to rethink the accessibility of guns. Japan, the developed country with among the fewest guns and lowest murder rates in the world, has had a law on the books prohibiting the possession of firearms since 1958. Japanese citizens are allowed to own shotguns and rifles, but the process for purchasing them is rather lengthy and complicated. Similarly, 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.
14. 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.”