5 Laws Foreign Countries Got Right (That We Need In America)
As a Cracked columnist and generally despicable human being, I am not particularly fond of laws, especially ones that forbid me from doing that thing from last night that I specifically promised wouldn't harm anyone, officer. No, not even that goat. The paint will wash off, I'm pretty sure.
That's not to say there are no exceptions, though. In fact, I've always felt that there are plenty of laws that the good ol' US of A currently doesn't have but absolutely should. Here's why:
Mandatory Paid Vacation
I am by no means a rich man. If personal wealth was measured in mountains, mine would be an anthill in a giant sinkhole. Yet I take vacations abroad two times a year, and occasionally find time to relax with little to no regard for adult responsibilities like deadlines or pants. This is not because of my crippling habit of robbing at least two banks every 12 months (or, uh, at least not just because of that). It's because my supervillain lair is located in Europe, and in my country, my main employer is required to provide me with a cool 30 days of paid vacation time per year. (Also, it's Europe -- you can't spit without hitting another country here, so it's not like the trips abroad are a Herculean fiscal task.)
This is a luxury that you may or may not share, depending on how cool your workplace is. America is famously not too into the whole "mandatory paid vacation time" thing, so it's entirely up to your employer whether they want to provide you with some. More likely, they'll start snort-laughing and pelting you with rancid mayonnaise as soon as you raise the subject during your employee orientation.
Then they show you what could be your bonus holiday pay in a reasonable country, and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Why America Needs This:
Pick literally any year from the United States' modern history and read some news from the era. Just ... any year. Now, ask yourself: Is this not a country that would benefit from a few weeks of annual chillin'? Even your news media could really use the break. For the few glorious summer weeks when the whole country is in off mode, we mostly get calm, soothing news about badgers and shit unless something particularly pressing happens.
Even if you miss the work, you can always simulate the experience by letting the seagulls poop on you.
Oh, and there's also the fact that the U.S. is currently the only advanced country that doesn't require employers to provide workers with paid vacation time. You know that old stereotype of Japanese salarymen working themselves to death? These days, that's the American workforce.
Every once in a while, some politician does point at the situation, but Washington has been so aggressively disinterested in providing Americans with paid downtime that you'd almost think that they were working for the companies instead of the little guy. Most recently, some guy from Vermont called Bernard Sanders pushed a bill that would have guaranteed at least 10 paid vacation days to all eligible employees, but it died a pauper's death in Congress earlier this year. (You probably missed it because 2017 politics have been a dumpster fire. Also, you were probably too busy working to hear about it.)
Fines That Are Relative To Income
In 2015, the police caught a Finnish dude named Reima Kuisla going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone. So they fined him, because that's their job. That's not news. This is, though: The fine was the equivalent of $60,500 in filthy European money.
It's tempting to think that this was just an individual "Fuck Reima Kuisla, amirite?" project. Dude had probably screwed the local police commissioner's wife or something. But this is pretty much par for the course for Finland. In 2000, NHL legend Teemu Selanne was slapped with a $39,000 fine. In 2002, Nokia bigwig Anssi Vanjoki was treated to a kingly $103,600 speeding ticket for going 45 in a 30 zone.
Those figures aren't as arbitrary as they may seem. If you go speeding in Finland (or most of Scandinavia), chances are you won't have to sell your entire extended family's kidneys on the black market to cover the ticket. They determine their fines based on the offender's income and the seriousness of the offense. They first check your wealth and income to determine what your "spending money" is for a day, divide that figure in half, and hit a multiplier of up to 120 days, depending on how badly you've screwed up (oh yeah, this day fine system applies to numerous other infractions, not just speeding). Oh, and there is no upper limit to the fines, so if Bill Gates decides to try out his brand-new MICROSOFT ZOOMER or whatever on a Finnish freeway, they'd presumably have to scotch tape several tickets together so they can fit all the zeroes. Meanwhile, if a poor unemployed person is caught for the same infraction, their fine is going to be a huge deal smaller ... but still hurt exactly as much, because it's the exact same percentage of their income as the rich guy's. That's the point of the system: Full equality, whether you're rich or poor.
"Uh, actually, my unemployed invisible friend was driving it. Go fine him."
Why America Needs This:
Know those affluenza-inflicted rich kid dipshits who treat the world as their personal joyride and care little about everything that doesn't have their Instagram username imprinted on it? Wouldn't it be fucking sweet if any time they pulled a misdemeanor, you could slap them with a fine so hefty that they (or rather, their parents) would really feel it?
I know, I know. There would be lawyers, and years of court, and a dozen more assorted shenanigans that the super-rich can pull to get rid of a simple fine. There always are. So hey, while we're at it, why don't we go all out? Expand the concept a bit and include companies. While it's not unknown for corporations to fuck up so royally that they get fines that go into the billions, fines from smaller yet still significant stuff like large pipeline leaks tend to be in the five-to-six-figure ballpark, which is pretty much nothing for a large enough company. But incorporate the Finnish day fine system to these corporate misdemeanors, and you can bet your best Sunday butt that the threat of suddenly much heftier fines would at the very least mysteriously kick up most companies' safety standards a notch.
"Yeah, actually, an invisible hobo has been running this company all along. Go fine him."
Bolivia's "Law Of Mother Earth"
If our planet decided to take a page out of Ego the Living Planet's playbook and manifest as a man-like creature, its Kurt Russell would probably be a Bolivian politician. At least, that's the only explanation I can find for Bolivia's Law 071, aka "Law of the Rights of Mother Earth." It's a peculiar take on environmental law that straight up defines the Earth as a legal creature with surprisingly well-defined rights. Yeah, basically a Human Rights Declaration for the third rock from the Sun.
Oh god, what if she decides to sue?
The law is heavily influenced by the indigenous Andean spiritual worldview, which places the environment and the Earth deity known as Pachamama at the center of all life. It treats Mother Nature as a living entity, and includes setting up a separate "Office of Mother Earth" to govern it. Oh, and it also essentially treats people as pests to Mother Nature. And that sounds harsh, but have you looked outside recently? You get it.
The text carefully refrains from outright calling us Earth-infesting vermin, but the planet's rights ("right to clean water," "right to pollution-free living", etc.) are outright stated to be more important than people's, and the person who finds themselves at odds with the law's definition of said rights is in no uncertain terms stated to be shit out of luck. The law deals humans a giant set of limitations, ranging from demands for green energy to recognizing nature's right "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities". In other words, fuck your highways and fuck your cities. A third Chipotle on the same block is unnecessary.
To be fair, Bolivia's likely pulling a "we're too old for this shit" exasperation maneuver here. The country's president, Evo Morales, has been famously critical of its resources getting plundered by international companies, which is probably a fair argument, because right now the electric car industry is hungrily eyeing the country's extremely fragile salt flats for lithium. Maybe that's why the original 2012 legislation was so hardcore that it managed to freak out the country's farmers thanks to its strict regulations of GMO products and farmland expansion. They've since implemented a longer, heavily revised bill to accompany the Mother Nature Law. That one's hard as shit to find information about, but since the country is to my knowledge yet to implode into a nature-worshiping nationwide cult, I'm guessing they manage.
Why America Needs This:
Ha, no. This would never fly in America. Roads and huge buildings are necessary, even if they sometimes have to go through nature (which they always do, in the same way that all food is organic). But the core point of the law -- recognizing Earth as a legal entity with certain rights -- might be worth implementing. It would be handy in combating bullshit business practices like aggressive fracking, and would counter-balance the anti-environmental attitudes of many politicians in current and past administrations. "Oh, you don't think Mother Nature has a right to live without you actively punching holes in her? Actually, it doesn't matter what you think, because it fucking says so right here."
Plus, every politician arguing that logic would get chased home by this hurricane.
That the whole thing sounds odd as hell wouldn't matter, either. In fact, it would actually be a benefit. There's plenty of precedent to assume that most of Congress is pretty much running on blatant denial of scientific facts. So a law that sets up Mother Earth as a living entity would give the climate-change-denying, anti-environmental old guard a taste of their own medicine: Politicians who do believe in environmental issues could now use the old guard's own well-worn arguments about abortion, self-defense, and whatnot, because Mother Earth is now a legal entity that has the right to live and protect itself. So if a tree falls on and destroys a politician's Benz, well, you shouldn't have been acting so suspicious, bro.
Laws That Restrict Advertising To Children
Some time ago, the United Kingdom took a look at its merchants' increasingly heavy-handed efforts to market their products to children and decided that the country could do without that particular brand of horseshit. So Parliament passed a law to protect them. This was in 1874, by the way -- a time when they had barely managed to dwindle down child labor from "5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no lunch break" to "If you lose a limb, you may take lunch early." Today, advertising to children remains restricted in the country, and it's flat-out illegal to appeal to a child's sensibilities and psychological mechanisms to sell an adult product. It's not just a "Stop Using Charlie the Friendly Talking Cigarette to peddle your cancer sticks to six-year-olds" thing, either -- it also applies to using those subtle psychological pull-strings marketers so love.
Other countries have also introduced variations on the theme. Places like Denmark and Belgium restrict advertising to children, while Sweden, Norway, and parts of Canada have made advertising to children under 12 illegal. The EU has the Association of Commercial Television in Europe (aka the least badass thing to ever bear the acronym "ACT"), which lays out several ground rules re: advertising to minors.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is happily sitting on its thumb and spinning. An average American child watches 16,000 ads every year on TV alone, and apart from a few par-for-the-course legal restrictions about the materials that can be broadcast to children, there are no rules. The advertisement industry is free to self-regulate. Try the new Pizza Mountain Double Quarter-Pounder from McDonald's, kids. It comes with a toy based on the hit film Justice League 2, and an apple slice for health shit.
"Move, old man. That Double Down ad is literally, physically screaming my name."
Why America Needs This:
What, apart from "Holy shit, the industry can self-regulate advertising to children?" Try childhood obesity, which has almost tripled in the U.S. since 1980. Sure, there are plenty of contributing factors for this (poverty, for one), but, well ... I'm going to go out on a limb and say that these are not actually helping:
Targeting children in advertising is not only fertile soil to establish tastes that'll last a lifetime, but it's also profitable as hell. Quoth Mark Blades, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield: "In the United States, children spend $30 billion annually and directly influence an additional $250 billion in family spending. Advertisers aim for children because they want to establish tastes and preferences that will last a lifetime." Those figures are from 2010, so you can give or take a few billions, but what he's basically saying is: "If you get kids to buy the Baja-Blast-Infused Doritos Locos Spicy Five Layer Burrito from Taco Bell, they will continue to order that until they die of a heart attack at 12."
Objectively The Best Law Of Them All
Up to this point, we've been talking about relatively unimportant issues: saving the environment, protecting children, forcefully injecting some morals into companies and rich people. You know, training wheel stuff. However, this is where we start fixing the real problems. To do that, we must take a page from the book of Lee Kuan Yew, the longtime quasi-dictator of Singapore, whose benevolent/draconian (depending on who you ask) hand guided the tacky port nation into one of the most booming economies on the planet. He achieved this by basically crafting a vision of spotless utopia, and then kneading the country until it fit in his mold. Cleanliness and general effectiveness were mandated by law, to the point where locals dubbed Singapore a "fine city" (as in, you're going to be fined about every single tiny thing they perceive you're doing wrong). However, I think we all know the real reason behind Singapore's rise to economic success:
The ban on chewing gum.
This guy's shoe got ten years of hard labor.
The law itself is a surefire one-way ticket to those "wacky foreign laws" articles, but it actually had a point behind it. Apparently, Singapore used to be pretty much covered in old chewing gum, so Lee decided to clean that shit up in a typically pragmatic, hardline fashion: by making it illegal.
Why America Needs This:
Because fuck chewing gum.
Fuck every last piece of that chewy bullshit tainting people's mouths and the world's surfaces. Fuck Wrigley's Institute and their clearly unbiased research on the "benefits of chewing" -- of which I can tell you right now there are none. Fuck all the world's gaping maws distractedly grinding on sugary ass rubber like a cow chewing its food for the 30th time. Fuck bubble gum, which I just now learned is apparently a separate underclass of the worst confectionery of all. Fuck those assholes who insist on blowing those giant bubbles like they were vomiting a second, much pinker head, and fuck the cops who inevitably come to pick me up when I start calling them two-headed witches and attempt to dunk them in water to see if they float.
Go on, guy, taunt me. You're next.
This law is the solution. This law will finally remove this blemish from the face of the Earth, and also from the face of our ... faces. Sure, the Lee version of the law needs improvement; breaking it only carried a little fine, and apparently small amounts of gum for personal use were never illegal (no word on what the law said about intent to distribute). These days, I hear they even tolerate chewing as long as you don't litter. Hardline, my ass. We'll obviously need to outlaw the stuff entirely, and figure out a suitably terrifying punishment to act as a deterrent. I'm thinking rows of large men with flamethrowers, or maybe an arena filled with bears, or bears trained to use flamethrowers. Or being forced to watch Boss Baby. All of those work.
... But I digress. We can hammer out the specifics later. All that matters right now is that we can finally make it all right and abolish chewing gum forever. With this law. Right, guys? G-guys?
Just me, then? God dammit.
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