Apparently for some, American exceptionalism means exceptional stupidity.
The Presidential candidates have been sounding off for almost two years now, pointing out (or in many cases manufacturing) all of America’s problems, and offering solutions they believe will make them the next President. The candidates, especially to the right of the political spectrum, extoll America as being exceptional, and they score empty points with voters by talking about how the rest of the planet looks to the United States to solve the world’s woes. It is surprising, then, to see how many of these seemingly intractable problems are being far more effectively tackled by the countries we are supposed to be “leading”. Maybe it’s time for America to start looking elsewhere for innovative solutions.
Here are 10 examples of problems being solved everywhere but in America:
1. Peru: free solar-powered electricity for the poor.
In 2013, in Peru, only about two-thirds of the 25 million people had access to electricity. The Peruvian government decided to do something about it, and instituted a program to provide free solar energy to the underprivileged. With the goal of providing at least 95% of Peruvians with electricity, Peru began the National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program, installing free solar panels in impoverished communities. The program, which is expected to be completed by next year, has so far installed almost 15,000 photovoltaic systems.
2. Iceland: white-collar criminals go to jail.
In the wake of the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, it was not only the United States that almost fell into a deep economic depression. The same criminal activity our banks engaged in, inflating the housing market and gambling away our money while saddling crippling debt on untold millions, was also occurring around the world. One country in particular, Iceland, almost imploded. It had a far different response to the crisis, however.
At the same time that the United States was bailing out our “too-big-to-fail” banks, Iceland was letting them suffer the consequences of their greed, namely bankruptcy and failure. Instead of bailing banks out, the Icelandic government bailed out homeowners by forgiving mortgages that were overvalued. While it is arguable whether a similar course of action would have been advisable in the far-larger United States, it may be more important to note that Iceland began prosecuting actual people who propagated the illegal activity. Unlike the U.S., where exactly zero bank executives have answered for their crimes, and prosecutions for white-collar crime are at a 20-year low, 26 bankers in Iceland have gone to prison for their misdeeds.
3. France: stop throwing away food.
While the United States may be the richest nation on the planet, more than 15 million children go to bed hungry. Digest this fact while also noting that 133 billion pounds of food, fully a third of the available supply, goes uneaten, eventually ending up in a landfill. France, facing a similar problem, made a very simple decision: stop throwing the food away. As of early this month, it became illegal in France for large grocery stores (4300 square feet or more) to throw out unsold food. Instead, French groceries must contract with charitable organizations, which will be responsible for collecting and redistributing the food to the needy. The law also mandates educational programs in schools to raise awareness among children about the problem of food waste.
4. Sweden: the six-hour workday.
Americans are the most overworked employees in the developed world. Even though the traditional work week for American workers is 40 hours, the average actual number of hours they work has crept up to 47 hours a week, almost a full extra work day. And while Americans are also among the most productive workers in the world, most social scientists will point out that many hours a week are wasted by employees who are simply burnt out and unable to focus for so many hours.
Sweden thinks it has a solution. A trial six-hour work-day has been instituted by several Swedish companies. Accepting the premise that eight hours is too long to be able to focus on work-related tasks, participating companies believe that six hours is sufficient time to accomplish productive work, minimize employee burn-out and enhance the work-life balance. The hope is also that by shortening the work-week, new employment will open up from companies that by necessity need more man-hours. While the trial is ongoing, results so far are promising.
5. Portugal: decriminalize drugs.
Although several states in America have legalized growing and selling marijuana, on a federal level weed is still illegal, as are many other mood-altering substances. The criminal prosecution of drug offenders has resulted in a bloated prison population and has devastated African American and Latino communities, who have borne the brunt of the prosecutions. A solution to our drug problem might be found in Portugal, where drug use (not trafficking) has been decriminalized since 2001. Although still illegal, drug users are not criminally prosecuted. Instead they are given a summons to appear in front of a “dissuasion” panel, which determines the depth of the offender’s drug problem, and may order health or social counseling, drug treatment, or may render a fine. Since decriminalizing drugs, Portugal has experienced no increase in drug use (the usual canard dragged out by the anti-drug forces), and in fact, drug use by adolescents has decreased since 2003…