We watched Michael Moore's latest film this weekend "Where to invade next." The film focuses on what we in the U.S. can learn from some of the policies and practices in other countries such as the Norwegian approach to incarceration that treats prisoners as human beings, the French approach to feeding kids real and wholesome food for school lunches instead of the crap they are fed in the U.S., the Finnish approach to learning and human development in its education system, the positive effects of the leadership of women in Iceland, the availability of free university education in Slovenia... All of the cases in this film were interesting and informative. My main critique is the failure of Moore to remind viewers that although these societies have implemented policies and practices that we should indeed learn from and adopt or re-adopt (in some cases these exemplary policies were borrowed from us), these countries are not free of problems of poverty, inequities and discrimination. One of the most interesting cases in the film to me was the discussions about the way in which drug use is approached in Portugal. Very simply, drug use is not a crime in Portugal, and despite what we often hear in the U.S. about the importance of punishing and locking up drug users, the actual effects of focusing on treatment within a free public healthcare system and not on punishment have been quite remarkable.
See the Washington Post article, Hardly Anyone Dies from a Drug Overdose, for more information about the no-arrest policy for drug use in Portugal.
We continue to pursue policies and programs in the U.S. that clearly do not help address the problems that are intended to solve, and we keep pursuing these same policies despite the evidence that they do not work. One common characteristic that stood out for me in most of these cases was a clear concern for the common good and the welfare of the society as a whole rather than the focus on individual advancement that we see in the U.S.