The World’s Best Passports

Well, by best, I mean in terms of providing visa-free access (although you can see a discussion regarding stylistic and aesthetic appeal here).

As seasoned travellers know better than anyone, certain countries require you to obtain a visa in order to enter; this document is separate from a passport, which is issued by governments to certify the identity and nationality of an individual for international travel.

Thus, the most convenient and desirable passports are those that do not necessitate a visa for permission to enter another country; in essence, the nation that the passport represents has special privileges to come and go without needing to obtain any additional documents (the difficulty or ease of which varies from government to government)

Arton Capital, a financial advisory firm, has created a colorful and interactive “Passport Index” that ranks passports by how many countries they give you access to without a visa.

Here is a brief breakdown of the results by the Washington Post (Note that there are a total of 193 recognized countries (not including a dozen or so entities whose sovereignty or recognized independence is disputed):

The ranking puts the U.S. and U.K. passports first, giving access to 147 countries without an advanced visa. France, South Korea and Germany are second, with access to 145 countries, followed by Italy and Sweden in third; Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Japan, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in fourth; and Switzerland in fifth.

Advanced economies dominate the top of the list. Hong Kong comes in at 11, while Argentina and Israel are ranked 16th. Brazil ranks 17th, Mexico 22nd, the Russian Federation 35th, and China 45th.

The least desirable passports according to this ranking are from the Solomon Islands, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sao Tome and Principe and the Palestinian Territories. They rank in 80th place, giving access to just 20 countries each without an advance visa.

Perhaps it is not surprising that countries with the most economic and diplomatic heft on the world stage have managed to provide their citizens with the easiest means to travel.

Indeed, as the Post observes, whether or not a country’s citizens need visas to travel says a lot about the state’s influence or international likeability.

Countries that are allies often offer each others’ citizens a quick visa on arrival. For countries that are not so friendly, a visitor may have to provide entry and exit information, a letter of invitation, and even list all of the clubs they belonged to in high school — as well as paying a hefty fee.

Indeed, it is not unusual for nationals of one country to seek the citizenship of another country, if only because it may help open door to other countries that might not otherwise be as accessible.

Aside from being a nifty guide, the Passport Index also has a nice aesthetic quality to it, as you can view what each passport looks like in terms of color and design. There is also something neat about organizing the world’s passports by color (red, green, blue, and black).

U.S. Leads Developed World in Child Poverty

Over the past six years, America’s wealth expanded by over $30 billion — a growth rate of 60 percent — despite the weak recovery. During the same span of time, another metric grew by that percentage: the number of homeless and food insecure children.

As Raw Story reports, despite its vast and ever-growing wealth, the world’s richest country by a considerable margin lags behind most other developed nations in measurements of child poverty.

America is a ‘Leader’ in Child Poverty

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

$5 a Day for Food, But Congress Thought it was Too Much.

Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program.

In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100.

For Every 2 Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now 3

On a typical frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home.

That’s about the same number of households that have each increased their wealth by $10 million per year since the recession.

The US: Near the Bottom in Education, and Sinking

The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education. Early education should be a primary goal for the future, as numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But we’re going in the opposite direction. Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Children’s Rights? Not in the U.S.

It’s hard to comprehend the thinking of people who cut funding for homeless and hungry children. It may be delusion about trickle-down, it may be indifference to poverty, it may be resentment toward people unable to “make it on their own”.

The indifference and resentment and disdain for society reach around the globe. Only two nations still refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and the United States.

Aside from the obvious immorality of allowing so many millions of children to suffer during their most formative years, this abysmal performance in child well-being will leave a lasting legacy of social ills, poor children are increasingly more likely to remain poor for the rest of their lives (especially given the declining social mobility for which the U.S. was once famous).

Innocents Marked For Death

Setting aside the wider debate about the ethics and efficacy of capital punishment, the New York Times editorial board highlights the disturbingly high incidence of innocent people ending up on death row in the U.S. justice system:

[F]ar too often, people end up on death row after being convicted of horrific crimes they did not commit. The lucky ones are exonerated while they are still alive — a macabre club that has grown to include 152 members since 1973.

The rest remain locked up for life in closet-size cells. Some die there of natural causes; in at least two documented cases, inmates who were almost certainly innocent were put to death.

How many more innocent people have met the same fate, or are awaiting it? That may never be known. But over the past 42 years, someone on death row has been exonerated, on average, every three months. According to one study, at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates in the United States have been wrongfully convicted. That is far more than often enough to conclude that the death penalty — besides being cruel, immoral, and ineffective at reducing crime — is so riddled with error that no civilized nation should tolerate its use.

Innocent people get convicted for many reasons, including bad lawyering, mistaken identifications and false confessions made under duress. But as advances in DNA analysis have accelerated the pace of exonerations, it has also become clear that prosecutorial misconduct is at the heart of an alarming number of these cases.

In the past year alone, nine people who had been sentenced to death were released — and in all but one case, prosecutors’ wrongdoing played a key role.

The all-too-common mind-set to win at all costs has facilitated the executions of people like Cameron Todd Willingham or Carlos DeLuna, whose convictions have been convincingly debunked in recent years. And that mind-set led to the wrongful conviction of people like Mr. Hinton, Mr. Ford and Henry Lee McCollum, who was exonerated last year after spending three decades on North Carolina’s death row.

How Lincoln’s Death Impacted The World

On this day 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, just weeks before the U.S. Civil War would officially end. Americans were not the only ones grieving their first president to be killed in office; as The Atlantic reports, his untimely death reverberated across the ideological spectrum and the world.

Why was Lincoln’s death mourned so deeply in foreign lands? He never traveled overseas, either before or during his presidency. Except for the ministers and consuls who journeyed to Washington, few Europeans ever had the opportunity to meet him. Television and radio did not yet exist to carry his face and voice throughout the world. Foreign mourners could only know him through newspapers and word of mouth.

For many, this was enough. In both Lincoln and the American experiment writ large, many Europeans saw an idealized view of their own aspirations. Sympathy came easily in Italy, where a war for national unification had also just been completed. “Abraham Lincoln was not yours only—he was also ours”, wrote the citizens of Acireale, a small town in Sicily, “because he was a brother whose great mind and fearless conscience guided a people to union, and courageously uprooted slavery”. For the German states, whose own national unification would come within the decade, the American conflict was also their own. “You are aware that Germany has looked with pride and joy on the thousands of her sons, who in this struggle have placed themselves so resolutely on the side of law and right”, proclaimed members of the Prussian House of Deputies in their memorial for the fallen president. The U.S. consul in Berlin noted that one of the deputies had a son currently serving in the Union Army, while another had lost his only son at Petersburg.

Workers and activists in Europe’s nascent socialist movement felt they had lost a genuine ally. The International Workingmen’s Association in London had saluted Lincoln, “the single-minded son of the working classes”, upon his re-election in 1864 and its “triumphant war cry [of] ‘Death to Slavery'”. Now they lamented the murder of “one of the rare men who succeeded in becoming great without ceasing to be good”. Among the condolence letter’s signatories was the group’s secretary for Germany, Karl Marx.

Such international outpouring of grief, condolence, and concern says as much about the rising power and profile of the U.S. at the time as it does about Lincoln’s qualities and achievements. American affairs were of great and growing interest to the rest of the world, and would remain so — for better or worse — to this day. It is a fitting response to the man that helped ensure that the U.S. would remain a unified and robust country at the first place (albeit at great cost).

Five Myths About Fast Food Jobs

As one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, food service — along with other low-paying sectors like retail and hospitality — is becoming the new normal of employment.

But as the following list from the Washington Post shows, this is a troubling trend, as many Americans do not realize what little the industry has to offer to its burgeoning and increasingly desperate labor force.

1. Fast-food workers are mostly teenagers working for pocket money.

Fast food was indeed an adolescent gig in the 1950s and 1960s, when the paper hat symbolized the classic short-term, entry-level job. But today, despite arguments that these low-wage jobs are largely filled by “suburban teenagers,” as the Heritage Foundation put it, labor data show that about 70 percent of the fast-food workforce is at least 20 years old. The typical burger-flipper is an independent adult of about 29, with a high school diploma. Nearly a third have some college experience, and many are single parents raising families on $9 an hour. In contrast to McDonald’s rather optimistic model budget — which assumes that an employee lives in a two-income household and doesn’t need child care or gas or groceries — a large portion of fast-food workers are forced to borrow from friends to cover basic household expenses, or sometimes fall into homelessness.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, about half of the families of front-line fast-food workers depend on public programs, compared with 25 percent of the American workforce. About 87 percent of fast-food workers lack employer health benefits, compared with 40 percent of the general workforce. And roughly one-fifth of workers’ families are below the poverty line. That adds up to some $7 billion in welfare payouts each year — essentially enabling fast-food mega-chains to subsidize ultra-low wages with public benefits.

2. Employees can work their way up and eventually even own a franchise.

Burger King’s career Web site proclaims: “You’ll never be short of opportunities to show what you’ve got. And if we like what we see, there’s no limit to how far you could go here.” The New York Restaurant Association boasts that restaurant work “creates an opportunity for people to live the American dream.” Under its franchise “success stories,” McDonald’s features a man who advanced from being a crew member to owning a franchise in just a few years.

The dream of upward mobility, however, eludes most workers. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) points out that about 90 percent of the fast-food workforce is made up of “front-line workers” such as line cooks and cashiers. About 9 percent are lower-level supervisors, who earn about $13 an hour. And just 2.2 percent of fast-food jobs are “managerial, professional, and technical occupations,” compared with 31 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy.

As for the notion of working your way up to ownership, NELP reports that 1 percent of the fast-food workforce owns a franchise — a purchase that could require $750,000 to several million dollars in financial assets. And there’s no indication that many of these franchisees actually did “rise through the ranks” to become owners, which requires an amount of capital that might top the lifetime salary of an average kitchen worker.

3. Fast-food companies can’t control franchise wages or working conditions.

McDonald’s plan to raise wages at least $1 over the local minimum wagewas announced this month to much fanfare. But the raise applies only to employees of the 1,500 stores McDonald’s owns directly. The company contends that as a chain franchisor, it merely licenses its brand to individual franchise operators; is not legally liable as an employer; and thus “does not direct or co-determine the hiring, termination, wages, hours” and other working conditions for all who toil under the golden arches.

But critics say these fast-food chains actually exert powerful oversight over their franchisees by closely tracking their spending and operations. Domino’s, one franchisee claims, critiqued how his employees answered the phone; Burger King franchisees sued the chain in 2009, claiming that it was forcing them to sell menu items for a loss at $1. Companies often pressure owner-operators to squeeze down labor costs: According to one employee quoted in the Guardian, “McDonald’s corporate representatives turn up at the restaurant where he works five or six times a year, counting the number of cars using the drive-through service, timing sales, making sure staff are preparing food according to McDonald’s specifications.” More so than most fast-food chains, McDonald’s wields financial control over its franchisees and owns the rental real estate of the restaurants.

Former McDonald’s executive Richard Adams has said: “McDonald’s franchisees are pretty compliant. They don’t really organize, they don’t really protest. And if you do, they tell you you’re not a good member of the McFamily. I don’t want to make this seem too Orwellian, but the average franchisee has about six restaurants, and the franchise agreement is for 20 years. You’re probably going to have a renewal coming up. If you’re not a compliant member of the team, you’re probably not going to get that renewal.”

The issue of whether McDonald’s can be labeled a “joint employer” is being litigated in numerous claims of unfair labor practices that workers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB’s general counsel recently deemed McDonald’s a joint employer, and if it is ultimately penalized as such, workers could see a dramatic expansion in the company’s legal and regulatory obligations.

4. Flipping burgers is an easy job.

Some people chafe at the idea of “unskilled” fast-food workers meriting a wage more suited to a “high-skilled” job. Not only does this ignore the fact that this work requires skills — from managing inventory to training and supervising other employees — it also disregards the day-to-day challenges workers navigate on the job. According to a slew of complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers often suffer injuries such as hot-oil burns and are sometimes denied proper medical care. (Some are told to dress wounds with condiments.) Violence is also common at fast-food restaurants; according to a recent survey, roughly one in eight workers reported being assaulted at work in the past year.

Workers have also complained of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliatory punishment by management. More than 40 of the NLRB claims filed against McDonald’s in the past few years alleged illegal firings or penalties because of workers’ engagement in labor activism. Add to all of this the challenge of just getting paid: Subway was found guilty of 17,000separate wage and hour violations since 2000, and in 2013, Taco Bell was hit with a $2.5 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit over unpaid overtime.

5. Paying workers $15 an hour would make burgers prohibitively costly and hurt the industry.

Some analysts, particularly on the right, have laid out doomsday scenarios of massive economic disruption caused by a sudden doubling of wages in the fast-food industry. The Heritage Foundation argues that raising wages to $15 an hour could lead to a price spike, shrinking job opportunities, and huge drops in sales and profits . In reality, any such wage increase would probably be incremental and could be absorbed in large part by lowering the fees collected by parent companies from franchisees. Fast-food workers already enjoy such higher pay in other countries with strong labor regulation and union representation. A Big Mac in New Zealand costs less than one in the United States — $4.49 vs. $4.79, according to the Economist’s Big Mac index — and it’ll likely be served by a full-time union worker earning about $12 per hour.

Higher wages might also bring business benefits, in the form of lower turnover and good press. The Michigan-based fast-casual restaurant Moo Cluck Moo offers a $15 wage alongside premium grass-fed burgers, turning its reputation as a socially responsible employer into a selling point. The market for super-cheap fast food is apparently declining. Consumers just might be hungry for a more conscientious business model.

How Wealth Perpetuates Itself

It goes without saying that those who are born into rich families are more likely to remain rich themselves, and so on and so forth. But The Atlantic puts this in stark display with the following chart from The Wall Street Journal:

The rich spend far less on basic necessities like food and health care and far more on pensions and insurance, which can be left to children through trust funds and the like.

The article explains the relevance of this disparity:

When you have money, you spend less on the stuff that ensures you survive the day and more on the stuff that ensures that you (and your children, and your possessions, and your estate) survive and thrive for many years. Poverty is a chaos that screams in the present tense, and the anxiety of having no money forces poorer families to direct their attention to immediate concerns. As a result, the poor spend relatively more on what will keep them alive, because they must. And the rich spend more on what will keep them rich, because they can.

It’s boring to point out that having more money affords you more food, more clothes, more housing, and more cars. But the richest families actually spend less on food, clothes, housing, and cars than the poorest families as a share of their income. The real difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich spend a larger share of their much larger income on insurance, education, and, when you drill into the housing component, mortgages—all of which are directly related to building wealth, preserving wealth, and passing it down in the form of inheritance of direct investments in the lives of their children.

In other words, most people are in a paradoxical situation whereby you need wealth to have wealth, whether it is seed money for a business, money to afford an education, or valuable assets you can invest into your children. Many people are unable to realize their potential or that of their children because they simply lack the material resources, and no longer have access to the well-paying, socially mobile jobs — nor any sort of viable safety net — to help them along.

Heck, even if the wealthy did not spend a lot on education — and as the chart shows, in relative and absolute terms, they spend slightly less than the poorest Americans — they would still have the advantage by virtue of the other perks that wealth brings (and recall that wealth entails both income and assets like property, stock, etc.)

But the danger of setting inequality and immobility in opposition is that they’re not in opposition. Matthew O’Brien has written eloquently on “opportunity hoarding,” the idea that rich people are talented at doing all the right things you need to stay rich and make sure your kids get rich, too. Rich couples live in richer districts, read more to their kids, send them to better schools, hook them up with better internships, slide them into better entry-level jobs (or, better yet, into the family business), and finally pass down their insured and well invested wealth. Even education, the great American equalizer, makes for a poor equalizer. And it’s not only because wealthy teenagers are more likely to go to school. Young people born to rich families who don’t go to college are 2.5 times more likely to end up in the richest quartile than young people born to poor families who do go college. Wealth sticks, and nothing enriches like richness.

As long as economic opportunities remain scarce for the majority of the population, we can expect this cycle to continue: a small cohort of the population that becomes an entrenched neo-aristocracy (joined by the few who get lucky or somehow manage to break into higher income) and the majority that, being deprived of such access to assets, better paying jobs, and other means of sustainable wealth, remain in lower standing in relative terms.

This is not to say that everyone need to be rich to be happy and enjoy good well-being. Some of the most successful societies in the world are broadly middle-class in their makeup. The issue is when most people are unable to get beyond paying for the basics to enjoy decent healthcare, education, stimulating activities, and leisure. Then of course there is the problem of having an enduring elite class with the wealth and networks to influence government policy to serve their own interests — which often include shutting out as many opportunities for others as possible.

How Layoffs Undermine Trust

It goes without saying that the “Great Recession” that has impacted much of the world has took a toll on millions of people. But material poverty and subsequent mental hardship have not been the only results of widespread joblessness and underemployment.

According research cited by The Atlanticthe firing of employees may be eroding trust for years to come.

Laurence’s study looked at a sample of nearly 7,000 individuals in the U.K. to investigate the psychological effects of being laid off. The question asked was, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” The answers ranged from “most people can be trusted” to “can’t be too careful” to “depends.” The respondents were asked this question at age 33, and then again 17 years later, at 50.

Laurence found that individuals who experienced a layoff were 4.5 percent less likely to trust even 17 years later. This effect was even stronger for individuals who placed a greater value on work and career, at 7 percent. “One of the striking findings of the research was that how being laid off affected someone’s social trust seemed highly dependent on their level of ‘work-centrality,'” says Laurence.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that those who hold work as important to both identity and self-worth are more sensitive to layoffs, but Laurence also found that being laid off eroded trust much more than being fired, having a contract expire, or quitting a job for personal reasons. “When people are laid off there is a sense of powerlessness about the situation, that it is out of their control, and that it is inherently unjust,” says Laurence.

I imagine this experience is all the more jarring for those who are laid off due to their higher skills or seniority — in other words their value and loyalty — have ironically made them liabilities, as they are “too expensive” to keep on the payroll. It plays into the growing cynicism people have towards businesses, which are increasingly leaning on their beleaguered employees to benefit the corporate bottom line, whether by by underpaying them, slashing benefits, freezing wages, and letting people go.

After all, it was not so much the obviously negative consequences of layoffs — lost revenue, hardship of starting over, etc. — that are the problem, but rather the feeling of “powerless” and unfairness that they imbue in their victims. Such sentiments are no doubt invoked among those who feel they are underpaid, underappreciated, and mistreated by the companies they work for.

Studies like this, which will no doubt need to be replicated, make me wonder what impact so many years of layoffs, underemployment, wage stagnation, and the like will have on societies down the road — especially among the young people who have had the misfortune of coming into the labor force during one of its most tumultuous and pessimistic periods.

What are your thoughts?

Why College Tuition in the U.S. is So Costly

Despite the comparatively larger public investment in higher education across most states and the federal government, American students are saddled with higher tuition costs than ever. Where is all that money going if not to reduce the costs of attending universities? To hire more qualified educators at least?

The New York Times highlights one major and often understated factor in this odd equation:

Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.

By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

By my understanding, this trend also contributes to high healthcare costs, as hospitals and other healthcare facilities increasingly employ, or are administered by, highly paid individuals with little to no medical background.

What are your thoughts and reactions?

Hat tip to my friend James for sharing this article.

What The U.S. Really Owes

Concerns about government deficit and debt have dominated American politics and public discourse since the turn of the century. But an article in Al Jazeera puts it all into perspective, revealing that at best the issue is overblown, and at worst it is a cynical tool of political obfuscation.

Because we’re used to dealing with everyday amounts of money, $18 trillion sounds like a huge amount of debt. But simply reciting the number again and again does nothing to help us make sense of its size. In order to do that, we need to compare it with something. Consider: Corinthian 15 debt striker Tasha Courtright‘s $96,000 for-profit college education has left her with an unmanageable debt burden, while megabank JPMorgan Chase posted more than $2 billion in outstanding liabilities (debt) at the end of last year. Objectively, Courtright has less total debt than JPMorgan. So why is the college student underwater while the bankers are on a yacht?

This apparent paradox has a simple solution. To get a sense of the real burden of someone’s debt, compare it with that person’s assets. Every economic actor — whether an individual, a business, a municipality or a country — is in principle capable of keeping an account of its assets and liabilities. If, like JPMorgan, you have a big number in your asset column, you can handle a big number in your liabilities column. If, like Courtright, your asset figure is very low because you earn little and own practically nothing, even a small number in the liabilities column can crush you.

Sounds pretty straightforward: a debt of $100 is very different for a wealthy person than a poor one. Millions of dollars in debt sounds unfathomable to the average person, but, barring unusual circumstances, is perfectly manageable for someone with billions in assets.

So how does the U.S. government fare?

The U.S. federal government is the largest asset holder in the world. It owns 900,000 buildings and structures as well as 41 million acres of land, much of it rich in minerals. Its asset portfolio includes 4 million miles of public roads, 12,000 miles of commercial inland water channels and 650 dams. Estimating the full value of these assets is difficult, but Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman put the figure at $17 trillion in 2010. When comparing assets and debt liabilities, it’s necessary to count only real debts. About 30 percent of the official federal debt is held by the government, with about half of that held by the Federal Reserve, which remits interest paid on its holdings right to the treasury. These intragovernmental debts help facilitate monetary policy and create accounting placeholders for programs like Social Security, but they are otherwise meaningless. When you exclude this debt that the federal government owes itself, the value of public assets in the U.S. exceeded public debt by nearly $3 trillion in 2010. In fact, since the founding of the country, the U.S. government has never had a negative net worth.

In short, the U.S. has plenty of valuable assets it can tap into to service its debt. U.S. debt is nowhere near as dire as it is for dozens of other countries around the world that lack any comparable economic and resource wealth.

Granted, this is not to suggest that America should fall back on selling off public infrastructure or lands, or that it will ever even come to that. But it is definitely food for thought, not that I will pretend to know the finer things about this complex and often arcane world of finance, debt, and the like.

Prisons of the World

The New York Times highlights prisons around the world that take a unique and often wildly different approach to dealing with convicts. The samples from Bolivia, India, and even Saudi Arabia are most interesting in their apparently humane and constructive approach (though any research showing efficacy is lacking).

1. San Pedro Prison, Bolivia

The prison’s only goal is to prevent escape. There are no guards inside the walls. Its 1,500 inmates must purchase or rent their cells, according to their means; they govern their own community, complete with markets for food, clothes and drugs. Wives and children often stay inside, and there are two nurseries within the prison.

2. Ezeiza Penitentiary Complex, Argentina

Despite underground movement-detection cables, remotely controlled doors and extensive video surveillance, 13 inmates managed to escape at once from the maximum-security facility in August 2013 through a tunnel. In all, roughly 100 inmates escaped from Argentine prisons in 2013, most likely aided by corrupt staff.

3. Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa

An elaborately structured prison gang called the Numbers Gang — and its subgangs, the 26s, 27s and 28s — plagues the overcrowded Pollsmoor. The Numbers have operated for decades throughout South African prisons, with baroque hierarchies and rituals; its power is so widespread that years of attempts to eradicate the gang have failed.

4. Al-Ha’ir Prison, Saudi Arabia

Though Saudi Arabia is routinely criticized for public floggings, executions and suspected use of torture, this high-security prison for inmates under terrorism charges is known for its high level of comfort. It offers welfare payments for families and a hotel for extended family visits — all intended to entice dissidents to recommit to society.

5. Tihar Jail, India

The largest prison complex in South Asia, Tihar encompasses nine high-security facilities with more than 11,000 inmates, despite an official capacity of 5,200. Nearly 25 percent are in for murder charges or convictions. Rehabilitation programs include art and music therapy, meditation and workshops for carpentry, baking and textiles.

6. Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand

Known as Big Tiger or the Bangkok Hilton, Bang Kwang holds death-row inmates and those with sentences longer than 25 years. Until 2013, it was common practice to weld metal shackles onto the legs of prisoners for years at a time; permanently for those condemned to death.

7. Petak Island Prison, Russia

Here, in total isolation on an island in Novozero Lake, 193 prisoners serve life sentences. Only two small wooden bridges connect the island to the mainland. Prisoners spend 22.5 hours a day in a small-group or single cell and the other 1.5 hours in an outdoor cage.

8. Qincheng Prison, China

This maximum-security prison holds many political prisoners who are accused of crimes against the state. According to several memoirs, prisoners are largely isolated from one another and identified only by number. More recently, it has become home to corrupt politicians, who are held in more luxurious conditions.

Here are how the nations of the G20, a group comprised of most of the world’s largest economies, pan out in three controversial approaches to punishment.

Tangentially related: a map of the world based on the number of people incarcerated.

The U.S. has some interesting bedfellows in criminal justice.