My favorite columnist, Mark Steyn, made the great point earlier this year that it says a lot about the differences in cultural values between Europe and the United States that when people protest in the streets over there it is to demand more from the government, and when people protest here it is typically to tell Big Brother to leave the citizenry alone. The vision of the American founders included at its very core the notion that power in the hands of the government would be de-centralized so that the people of this great land would be empowered to take responsibility for their own lives and the needs of “the least” among them.
Another voice of clarity I often turn to, and someone I wrote about visiting last time, Dennis Prager, has an important mantra that he frequently reiterates on his nationally syndicated radio talk show: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” The more your government grows; the more power it annexes for itself; the more decisions it makes for you, the smaller and more insignificant you rightly feel.
Enter onto the world stage: protesting students in England, furious over the decision by Parliament to allow universities to raise tuition. Great Britain is in what we in the biz call a “fiscal crisis.” But, instead of privatizing industries (including education), slashing government spending (including money spent on education), and incentivizing subjects of the crown to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit via things like tax cuts and welfare cutbacks, the folks running the show in Jolly Ole’ England went for the obviously unpopular choice of making university more expensive.
I’m sure teachers’ unions had nothing to do with the decision.
Certainly this is a complex and layered issue, and I will not pretend to be an expert in the Red Coats’ domestic fiscal policies, but I have a few initial reactions to this story that I would like to share with you.
First, while I completely denounce and abhor the more violent elements among the protestors, I sympathize with the students who have taken to the streets. They, like many American students (including myself), are shocked at the levels of debt most people will have to go in to should they decide to go to anything above a local community college for their education. Universities are increasingly becoming places that only the very poor and very rich can afford. Of course no one forces a student at an expensive college they can’t really afford to be there, but the exponentially growing tuition fees are in many cases out of control.
Second, and this speaks to both Prager and Steyn’s points, the main reason that Europeans’ gut-reaction to something they don’t like in their government is a protest in the streets is due to the fact that they know their votes generally mean very little. We just saw in November how quickly things can still turn around in the United States, but the political Right and Left in Europe fight over the same bureaucratic scraps in each election with little hope of actually reducing the size, scope, and power of the government. They’ve crossed points of no return in socialized nations like Great Britain that cannot be walked back with one election here and there. The result is a citizenry that realizes there is only so much of the pie to go around and while they might not be able to get theirs a la mode, they refuse to be left with the crumbs.
Third, and finally, scenes like the one in this video here (or this one from Greece earlier in 2010) do not have to happen here. We can avoid this type of civil unrest. We still have time to course-correct. But the logical and moral case for free enterprise must be made to all Americans (and especially ones under 30). The seductive siren-calls emanating from the ideological Left in this country, promising things like “free” health care and “green” energy via cap-and-trade, must be rebuffed and replaced with responsible, effective, free-market solutions.
Make no mistake about it: modern American liberalism would have us pursue exactly the same policies as the ones currently bringing protestors to their feet and to the streets in European cities.