I was in Dublin, Ireland, the week of Thanksgiving. The television in our hotel room didn't get nearly as many channels as we receive at home, but it received RTE News, the Irish network, and also broadcasts from British television. Whenever we were at the hotel, I flipped on the tube to the news stations, as is my habit here at home.
There were two stories going on simultaneously, and they were both fascinating: student riots, and the looming Irish bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The stories are inextricably linked.
It's always much easier to see troubles in another country rather than in your own, isn't it? However, the dustup that threatened to topple the Irish government was very similar to the one that toppled the Democrats' majority in the Congress in November. Government debt, bailouts, and budget cuts. I felt I was watching a prelude to America's future.
While I had some understanding of the Irish debt problem, I was flabbergasted by the student riots in London. The reason we were in Ireland is because my step-daughter is getting her master's degree (hopefully) at Trinity College in Dublin.
Kathleen had chosen Trinity College for academic reasons, but economic reasons factored in significantly. Even with the U.S. Fed's persecution and torture of the U.S. dollar, the Master's Program at Trinity, even as a foreign student, was considerably less expensive than what she could get in New York City.
Still, I hadn't realized that costs for British education were capped at 3,300 British pounds. That's a little over $5,000 U.S. dollars today.
With that as a baseline, I watched the British students tearing up the streets with a mixture of jealousy, amazement, derisiveness, and sympathy. At the same time, there was the recognition, deep within me, that perhaps our own college age American brats weren't the only ones with a sense of special entitlement.
Most of the students interviewed on television broadcasts were really very rational, nice-seeming, and civilized. Among them were black-clad professional agitators and anarchists of the type that seem to inhabit university towns from Vilnius to Vassar. They were the angry ones, the car burners, the window breakers.
There was a rational argument to be made, and a few of the genuine student leaders made their points eloquently and without insult. The gist of it was that the entire preceding generations of British, including the ministers, had had benefit of what I would call "free" education. Now, it was coming to a halt.
For some students, it would be difficult to raise the proposed 9,000 GBP cap. Still, how much sympathy could I muster from my own beleaguered heart? You don't want to know -- at least not in U.S. dollar terms.
Education had roughly equivalent costs for Irish students in Dublin. There were college students from all over the EU who had arrived in Dublin, who worked as waiters and waitresses and shop clerks while attending colleges of one sort or another. The streets seemed to teem with bright, young people who had arrived from all over Eastern and Western Europe in search of an education and a job. But jobs were suddenly scarce. That was a part of the Irish problem, and that's why the British, too, were calling for austerity measures.
Just a moment ago, it was announced that the British had voted in favor of raising the tuition caps to the 9,000 GBP figure. British government subsidized social services had achieved maximum saturation debt levels, apparently. I feel their pain.