Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, picked the wrong moment to drive down Regent Street in London en route to a Royal Variety performance the other night. Several hundred protestors attacked their car and cries of “off with their heads” and “Tory scum” were heard. Scary stuff. The images coming in from across the pond—images of violent protests in London—are disturbing to most Americans. But if some are tempted to find comfort in the idea that what is going on over there could never happen here, they should think again.
At issue in the United Kingdom is the announced policy change, more than a year under discussion and review, to subsidize less of the college tuition of students. In the recent past, the top amount (calculated here in dollars) a student would pay for a year’s tuition is $4,800. The proposed new cap is $14,500. Bear in mind that this is a system that subsidizes tuition at both public and private colleges, though our cousins have their “private” and “public” labels reversed, much like their driving lanes.
That’s right, the idea is that to go to “Oxbridge” (Oxford or Cambridge—think Harvard or Yale) will now cost a maximum of $14,500—a great deal by American standards. Though admittedly it was an even better deal at $4,800. Of course, the rest of the real cost was being paid by the taxpayer.
As a reference point, the current average cost of a year’s tuition at a private college in the United States is $27,293—nearly twice as much as the new British cap.
The current turbulence in Great Britain is a case study about what happens when a society tries to take from people something they have grown to see as part of what they are owed: an entitlement. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the protestors are young people accents this point. This is a generation that has no reason to see it any other way. They are already a generation removed from that era of electoral and cultural sanity in the realm known as the age of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
Though she is in the twilight of her days, her very funeral plans being a national discussion, she must be aghast at what she is viewing on the “Telly.” But something she said long ago is very much at play right now in her nation, across the continent of Europe, and wherever the seeds of entitlement-driven protest are sown, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”