Student Riots in Britain: Very Disturbing

You probably have seen stories like this about student riots in Britain last week protesting tuition hikes.  The hikes are fairly substantial, roughly tripling the tuition students will be asked to pay.

What I find unsettling about this is that people in what we think of as a very civilized country that recognizes individual rights would riot because they believe that they are entitled to have others pay for their education.

We are headed that way in the United States too.  Indeed, we even use the word “entitlements” to describe many government redistribution payments.  We have evolved to a point where these payments are no longer viewed as the generous contributions of those who have the ability to pay to those who are not as well-off, but rather as, well, entitlements.  Those on the receiving end are entitled to make claims on the incomes of their fellow citizens.

The student riots are especially telling because, in general, college students come from higher-income families than the general population, so tuition subsidies have always, on average, been a subsidy from those who are less well-off to those who are financially better-off.

What do these riots say about the entitlement mentality of British society?  Is Britain that much different from other Western democracies?  The Orwellian way in which we have modified the language of government transfers is at least partly to blame.  Let’s go back to referring to transfers as public charity, rather than calling them entitlements.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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