It’s very nice to be writing for TheCollegeConservative again. Since my last article, I have spent three months in Europe studying at Oxford University, where I took two tutorials in economics. Two of those months were spent attempting to teach myself the ins and outs of graduate level material, and one month traveling to a number of places in Europe. I learned an incredible amount at Oxford, and it was an experience I will be proud of and continue to reflect on for the rest of my life.
I’ll spare everyone the “I’m-A-Study-Abroad-Student-And-I-Know-More-About-The-World-Than-You-Because-When-I-Was-In-Europe” schtick, and just say this: I feel more ignorant now than ever before since my time spent in England and elsewhere. However, I don’t mean this in a liberal sense, which generally means deifying European culture and asking what we can do to become more like them (read: healthcare). I mean this in a conservative sense: I learned more about conservatism and America’s place in the world than I had thought possible to take from such a liberal place.
While at Oxford, there were some obvious signs that this highly accredited institution (whose notable alumni include Adam Smith, John Locke, C.S. Lewis, and Mr. Bean), had fallen victim in some ways to the same liberal talking points that are dominating thought in the United States. For instance, while my ideas about economics were never technically “shot down,” it was made clear to me that Keynesianism (or at least New Keynesianism) was the accepted way to approach macroeconomics. Anything conservative or Austrian in nature was considered outdated. I was challenged, as one should be in college, and yet I was continually pushed in the direction that big government was the answer and that liberty was a false god.
In other words, my more conservative views on economics weren’t wrong, but they still kind of were.
I won’t say that conservative ideas weren’t ever open for discussion, but there was a certain element of forced compliance to the material at Oxford. The unspoken message from my professors was effectively “This is just the way things are, so learn it.” Part of this came in the form of political commentary on papers when the economic theory behind them was solid, and part was what the teaching methods implied. I was told that Austrian thought was dead, that it was only kept alive by a few academics that were fighting to remain relevant in a time where they were anything but.
Sad to say, I reached a point where I realized that it would be easier to (seemingly) leave my political and philosophical beliefs out of my essays even when they didn’t contradict anything I was taught. I at times found ways to express my beliefs by masquerading them as “this would be interesting to pursue, but I guess we don’t really know for sure.” I snapped out of it, however, once I realized I was turning into President Obama.
It wasn’t just at Oxford that I picked up on the differences between American thought and that of the Europeans. For instance, I visited Paris twice and was astounded by the lack of courtesy I was shown around the city. I discovered that, because of the French government’s intense regulations regarding firing, it was virtually impossible for someone to lose their job. This allowed and incentivized people (usually men who were angry my girlfriend wasn’t alone) to treat me poorly because of my “obvious” lack of respect for their culture (I’m blonde, tall, and don’t smoke).
Furthermore, the 35-hour workweek was a big issue. My girlfriend, who studied in Paris for the year, explained that many people complained about working the 35 hours, and that it was exceedingly common for individuals upset about working a few hours on the weekend to excuse themselves from work on Monday because they “deserved it.” However, this doesn’t mean that the statistics in the article I have cited above are wrong. On the contrary, it supplements the notions that (1) those who actually do want to work more than 35 hours a week take advantage of this on the government’s (and subsequently the people’s) dime, and (2) the French socialist government really has no place trying to fix France’s terribly high unemployment rate.
What I learned most from these experiences, ones that seemed so much more relevant and understandable with a brief look into European culture, is that the world desperately needs a more conservative America. While many in our country may be liberal, the United States remains one of the very few places where traditional and academic conservativism not only live on, but can actually benefit the world. Our open trade policies and our ability to keep free market mechanisms alive benefits others across the world, and promotes peace through liberty.
We owe it to ourselves, future generations, our founding fathers, and others around the world to champion the freedom of choice. America must remain a place where companies can fire someone for doing a sub-par job (or for any reason for that matter), where businesses are allowed to serve or not serve whomever they wish, and where government regulation is seen as a last resort rather than the saving grace of the working class. America owes it to the world to not go the way of Europe.
Politics aside though, we could really take a lesson on how to make some proper Fish and Chips.