Ramona and I arrived in Portugal the day after Great Britain voted to leave the EU. While we can’t know the economic implications of Brexit, this rejection of Brussels surely demonstrates dissatisfaction with bureaucratic impositions on daily life. Especially during peaceful times, people resent command-and-control government.
Generally, most people try to ignore government and focus instead on social life and sports, soccer for example. We went from Portugal to France and happened to leave France just after the final Euro Cup game.
We traveled Portugal interviewing people and observing their economy and culture. The nation’s metrics are dismal. They include increasing and unsustainable public and private debt loads, high unemployment, and young people escaping.
However the people we encountered were pleasant, helpful, accommodating—and most spoke English. Also, we found the food interesting, grilled octopus for example. It was also inexpensive and quite tasty. Yes, we would enjoy a return visit.
The main purpose of our European trip was to lecture at the University of Aix en Provence, France. The forum was an international conference on environmental economics. We had introduced environmental topics at Aix over thirty years ago. Now that topic was the program’s focus and we were keynote speakers. Progress!
The audience of 80 was mainly young faculty and graduate students from Eastern Europe and North Africa. Two identified as journalists. English was the common language. Together Ramona and I made six presentations, all well received.
Only a couple of middle aged French, one man and a woman, still advocated centralized leadership of environmental culture. Really! This flat learning curve amused most students. They understood the role of entrepreneurship. But it also angered a few who remembered communist oppression.
Few of the students had previously heard our proposition that liberty, ecology, and prosperity can be natural complements. We explained key features of this happy trilogy; clear property rights, spontaneous innovation, the rule of law, and appreciation of environmental quality. They understood prosperity fosters this appreciation while poverty causes much pollution and environmental destruction.
Students sought us out after each session and during meals. “How could we apply your proposals in our country” was a common question. “Would you like to speak at my university?” another. Being professors we naturally enjoyed the attention—and the women students, about half the total, were especially taken by Ramona.
We had visited Aix many times, most recently more than a decade ago. While we enjoyed the conferences, made new friends, and expect a few new visitors to Montana, it seems France is noticeably slipping. Unlike Portugal, outside of the conference meetings, the French were not welcoming. And by the way, France lost the final game to Portugal.