CEI in Europe: Travelblog 2–Porto, Portugal

The Portuguese Constitution guarantees the provision of many social services, including free health care. The students at the Porto Language of Liberty camp remind us of this several times.

“My party is working on a plan to reform the constitution,” one young man offers when the issue comes up. The other students roll their eyes and say it’s very complicated.
And many of them don’t want to cut social services. Even the more libertarian-minded of them say society would suffer too much without high unemployment benefits, socialized medicine, and a healthy welfare state. The Portuguese people have learned to depend on it. “You try to take these things away, there will be a revolution,” says one economics student. He’s very serious.

Between lectures, two of the students take us on a drive though Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the town across the river. The driver, a lawyer and an elected representative in his town, gives us a brief history of Portugal. He says the North, where we are, is far more open to libertarian ideas than the South, where Lisbon is. Lisbon has the money and the political power; yet they’re influenced by “all things Red.”

“When the communists first came to the South,” the lawyer explains, “the communists killed the farmers. But in the North, the farmers killed the communists. There they still have communists. Here? Not so much.”

In the afternoon at the planetarium, we watch The Call of the Entrepreneur. One of the vignettes spotlights a successful dairy farmer who makes high-quality compost from cow manure. Afterwards, in the discussion, a teacher asks the students why the farmer worked so hard to develop a good product.

“To make the world better?” one student guesses.

The others remind him that the farmer said he worked hard not to create a better world, but to create a better life for himself and his family. Some of the students are laughing, remembering the footage of the farmer’s sons and daughter standing next to long piles of cow manure.

“It’s the American dream,” a guy at the back of the room jokes. The others laugh.

Much later we’re having a post-midnight meal with a couple students and a businessman in his 30s who’s involved in the Republican Youth group. The businessman is speaking somberly about Portugal’s future. This generation will suffer for the nation’s economic problems; yet many in Portugal are reluctant to change their way of life. “The thing is that in America, you have the American dream,” the businessman says. “But here, we don’t have a Portuguese dream.”