In 1990, I traveled to the Soviet Union as a student ambassador representing the United States of America. This experience changed my life forever.
Despite being only 15 years old, seeing communism’s effect on people profoundly shook me to my core. At 15 I was starting to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up and where I wanted to live. But my adolescent Soviet peers did not have the freedom to choose an occupation or a place to live. Their government made these decisions for them.
The Communist Party dictated what careers their subjects had and where they lived. Bureaucrats made these decisions based on what they believed was in the best interest of the collective good. Each individual making up such collective was less important than the collective as a whole.
I couldn’t imagine living in a society like that. Just being there I felt stifled and oppressed. But more than anything, I felt a deep sense of sadness for the Soviet teenagers I met. There were very few differences between us: We were typical teenagers who wanted to make friends, have fun and learn about the world around us. However, we were worlds apart in the opportunities that we had and freedoms we possessed.
After spending a month in the Soviet Union, I returned home forever changed. While I was too young to know the philosophical underpinnings of my beliefs versus the beliefs of socialists, I knew that individual liberty was a gift that was to be cherished and defended.
After graduating high school, I enrolled at The George Washington University as an International Affairs major. I began studying the Russian language, history and culture. And, during my sophomore year, I discovered F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Like my earlier visit to the Soviet Union, this book changed me forever.
Despite only being a teenager, I knew that individual liberty was to be cherished, but I could not articulate why. F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom filled in these gaps for me.
Many of you might be wondering what this has to do with entrepreneurship. But, I assure you that it does.
My belief in individual liberty greatly influences my beliefs about business and entrepreneurship. Without individual liberty, we would not have the right to choose to be entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a beautiful expression of American freedom. We must not overlook this gift.
Individual liberty and freedom are necessary for the good of humankind, and necessary for entrepreneurship. If we want to protect the rights of all Americans to determine how and for whom they want to work, we need to defend individual liberty at all cost. Entrepreneurship is a by product of the freedom that we possess in this country – a freedom that could be taken away if entrepreneurs don’t protect it.
As Thucydides said, “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”