By Jena Kelly from Austin, TX

At a young age I was intrigued by the ever present inequalities of our world. Why did I get to grow up in such a rich, prosperous country, like the United States, while other children toiled day and night just to feed themselves and their family? I was especially interested in Africa, because of the long history of blatant disregard for individual rights. The horrors that had occurred before, during, and after colonialism broke my heart, I just HAD to do something. Although not considered wealthy by American standards, I was exceedingly wealthy when compared to millions of other people around the globe. I felt it was my duty to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves. I was a true social justice warrior.

I chose to study International Relations in College, taking as many History and Geography classes as I could. However, I was never fully satisfied with my classes. The professors told me what had happened, but they never explained why. I wanted to know what the underlying causes were that led a state to be poor rather than wealthy in the first place. It was after reading The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz in an Introduction to International Relations class that I felt I had received a calling. Jacqueline started a group called Acumen Fund, an organization where wealthy donors wishing to promote positive social change can invest in local entrepreneurs in developing countries. This was what I wanted to do! I rushed to my professor’s office to get his advice on what to do next. It was in this meeting that I received some great advice, “There are plenty of people out there who care about the poor, but if you truly want to understand the underlying forces that keep people in poverty, you should study economics.” Economics??? Hmm, that seemed quite boring, and not something I would ever have picked as a major. At the same time, I tend to have the personality of someone who jumps head first into things, assessing the potential consequences later.

So I started taking economics classes, and lo and behold, I soon fell in love. It combined the logical, analytical right side of my brain with the compassion and empathy of the left side of my brain. Economics explained the way the world was and how we get the outcomes we get. I learned the importance of prices in coordinating the activity of millions of people and how a market allocation mechanism was vastly more efficient at giving people what they want than a centrally controlled economy could ever be. I realized I had been thinking about things in the wrong way. People in sweatshops weren’t being exploited by wealthy Americans like me for buying the clothes they make. Rather, I was helping to supply them with a job so they could provide for themselves, send their children to school, or save for the future. To improve the standard of living of people around the world we needed to invest in their economy, increasing the options available to them, not dictating how or where they should be working. This naive and privileged Western attitude I used to hold could easily hurt the very people I wanted to help. I realized I needed to be much more humble in recognizing the limitations of foreign aid and intervention. I should have been asking myself not what should we do as Americans, but what can we do.

My path to liberty didn’t stop there. I was referred to the Mercatus Center’s M.A. Fellowship Program at George Mason University by the professor I previously mentioned. I looked more into the program. It was uniquely Austrian and fit very well with my pro-market and pro-freedom views. I applied and somehow I was accepted! I couldn’t believe it, I was going to be able to move all the way from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. to study economics from some of the greatest economists around, like Christopher Coyne and Peter Leeson.

How had I not come to libertarianism before? I had been fiscally conservative and socially liberal for quite awhile, but if asked I would have mumbled I was a Republican. However, I was not politically active, and I had become disillusioned with the political process at a young age. I didn’t think there was any political philosophy that respected ALL individual rights. How very wrong I was. Opening borders, removing trade barriers, and allowing individuals the respect and freedom to make their own decisions for themselves and their family greatly improves lives more than campaigning against people working in “unfair” work environments ever could.

I hope that my path to liberty is far from over and that my quest for knowledge and truth is never satiated. There are too many things to learn, books to read, and people to meet to think that I have reached the end of a journey. If anything, it is only the beginning!