I suspect I have always been a latent libertarian. I have always had a stubborn, individualistic streak, and I have never had an authoritarian personality. Moreover, I’ve always been passionate about seeking out the truth, regardless of its popularity. For example, in my student days at UC Berkeley, I surprisingly went through a deeply religious phase. The outward manifestations of that religiosity incurred high social costs, but I only cared about what I thought was right and true. (I’m actually an atheist now.) This attitude would later help me bear the social costs of adopting libertarianism as well.
But because of schooling, I was too intellectually sheltered and incurious throughout my youth to ever even be exposed to libertarianism, or even the economic way of thinking, as an alternative perspective. I remember what was perhaps the one time in my life that a tiny vessel of economic logic broke the school embargo on it. I read a letter to the editor in UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Cal, criticizing the City of Berkeley’s rent control policies. The writer gave a basic, brief explanation of how rent ceilings create housing shortages. I was immediately convinced. Unfortunately, I didn’t pursue this line of thinking further, and I came across no further seeds of economic logic until my escape from formal schooling. But apparently my mind has long been a fertile ground for such seeds.
The exact timeline of my initial post-college discovery of libertarianism and free-market economics is a bit hazy in my memory. My Audible account records show that I purchased audiobooks of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on February 11, 2003: a little under two years after I graduated. But I know I never listened to either of them all the way through.
What set me on the path toward the freedom philosophy was, ironically enough, a UC Berkeley course I took after having already graduated: Public Policy 101. Two things set this course apart from all the courses I had taken at Cal previously.
First of all, by then, I had been working, self-responsible, and free for a while, and for the first time in my life. I was taking the course under Cal’s “Extended Learning” system and through a professional development program at my work. I was taking it in order to make a pivot in my career. I wasn’t just going through the motions of what was expected of me, as I had from Kindergarten through Graduation Day. Enrolling in it was fully my own idea and part of my own plan for myself. So I was keen to really learn from it in order to make the most of it.
The other thing that set this course apart was its policy perspective. The professor, Michael O’Hare, was no libertarian. In fact, he was a fairly standard left-progressive. But there was a subtle difference in the way he presented public policy that eventually led to a paradigm shift in my thinking. He operated under the assumption that these things called markets actually did exist and did serve some kind of function. The task of the public policy analyst, he said, was to identify where markets fail and address those failures through government intervention. Where markets weren’t failing, they should be left alone.
For those who, like the professor himself, saw market failures abounding everywhere, this still left ample room for a hyperactive government. Yet for me it was a radically different way of looking at things. All of the perspectives I had been exposed to previously simply assumed that if you wanted something good in the world you had to use government to get it. I had no awareness of a natural order in society that government action might actually disrupt if it went overboard.
That reorientation of perspective was all it took for my latent libertarianism to emerge. I was imaginative enough about individual problem-solving and open enough to economic reasoning that wherever I looked for market failures, I found none. Government was seeming less and less useful.
This new way of thinking inspired me to read different kinds of sources, that, while not fully libertarian, had some respect for markets and individual freedom. One resource that was highly formative to me was The Economist magazine. To me, that publication was the high-water mark in analysis, journalism, and prose. I read whole issues cover-to-cover, and learned much about the world and the world of ideas through it. Another favorite source of mine was Fareed Zakaria, especially his book The Future of Freedom. Now I see voices like The Economist and Fareed Zakaria as a big part of what’s wrong with the world. But at the time, they were useful stepping stones on my intellectual path.
From time to time, The Economist would have a kind word for libertarianism. This is probably what got me to do Google searches for the ideology. This was also the time when blogs were exploding in popularity, and through my searches, I discovered the libertarian “blogosphere” as it was then called.
Once I made that discovery, it was off to the races.
I started following a few individual libertarian bloggers. Through them I discovered some libertarian group blogs. And through those I discovered libertarian institutional blogs.
By no later than 2004, I considered myself a libertarian. In March 2005, I started my own libertarian blog. By 2007, I was an anarcho-capitalist and fan of Austrian economics thanks to the audiobooks and printed books made available by the Mises Institute. Especially formative were two books by Murray Rothbard: his history of economic thought and his Ethics of Liberty. In 2009, thanks to Jeffrey Tucker, I started being regularly published at Mises.org as well as doing volunteer work on the Mises Forums. In 2010, as a contractor, I launched the Mises Academy, the Institute’s online course platform. And since 2012, I’ve worked full-time as a professional editor, educator, and essayist in the liberty world: first at Mises and now at FEE.
In 2014, I started broadening my writing topics, becoming something of an expert on foreign policy and a weekly columnist at Antiwar.com, and doing extensive freelance writing for multiple publications. And since late 2016, I have also branched out into the field of promoting professional freedom and empowerment through my work with Praxis, in which I coach young people who are breaking free of formal schooling much earlier than I did. At FEE, I get to spend every day with like-minded colleagues (including Jeffrey!) exploring and promoting the ideas of liberty that I started falling in love with over a dozen years ago. I deeply love and enjoy my work and the life that I’ve built.
Throughout my life, so long as I was on a pre-determined path paved for me by others, I felt lost. It was only after being free to blaze my own trail that I was able to find my way.