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Marc Neilsen

Smith Soc Featured Member

Questions and Answers with Adam Smith Society Members. 

Marc Neilstein | Georgetown McDonough Chapter | 2019 Milstein Fellow

Marc NeilsenMarc Neilsen is a second-year MBA student at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and the VP of Membership for the school’s chapter of the Adam Smith Society. Marc is from a small farming community in northern Utah and is a proud husband and father. He decided to pursue an MBA after serving seven years in the U.S. Army. Most of his military service was confined to the Special Operations Community, where he was able to explore the hinterlands of American foreign policy. Seeing the lawlessness, corruption, despotism, and grinding poverty of these far-flung locations not only gave him a profound sense of gratitude but compelled him to think more critically about liberty, prosperity, and the role of the state. During training exercises and on deployment, he found himself poring over old copies of Capitalism and Freedom and The Road to Serfdom—books he had only halfheartedly read years earlier as an undergraduate. Marc initially joined the military to make a difference; years after enlisting, he found that he needed to leave the military for the same reason. Although he is thankful for the experience he had in uniform, he strongly believes that he can make a more meaningful impact as a private citizen. Armed with a first-class education and years of working in ambiguous environments, he hopes to leverage these experiences to bring greater prosperity and freedom to emerging markets in remote parts of the globe.    

Your experiences in lawless and corrupt countries have influenced your thinking about the role of the state. How so? In your experience, does the state hinder or contribute to lawlessness in the countries where you've lived?

Working in regions of the world defined by poverty, corruption, and instability has deeply influenced the way I view the role of the state. In every instance, the local population is industrious, thrifty, and creative but is repeatedly undermined by an exploitative government. This unhealthy relationship fosters widespread dependency, as natural incentives are replaced by the need to appease bureaucrats, party leaders, and security officials. In such places, poverty is rampant, and individual freedoms are few.

Although I had read F. A. Hayek as an undergraduate, observing this fundamental connection between economic and political freedom firsthand gave me a new appreciation for a state that respects both political and economic freedom. Without this balance, a society will descend into despotism or lawlessness.

If you had to pick one theme where the private sector's impact on poor countries would be most profound, what would it be?

While I recognize that there are successful nonprofits out there that alleviate suffering in challenging regions of the globe, I believe that these organizations do not cultivate lasting prosperity, growth, or autonomy. Comparatively, the liberalization of trade has lifted millions of human beings out of poverty and has given lasting economic independence to millions more.

Although there are certainly disruptive effects, free-trade agreements have overwhelmingly benefited developed and developing countries alike; international companies should be willing to continue to fight for access to foreign markets, despite the unfavorable political climate.

What's the most difficult language you've learned?

I speak five languages: Arabic, English, French, Hausa, and Portuguese. By far the most difficult language for me is Arabic. Of course, learning to read and write in a new alphabet is formidable, but the real challenge is navigating Arabic's complex verb forms (modern standard Arabic has 19 separate forms). Being able to identify these forms is essential to mastering Arabic, and it takes a lot of study and practice to identify the correct verbal construction when speaking, reading, and writing. That said, Arabic is a beautiful, poetic language that has greatly enriched my life. I encourage anyone who is curious to give it a try.

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