Свободные рынки

An interview with Konstantin Zhukov

Konstantin Zhukov’s time in America is a lesson in the value of perspective and the power of ideas. 

The young Russian was like most of his friends in his hometown of Izhevsk in not paying attention to public policy topics. “Not many people in Russia today really care about those things at all,” he said. “We believe we can’t influence it, so why should we bother learning about politics or economics?”

Kostya, as he’s known to his friends, first began to think about the implications of Russian and American economic models on his second day in the United States. That’s when he experienced the options available to American consumers firsthand: “I went to Walmart.”

“There was so much choice, and it was so cheap. There were three or four varieties just of Mountain Dew,” he said. “Over my first year here and traveling around America, I began to realize how much better life is here. Even people of lower incomes have better lives.”

He came to America because of an athletic scholarship to attend Northwood University near the Mackinac Center in Midland, Michigan.

He began to start thinking more deeply about politics and policy when he watched the war in eastern Ukraine begin to unfold in 2014. The information and points of view he was exposed to here were so different from what his friends and family home in Izhevsk were hearing from their government that he began looking for answers. The tipping point came when his Northwood professor Anna Ebeling recommended books by some writers he’d never really heard of. Henry Hazlitt. F.A.Hayek. And Konstantin’s favorite, Frédéric Bastiat.

“I fell in love when I read Bastiat’s ‘The Law,’” he said. “You just can’t disagree with him.”

Striking out on his own, Konstantin discovered more writers who spoke to his experiences, such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ayn Rand.

Konstantin was stunned by the power of what he’d read, as well as the realization of how “ignorant people are in Russia about these things.” With his eyes opening to alternative worldviews, he began thinking more about economics. His professor had more suggestions.

In a short period of time, the young man who’d come to the United States to play tennis (winning a pair of conference championships with Northwood in the process) and didn’t care about policy changed his major to economics and began looking for more ways to get involved. He co-founded an economics club at Northwood, but he wanted even more. That’s when he reached out to the Mackinac Center and asked if he could volunteer in the office one day a week to have the opportunity to support the ideas he had come to love. Since then, he’s been assisting the marketing and communications team as well as policy analysts with research projects.

Konstantin will graduate from Northwood in December and in January will head to Troy University in Alabama to pursue a master’s degree in economics. While he still loves Russia, he hopes to stay in the United States after graduation. The prospects for a free-market economist are limited in Russia, where think tanks are constrained by the government and advocacy is a risky business. While both his parents support his decision to live outside Russia, their opinions are divided on his political awakening. His mother, he said, shares many of his views. But his father, a former enlisted man in the Soviet Red Army, has fonder memories of what he believes was a more egalitarian Soviet Union.

Regardless, Konstantin will continue learning more about his newfound love: “Свободные рынки,” he says. “Free markets.”