“For the first six years of my life, I was under a communist regime.”
That’s how Simon Bilo describes his early life growing up in Czechoslovakia, a former Soviet bloc country. Born in 1983, Simon experienced life under Soviet domination first hand.
Life in a command economy was tough. Many of the necessities and luxuries that Americans take for storiesed were scarce or unavailable.
“There were shortages,” said Simon. “We had to wait in lines for bananas and oranges. Everything was very expensive. You had to have special privileges to buy nice things. Jeans were considered luxury goods.”
Even during these lean times, though, Simon’s parents instilled in him logical thinking, curiosity, and a love for learning. His mom taught him the English language, a critical step for later in his life.
“Both of my parents set an example for me to follow,” he said.
Collapse and renewal
In 1989, everything changed in Simon’s home country. A revolutionary wave engulfed the Soviet bloc nations of central and Eastern Europe, and Czechoslovakia was one of them. The communist regime was collapsing.
“Most of the people were excited about it,” said Simon. “They called it ‘the velvet revolution.’ No one was being killed; there were no riots, just peaceful mass protests around the country. The communist leaders, under the pressure of the protests, simply gave up their power. It was amazing.”
Due to strong nationalist tendencies across the country, Czechoslovakia was divided into two separate countries in 1993: The Czech Republic and Slovakia. That change — in conjunction with the other economic and political transformations that occurred in the 1990s — inspired Simon to pursue his dream career: economics.
“I wanted to understand how the changes that had occurred in Czechoslovakia worked — and why some of them were successful while others were not,” he said.
That led Simon to leave his home and study abroad in Prague. Following the split of Czechoslovakia, natives of Slovakia were permitted to study at Czech University free of charge.
While in school, Simon learned more about Austrian economics and classical liberal thought — the latter of which is a political philosophy that emphasize individual liberty and responsibility, limited government, and laissez faire economics. The ideas of Austrian economics and classical liberalism helped Simon to understand why communism and socialism failed in his own country.
In 2008, Simon came to the United States to pursue a doctorate in economics from George Mason University. During the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2013, Simon benefited from instruction at the Center for the History of Economic Thought at Duke University, a world-class academic center supported by the John William Pope Foundation.
“The Duke Center really helped me to start to build a network,” said Simon. “You really build your career on a personal network. The summer institute organized by the Center brought in some of the best people in the country and helped me to get to know them.”
Today, Simon serves as an assistant professor of economics at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Besides his research interests in the work of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, he wants to use his career to promote economics as a tool of critical thinking and responsible citizenship.
“In this regard,” he said, “we would do a great disfavor to future generations if we did not teach them the benefits of economic freedom and if we left them ignorant of the reason why socialist economics fail.”
“Being a teacher is the best way to do economics,” he added. “I can’t imagine a more exciting vocation if you want to pursue the study of economic phenomena.”
To learn more about the John William Pope Foundation’s support for educational outlets like the Duke Center for the History of Economic Thought, click here.