MCPP: What was it like growing up for you?
D. Joseph Olson: I was originally born in Louisiana. If I had been born three months later, I would have been originally from Texas. You see, my dad worked for Carter Oil, which was owned by Standard Oil, as a geophysicist. He moved around the country quite a bit with his job, so we went with him. I’ve been in every state of the union, but growing up I spent a lot of time in the southern states, but also some western states.
Traveling so much, you get a fantastic perspective of how many people see the world. There are so many diverse ideas out there. Some are better than others, but it’s important to be exposed to varying ideas so that you can compare them with your own ideas and learn.
One of the only drawbacks from traveling so much is that it was difficult to sustain friendships with the people we met. However, we would frequently go back to the same areas across the country and catch up with people we had known years before.
MCPP: How did you end up in Michigan?
Olson: I attended many schools of higher learning. I like to tell people that I’ve been kicked out of some of the best universities in the country! I didn’t always see things the way my college professors did. We’ll leave it at that.
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Oklahoma City University in 1959. I got a job underwriting insurance in San Diego. I eventually attended Santa Clara University to get out of the insurance business and graduated in 1975. That’s when I began working in the legal department for USAA (United Service Automobile Association). After that, I became general counsel for Citizens Insurance Company in Howell, MI.
I probably took the longest route anyone has ever taken to get to Michigan.
MCPP: What got you interested in free markets?
Olson: I never had a “road to Damascus” conversion to accepting the ideas of free markets. I always believed in them.
I believe I have read all of F. A. Hayek’s works.
John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Robert Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. My dad was born in Winterset, Iowa, in 1913. There are still relatives on my dad’s side of the family there. I idolized John Wayne. He had a lot to do with how I perceived and thought how people should be able to live their lives. He was the sort of image I had of what a good American was. Solid, Midwestern people that have a good attitude about life and the country.
MCPP: What was one of the reasons why you thought the Mackinac Center should exist?
Olson: There were some national organizations that were doing very good scholarly work on public policy issues, and I thought Michigan should have its own research institute.
There was a big need for a Michigan organization to provide free market solutions to the economic questions of the day.
MCPP: How do you think the Mackinac Center has evolved over the years?
Olson: It’s gotten bigger. The organization has become very effective in getting its ideas into the public conversation of the day. Starting out, we knew our ideas would take a while to become accepted. Today, it seems as though it doesn’t take as long for Mackinac Center ideas to be considered among policy-makers.