John Olson’s interest in economics began at the onset of the U.S. 2008 Great Recession. In hindsight, John realizes he initially mistook this predilection as a passion for politics—noting how he became swept-up in campaigns, canvassing neighborhoods, and designing materials for subsequent elections. He even helped found his high school’s Young Democrat’s Club and joined the leadership of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and later as a fledgling undergraduate student, began the pursuit of a degree in political science at the University of Kansas. As time went on, though, John realized it wasn’t the politicians that roused him, it was their plans: the presentation, implementation, and outcomes of various proposals, as well as how these policies may or may not work, and how (dis)similar they are to previous strategies.

John saw the powerful impact economic factors can have—their potential to shape and change entire lives, for better or worse. Deciphering the role policy played in conjunction with these forces, contributing to how an economy functions, captivated and excited him—not unlike solving a puzzle. “There is not a single aspect of our lives that is not impacted by economics,” he says, “from something as small as a price at a grocery store to massive forces of inequality that may drive divisiveness in society as a whole.” After his first few introductory economics courses, John was hooked and changed his major. In his junior year, he also added a second major in mathematics.

The summer before his senior year, John took an internship at the Tax Foundation, a think tank focused on tax policy in Washington D.C., where he helped develop their macroeconomic model to gauge potential impacts of different federal tax proposals on the economy. He also contributed to research projects such as modeling the impacts of historical tax reforms. This experience, along with an honors thesis on the potential effect of excess reserves in depository institutions on inflation in the United States, convinced John he needed to pursue graduate work in economics if he wanted a future doing research and influencing policy in a way that helps people.

John entered the PhD program here at U-M immediately following the completion of his bachelors in 2017. Aware U-M housed an incredible data center and the Office of Tax Policy Research (both of which are an incredible asset to research), and already intending to focus his studies on public finance and macroeconomics, John knew this is exactly where he wanted to be—especially considering U-M boasts some of the best public finance faculty in the world and that many of the macroeconomics faculty research at the intersection of his two desired fields. 

Now in his third year of graduate study, John has not only gained skills and tools his undergraduate self could not have dreamt of, but he’s also found community: a sense of comradery with his peers, support from the staff, and academic role models in the faculty. He’s solidified his resolve to pursue a career in research, as well; enjoying a rich and inspiring literature and how rigorous frameworks can help guide approaches so answers stand up to scrutiny. Proud of the work he’s done so far, and grateful for the support of his family and friends along this academic journey, John is eager to continue doing research and start answering questions surrounding fiscal policy and how it could both alleviate hardship and contribute to growth; hopeful his work will contribute to making the world a better place.