For the Political Awareness Committee’s kick-off event this year, a former member of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board of Governors spoke to the community about the economy and how it will impact the 2012 elections. On Sept. 11, Mark Olson ’65 not only shared insight into how the economy arrived at its current state, but he also shared details about his path to success, which began with the foundation he received at St. Olaf.
“I came in with a willing and untamed mind, and left with intellectual discipline, ” he said.
Mark Olson ’65 has an impressive resumé. One might recognize him from his appearances on CNBC. However, the mention of his time on the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve from 2001 to 2006 is usually enough to cause the audience to hush and pay rapt attention. As many Oles learned, he intuitively combined the economy and its impact on the nearing elections to make the topic stimulating and insightful, with enough levity to spark an interest in economics majors and non-majors alike.
After graduating, Olson proceeded to accumulate an extensive knowledge of the banking system, and he became CEO and president of different banks and financial institutions, such as the American Bankers Association and what is now known as U.S. Bank Corp.
Olson attributes his preparation for the Federal Reserve to these times. He had the banking background and public policy skills they needed at the time. He is currently a co-chair of Treliant Risk Advisors, which is an advising firm for the financial services industry.
But what of the economy and the pressing elections? According to Olson, the Republicans are not gaining traction, and the parties are becoming more and more strident. While he is a supporter of Mitt Romney, the economist does think Obama will be re-elected in November.
Olson also warned that there is a “looming fiscal cliff,” and it is essential that it be dealt with. If Congress does not act, he believes that the economy will again be thrown into recession.
Furthermore, companies need to know the paradigm. What tax environment will they be facing? They need to be able to adjust; otherwise, their productivity and options will be limited.
Olson’s talk was not only informative, but also entertaining. Attendees left the evening’s talk with Olson’s basic takeaway point: Despite all the negativity swirling around, the basic economy is structurally sound. The Federal Reserve may not be able to restructure the economy, but Olson believes that Bernanke’s policies are doing a much better job than people recognize.
Years in the banking industry and his time on the Federal Reserve have formed a dynamic, intuitive and informative speaker, to say the least. His final advice to Oles? “Bear in mind that there are no destinations; there are journeys.”