Joseph Overton

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Joseph Overton
Joseph Paul Overton

(1960-01-04)January 4, 1960
DiedJune 30, 2003(2003-06-30) (aged 43)
EducationMichigan Technological University (BS, MA)
Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (JD)
OccupationPolitical scientist
Known forOverton window; research on education and public policy

Joseph Paul Overton[1] (4 January 1960 – 30 June 2003) was an American political scientist who served as the senior vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.[2][3] He is best known for his work in the mid-1990s developing an idea since known as the Overton window.[4]


Overton was born in Southwestern Michigan, but his family moved to Midland, Michigan in 1965 for a job with the Dow Chemical Company. He graduated from Herbert Henry Dow High School in 1978.[5]

He held a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University and a Juris Doctor degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.[6]

Overton Window (The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is also known as the window of discourse.)

Overton was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 1994.[7] He was appointed to the Michigan Appellate Defender Commission by Governor John Engler. His appointment was recommended by the Michigan Supreme Court.[6] Before joining the Mackinac Center, he worked as a quality specialist, project manager and electrical engineer at the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan.[6]

Overton was an ardent libertarian, and while associated with the Mackinaw Center in Midland, he promoted and studied free-market principles for over ten years while travelling to more than a dozen countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.[6] One of his other responsibilities was fund-raising. In order to explain what think tanks do, in the 1990s he designed a brochure to illustrate the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream at a given time.[8] That idea eventually became known as the Overton window, and his lasting legacy.[4] He opined that it is the responsibility of think-tanks to propose policies outside the window and shift the window.

In 1998, Overton was honored with the Roe Award from the State Policy Network (SPN) at their meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The award, presented annually, honors individuals who have successfully promoted free market philosophy while displaying innovation, accomplishment and innovation in public policy.[9][10]

He died at age 43 from injuries suffered in a crash while piloting an ultralight aircraft, soon after taking off from the Tuscola Area Airport near Caro, Michigan.[11] Overton had just married a few weeks before the accident.[12]

Shortly after his death, he was honored by the State Policy Network with the creation of the Overton Award, a special distinction. It is bestowed infrequently and limited to COOs or Executive VPs of non-profit, free market organizations who demonstrate the personal qualities that Overton possessed. These include humility in supporting their peers, leadership that builds a great team, and developing effective strategies that magnify the ideas and influence of their organization. As of 2022, only five individuals had received this honor.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Joseph Paul Overton (1960-2003) - Find A Grave..."
  2. ^ "Joseph P. Overton". NNDB. Soylent Communications.
  3. ^ Lamm, Byron S. (July 1, 2003). "A Tribute to Joseph P. Overton". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Overton window, at the Mackinac Center
  5. ^ "Lawrence Overton obituary". Herald-Palladium Newspaper. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d "Joseph P. Overton". Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  7. ^ "Joseph P Overton". State Bar of Michigan. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  8. ^ Giridharadas, Anand (21 November 2019). "How America's Elites Lost Their Grip". Time. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  9. ^ "The Roe Awards". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on 26 November 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  10. ^ Lamm, Byron S. "A Tribute to Joseph P. Overton". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  11. ^ "Executive with think tank killed in ultralight crash". Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Associated Press. 10 July 2003. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  12. ^ Giridharadas, Anand (November 21, 2019). "How America's Elites Lost Their Grip". Time. Retrieved 2020-01-03.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ "SPN's Overton Award: Celebrating Outstanding Nonprofit Leadership". State Policy Network. Retrieved 15 February 2022.

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