Lecture Notes

I’ve created a lecture notes page on my webpage.

On that page, I’ve posted the notes I’ll be using for my decision theory class this fall.

These notes are something of a merger of the game theory notes I used over the summer, with the decision theory notes I had previously posted. A straight merger of those two would have involved a lot of overlap, and been too long for a semester. As it is, these notes are probably a little long for a semester course, but I think that with careful use they should be the basis for a good course.


Starting January 1, Ishani Maitra and I will be starting new positions in the University of Michigan philosophy department. I’m going to be the inaugural Marshall M. Weinberg Professor of Philosophy, which is an incredible honour.

I’m really looking forward to being part of (another) great philosophy program. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the way Michigan has gone about its hiring in recent years, and you don’t need me to tell you how amazing the longer serving faculty there are. Indeed, both the newer and the older faculty there are so good that I’ve repeatedly tried to hire several of them away at my previous jobs!

Living in Ann Arbor will be great for the three of us. I’m looking forward to being able to walk to work, and to the markets, and to great public schools. And I’m really looking forward to having these folks as colleagues and neighbours. I’d make a list of which things I’m most looking forward to professionally, but it would be too long, and I’m sure to inadvertently leave something or someone out. And in any case, I suspect that most readers of this blog don’t need to be told how fantastic the philosophers at Michigan are, to put it mildly.

While I will miss many things about the Rutgers philosophy department (and linguistics and cog sci departments), one thing I won’t miss having to worry about what might happen to my job thanks to changes in state government policy. Twice, proposals that would have made it impossible to work at Rutgers and live in New York passed a house of the state legislature. In both cases the bills that resulted didn’t directly affect academics, but that this kind of thing would even be proposed was worrying. What passed was a huge rise in health premiums (effectively a 5% pay cut for most faculty), and an unknown extra rise in health care if you have any interest in seeing a doctor outside New Jersey (UPDATE: I made a couple of mistakes in making this calculation, see below for labourious details). The budget cuts from Trenton have also seen cuts in carried forward research accounts, and non-payment of contractually agreed pay raises. And who knows what they’ll think up next? All this made the choice much easier.

That said, there has been a lot I’ve loved about being part of the Rutgers philosophy department. I’m particularly fond of the current crop of grad students we have, who are truly great philosophers, and great people. I bet in a couple of decades time, people will look back and say, “There was a seminar that had her and him and her and … in it? That’s like having a philosophy all-stars conference every week.” And I’ll be like, “Yep, and I was, at least nominally, teaching them.” Those of you who are on search committees over the next few years will hear much much more from me about these students, so I won’t go on too much more here. My colleagues-to-be in particular will be hearing about them a lot. (I suspect at some point I’ll be replaced on a search committee by a talking dummy saying, “I think we should hire the Rutgers student”, and no one will spot the difference.)

Building a grad student body this good takes a lot of work, but I think Jeff King (as DGS) and Ruth Chang and Jason Stanley (as admissions directors in recent years) deserve a lot of credit for it. Impressively, the students aren’t just thriving philosophically, but seem to be happier than one could reasonably expect graduate students to be. I think that wouldn’t have happened without the hard work several faculty members have put in to making the grad program work so well.

I don’t know the current Michigan students nearly as well, so it’s impossible to make any comparisons. I have been impressed by the people (and work) I have seen, so I have high hopes for what things will be like. I’m looking forward to more seminars with a different batch of philosophy all-stars to be!

UPDATE: I oversimplified and overstated the recent changes in NJ health care law, so I should correct this. What happened is that the costs of being part of the NJ health plan went from a fixed percentage of salary (roughly 1.5%), to a sliding percentage of premium costs, dependent on one’s income. The effect of this will be complicated, because it is being phased in over time, but I think the following is all true. (Some of this is taken from this calculator, which models what will happen if there’s no change in wages or health insurance premiums over the course of implementing the plan.)

  • Health care costs for staff and faculty will rise at the rate of health insurance premium inflation, not at the rate of wage inflation.
  • If premiums and wages don’t change between now and when the plan is fully implemented in 2014, most people with singles coverage will see a small rise in contributions, and people with family coverage will (in general) see a large rise, from something like 1.5% of income to something that could be nearly 5% of income.
  • That ‘could be’ is because the premiums as a percentage of salary will be largest on those earning between $80,000 and $133,000; either side of that the costs, in percentage terms, will be less. Hence the increase from the current 1.5-ish% of salary premiums will be less. For people getting singles coverage and earning over $200,000, or getting family coverage and earning over $500,000, costs may even fall.
  • But barring premium increases, no one will see a 5% of income rise in health care costs; that was a mistake, and I’m sorry for it.
  • I also hadn’t realised how differentially impacted people on different salaries, and with different family situations, will be by the law; projecting what will happen to those with families in the $80-133K salary range to “most faculty” was also a mistake I’m sorry for.
  • There will be separate plans for people who want primarily instate care, and those that don’t. This could massively shrink the pool of people being insured by the out-of-state plan, assuming (as I think is true) that most people who live in NJ will take the (presumably cheaper) instate plan. If the pool shrinks too far, you’d expect to see premium rises, and premium volatility, both of which would be directly passed on to staff and faculty. But it is far too early to make such a prediction, and the effects could be much much smaller than I fear.

I still think the changes were a very bad idea, and I’m glad to not have to worry about them more. And I’m especially glad I don’t have to worry about what effect splitting the insured pool like this will do to premiums for those in the smaller group, which I think is very hard to model. (One data point for the model: at University of Michigan, if we moved out of state, our health care contributions would more than double.) I have an aversion to this kind of uncertainty, so this bothered me more than it might bother other people; we’ll see in ten years time how worried I should have been.

But the changes weren’t as bad, or as simple, as I suggested in the post, hence this correction. And I apologise for the errors.