Amy Finkelstein

Amy Finkelstein

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Opportunities… life is replete with them- some golden, some missed, some once in a lifetime. With opportunity comes the opportunism a chance to “take advantage of a situation” can carry either a negative or a positive connotation depending on the context in which it is set. Unethical “opportunism” implies manipulation and making unfair gains, while “opportunism” may also reflect a sense of entrepreneurialism and initiative when one takes advantage of a situation.
 In reflecting upon this question, I often find in my daily life that I strive to act as selflessly as possible, which in essence is the antithesis of “opportunism”.  I approach life with a perspective that I would rather give than receive, and basically, do everything within my capabilities to support and help out the people in my life. I’m always willing to volunteer to do the tasks that others do not want to and am more apt to go out of my way to do something for someone else to avoid “putting them out”. The above anecdote about my personality is not in any way supposed to come off as self-righteous or hubristic. I am a pushover and a people pleaser, more often rather than not the disadvantaged party in cases of “opportunism”. Seeking to live a life based on altruism carries numerous challenges and obstacles, both from the outside world and intrinsically.
I chose to act un-opportunistically usually in the hope that the good deed will be repaid someday or to uphold morals or even to gain that sense of pride and self worth when doing “the right thing”. I often think people act out against “self-interest”, because their personal conception of “self-interest” may not lie solely within themselves. Human beings-the social creatures that we are- often invest what we consider our version of “self-interest” in the well-being of others around us. In another sense, what I’m posing is that opportunistic behavior may need an expanded definition. There may be a way to reconcile both opportunism and altruism. It is perfectly possible for one individual to deny and opportunity in the interest of the betterment of another person, operating so that another person can ‘take advantage of the situation’. Rather than controlling a situation for their own individual gain, someone may act to “open a door for” or “give a boost to” someone else. This still implies taking advantage of a situation, but with altruistic intentions. The personal benefit derived from this comes in service to another person. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Organizations: The Saga of University Housing

     One of the largest and most complex organizations I have been employed by is University of Illinois Housing. Last year I had worked as a Residential Adviser (RA). My experience as an RA was one of the most challenging yet, most rewarding in my college career. 

     I had worked with a very diverse staff of 10 other college students and a central Residential Director who served as a staff manager and the liaison to upper levels of University Housing Staff.  University Housing is a highly decentralized institution with multiple tiers of administration from the main director of University Housing to student paraprofessionals.  The institutional hierarchy of University Housing was incredibly extensive. University Housing was very unique in the scope of its activities, providing residents of the University not only with a residence hall, but also affiliating with dining services, technological and academic resources, facilitating student employment as well as renting out available spaces in residence and dining halls for events and meetings.  

     Residential Advisors served as the face of University Housing. As a residential advisor I was trained through the Course EOL 199 and three weeks of onsite training. Residential Advisors act as a mentor, emergency responder, and academic advisor for student residents of University Housing.  As an employee of University Housing, I gained very valuable insight into the process and daily operation of such large and important University of Illinois entities. Decentralization of Housing was crucial to effectively meet the needs of University of Illinois students. Yet information asymmetries often enhanced the difficulty of the position of an RA.  The dispersal of information from upper levels of Housing was often slow coming to RA who were the primary actors dispersing the information. I often found it challenging to enforce rules and regulations dictated by the administration University Housing due to incomplete information. As well, due to the massive structure of Housing it was often a very complicated and timely process to get into contact with and communicate with Housing Administration on any particular issue in residential life.

     Transaction costs also played a major role in the organization of University Housing and were particularly prevalent to the job description of a Residential Advisor. Beyond community-building, providing networking and social opportunities and serving as a guide to campus life at U of I, residential advisors bore the main brunt of transaction costs incurred in the market of University Housing. RAs serve to reduce transaction costs in the market exchange between students and student housing administration.  Policing and enforcing  came into play whenever Residential Advisors handled paperwork for Housing administration, such as distributing and collecting student “room condition reports” and performing  mid-semester fire inspections to ensure that students are upholding fire safety regulations specified in their housing contract. As well in building a community within a residence hall, RAs were responsible, along with residents to compile community rules to be respected throughout the year in order to provide the fullest and best living experience for all residents in the residence hall. Developing community rules incurred a good deal of bargaining costs in the process of compromising upon the personal living preferences of the more than 40 women living on my floor to establish an middle path equitable to all involved,

Friday, September 7, 2012


Amy Finkelstein serves currently as the Ford Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her other academic endeavors include the wonderful honor to work as a co-Director of the Public Economics Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, where she is a Research Associate, and to work as a co-editor of the Journal of Public Economics. She proudly calls both Harvard University and Oxford University, England my alma mater. 

            The focus of her research in the field of economics has focused primarily on healthcare systems and markets, particularly in the US. She has published several large scale studies on Medicare and Medicaid and has sought through my work to provide insights on such health insurance markets that will help inspire future policy design. 

            The MIT News Office Reports that a recently released working paper written by Finklestein and 4 co-authors found that enrolling in Medicaid, a US federal program for low-income individuals and their families, helps the health and financial stability of participants, and makes them more likely to receive medical care than they otherwise would be. The MIT News office continues to report that, Amy Finkelstein has published significant works about the effects of asymmetric information in health insurance markets — elucidating, among other things, how frequently individuals with information on their high health risks purchase health insurance, and alternately, how frequently lower-risk people purchase insurance because they are risk-averse. Her research on the public’s behavior in health insurance markets directly applies to Economics 490, where the behaviors of purchasers of health insurance will impact the manners in which companies, who provide the services respond to customers and seek to manipulate customers. 

            Before this class I have not ever heard of Amy Finklestein, but I look forward to expanding my knowledge. I am particularly interested to read Amy’s work and apply it to enrich and deepen my understanding of federal decision-making in healthcare, especially with the recent launch of Obama-Care.


Dizikes, Peter. 2012. “Amy Finkelstein wins John Bates Clark Medal MIT economist lauded for

work on health care markets”. MIT News Office. (Accessed September 6, 2012).