Part of Robin Hanson's '96 application for a RWJF health policy postdoc:

In 1992 my good friend Phil Salin died of stomach cancer. He wasted precious weeks trying to track down the right care, and by the time he found it, it was too late. Since institution design had been a hobby of mine for the previous few years, I took a few days to ask myself what went wrong, and could we do better?

I invented an alternative institution intended to better align care-giver and patient incentives. But while my friends loved my proposal, I couldn't figure out how to get anyone else to listen to a NASA computer researcher's approach to health care. This was one of many experiences that convinced me that, to convert my hobby of institution design into a career, I needed to go back to school for a Ph.D.

So here I am four years later, with a Caltech social science Ph.D. nearly in hand. My prior institutional ideas, including my health care proposal, were either considered too theoretically simple to be of interest to the theorists who are my advisors, or turned out to be too hard to model with today's theory. So I focused on learning the theory well, and trying to meet the standards set by my advisors.

I have managed to discover a few insights which are theoretically interesting and feasible, and which seem relevant to basic institutional choices, in health care and elsewhere. For example, I have illuminated whether and how political choice can mitigate adverse selection problems, such as with health insurance regulation. And I have constructed (in my opinion) the first plausible rational-agent model of most product bans, such as professional licensing and drug regulation.

Once my theory credential are established, however, I want to begin to move back toward more concrete institutional contexts. My current lines of research need to be placed more in the context of actual regulatory practice. And I want to return to my simpler ideas for institutional reform.

I'm sure that some of my theoretically-driven insights are too poorly informed about actual practice to be of much relevance. But I am also optimistic that there is room for more than minor improvements in health care institutions, and basic theory can help inform discussions of more substantial institutional changes. There are serious problems of incentives and asymmetric information that have barely begun to be adequately addressed.

Your postdoc position would seem to give me the time and health care contacts to pursue this agenda.