Ex Post vs. Ex Ante Fixes

This is a stub. I need to write on this topic. Applications:

1. Regulation.

2. Online seminar security. You can use passwords, obscure addresses, turn off all mikes, etc. Or you can be ready to close down zoombombers if they happen to arrive.

3. Teaching in an epidemic. In the business school, we professors were told we should each pick a teaching buddy, a professor who could take over if we got sick and couldn’t teach during April. We should get him to agree to help if necessary, and talk with him about our course so he’d be up to speed and the transition would be smooth.

This was an amazingly stupid idea, so contrary to good management that one wonders if professors of Management have any idea what they’re doing (Dean Kesner is a Management professor). As far as I know, not one of the 200 or so instructors did get covid-19 during April. Thus, 100% of the ex ante effort was wasted. And that effort would have been considerable, if anybody paid attention to the directive (I bet very few did, actually, but some naive people do listen to what deans say— especially the nonscholars who compose so much of our teaching staff and who are employed at the will of the administration rather than on tenure track.) First, finding a “buddy” for each of your classes takes a lot of energy, since it isn’t simple to ask somebody for what might turn out to be a big favor. You need to think who to ask, and how to ask diplomatically. Then it will turn out that everybody chooses poor Professor Smith, so he has to turn down 90% of the requests (and feel bad about letting down his colleagues) and you have to go to Professors Jones, who is everybody elses’s second choice too, and then… Finally, you have your buddy. If you go the next step and bring him up to speed on your course, that is like requiring him to do major course prep with you. It requires time and energy for him and for you.

The ex post approach is infinitely superior. If someone gets sick, he call the chairman and tells him. The chairman then decides who will take over the course. The person who gets sick will make up for it later in some way, perhaps by being put on an onerous committee or advising a student club for a semester. The person who takes over will be rewarded for it later, perhaps by NOT being put on an onerous committee or advising a student club. The “favor bank” is very efficient and is universal in human life (see, e.g., the lawyers and police in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities). The chairman centralizes– he is the favor banker— and doing this kind of thing is part of his job. He is compensated for it, and he is chosen as chairman because people think he’s good at it, and he learns how to do it in the course of being chairman. In fact, covid-19 is nothing special— handling headaches like this is one of those things chairmen always do, when professors have heart attacks, get stuck in Armenia during a revolution, get arrested for child abuse, etc. As for getting up to speed in the course, what happens is that whoever takes over does that by staying up all night one night or by being on the phone with the sick professor every day finding out what to do next.