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February 19, 2013 - 1:28am

Professor Profile: Tilman Börgers


Tilman Börgers is an economics professor who focuses on game theory and microeconomics. Originally from Germany, he received his doctorate from the London School of Economics and has been an adviser to many government agencies on auctions of licenses on gas and electricity.

What do you teach?

This semester, I am teaching Econ 401: Intermediate Microeconomics, as well as graduate courses Econ 603: General Equilibrium Theory; Econ 617: Game Theory; Econ 619/620: Advanced Theory. This year I teach an incredible number of courses.

What inspired you to go into the field of economics?

When I left high school I went to a career adviser, and I explained to the CA that I liked math and I liked politics. The adviser said that’s the ideal combination for economics. He himself had gotten an undergraduate economics degree and explained to me that he hated it. However, I was just the right person for that combination.

What led you to conduct research on voting systems and voting rules?

My main research field is game theory. Voting involves strategic behavior, and you have to think about where your vote is useful. So it is an application of game theory. There is an area of game theory that studies how to design the rules of the games so that good outcomes occur, and I’m trying to apply that to voting. I do that partially because in the theory of voting there are a lot of negative impossibility results, which say voting systems should have ‘this feature and this feature’ and so I am more interested in using game theory to discover what is possible, the area of feasible games. There is another reason: My brother has written a book on voting, and I want to compete with him.

What led you to come to the University?

I used to teach in London — most of my academic career is in England. Once I had children, it was too expensive to live in London, so I lived outside London and had to commute. The positive reason is my wife is American so it was natural to move to the U.S. In the research world in economics, America is still the center of the world. The top economics research is done in the U.S.

How would you compare living in Ann Arbor to living in London?

There’s nothing to compare. Usually when people ask me this, I say, ‘Well there’s no big difference.’ The truth is it’s different along every dimension you can think of. The biggest difference is, in London you are surrounded by an incredible amount of people and incredible activity. The cultural life is much more intensive. I go out more in Ann Arbor than I used to in London because it’s easier for me and I can easily walk from my home to campus. Another big difference is, in London you can go in the street and you are entirely anonymous. In Ann Arbor, I go to buy a coffee and the person behind the counter tells me that they’re taking my class.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I like classical music and jazz, so I go to many events at the Kerrytown concert halls and the music school, which has many excellent free concerts. At the moment I am also reading American history, because I was never taught American history in high school in Germany so I am catching up.