Michael R. Powers

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Michael Roland Powers (born November 19, 1959) is the Zurich Group Professor of Risk Mathematics at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, where he holds a dual appointment in Tsinghua's Schwarzman Scholars program. An internationally recognized insurance scholar, he was a 2011 recipient of China’s Qian Ren Ji Hua award.[1] In 2013, he won the Kulp-Wright Book Award for Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance (2012, Columbia University Press).[2]


Powers has published over eighty articles and book chapters on a variety of risk-related topics, with particular focus on issues of government regulation and public policy.[3] His major research contributions include: the introduction of intertemporal discounting into collective risk theory (actuarial ruin theory);[4] the derivation of the “Powers-Shubik square-root rule” for the approximate number of reinsurance companies operating in a national insurance market;[5] and a utility-theoretic solution of the Two Envelopes Paradox.[6] A frequent collaborator of Martin Shubik, he is responsible for promoting the application of game-theoretic modeling in insurance and actuarial science.[7] In Acts of God and Man, he proposes a science of risk based upon: a fundamentalist Bayesian (i.e., subjective/judgmental) approach to modeling uncertainty; a formal distinction between the "aloof" risks of insurance and the "non-aloof" risks of other financial markets; and a personalized scientific method emphasizing randomized controlled studies, mathematical and game-theoretic modeling, and statistical simulation.[8]


Powers was appointed Deputy Insurance Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (a sub-cabinet-level post in the state government) in 1987,[9] and subsequently was responsible for designing Pennsylvania’s current “choice” no-fault automobile insurance system.[10] He joined the faculty of Temple University’s Fox School of Business in 1990, and moved to Tsinghua University in 2011. He succeeded Professor David Daokui Li as interim chair of Tsinghua’s finance department in 2013.[11]


  • Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance, 2012, Columbia University Press, New York.[12]
  • Icons, 2003, Dry Bones Press, San Francisco (science-fiction/fantasy novel).[13]
  • Global Risk Management: Financial, Operational, and Insurance Strategies, 2002, co-edited with J. Jay Choi, JAI Press/Elsevier, Amsterdam.[14]
  • The Economics and Politics of Choice No-Fault Insurance, 2001, co-edited with Edward L. Lascher, Jr., Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.[15]


Powers received his B.S. in Applied Mathematics, summa cum laude, from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Statistics from Harvard University. At Harvard, he wrote his dissertation under the direction of John W. Pratt.[16]

Other activities

During the 2008 U.S. Presidential election campaign, Powers’ comments[17] on the relative life expectancies of candidates John McCain and Barack Obama received media attention when cited by actor Matt Damon and others as a cause for concern.[18] He has published occasional commentary at the Huffington Post.[19]


  1. See http://www.sem.tsinghua.edu.cn/en/powers.
  2. See http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15366-9/acts-of-god-and-man.
  3. See http://www.sem.tsinghua.edu.cn/portalweb/appmanager/portal/semEN?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=P12601436201288346617220.
  4. Powers, M. R., 1995, "A Theory of Risk, Return, and Solvency," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, 17, 2, 101-118.
  5. Powers, M. R. and Shubik, M., 2006, "A 'Square-Root Rule' for Reinsurance," Revista de Contabilidade e Finanças (Review of Accounting and Finance), 17, 5, 101-107.
  6. Powers, M. R., 2015, "Paradox-Proof Utility Functions for Heavy-Tailed Payoffs: Two Instructive Two-Envelope Problems," Risks, 3, 1, 26-34.
  7. See, e.g., Powers, M. R., Shubik, M., and Yao, S. T., 1998, "Insurance Market Games: Scale Effects and Public Policy," Zeitschrift für Nationalökonomie (Journal of Economics), 67, 2, 109-134; Powers, M. R. and Shubik, M., 2001, "Toward a Theory of Reinsurance and Retrocession," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, 29, 2, 271-290; and Powers, M. R., 2007, "Using Aumann-Shapley Values to Allocate Insurance Risk: The Case of Inhomogeneous Losses," North American Actuarial Journal, 11, 3, 113-127.
  8. See http://www.scienceofrisk.com/.
  9. See http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_144323_20348_1078374_43/http%3B/pubcontent.state.pa.us/publishedcontent/publish/cop_general_government_operations/dgs/community_content/publications_and_media_services/subcommunities/publications/portlets/vol_120___section_4/vol_120___sec_4___cabinet_level_agencies.pdf.
  10. Powers, M. R., 1992, "Equity in Automobile Insurance: Optional No-Fault," Journal of Risk and Insurance, 59, 2, 203-220.
  11. See http://www.sem.tsinghua.edu.cn/portalweb/appmanager/portal/semEN?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=P1407244651267851978559&u=News1/59262.htm.
  12. See http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15366-9/acts-of-god-and-man.
  13. See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1931333262.
  14. See http://www.emeraldinsight.com/books.htm?issn=1569-3767&volume=3.
  15. See http://www.springer.com/business+%26+management/book/978-0-7923-7467-1?cm_cmm=sgw-_-ps-_-book-_-0-7923-7467-3.
  16. See http://genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/id.php?id=103799.
  17. See http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=253B8DF9-18FE-70B2-A8961A86DC5B16C7.
  18. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2008/09/the_theology_of_sarah_palin.html.
  19. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-r-powers.

External links