Robust collusion with private information

Published in The Review of Economic Studies, 79(2):778–811, April 2012.

Abstract: The game-theoretic literature on collusion has been hard pressed to explain why a cartel should engage in price wars, without resorting to either impatience, symmetry restrictions, inability to communicate, or failure to optimize. This paper introduces a new explanation that relies on none of these assumptions: if the cartel's member firms have private information about their costs, price wars can be optimal in the face of complexity. Specifically, equilibria that are robust to payoff-irrelevant disruptions of the information environment generically cannot attain or approximate efficiency. An optimal robust equilibrium must allocate market shares inefficiently, and may call for price wars under certain conditions. For a two-firm cartel, cost interdependence is a sufficient condition for price wars to arise in an optimal robust equilibrium. That optimal equilibria are inefficient generically applies not only to collusion games, but also to the entire separable payoff environment (Chung & Ely 2006)—a class that includes most typical economic models.

Published article (free access)

Efficiency in repeated trade with hidden valuations

With Susan Athey

Published in Theoretical Economics, 2(3):299-354, September 2007

Abstract: We analyze the extent to which efficient trade is possible in an ongoing relationship between impatient agents with hidden valuations (i.i.d. over time), restricting attention to equilibria that satisfy ex post incentive constraints in each period. With ex ante budget balance, efficient trade can be supported in each period if the discount factor is at least one half. In contrast, when the budget must balance ex post, efficiency is not attainable, and furthermore for a wide range of probability distributions over their valuations, the traders can do no better than employing a posted price mechanism in each period. Between these extremes, we consider a "bank" that allows the traders to accumulate budget imbalances over time, but only within a bounded range. We construct non-stationary equilibria that allow traders to receive payoffs that approach efficiency as their discount factor approaches one, while the bank earns exactly zero expected profits. For some probability distributions there exist equilibria that yield exactly efficient payoffs for the players and zero profits for the bank, but such equilibria require high discount factors.

Published article (free access)