Is multilateral enforcement vulnerable to bilateral renegotiation?

With S. Nageeb Ali and Yilin David Yang

Abstract: In a multilateral enforcement regime, a player who cheats on one partner is punished by many partners. But if partners can renegotiate in private, they can subvert the power of the multilateral punishment. We introduce a new notion of "bilateral renegotiation proofness" that applies to multilateral games with private monitoring. For symmetric networked environments, we characterize an optimal bilateral renegotiation proof equilibrium. While players’ ability to renegotiate bilaterally is indeed socially costly, it is perhaps not as costly as one might expect. In densely connected communities, the proportional cost imposed by bilateral renegotiation declines as the number of participants grows, and vanishes in the limit.

Working paper 1/10/2016

Ostracism and forgiveness

With S. Nageeb Ali

Accepted for publication in The American Economic Review

Abstract: Many communities rely upon ostracism to enforce cooperation: if an individual shirks in one relationship, her innocent neighbors share information about her guilt in order to shun her, while continuing to cooperate among themselves. However, a strategic victim may herself prefer to shirk, rather than report others' deviations truthfully. If guilty players are to be permanently ostracized, then such deviations are so tempting that cooperation in any relationship is bounded by what the partners could obtain through bilateral enforcement. Ostracism can improve upon bilateral enforcement if tempered by forgiveness, through which guilty players are eventually readmitted to cooperative society.

Working paper version 2/8/2016

A contract-theoretic model of conservation agreements

With Heidi Gjertsen, Theodore Groves, Eduard Niesten, Dale Squires, and Joel Watson

Abstract: We examine the structure and performance of conservation agreements, which are used across the world to protect natural resources. Key elements of these agreements are: (1) they are ongoing arrangements between a local community and an outside party, typically a non-governmental organization (NGO); (2) they feature payments in exchange for conservation services; (3) the prospects for success depend on the NGO engaging in costly monitoring to detect whether the community is foregoing short-term gains to protect the resource; (4) lacking a strong external enforcement system, they rely on self-enforcement; and (5) the parties have the opportunity to renegotiate at any time. We provide a novel model that contains these ingredients and we apply the model to assess the workings of real conservation agreements, using three case studies as representative examples. We characterize equilibrium play (including how punishments and rewards are structured) and we show how the parties' relative bargaining powers affect their ability to sustain cooperation over time. The model captures important features of real conservation agreements and identifies some of the features required for successful agreements.

Working paper 4/21/2016

Enforcing cooperation in networked societies

With S. Nageeb Ali

Abstract: Which social norms and networks maximize cooperation in bilateral relationships? We study a network of players in which each link is a repeated bilateral partnership with two-sided moral hazard. The obstacle to community enforcement is that each player observes the behavior of her partners in their partnerships with her, but not how they behave in other partnerships. We introduce a new metric for the rate at which information diffuses in a network, which we call viscosity, and show that it provides an operational measure for how conducive a network is to cooperation. This result offers a strategic foundation for the perspective that tightly knit groups foster the most cooperation. We apply this framework to analyze favor exchange arrangements, decentralized trade in networked markets, and social collateral.

Working paper 10/31/2012

A theory of disagreement in repeated games with bargaining

With Joel Watson

Published in Econometrica, 81(6):2303–2350, November 2013.

Abstract: This paper proposes a new approach to equilibrium selection in repeated games with transfers, supposing that in each period the players bargain over how to play. Although the bargaining phase is cheap talk (following a generalized alternating-offer protocol), sharp predictions arise from three axioms. Two axioms allow the players to meaningfully discuss whether to deviate from their plan; the third embodies a “theory of disagreement”—that play under disagreement should not vary with the manner in which bargaining broke down. Equilibria that satisfy these axioms exist for all discount factors and are simple to construct; all equilibria generate the same welfare. Optimal play under agreement generally requires suboptimal play under disagreement. Whether patient players attain efficiency depends on both the stage game and the bargaining protocol. The theory extends naturally to games with imperfect public monitoring and heterogeneous discount factors, and yields new insights into classic relational contracting questions.

Published article

Supplemental material

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)

Attainable payoffs in repeated games with interdependent private information

Abstract: This paper proves folk theorems for repeated games with private information, communication, and monetary transfers, in which signal spaces may be arbitrary, signals may be statistically interdependent, and payoffs for each player may depend on the signals of other players.

Working paper 1/13/2009

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)

“Token” equilibria in sensor networks with multiple sponsors

With Sameer Tilak and Tony Fountain

Published in the Proceedings of the Workshop on Stochasticity in Distributed Systems (StoDiS'05), San Jose, CA, December 19, 2005

Abstract: When two sponsoring organizations, working towards separate goals, employ wireless sensor networks for a finite period of time, it can be efficiency-enhancing for the sponsors to program their sensors to cooperate. But if each sensor privately knows whether it can provide a favor in any particular period, and the sponsors cannot contract on ex post payments, then no favors are performed in any Nash equilibrium. Allowing the sponsors to contract on ex post payments, we construct equilibria based on the exchange of "tokens" that yield significant cooperation and increase expected sponsor payoffs. Increasing the sponsors' liability is beneficial because it enables them to use more tokens.

Working paper 5/22/2006 (newer and better than the StoDiS version)