Discovering Prices

Auction Design in Markets with Complex Constraints

Paul Milgrom

Columbia University Press

Discovering Prices

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Pub Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780231175982

248 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $28.00£22.95

Pub Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780231544573

248 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $27.99£22.95

Discovering Prices

Auction Design in Markets with Complex Constraints

Paul Milgrom

Columbia University Press

Traditional economic theory studies idealized markets in which prices alone can guide efficient allocation, with no need for central organization. Such models build from Adam Smith’s famous concept of an invisible hand, which guides markets and renders regulation or interference largely unnecessary. Yet for many markets, prices alone are not enough to guide feasible and efficient outcomes, and regulation alone is not enough, either. Consider air traffic control at major airports. While prices could encourage airlines to take off and land at less congested times, prices alone do just part of the job; an air traffic control system is still indispensable to avoid disastrous consequences. With just an air traffic controller, however, limited resources can be wasted or poorly used. What’s needed in this and many other real-world cases is an auction system that can effectively reveal prices while still maintaining enough direct control to ensure that complex constraints are satisfied.

In Discovering Prices, Paul Milgrom—the world’s most frequently cited academic expert on auction design—describes how auctions can be used to discover prices and guide efficient resource allocations, even when resources are diverse, constraints are critical, and market-clearing prices may not even exist. Economists have long understood that externalities and market power both necessitate market organization. In this book, Milgrom introduces complex constraints as another reason for market design. Both lively and technical, Milgrom roots his new theories in real-world examples (including the ambitious U.S. incentive auction of radio frequencies, whose design he led) and provides economists with crucial new tools for dealing with the world’s growing complex resource allocation problems.
In Discovering Prices, Paul Milgrom shows how innovative systems of price discovery can help solve vexing problems of reallocation, long thought to be intractable and made particularly challenging by the complexity and interconnectedness of new technologies. Milgrom's revolutionary advance in price theory is a most fitting tribute to Kenneth Arrow, who laid the foundation for understanding the traditional price system. A brilliant, fascinating book. Bengt Holmstrom, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nobel Laureate in Economics
With deep theoretical insights and broad practical experience, Milgrom presents a systematic analysis of the challenges of pricing in complex resource-allocation problems, and in doing so he helps us to better understand the foundations of price theory in economics. Roger Myerson, University of Chicago, Nobel Laureate in Economics
The elegant theory and mathematics in Milgrom’s Discovering Prices are at the foundation of the FCC’s Broadcast Incentive Auction. I can confirm the successful real-world application of the same, with Milgrom’s active participation during every step of the design and implementation of an auction that will repurpose 84 MHz worth of prime spectrum and generate almost $20 billion in proceeds. Gary M. Epstein, Chair of the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force
This groundbreaking book of practical economic theory by Milgrom, the world’s most accomplished designer of complex auctions, describes the design of the most complex auction yet: the FCC incentive auction for electromagnetic spectrum. The book also illuminates why the magic of the market doesn’t happen by magic, but sometimes needs to be designed. Every economist, and indeed anyone interested in how markets work, will find these wide-ranging reflections rewarding to read and ponder. Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economics
No one has greater knowledge or, perhaps more importantly, more reliable instincts when it comes to incentive auction design. Milgrom's excellent monograph should be made available to economists as soon as possible. Leslie Marx, Duke University
Preface
1. Introduction
2. (Near-)Substitutes, Prices, and Stability
3. Vickrey Auctions and Substitution
4. Deferred-Acceptance Auctions and Near-Substitutes
5. Conclusion
Notes
References
Index

About the Author

Paul Milgrom is the Shirley and Leonard Ely Professor of Humanities and Sciences in the Department of Economics at Stanford University. His books include Putting Auction Theory to Work (2004) and Economics, Organization, and Management (1992). He has also written dozens of articles on auction design, game theory, and macro- and microeconomics.