Inequality-aware market design


Inequality-aware Market Design -- an ERC Starting Grant funded by the European Commission -- provides a novel way to address the growing problem of inequality in market-design settings. The redistributive objective distinguishes this theory from the traditional mechanism-design literature that has focused predominantly on efficiency and revenue as design goals; the focus on optimal allocation rules in a single marketplace complements the public-finance approach to redistribution through the tax system. IMD provides policy guidance by explaining whether and how policymakers concerned about inequality should resort to distortionary market interventions.

Policymakers often introduce rules constraining transactions in individual markets—such as rent control—or even choose to distribute scarce resources by circumventing markets completely, as is frequently the case for health care or transit. Yet, traditional economic intuition opposes these sorts of policies because—unlike well-functioning markets—they introduce allocative inefficiency.

In this project, we explore the optimal design of marketplaces in the presence of underlying inequalities between participants, developing a theory of Inequality-aware Market Design (IMD). The approach is to deploy a mechanism-design framework that identifies the optimal way to structure the market. In the baseline framework, the designer maximizes a welfare function whose welfare weights reflect her redistributive preferences induced by the inequalities between participants. Market participants may have private information both about their willingness to trade and their welfare weights.

Research focuses on testing the validity and scope of the main hypothesis: When inequalities are sufficiently pronounced and can be detected based on agents’ behavior in the market, it becomes optimal to sacrifice allocative efficiency to achieve a more desirable split of surplus. For example, optimal market designs may involve inefficient rationing.



Źródło finansowania | Financing: European Commission through ERC Starting Grant (GA #101040122)

Projekt realizowany | Timeline: 07/2022 -- 07/2027

Kierownik | Principal Investigator: Piotr Dworczak

Budżet łączny | Total budget: 1 191 561 EUR

  • wynagrodzenia dla podstawowych wykonawców | compensation to researchers: 647 000 EUR
  • stypendia dla młodych badaczy | scholarships for young scholars: 153 200 EUR
  • komputery i oprogramowanie | hardware and software: 9 044 EUR
  • konferencje i inne wyjazdy | conference travels: 141 205 EUR
  • materiały i usługi obce | usables and outsourced services: 74 122 EUR
  • koszty pośrednie dla FAME | overheads for FAME: 236 000 EUR

ERC Starting Grant.jpg


The IMD project has two key objectives. The first and leading objective is to develop a comprehensive theory of Inequality-aware Market Design (IMD). We will study the question of optimal redistribution in the framework of mechanism design. This approach marries the equity-efficiency trade-off (extensively analyzed in the public-finance literature) with the focus on the design of a single marketplace in the tradition of market and mechanism design. The optimal redistribution question is posed by assuming that the designer's objective function includes social welfare weights that can depend on agents' observed and unobserved characteristics. The social welfare weights allow the designer to account for the consequences of inequalities between market participants; their inclusion sets the framework apart from the traditional mechanism-design analysis which has been, with notable exceptions discussed below, oblivious to these inherent inequalities.

The second, complementary objective is to establish IMD as an emerging field within economic theory by actively building the research community, promoting its importance, and creating links to neighboring research areas. On top of developing the theory, we will engage in activities aimed at establishing IMD as a new area within economic theory, with strong connections to existing research communities. The strategy to achieve this objective consists of two sets of activities, derived naturally from the fact that IMD lies at the intersection of two fields, mechanism design and public finance.

W toku | Work in progress

  • Redistributive allocation mechanisms

    Many scarce public resources are allocated below market-clearing prices (and sometimes for free). Such "non-market" mechanisms necessarily sacrifice some surplus, yet they can potentially improve equity by increasing the rents enjoyed by agents with low willingness to pay. In this paper, we develop a model of mechanism design with redistributive concerns. Agents are characterized by a privately observed willingness to pay for quality, and a publicly observed label. A market designer controls allocation and pricing of a set of objects of heterogeneous quality, and maximizes a linear combination of revenue and total surplus| with Pareto weights that depend both on observed and unobserved agent characteristics. We derive structural insights about the form of the optimal mechanism and describe how social preferences influence the use of non-market mechanisms.