Average shadow price and equilibrium price: A case study of tradable pollution permit markets
Shadow prices indicate implicit values of limited resources at the margin and provide important information in decision making for resource management. In continuous economic models, shadow prices associated with demand-supply balance constraints represent consumers' willingness to pay and producers' marginal cost, hence they correspond to market equilibrium prices. As well known, however, marginal analysis fails in the case of discrete optimization, such as mixed integer programming. An alternative concept has been introduced in the literature to measure the value of an extra unit of a limited resource in such cases. This concept is based on average rather than marginal values, thus called the average shadow price, and interpreted in the same way as conventional shadow prices. Whether average shadow prices in a discrete economic model can serve as market equilibrium prices has not been addressed in the related literature. The present paper addresses this issue in an empirical setting. Using a tradable pollution permit market as an example, where firms' YES/NO type technology adoption decisions are represented by binary variables, we show that the average shadow price of tradable permits can be interpreted as the equilibrium price only when certain conditions related to the cost structure and emission levels hold. On the other hand, we show that an iterative procedure based on individual firms' cost minimizing behavior presents a better approach for finding a price that can eliminate or reduce the gap between demand and supply of permits in the market.
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