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The Multi-unit Assignment Problem: Theory and Evidence from Course Allocation at Harvard

  • Budish, Eric
  • Cantillon, Estelle

This paper uses data consisting of students' strategically reported preferences and their underlying true preferences to study the course allocation mechanism used at Harvard Business School. We show that the mechanism is manipulable in theory, manipulated in practice, and that these manipulations cause meaningful welfare losses. However, we also find that ex-ante welfare is higher than under the strategyproof and ex-post efficient alternative, the Random Serial Dictatorship. We trace the poor ex-ante performance of RSD to a phenomenon specific to multi-unit assignment, "callousness". We draw lessons for the design of multi-unit assignment mechanisms and for market design more broadly.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7641.

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Date of creation: Jan 2010
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7641
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  1. Roth, Alvin E., 1985. "The college admissions problem is not equivalent to the marriage problem," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 277-288, August.
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  4. Dirk Bergemann & Stephen Morris, 2003. "Robust Mechanism Design," Levine's Bibliography 666156000000000035, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Bogomolnaia, Anna & Moulin, Herve, 2001. "A New Solution to the Random Assignment Problem," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 100(2), pages 295-328, October.
  6. Tayfun Sönmez & M. Utku Ünver, 2005. "Course Bidding at Business Schools," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 618, Boston College Department of Economics.
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  8. Nurmi, Hannu, 1996. "Fair division: From cake-cutting to dispute resolution : Steven J. Brams and Alan D. Taylor, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995) pp. xiv + 272, US$ 54.95 (hardcover), US$ 18.95 (paper)," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 169-172, April.
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  11. Roth, Alvin & Ünver, M. Utku & Sönmez, Tayfun, 2004. "Kidney Exchange," Scholarly Articles 2580565, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Pathak, Parag A. & Sethuraman, Jay, 2011. "Lotteries in student assignment: An equivalence result," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 6(1), January.
  13. Alvin E. Roth, 2008. "What Have We Learned from Market Design?," Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, MIT Press, vol. 3(1), pages 119-147, January.
  14. Eric Budish, 2011. "The Combinatorial Assignment Problem: Approximate Competitive Equilibrium from Equal Incomes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(6), pages 1061 - 1103.
  15. Manea, Mihai, 2007. "Serial dictatorship and Pareto optimality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 316-330, November.
  16. Tayfun Sonmez, 1999. "Strategy-Proofness and Essentially Single-Valued Cores," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(3), pages 677-690, May.
  17. Lars Ehlers & Bettina Klaus, 2003. "Coalitional strategy-proof and resource-monotonic solutions for multiple assignment problems," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 265-280, October.
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  19. Abdulkadiroglu, Atila & Pathak, Parag Abishek & Roth, Alvin E., 2009. "Strategy-Proofness Versus Efficiency in Matching with Indifferences: Redesigning the NYC High School Match," Scholarly Articles 11077572, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  20. Varian, Hal R., 2007. "Position auctions," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 25(6), pages 1163-1178, December.
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  24. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Tayfun Sönmez, 2003. "School Choice: A Mechanism Design Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 729-747, June.
  25. Brams, S. J. & Eldelman, P. H. & Fishburn, P. C., 2000. "Fair Division of Indivisible Items," Working Papers 00-15, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  26. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
  27. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
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  30. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521556446 is not listed on IDEAS
  31. Yeon-Koo Che & Fuhito Kojima, 2008. "Asymptotic Equivalence of Probabilistic Serial and Random Priority Mechanisms," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1677, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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