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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
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7641
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  1. M.Utku Unver, 2003. "Course Bidding at Business Schools," Working Papers 257, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2003.
  2. 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.
  3. Elliott Peranson & Alvin E. Roth, 1999. "The Redesign of the Matching Market for American Physicians: Some Engineering Aspects of Economic Design," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 748-780, September.
  4. Stephen Morris & Dirk Bergemann, 2004. "Robust Mechanism Design," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm380, Yale School of Management.
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  7. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun Sönmez, 2006. "Changing the Boston School Choice Mechanism," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 639, Boston College Department of Economics.
  8. Steven J. Brams & Paul H. Edelman & Peter C. Fishburn, 2003. "Fair Division Of Indivisible Items," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 55(2), pages 147-180, 09.
  9. Peter Coles & Alexey Kushnir & Muriel Niederle, 2010. "Preference Signaling in Matching Markets," NBER Working Papers 16185, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  12. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun S�nmez, 2005. "The Boston Public School Match," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 368-371, May.
  13. Benjamin Edelman & Michael Ostrovsky & Michael Schwarz, 2007. "Internet Advertising and the Generalized Second-Price Auction: Selling Billions of Dollars Worth of Keywords," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 242-259, March.
  14. 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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  17. 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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  20. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Yeon-Koo Che & Yosuke Yasuda, 2010. "Expanding 'Choice' in School Choice," Working Papers 10-23, Duke University, Department of Economics.
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  23. Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sonmez, 2008. "Leveling the Playing Field: Sincere and Sophisticated Players in the Boston Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1636-52, September.
  24. Parag A. Pathak & Jay Sethuraman, 2010. "Lotteries in Student Assignment: An Equivalence Result," NBER Working Papers 16140, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. Bettina Klaus & Eiichi Miyagawa, 2002. "Strategy-proofness, solidarity, and consistency for multiple assignment problems," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer, vol. 30(3), pages 421-435.
  28. Tayfun Sonmez, 1999. "Strategy-Proofness and Essentially Single-Valued Cores," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(3), pages 677-690, May.
  29. Manea, Mihai, 2007. "Serial dictatorship and Pareto optimality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 316-330, November.
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  31. Drew Fudenberg & Jean Tirole, 1991. "Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262061414, June.
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