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

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  • Eric Budish
  • Estelle Cantillon

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Budish & Estelle Cantillon, 2009. "The Multi-unit Assignment Problem: Theory and Evidence from Course Allocation at Harvard," Working Papers ECARES 2010-02, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  • Handle: RePEc:eca:wpaper:2013/230854
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    multi-unit assignment; market design; course allocation; random serial dictatorship; ex-ante efficiency; ex-post efficiency; strategyproofness; strategic behavior; filed data;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact

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