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The Design of Ambiguous Mechanisms


  • Alfredo Di Tillio
  • Nenad Kos
  • Matthias Messner


This paper considers the optimal mechanism design problem of an expected revenue maximizing principal who wants to sell a single unit of a good to an agent who is ambiguity averse in the sense of Gilboa and Schmeidler (1989). We show that the optimal static mechanism is an ambiguous mechanism. An ambiguous mechanism specifies a message space and a set of outcome functions. After showing that (a version of) the Revelation Principle holds in our environment, we give an exact characterization of the (smallest) optimal ambiguous mechanism. If the type set is composed of N (finite) types, then the (smallest) optimal ambiguous mechanism contains N - 1 outcome functions. We show that the share of the surplus that the designer can extract from the agent increases as the type set becomes larger and the probability of each single type decreases. In the limiting case where the agent’s type is drawn from a non-atomic distribution on an interval, the optimal ambiguous mechanism extracts all the rent from the agent.

Suggested Citation

  • Alfredo Di Tillio & Nenad Kos & Matthias Messner, 2012. "The Design of Ambiguous Mechanisms," Working Papers 446, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:446

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kim-Sau Chung & J.C. Ely, 2007. "Foundations of Dominant-Strategy Mechanisms," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(2), pages 447-476.
    2. Bose, Subir & Ozdenoren, Emre & Pape, Andreas, 2006. "Optimal auctions with ambiguity," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(4), pages 411-438, December.
    3. Bose, Subir & Daripa, Arup, 2009. "A dynamic mechanism and surplus extraction under ambiguity," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(5), pages 2084-2114, September.
    4. Bernard Elyakime & Jean-Jacques Laffont & Patrice Loisel & Quang Vuong, 1994. "First-Price Sealed-Bid Auctions with Secret Reservation Prices," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 34, pages 71-114.
    5. Lang, Matthias & Wambach, Achim, 2013. "The fog of fraud – Mitigating fraud by strategic ambiguity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 255-275.
    6. Azrieli, Yaron & Teper, Roee, 2011. "Uncertainty aversion and equilibrium existence in games with incomplete information," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 310-317.
    7. Dirk Bergemann & Karl Schlag, 2012. "Robust Monopoly Pricing," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Robust Mechanism Design The Role of Private Information and Higher Order Beliefs, chapter 13, pages 417-441 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    8. Gilboa, Itzhak & Schmeidler, David, 1989. "Maxmin expected utility with non-unique prior," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 141-153, April.
    9. Garrett, Daniel F., 2014. "Robustness of simple menus of contracts in cost-based procurement," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 631-641.
    10. Turocy, Theodore L., 2008. "Auction choice for ambiguity-averse sellers facing strategic uncertainty," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 155-179, January.
    11. Gilboa,Itzhak, 2009. "Theory of Decision under Uncertainty," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521517324, March.
    12. Peter Klibanoff & Massimo Marinacci & Sujoy Mukerji, 2005. "A Smooth Model of Decision Making under Ambiguity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 1849-1892, November.
    13. Kos, Nenad & Messner, Matthias, 2013. "Extremal incentive compatible transfers," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 148(1), pages 134-164.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:jetheo:v:171:y:2017:i:c:p:64-100 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Frank Riedel & Linda Sass, 2014. "Ellsberg games," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 76(4), pages 469-509, April.
    3. Kos, Nenad & Messner, Matthias, 2013. "Incentive compatibility in non-quasilinear environments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 12-14.
    4. Wolitzky, Alexander, 2016. "Mechanism design with maxmin agents: theory and an application to bilateral trade," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 11(3), September.
    5. Martin Szydlowski, 2012. "Ambiguity in Dynamic Contracts," Discussion Papers 1543, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
    6. Giraud, Raphaël & Thomas, Lionel, 2017. "Ambiguity, optimism, and pessimism in adverse selection models," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 171(C), pages 64-100.
    7. Riedel, Frank, 2017. "Uncertain acts in games," Center for Mathematical Economics Working Papers 571, Center for Mathematical Economics, Bielefeld University.
    8. Nenad Kos & Matthias Messner, 2015. "Selling to the Mean," CESifo Working Paper Series 5443, CESifo Group Munich.
    9. Auster, Sarah, 2018. "Robust contracting under common value uncertainty," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 13(1), January.
    10. Toomas Hinnosaar, 2015. "On the impossibility of protecting risk-takers," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 404, Collegio Carlo Alberto.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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