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The Economics of Open Air Markets

  • John A. List

Despite their current prevalence and historical significance, little is known about the economics of open air markets. This paper uses open air markets as a natural laboratory to provide initial insights into the underlying operation of such markets. Using data on thousands of individual transactions gathered from May 2005- August 2008, I report several insights. First, the natural pricing and allocation mechanism in open air markets is capable of approaching full efficiency, even in quite austere conditions. Yet, a second result highlights the fragility of this finding: allowance of explicit seller communication frustrates market efficiency in a broad array of situations. Making use of insights gained from a "mole" in the marketplace, a third set of results revolves around economic questions pertaining to collusive arrangements that are otherwise quite difficult to investigate. Overall, I find data patterns that are consistent with certain theoretical predictions, as the evidence suggests that i) cheating rates increase as the coalition is expanded, ii) sellers cheat less when they have collusive arrangements in several spatially differentiated markets, and iii) sellers cheat more when they are experiencing periods of abnormally high profits. These results follow from a combination of insights gained from building a bridge between the lab and the naturally-occurring environment. By doing so, the study showcases that in developing a deeper understanding of economic science, it is desirable to take advantage of the myriad settings in which economic phenomena present themselves.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15420.

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Date of creation: Oct 2009
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15420
Note: IO PE
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  1. Sherry, John F, Jr, 1990. " A Sociocultural Analysis of a Midwestern American Flea Market," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(1), pages 13-30, June.
  2. Robert Feinberg & Christopher Snyder, 2002. "Collusion with secret price cuts: an experimental investigation," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 3(6), pages 1-11.
  3. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
  4. P. A. Riach & J. Rich, 2002. "Field Experiments of Discrimination in the Market Place," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(483), pages 480-518, November.
  5. John List, 2004. "Testing neoclassical competitive theory in multi-lateral decentralized markets," Framed Field Experiments 00176, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. John Haltiwanger & Joseph E. Harrington Jr., 1991. "The Impact of Cyclical Demand Movements on Collusive Behavior," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(1), pages 89-106, Spring.
  7. Connor, John M., 2005. "Price-Fixing Overcharges: Legal And Economic Evidence," 2005 Annual meeting, July 24-27, Providence, RI 19254, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
  8. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  9. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:3:y:2002:i:6:p:1-11 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Holcomb, James H. & Nelson, Paul S., 1997. "The role of monitoring in duopoly market outcomes," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 79-93.
  11. John List & Uri Gneezy, 2006. "Putting behavioral economics to work: Testing for gift exchange in labor markets using field experiments," Natural Field Experiments 00259, The Field Experiments Website.
  12. Davis, Douglas D & Holt, Charles A, 1998. "Conspiracies and Secret Discounts in Laboratory Markets," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(448), pages 736-56, May.
  13. Vernon L. Smith, 1962. "An Experimental Study of Competitive Market Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 322.
  14. Gallet, Craig A. & Schroeter, John R., 1995. "The Effects of the Business Cycle on Oligopoly Coordination: Evidence from the U.S. Rayon Industry," Staff General Research Papers 5250, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
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  16. Cason, Timothy N & Mason, Charles F, 1999. "Information Sharing and Tacit Collusion in Laboratory Duopoly Markets," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(2), pages 258-81, April.
  17. John A. List, 2005. "The Behavioralist Meets the Market: Measuring Social Preferences and Reputation Effects in Actual Transactions," NBER Working Papers 11616, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. John A. List & Robert P. Berrens & Alok K. Bohara & Joe Kerkvliet, 2004. "Examining the Role of Social Isolation on Stated Preferences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 741-752, June.
  19. Green, Edward J. & Porter, Robert H., 1982. "Noncooperative Collusion Under Imperfect Price Information," Working Papers 367, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  20. B. Douglas Bernheim & Michael D. Whinston, 1990. "Multimarket Contact and Collusive Behavior," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 1-26, Spring.
  21. Geertz, Clifford, 1978. "The Bazaar Economy: Information and Search in Peasant Marketing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 28-32, May.
  22. Akerlof, George A, 1970. "The Market for 'Lemons': Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500, August.
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  24. Demsetz, Harold, 1973. "Industry Structure, Market Rivalry, and Public Policy," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 1-9, April.
  25. George Symeonidis, 2002. "The Effects of Competition: Cartel Policy and the Evolution of Strategy and Structure in British Industry," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262194686, June.
  26. Douglas D. Davis, 2002. "Collusion in Procurement Auctions: an Experimental Examination," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 40(2), pages 213-230, April.
  27. Schmalensee, Richard, 1987. "Collusion versus Differential Efficiency: Testing Alternative Hypotheses," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(4), pages 399-425, June.
  28. Isaac, R. Mark & Ramey, Valerie & Williams, Arlington W., 1984. "The effects of market organization on conspiracies in restraint of trade," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 191-222, June.
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