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Real-Time Hierarchical Resource Allocation


  • Timothy Van Zandt


This paper presents a model that distinguishes between decentralized information processing and decentralized decision making in organizations; it shows that decentralized decision making can be advantageous due to computational delay, even in the absence of communication costs. The key feature of the model, which makes this result possible, is that decisions in a stochastic control problem are calculated in real time by boundedly rational members of an adminstration staff. The decision problem is to allocate resources in a changing environment. We consider a class of hierarchical procedures in which information about cost functions flow down and are disaggregated by the hierarchy. Nodes of the hierarchy correspond not to a single person but to decision-making units within which there may be decentralized information processing. The lower tiers of multitier hierarchies can allocate resources quickly within small groups, while higher tiers are still able to exploit gains from trade between the groups (although on the basis of older informations).

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy Van Zandt, 1997. "Real-Time Hierarchical Resource Allocation," Discussion Papers 1231, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:nwu:cmsems:1231

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Williams, Steven R, 1986. "Realization and Nash Implementation: Two Aspects of Mechanism Design," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(1), pages 139-151, January.
    2. Nahum Melumad & Dilip Mookherjee & Stefan Reichelstein, 1997. "Contract Complexity, Incentives, and the Value of Delegation," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 6(1), pages 257-289, June.
    3. Jean-Jacques Laffont & David Martimort, 1997. "Collusion under Asymmetric Information," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 875-912, July.
    4. Kenneth R. Mount & Stanley Reiter, 1990. "A Model of Computing with Human Agents," Discussion Papers 890, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
    5. Lu Hong & Scott Page, 1994. "Reducing informational costs in endowment mechanisms," Review of Economic Design, Springer;Society for Economic Design, vol. 1(1), pages 103-117, December.
    6. Kieron Meagher & Timothy Van Zandt, 1998. "Managerial costs for one-shot decentralized information processing," Review of Economic Design, Springer;Society for Economic Design, vol. 3(4), pages 329-345.
    7. Melumad, Nahum & Mookherjee, Dilip & Reichelstein, Stefan, 1992. "A theory of responsibility centers," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 445-484, December.
    8. Radner, Roy, 1993. "The Organization of Decentralized Information Processing," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(5), pages 1109-1146, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Van Zandt, Timothy, 2004. "Balancedness of Real-Time Hierarchical Resource Allocation," CEPR Discussion Papers 4276, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Antonio Peyrache & Minyan Zhu, 2013. "The quality and efficiency of public service delivery in the UK and China," CEPA Working Papers Series WP052013, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
    3. Dimitri Vayanos, 2003. "The Decentralization of Information Processing in the Presence of Interactions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 667-695.
    4. Castanheira, Micael & Leppämäki, Mikko, 2003. "Optimal Information Management: Organizations versus Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers 4072, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Van Zandt, Timothy, 2004. "Structure and Returns to Scale of Real-Time Hierarchical Resource Allocation," CEPR Discussion Papers 4277, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Grüner, Hans Peter, 2007. "Protocol Design and (De-)Centralization," CEPR Discussion Papers 6357, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Oriana Bandiera & Andrea Prat & Raffaella Sadun & Julie Wulf, 2012. "Span of Control and Span of Activity," CEP Discussion Papers dp1139, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    8. Van Zandt, Timothy, 1995. "Hierarchical computation of the resource allocation problem," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(3-4), pages 700-708, April.
    9. Kieron Meagher & Andrew Wait, 2008. "Who Decides about Change and Restructuring in Organizations?," CEPR Discussion Papers 587, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    10. Van Zandt, Timothy, 2003. "Real-Time Hierarchical Resource Allocation with Quadratic Costs," CEPR Discussion Papers 4022, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item


    decentralization; hierarchies; bounded rationality; real-time control;

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights


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