Last fall I posted an announcement about the Reverse AGT Workshop series and its first event on the topic of Optimal Taxation. Three economists, Benjamin Lockwood (Harvard Business School), Stefanie Stantcheva (Harvard Economics), and Glen Weyl (Microsoft Research), spoke about their work on optimal taxation in presentations targeted to an AGT audience. Each talk was thirty minutes and followed by fifteen minutes of discussion. It was fantastic! Since the workshop a reading group organized to dig deeper into key papers in the optimal taxation literature. For example, the reading group spend three weeks on an excellent survey by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Optimal Labor Income Taxation from the Handbook of Public Economics.
Next week the second Reverse AGT workshop on the topic of competition in selection markets will be held at Harvard U. This workshop series is now cosponsored by Harvard’s Center for Research on Computation and Society and Microsoft Research. The event will be videotaped and talks will be made available on the series website. A summary is below with full details on the workshop website.
Reverse AGT Workshop on Competition in Selection Markets
Maxwell Dworkin 119, Harvard U.
2-5pm, Friday, February 27, 2015.
In many markets, especially for insurance and financial products, the value of a sale depends on the identity of the customer, as this determines the chance of their, e.g., getting sick or defaulting on a loan. Competition between firms (e.g., insurance companies, banks) for customers may lead to inefficiencies, even complete market collapse, in such markets as firms are not sensitive to the costs their actions have on other firms. For example, a firm may design products to selectively attract (“cream-skim”) the safe customers, which worsens the pool of remaining customers. This can cause the market to unravel.
Economists have taken two contrasting, but complementary, approaches to studying these issues. The first, dominant from the 1970’s through the mid-2000’s, assumed customers differed only along a single dimension like health risk and studied equilibrium when firms perfectly compete and offer arbitrarily complicated mechanisms. Nathan Hendren will present some classic results from this “game theoretic” approach. In the last decade, economists have been interested in a “price theoretic” approach where firms use very simple strategies, like offering a single, standard insurance contract, but where they compete in a more realistic environment where they have market power or when customers differ along multiple dimensions such as their income as well as their health. Glen Weyl will present this approach. Eduardo Azevedo will present his joint work with Daniel Gottlieb, which tries to bridge these approaches with a new perfectly competitive solution concept that exists generally, applies in settings with multiple dimensions of consumer heterogeneity but allows for a rich range of contracts to be traded.