Equilibria and Pareto optima of markets with adverse selection

Douglas Gale

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper examines the efficiency properties of competitive equilibrium in an economy with adverse selection. The agents (firms and households) in this economy exchange contracts, which specify all the relevant aspects of their interaction. Markets are assumed to be complete, in the sense that all possible contracts can, in principle, be traded. Since prices are specified as part of the contract, they cannot be used as free parameters to equate supply and demand in the market for the contract. Instead, equilibrium is achieved by adjusting the probability of trade. If the contract space is sufficiently rich, it can be shown that rationing will not be observed in equilibrium. A further refinement of equilibrium is proposed, restricting agents' beliefs about contracts that are not traded in equilibrium. Incentive-efficient and constrained incentive-efficient allocations are defined to be solutions to appropriately specified mechanism design problems. Constrained incentive efficiency is an artificial construction, obtained by adding the constraint that all contracts yield the same rate of return to firms. Using this notion, analogues of the fundamental theorems of welfare economics can be proved: all refined equilibria are constrained incentive-efficient and all constrained incentive-efficient allocations satisfying some additional conditions can be decentralized as refined equilibria. A constrained incentive-efficient equilibrium is typically not incentive-efficient, however. The source of the inefficiency is the equilibrium condition that forces all firms to earn the same rate of return on each contract.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)207-235
    Number of pages29
    JournalEconomic Theory
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 1996

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics


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