From the article:
"Williams & Williams, a Tulsa, Okla.-based auction firm, is accepting sealed bids until the deadline. Under the terms of the auction, city officials can accept the highest bid or invite as many as five of the bidders to a live auction on Monday. If the live auction happens, the bidding will begin at the highest offer from the sealed bids"
Rob offers the following:
"Does it not benefit each bidder to bid lower than they would if the live auction result was not a possibility? Why bid what you feel is your best offer, if the next "best offer" is 30% less than yours? I'd think each bidder would lowball so that they either a) get a bargain in their eyes, or b) engage in the live auction so they can make a more educated bid in the presence of their competitors."
The structure of the auction is interesting; it's like a action with a reserve price, only the failure to reach this price kicks the deal over to a new, live auction.
- Has the city ever revealed what that reserve price is? If they never have, they're strictly better off by automatically defaulting to a live auction since the bids start at the highest sealed entry.
- Insofar that the participants can learn from the bidding process, Rob is right-- everyone is better off in the live auction. Independent of the incentive for the city to take this to a live auction, imagine the situation of everyone desiring a live auction and restraining their bids accordingly. One shirker takes the auction, but if everyone shirks then everyone is worse off. A situation where you acting in a certain manner makes you better off but if everyone acted as you did then you all would be worse off? That's a prisoner's dilemma.
- Given the above two points, I believe that the final result is no different whether the participants know the reserve price or not.
- Auction theory has always been of interest to me; I very nearly wrote my undergraduate thesis on the topic. It cuts at the larger (public finance) question of how to get people to honestly reveal their preferences. There's plenty of alternatives; my favorite is to deliver sealed bids and the winner pays the second place bid. Incentives are weak to misrepresent your true value. What are some others?