Mechanism Design for Pandemics

DATE: 2022-01-03

By Eric Maskin

Review of Economic Design Vol. 26, Issue 3 (2022): pp. 255-259.

Date Published: Jan 3, 2022

Issue Date: Sept 2022


Under normal circumstances, competitive markets do an excellent job of supplying the goods that members of society want and need. But in an emergency like a pandemic, unassisted markets may not suffice. Imagine, for example, that society suddenly needs to obtain tens (or even hundreds) of millions of COVID-19 virus test kits a week. Test kits for this virus are a new product, and so it may not even be clear who the relevant set of manufacturers are. If we had the luxury of time, a laissez-faire market might identify these manufacturers: the price of test kits would adjust until supply matched demand. But getting a new market of this size to equilibrate quickly is unrealistic. Furthermore, markets don’t work well when there are concentrations of power on either the buying or selling side, as there might well be here. Finally, a test is, in part, a public good (its benefits go not just to the person being tested, but everyone he might come in contact with), and markets do not usually provide public goods adequately. Fortunately, mechanism design can be enlisted to help.

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