Fixed Price Approximability of the Optimal Gain From Trade

Bilateral trade is a fundamental economic scenario comprising a strategically acting buyer and seller, each holding valuations for the item, drawn from publicly known distributions. A mechanism is supposed to facilitate trade between these agents, if such trade is beneficial. It was recently shown that the only mechanisms that are simultaneously DSIC, SBB, and ex-post IR, are fixed price mechanisms, i.e., mechanisms that are parametrised by a price p, and trade occurs if and only if the valuation of the buyer is at least p and the valuation of the seller is at most p. The gain from trade is the increase in welfare that results from applying a mechanism; here we study the gain from trade achievable by fixed price mechanisms. We explore this question for both the bilateral trade setting, and a double auction setting where there are multiple buyers and sellers. We first identify a fixed price mechanism that achieves a gain from trade of at least 2/r times the optimum, where r is the probability that the seller's valuation does not exceed the buyer's valuation. This extends a previous result by McAfee. Subsequently, we improve this approximation factor in an asymptotic sense, by showing that a more sophisticated rule for setting the fixed price results in an expected gain from trade within a factor O(log(1/r)) of the optimal gain from trade. This is asymptotically the best approximation factor possible. Lastly, we extend our study of fixed price mechanisms to the double auction setting defined by a set of multiple i.i.d. unit demand buyers, and i.i.d. unit supply sellers. We present a fixed price mechanism that achieves a gain from trade that achieves for all epsilon > 0 a gain from trade of at least (1-epsilon) times the expected optimal gain from trade with probability 1 - 2/e^#T epsilon^2 /2, where #T is the expected number of trades resulting from the double auction.


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