Ha ha ha ha ha ha …
Do you hear voices?
You do. So you are possessed.
You are a believer, born again and yet you hear voices and you are possessed.
Okay. Are you ready [unintelligible] ?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
— Unidentified exorcist, New York, 19801
Consider, Gentle Readers, a simple game:
It is an auction, with any number of participants, the object of which is to win a single, unadorned one hundred dollar bill. If you win the auction, you get to keep the money. (No tricks, I promise.) Bidding starts at a minimum of one dollar, and topping bids must exceed the prior bid by no less than one dollar, in even, undivided dollars. There is only one additional rule: the runner up in the auction must pay his or her last bid to the auctioneer, as well as the winner paying the winning bid. So, for example, if the winning bid is $10, and the next highest bid is $9, the winner will pay $10 and collect the hundred dollar bill, and the runner up will pay $9 and receive nothing.2
So, here we go. I am holding in my hands a crisp, new, freshly-issued one hundred dollar bill. Genuine U.S. currency, guaranteed legal tender for all debts, public and private. The opening bid is one dollar. Only one measly dollar to walk away with a crisp new hundo. Who will start the bidding?
I wonder how many of you raised your virtual hands. Contrariwise, I wonder how many of you recognized the trap for what it is: a slight variant of Martin Shubik’s rational choice theory experiment, the Dollar Auction.
It is an odd sort of game, but one which leads to all sorts of interesting outcomes and associated implications. For some of you may have realized that once you make a bid, you are committed to a losing escalation. Sure, at the beginning, the prospect of winning $100 for a bid of $1, or outbidding a competitor to win it for $10, sets your rational utility-maximizing (i.e., greed) glands salivating. Eventually, however, you realize that