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Set-Asides and Subsidies in Auctions

Feb 2011
Working Paper
10-017
By  Susan Athey, Dominic Coey, Jonathan Levin

Set-asides and subsidies are used extensively in government procurement and natural resource sales. We analyze these policies in an empirical model of U.S. Forest Service timber auctions. The model ts the data well both within the sample of unrestricted sales where we estimate the model, and when we predict (out of sample) bidder entry and prices for small business set-asides. Our estimates suggest that restricting entry to small businesses substantially reduces efficiency and revenue, although it does increase small business participation. An alternative policy of subsidizing small bidders would increase revenue and small bidder profit, while eliminating almost all of the efficiency loss of set-asides, and only slightly decreasing the profit of larger firms. We explain these findings by connecting to the theory of optimal auction design.