On Infinite Separations Between Simple and Optimal Mechanisms

Alexandros Psomas · Ariel Schvartzman Cohenca · S. Weinberg

Hall J #825

Keywords: [ correlated distributions ] [ mechanism design ] [ revenue maximization ]

Abstract: We consider a revenue-maximizing seller with $k$ heterogeneous items for sale to a single additive buyer, whose values are drawn from a known, possibly correlated prior $\mathcal{D}$. It is known that there exist priors $\mathcal{D}$ such that simple mechanisms --- those with bounded menu complexity --- extract an arbitrarily small fraction of the optimal revenue~(Briest et al. 2015, Hart and Nisan 2019). This paper considers the opposite direction: given a correlated distribution $\mathcal{D}$ witnessing an infinite separation between simple and optimal mechanisms, what can be said about $\mathcal{D}$?\citet{hart2019selling} provides a framework for constructing such $\mathcal{D}$: it takes as input a sequence of $k$-dimensional vectors satisfying some geometric property, and produces a $\mathcal{D}$ witnessing an infinite gap. Our first main result establishes that this framework is without loss: every $\mathcal{D}$ witnessing an infinite separation could have resulted from this framework. An earlier version of their work provided a more streamlined framework (Hart and Nisan 2013). Our second main result establishes that this restrictive framework is not tight. That is, we provide an instance $\mathcal{D}$ witnessing an infinite gap, but which provably could not have resulted from the restrictive framework. As a corollary, we discover a new kind of mechanism which can witness these infinite separations on instances where the previous ``aligned'' mechanisms do not.

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