the coase theorem in action is a terrible idea

Oh come on now, surely you see the problems with this idea:

The Coase Theorem says that — absent large transaction costs — resources will end up being efficiently allocated, regardless of who holds the initial property rights.

NYU Law School is providing its students valuable real world experience with the Coase Theorem, according to this ABA Journal article.

Class assignments are made by lottery. There are no waiting lists for classes. This gives students an incentive to sign up for the most popular classes, even if they don’t want to take them. If they win a seat in one of the most sought-after classes, they can work out a deal to sell their seat to another student. (The way this is done is by the person holding the winning lottery ticket withdrawing from the class and the other person signing up for it a few seconds later; since there isn’t a waiting list, this scheme will work as long as no one else happens to sign up for the class in that few-second gap.)

In the end, the students willing to pay the most for classes are the ones taking them, which is efficient.

As in other areas (like organ donation), using cash to determine who gets into classes upsets some people. One of my students got into trouble for trying to sell her spot in my class, for instance.

Most likely NYU’s response to this publicity will be to change its policies, hopefully to a bidding system that will also lead to an efficient allocation. I would argue, however, that they should maintain the current system as a means of teaching the students about the Coase Theorem in a way they are sure to learn it.

The other reason that NYU might want to keep the system is that now that prospective students know about it, there might be a surge of applications. Rumor has it that students are willing to trade not just money, but also sex, to get access to popular classes.

(Emphasis in bold is mine.)

You know, a lot was written about Northwestern’s new accelerated two-year JD program. Oh noes! Changes to legal pedagogy! What would C.C. Langdell think! Is this good or bad pedagogy? Etc., etc. So, why is no one talking about this? This sounds like a terrible idea to me, but IANAEconomist.

9 thoughts on “the coase theorem in action is a terrible idea”

  1. Oh God don’t let my school hear about this. They’d completely skip the lottery and just go straight to auctioning off seats.

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  2. this scheme will work as long as no one else happens to sign up for the class in that few-second gap.

    I see an opportunity for developers of a sign-up-o-bot, which would constantly bug NYU’s registration system in an effort to slip in through that gap.

    In the end, the students willing to pay the most for classes are the ones taking them, which is efficient.

    “Willingness to pay” is such a great term. Just don’t ask about the origins of initial resource endowments, ahem.

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  3. Anyone else totally skeezed out by Levit’s “The other reason that NYU might want to keep the system is that now that prospective students know about it, there might be a surge of applications. Rumor has it that students are willing to trade not just money, but also sex, to get access to popular classes”?

    So wait, the surge of applications to NYU will be positive (dubious, but yes, a school’s ranking and selectivity index goes up the more applicants it rejects for its 300-ish pool). But is that period between the two sentences supposed to be a semicolon and thus exchanging sex for access to classes is similarly positive, because such a rumor will drive up applications and so ha ha hee, wink wink? Or is the potential truth of the rumor positive in and of itself and thus Levit is encouraging whoring for classes, because whoring is just another way to efficiently allocate sources?

    WTF. Shame on Levit for even suggesting that rumors of exchanging sex for spots will positively increase NYU’s applicant pool without making the qualification “of course, this is wrong, as is rich kids buying spots.” I don’t think Coase encouraged exchanging sex for resources.

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  4. “Rumor has it that students are willing to trade not just money, but also sex, to get access to popular classes.”

    This is where the people interested in initial resource endowments (rather than resource allocation) might have something to say.

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  5. I don’t think Coase encouraged exchanging sex for resources.

    No, but I betcha Becker or Posner would endorse it gladly.

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  6. The problem with the Coase efficiency has always been that initial endowments are unrelated to future economic potential. They’re a function of inherited wealth. I pity the professors who have to deal with the spoiled brats who buy their way into classes. In contrast, people who’d be willing to prostitute themselves for knowledge are probably a notch or two above the average student–they aren’t asking for daddy or mommy to buy them favors, but instead are willing to work for intellectual food.

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