• The Market for Gem and the Problem of Being an Expert

    Today, I attended a very interesting Law and Economics Workshop at the University of Chicago Law School on Market for Gem. In his paper, the author argued that the Market for Gem is an reversal of the Market for Lemon. Market for Lemon is a market where, due to information asymmetry between buyers and sellers where sellers have better information than the buyer, the high quality products will be driven out from the market, leaving the market only with low quality products. A good example of this type of market is the market for used cars.

    On the other hand, according to the author, the Market for Gem can be described as a market where, due to information asymmetry between buyers and sellers where buyers have better information than the seller, the low quality products will be driven out from the market, leaving the market only with high quality products. At a glance, this seems odd, won't an efficient market produce the same thing, i.e. low quality products will be kicked out from the competition by better products? Apparently not. The Market for Gem is applicable to a situation where low price products that can actually be purchased by certain type of buyers are not being sold because the seller does not know the quality of his own products and therefore he does not have incentives to sell the good products.

    The author provides a nice model to show his argument. But that would be too complicated to be described in a blog, so instead, let me show you a simple example. Suppose you have three bracelets, one from pure gold, and two are fake golds. Let us assume that each of them is crafted masterfully so that unless you are an expert, you are completely unable to differentiate the bracelets. Suppose that the market price of the pure gold bracelet is US$5,000, while the fake gold bracelet is US$50. What would be your selling strategy?

    You can sell each of the bracelets by using the average price, i.e. US$1,700. But once you disclose the fact to the buyer that two of the bracelets are fake, inexperienced buyers who wish only to buy the fake bracelet will refuse to buy since they only expect to pay around US$50. Meanwhile, experienced buyers will choose to buy only the pure gold bracelet since the price is lower than the market price. But in that case, you will lose money, since you sell a US$5,000 product with a price of US$1,700 and you will be left with the fake bracelets.

    In the end, you will only have two strategies, either you sell the bracelets as a bundle, meaning that the buyers must buy all of the bracelets (denying the chance of buyers of fake gold bracelets to buy the cheaper products). Or you will price each of the bracelets using the price of the pure gold bracelet, hoping that an expert buyer will come and buy it. According to the author, there is a social loss in this case, since people are being deprived from their rights to buy the products with the lower price.

    The author then provides some ideas on how the law can help to solve this issue, such as by imposing a mandatory disclosure rule for buyers who have the expertise on matters related to the products so that the seller can make an informed decision. Unfortunately, I believe this become the downfall of the paper. The basic problem of this paper is because the author tried so hard in his model to show that Market of Gem is truly an inverse version of the Market for Lemon. While it is true that the basic problem in both markets is same, i.e. information asymmetry, the causes are completely different.

    The information asymmetry in the Market for Lemon is mainly caused by usage of the products, while the information asymmetry in the Market for Gem is caused by difference of level of expertise, meaning that buyers in such market are having an informational advantage because of their own expertise gained from investment of their own time and money. To the extent that the buyers gain such expertise without any illegal measures, requiring them to disclose their advantages would be similar to punish people for their own good efforts. This would give bad incentives for people who have worked hard for acquiring such expertise.

    A good example would be insider trading cases in capital market transaction where buyers of shares would only be punished if it can be proven that they gained their insider information through illegal measures, e.g. breach of confidentiality duty, abuse of power/authorities, etc. But for buyers who gained their material information from their own research and perseverance, there would be no reason to punish them if they fail to disclose such information to the seller and gain a considerable amount of profit that can be enjoyed by the seller if only the seller knew the existence of such information.

    Furthermore, in the Market for Lemon, we do not want people who know that there are defects in their good to sell their products without disclosing such information to the buyer because it would not be efficient if people are being asked to accept bad products without having any recourse to the sellers. In simple mathematical formula, the buyer values the products in P, the seller knew exactly that the value is actually P - x. Of course it would not be fair for the buyer to pay P for a product whose value is less than P.

    Meanwhile, in the Market for Gem, the Seller's valuation of the product is P, and the Buyer's valuation is P + x. From any point of view, it is an efficient transaction. In fact in any case, buyers only buy a product from the sellers because the buyer value the products more than the seller. If not, there would be no transaction in the first place. The actual problem with the Market for Gem is that we have to admit now that there should be an objective valuation outside the valuation of sellers and buyers over an asset in order to help the seller in making the right decision. I think this is ridiculous.

    I would be very careful in using legal solution in solving the problem of the Market for Gem. After all, we encourage people to do their own research in order to reduce the information asymmetry and therefore we hope that a better and more efficient market can be created. If the problem is on the level of expertise, rather than asking the buyer to inform their knowledge to the seller, why don’t we instead give incentives to the seller to gain the necessary expertise? Returning to the basic principle that we desire good quality products in the market, if the seller does not even know the quality of his own product, he should not try to sell his products in the first place.

    Moreover, we also need to assess the actual damages caused by the existence of Market for Gem to the welfare of the society. If the products involved within such market are trivial, maybe we don't need any new duty or obligation. In fact, basic contract law have already provided a solution for this problem. While the buyer does not have any legal obligation to disclose what he really knows about the relevant product, the seller can always ask the buyer to give a representation that he does not know at all about the product. If it turns out that the buyer lied, the seller can simply bringing a suit for breach of representation by the buyer. If the buyer refuses to give the representation, that can be used as a signal by the seller that the buyer really knows something that the seller doesn't know. In any way, it is still a very interesting paper and hopefully we can see the updated version of this idea soon.

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