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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 22 No. 2 (Spring 2008)

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What the Seller Won't Tell You: Persuasion and Disclosure in Markets

Article Citation

Milgrom, Paul. 2008. "What the Seller Won't Tell You: Persuasion and Disclosure in Markets." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(2): 115-131.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.2.115

Abstract

Imagine that you are considering an investment in a new public offering of a firm's shares. The firm's officers make a presentation that includes an audited financial statement, an earnings forecast reviewed by its prestigious investment bankers, and an impressive demonstration of its new technology. Or suppose that you are buying a new furnace to replace an old one that is not working well. The salesman displays a chart showing that the projected total life-cycle cost of one particular model, including capital costs and fuel usage over the projected lifetime of the furnace, is lower than that of some competing models you have considered. This paper reviews the theoretical arguments about how sellers disclose information in an attempt to encourage buyers, and the potential role for regulation in encouraging efficient disclosure of information. How well does a system of private reporting work? When should we expect all the relevant information to be reported? If testing and reporting by the seller are costly, will too little testing and reporting be done? Or too much? When some information is withheld, what sort of information is withheld? How do rational buyers respond to such withholding? How are prices and welfare affected? What role is there for laws and regulations to improve the functioning of markets? We address these questions by studying the theory of persuasion games -- games in which one or more sellers provide verifiable information to buyers to influence the actions they take.

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Authors

Milgrom, Paul (Stanford U)

JEL Classifications

D18: Consumer Protection
D82: Asymmetric and Private Information
G30: Corporate Finance and Governance: General
G38: Corporate Finance and Governance: Government Policy and Regulation
M41: Accounting

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