The Vigilant Eating Rule: A General Approach for Probabilistic Economic Design with Constraints

With H. Aziz
Working paper (October 2020)

We consider the problem of probabilistic allocation of objects under ordinal preferences. Our main contribution is an allocation mechanism, called the vigilant eating rule (VER), that applies to nearly arbitrary feasibility constraints. It is constrained ordinally efficient, can be computed efficiently for a large class of constraints, and treats agents equally if they have the same preferences and are subject to the same constraints. When the set of feasible allocations is convex, we also present a characterization of our rule based on ordinal egalitarianism. Our results about VER do not just apply to allocation problems but to all collective choice problems in which agents have ordinal preferences over discrete outcomes. As a case study, we assume objects have priorities for agents and apply VER to sets of probabilistic allocations that are constrained by stability. VER coincides with the (extended) probabilistic serial rule when priorities are flat and the agent proposing deterministic deferred acceptance algorithm when preferences and priorities are strict. While VER always returns a stable and constrained efficient allocation, it fails to be strategyproof, unconstrained efficient, and envy-free. We show, however, that each of these three properties is incompatible with stability and constrained efficiency.