Law and Mechanism Design: Procedures to Induce Honest Bargaining

47 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2012 Last revised: 11 Mar 2014

See all articles by Steven J. Brams

Steven J. Brams

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Joshua Mitts

Columbia Law School

Date Written: February 23, 2013


A classic challenge in contract and property law is unstructured negotiation between two parties with asymmetric information (i.e., each party has different private information) under bilateral monopoly (each party must negotiate with the other to try to reach an agreement), which often leads to prohibitively high transaction costs and, if the parties fail to agree, social costs as well. In these situations, the law should incorporate principles of mechanism design, a methodology that employs structured procedures to give the parties incentives to reach agreement. In terms of contract theory, mechanisms constitute algorithmic altering rules that reduce if not eliminate inefficient transaction costs. We review two bargaining mechanisms that inherently elicit honesty by making it a dominant strategy and discuss two extensions for legal applications. In particular, we show that algorithmic procedures would reduce transaction costs and lead to more efficient bargaining in pretrial settlement negotiations and blockholder disclosure under section 13(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The former is a straightforward application of mechanism design to a negotiation situation where the social externalities of non-agreement justify inducing the honest disclosure of reservation prices, or “bottom lines.” The latter is an example of using mechanism design to facilitate negotiated settlements in situations presently subject to a suboptimal mandatory rule.

Keywords: law, mechanism design, contract, property, bargaining, game theory, asymmetric information, negotiations

Suggested Citation

Brams, Steven and Mitts, Joshua, Law and Mechanism Design: Procedures to Induce Honest Bargaining (February 23, 2013). 68 NYU Annual Survey of American Law 729 (2013). Available at SSRN: or

Steven Brams

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

Dept. of Politics
19 West 4th St., 2nd Fl.
New York, NY 10012
United States
212-998-8510 (Phone)
212-995-4184 (Fax)


Joshua Mitts (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics