Choice, Welfare, and Market Design: An Empirical Investigation of Feeding America’s Choice System

Samuel Altmann

January 26, 2023, 11:00–12:30

Auditorium 3

Job Market Seminar


Feeding America, an organisation responsible for feeding 130,000 Americans every day, distributes donated food among a network of participating food banks. Feeding America’s allocation mechanism, the ‘Choice System’, uses first-price auctions to allow food banks to signal which types of food they need from Feeding America. This provides food banks a large degree of choice over the types of food they receive. This paper examines the welfare and distributional consequences of enabling this choice. I apply a dynamic auction model to Choice System bidding data, estimating the distribution of food banks’ heterogeneous and time-varying needs. I then use these estimates to compare the Choice System to the previous allocation mechanism employed by Feeding America which gave food banks very limited choice. I estimate that the Choice System increased welfare by the equivalent of a 17.1% increase in the quantity of food being allocated.