Tuesday archive: Any colour, so long as it’s lemon

From 22nd April, 2006:

I recently did something that is, in theory, most unwise: I bought a second-hand car. Since economists hate to compromise between safety and style, it was a Volvo. You’d think I would know better. The American subtitle of my book is “Why you can never buy a decent used car”.

In 1966, an assistant economics professor, George Akerlof, tried to explain why this is so in a working paper called “The Market for Lemons”. His basic insight was simple: if somebody who has plenty of experience driving a particular car is keen to sell it to you, why should you be so keen to buy it?

Akerlof showed that insight could have dramatic consequences. Buyers’ perfectly sensible fears of being ripped off could, in principle, wipe out the entire used-car market: there would be no price that a rational seller would offer that was low enough to make the sale. The deeper the discount, the more the buyer would be sure that the car was a terrible lemon.

Continued at timharford.com.

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