The Winner’s Curse

Tim DeChristopher has been sentenced to two years in a Federal prison. DeChristopher was an economics major at the University of Utah when he fraudulently bid on a number of oil and gas leases pushing up the prices on some leases and winning others.

The sentence appears to be out of proportion to the crime, even if you don’t accept DeChristopher’s environmental justifications as a mitigating factor. The other bidders did walk away with lower profits than they otherwise would have but their claims should have been made in civil court. The Federal government may even have made money on net because DeChristopher pushed prices up.  It is certain that they would have made money had they chosen to resell the rights that DeChristopher “bought.” But a judge later ruled that the Department of the Interior’s environmental impact statement was inadequate and most of the auctions were annulled.

DeChristopher’s big mistake appears to have been winning some auctions as it would have been difficult to prosecute him for simply pushing up bids.


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