Slices and Lumps: A Selected Bibliography

December 18th, 2019

How things are divided up or pieced together matters. Half a bridge is of no use at all. Conversely, many things would do more good if they could be divided up differently: Perhaps you would prefer a job that involves a third less work and a third less pay or a car that materializes only when needed and is priced accordingly? Difficulties in "slicing" and "lumping" shape nearly every facet of how we live and work--and a great deal of law and policy as well.

In Slices and Lumps, Lee Anne Fennell explores how both types of challenges--carving out useful slices and assembling useful lumps--surface in myriad contexts, from hot button issues like conservation and eminent domain to developments in the sharing economy to personal struggles over work, money, time, diet, and exercise. The significance of configuration is often overlooked, leading to missed opportunities for improving our lives. With a technology-fueled entrepreneurial explosion underway that is dividing goods, services, and jobs in novel ways, and as urbanization and environmental threats raise the stakes for assembling resources and cooperation, this is an especially exciting and crucial time to confront questions of slicing and lumping. The future of the city, the workplace, the marketplace, and the environment all turn on matters of configuration, as do the prospects for more effective legal doctrines, for better management of finances and health, and more. This book reveals configuration's power and potential--as a unifying concept and as a focus of public and private innovation.

In this Selected Bibliography, Fennell shares and comments on the books that inspired her thinking as she parsed the lumps and slices of our society.

Lee Anne Fennell will discuss Slices and Lumps: Division and Aggregation in Law and Life at the Co-op on Tuesday, January 21 at 6pm. This event is part of our Urban Readers Series, sponsored by the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation.

Governing the Commons by Elinor Ostrom - This classic work examines why and how communities can solve collective action problems involving common pool resources. It demonstrates that dilemmas are not always structured in the way we suppose, and that it is possible to innovatively leverage features of the situation to assemble cooperation.

Micromotives and Macrobehavior by Thomas C. Schelling - This eye-opening book has been transformative in my thinking about all sorts of problems, including neighborhood formation and change. Schelling shows how interactions among choices produce patterns, which in turn produce further interactions that can alter or entrench those patterns. Important ideas, presented in a lively, intuitive way.

Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo - Why do “poverty traps” form and how can people escape them?  This book shows how the shape of returns to investment can make a large push succeed where smaller pushes would fail. It also examines how behavior can reflect misalignments between the timing and configuration of earnings and the expenditures people must make to invest in their future earnings—and how we might address such problems.

Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir - This book shows how a lack of “slack”—whether in time, money, or physical space—constrains options. Of particular significance for my project is the notion of granularity, that dividing up the same amount in a different way can alter what is possible. As the authors point out, jellybeans are easier to fit into a constrained space than an equivalent volume of whole fruit—a point that can be adapted to many other contexts.

The Science of Self-Control by Howard Rachlin - Rachlin’s analysis homes in on a central feature of human behavior: that people often prefer certain overall patterns of choices while at each decision point preferring a choice that will produce a very different and much less preferred pattern. This analysis sparked my interest in ways that people might structure their own choice sets to make it more likely that their preferred patterns can be realized.

The Tyranny of the Market by Joel Waldfogel - Waldfogel examines how high fixed costs can make markets “lumpy” and limit product offerings – which helps explain why we can’t always get what we want. The idea that alternatives are often lumpier and fewer than we might prefer carries implications both inside and outside of consumer markets.

The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler - Benkler’s ideas shed light on the ways that networks produce wealth by enabling interactions over resources. Of particular interest for my work are Benkler’s insights about sharing excess capacity in lumpy goods and finding the right granularity of inputs when dividing up large projects among many individuals.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs - What makes for successful, vibrant cities? Jacobs discusses how heterogeneous land uses and the interactions they support can bring advantages that are unavailable through approaches that strictly separate land uses. Jacobs’s ideas spurred my interest in the significance of synergies and complementarities within neighborhoods and cities.

About Lee Fennell: Lee Anne Fennell is the Max Pam Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. Her teaching and research interests include property, torts, land use, housing, social welfare law, state and local government law, and public finance. She is the author of The Unbounded Home (2009).

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