Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Visibility and Indivisibility in Resource Arrangements

Lee Anne Fennell


Projects like highways, bridges, pipelines, and wildlife corridors exhibit indivisibilities—we need the whole thing to have anything of value. Many environmental and social goals have a similar all-or-nothing character: staying above or below a certain critical threshold can make all the difference. This essay focuses on the role of visibility in addressing resource dilemmas that have this structure. I examine how two kinds of visibility can help avoid catastrophic consequences and advance desirable ones. The first involves recognizing when an indivisibility is present—that is, appreciating the vulnerability of resources to thresholds and cliff effects before it is too late. The second involves seeing how individual decisions about resources stack together to generate outcomes. When a resource problem suffers from poor visibility along these dimensions, finding ways to clear the view can improve the prospects for cooperative solutions.