Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Personalizing Precommitment

Lee Anne Fennell


This Essay examines the potential for law to facilitate tailored precommitments to help people address self-control problems. This flavor of personalized law is unique in that it is voluntarily chosen and self-administered. There are practical and normative limits on the degree to which people can bind themselves in ways that they cannot later escape, but law can offer mechanisms that would help people design and implement flexible precommitments. Research suggests two potential lines for innovation. First, partitioning access to resources may constrain consumption in contexts from dieting to saving, even when the partitions can be unilaterally broken. Second, the chunkiness of the increments in which people make choices can have a powerful influence on behavior. In public finance and regulatory contexts, law could support choice design and menu personalization aimed at harnessing these effects, based on individualized data, to better serve people’s own objectives.