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Sendhil Mullainathan

Scarcity

Sendhil Mullainathan Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much
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Biographical note:

Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard University, is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” and conducts research on development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Eldar Shafir is the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He conducts research in cognitive science, judgment and decision-making, and behavioral economics. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Excerpt from book:

INTRODUCTION

If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?
—Marie Dressler,
Academy Award–winning actress

We wrote this book because we were too busy not to.

Sendhil was grumbling to Eldar. He had more to-dos than time to do them in. Deadlines had matured from "overdue" to "alarmingly late." Meetings had been sheepishly rescheduled. His in-box was swelling with messages that needed his attention. He could picture his mother's hurt face at not getting even an occasional call. His car registration had expired. And things were getting worse. That conference one connecting flight away seemed like a good idea six months ago. Not so much now. Falling behind had turned into a vicious cycle. Re-registering the car was now one more thing to do. A project had taken a wrong direction because of a tardy e-mail response; getting it back on track meant yet more work. The past-due pile of life was growing dangerously close to toppling.

The irony of spending time lamenting the lack of time was not lost on Eldar. It was only partly lost on Sendhil who, undeterred, described his plan for getting out.

He would first stem the tide. Old obligations would need to be fulfilled, but new ones could be avoided. He would say no to every new request. He would prevent further delays on old projects by working meticulously to finish them. Eventually, this austerity would pay off. The to-do pile would shrink to a manageable level. Only then would he even think about new projects. And of course he would be more prudent going forward. "Yes" would be rare and uttered only after careful scrutiny. It would not be easy, but it was necessary.

Having made the plan felt good. Of course it did. As Voltaire noted long ago, "Illusion is the first of all pleasures."

A week later, another call from Sendhil: Two colleagues were putting together a book on the lives of low-income Americans. "This is a great opportunity. We should write a chapter," he said. His voice, Eldar recalls, lacked even a trace of irony.

Predictably, the chapter was "too good to pass up," and we agreed to do it. Just as predictably, it was a mistake, written in a rush and behind schedule. Unpredictably, it was a worthwhile mistake, creating an unexpected connection that eventually led to this book.

Here is an excerpt from our background notes for that chapter:

Shawn, an office manager in Cleveland, was struggling to make ends meet. He was late on a bunch of bills. His credit cards were maxed out. His paycheck ran out quickly. As he said, "There is always more month than money." The other day, he accidentally bounced a check after overestimating the money in his account; he had forgotten a $22 purchase. Every phone call made him tense: another creditor calling to "remind" him? Being out of money was also affecting his personal life. Sometimes at dinner he would put in less than his fair share because he was short. His friends understood, but it didn't feel good.

And there was no end in sight. He had bought a Blu-ray player on credit, with no payments for the first six months. That was five months ago. How would he pay this extra bill next month? Already, more and more money went to paying off old debts. The bounced check had a hefty overdraft charg

Introduction 1
 
Part One: The Scarcity Mindset
     1. Focusing and Tunneling 19
     2. The Bandwidth Tax 39
 
Part Two: Scarcity Creates Scarcity
     3. Packing and Slack 69
     4. Expertise 87
     5. Borrowing and Myopia 105
     6. The Scarcity Trap 123
     7. Poverty 147
 
Part Three: Designing for Scarcity
     8. Improving the Lives of the Poor 167
     9. Managing Scarcity in Organizations 183
     10. Scarcity in Everyday Life 205
    
Conclusion 227
 
Notes 235
Ac­know­ledg­ments 277
Index

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