“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need.” Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.”
This is good.
This is worth your time.
This just might change some of the way you engage with the world.
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States by Albert O. Hirschman is acknowledged by a number of those people who generally go around acknowledging things as being something of a stellar offering.
Admittedly, I’m taking the easy route, but I agree.
I’m not sure how I hadn’t encountered this book before by now, but c’est la vie.
Anyhow, that is now the past.
So…it’s rare that a book that gives away so much of its content in its title – exit, voice, loyalty – manages to so meaningfully add so much more to substantive orientation by the last page.
The concepts are actually rather simple. If one can just up and leave [“exit”] at any time one wants suffering little to no repercussions then empowerment by discussion [“voice”] is sorely limited if not at times essentially altogether absent. However, if mechanisms/rewards for integrated stability/engagement [“loyalty”] can be created and maintained, then healthier long-term benefits can accrue. That’s the book. What’s fascinating is how Hirschman weaves the concepts to show just how vital these concepts are to the functioning of everything from business, to international interaction, to interpersonal and civil society participation.
Hirschman begins his text by discussing the possibility of “mechanisms of recuperation.” I like this. This reminds of work currently being done in the Oregon Department of Corrections by Director, Colette Peters. I was able to meet Director Peters in May of 2013 as Director of the Center for Peace and Justice at George Fox University and then the university hosted her as a plenary speaker for our first-year seminar course for all incoming first-year students in October 2013. This was during the time that we had our students reading Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle who is also the Director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles which employs people who have been part of gangs and who have found themselves in prison. Ms. Peters came in during this time, overseeing an annual budget of over 1.4 billion dollars and spoke to the human dignity of all people and of her work toward reducing both recidivism and future victimization.
See, this is what Hirschman is talking about in his book. Colette Peters and the Oregon DOC are pursuing various “mechanisms of recuperation.” In theological language we would refer to it more closely to something like a means of redemption, reconciliation, restitution, etc. These mechanisms are not “soft on crime,” they are “strong on civil society” – to use my own phrasing for this last part. Employing Hirschman’s analyses and language, we’ve seen that the strategies of exit are not working. Incarceration as it has been and is often implemented simply reduces voice without stemming decline in positive structure. Therefore (and for other reasons besides), we have to increase the rewards of loyalty for remaining in the system and increase the voice of people to speak into the process of what such loyalty should look like in the first place – all of which will raise the cost of exit strategies – and this will all lend itself to both more just and stable societal cohesion.
Another both current and now also classic example is the ability of multinational corporations (MNCs) to essentially hold poor nation-states hostage to their whims by first plying for all kinds of subsidies and free-passes from taxation to initially bring their business and then threatening to leave a nation-state with their business to a new nation-state when the time for subsidies and free tax passes are ending. The nation-states exit option is essentially unavailable which hinders their ability to use voice which in turn hinders the need for loyalty on the part of the MNCs. There needs to be a proper balancing of exit and voice options on both (or multiple) sides of a matter in order to best engender and perpetuate loyalty.
As one might imagine, Hirshman’s approach has much to offer surrounding considerations of engagement in communities of faith. Imagine a community of faith where you always had the option to leave, but leaving would mean the loss of significant relationships, the loss of interconnected unofficial economic barter-systems that benefit above-and-beyond norming economic societal transaction patterns, the loss of connections that bring facilitate direct business well-being, etc. The bar to exit is therefore set rather high while remaining available. This then requires one to engage verbally when one encounters situations that are less than amenable. High exit price forces loyalty which forces use of voice. With this we have more long-term church commitment, less church hopping, more knowness and likely further long-term church satisfaction (even despite the poor quality of a minister’s preaching at times).
Hirschman’s work will take focus to work through. But no matter your field, the understanding you gain will be worth your time.
 Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1970), 3.
 Oregon.Gov – Department of Corrections Administration – Director and Deputy Director: http://www.oregon.gov/doc/admin/Pages/director.aspx. Accessed: October 19, 2014.
3 responses to ““You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need.” Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.””
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Thanks for not disappointing me. When I picked this book up and began to read, truly, you can to my mind and I thought, “Now this is a book Clint will take to.”
You make a two sentence summary which is an excellent presentation of Herschman’s ideas ending with the comment, “That’s the book.” I could have read with greater ease had you written your insightful review before I started. I began reading with the thought that this was an economics presentation on the free marketplace, which it is but it does have, as Hirschman indicates, “the concepts to be developed will … be found to be applicable not only to economic operators such as business firms, but to a wide variety of noneconomic organizations and situations” (1). Your examples shore up his claim. Herschman proposes recognizing or confronting “reparible laspses” in products and services as being the result of the “loss of maximizing aptitude or energy.” Allowing for this supposition presents the possibility of a less than optimum product having a beneficial application to workplace economies and for the the “possibility of ‘mechanisms of recuperation'” as you note, to have multiple outcomes. This occurs as exit, voice, and loyalty work in cohort.
Ron, thanks for your reply.
I really appreciated reading it.
In having just recently finished reading the Leadership Mystique, I love coming back to this and seeing how complementary these two texts are to each other.
“Repairable lapses.” I like your using this. I think most things are…certainly more things than we tend to give credit for in a “throw-away,” “planned obsolescence” society.
I suppose the real tension comes in querying, recognizing, and beginning to deal with any situations that aren’t “repairable” or that don’t allow for “recuperation.” Are there such events…and if so, how do we know? And once we know, what do we do?
Of course, there was no way I was a week ahead on getting my reading done! What’s the secret?
I also want to observe how these two readings related to and complemented each other. Especially “Leadership Mystique” is a tremendous read. I love his clinical approach – he refers to a “clinical paradigm.” Although it is deep and scholastic, it is a narrative genre as opposed to the academic writing that is usually present in this type of text.