Albert O. Hirschman, 1915-2012
Published on: January 6, 2013
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  • Anthony

    “He did not observe the methodological straightjacket his discipline imposed….”

    Self organization (spontaneous order) it appears from Hirschman discounted probability or Bayesian viewpoint; which he obviously found essential to his developmental economic practice (Exit, Voice, and Loyalty).

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  • The first and last sentences about development economists. How true. None of the 5 or 6 celebrity development economists have anything really new or truly wise to say, and the rest, however capable, are in professional corsets, hemmed in by the peer group.

    • Definitely. The celebrity development economists are, well, celebrities: famous for being famous, as someone famous said. Everything else is academic (in the bad sense), closed off in technical jargon.

      Another great was Norman Borlaug. They don’t make them that way any more. Academia today carefully weeds such people out, and they end up in journalism or working for Goldman Sachs.

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  • J

    Homeschooling, not private school, is the option of those failed by the monopoly school system. –I’m not making a political statement; homeschooling is *the* option for the poorest among us. This isn’t because the poor have no choice (though they don’t), or because they’re the group most in need of benefit from such experiments as Hirshman’s (though they’re that, too), but because they’re the only group in whom results would be visible.

    Vouchers represent the beginning of a second system, another monopoly. Vouchers *are* a political statement.

    When education is the object of the customer’s desire, exit is an option only for the seller, the teacher. He’s lucky to have it.

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  • J, is homeschooling really preferred by the poor? My understanding is that it tends to be adopted by families with a large enough income that at least one spouse can stay home.

    I think “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” is a really interesting idea, but good have benefited from the modern data-centric approach bemoaned above. Is it actually the case that vouchers cause the remaining students in public schools to perform worse? As I pointed out to Rajiv Sethi, studies suggest the opposite (they could be wrong, but I’m not aware of studies coming to the Hirschmann/Buffet conclusion). Of course, I lean toward what Yglesias terms “educational nihilism” and wouldn’t be surprised to find little effect from intervention on school performance even if there is a large effect on parental satisfaction.

    Speaking of parents, the poor that are portrayed as victims above are actually MORE in favor of vouchers than average among non-whites, while among whites they are most popular with high-income Catholics & Evangelicals. See this post at the Monkey Cage.

    So in conclusion, here’s to more data & empiricism!

    • J

      You’ve had three days to enjoy the voucher system, and here you are, back to know more about what I say is homeschooling.

    • Definitely. When school choice was first proposed in the late 60s, its main appeal was to middle- and lower-class whites fleeing from imploding urban school systems. But Friedman did make it part of his case, from the start, that school choice could apply to anyone and everyone. And 30-40 years, so it is. It’s clear that it’s minorities and the working poor who benefit the most from it, lacking “exit” in so many other ways.

      Hirschman’s argument for voice and loyalty, when it comes to what Walter Russell Mead calls the “blue social model,” is weak, and the years since have undermined it pretty thoroughly. “Blue” social institutions, in the large cities and elsewhere, exist to perpetuate and expand themselves, not to serve anything external. The cultural gap between the working class and poor being administered by the welfare state, and those who fund and run the welfare state, is very large and gotten larger since the 60s. It’s very different from educated, middle-class parents involved in schools in most suburbs, small towns, and smaller cities. Voice and loyalty make much more rational sense there.

      Hirschman’s criticism of Murray et al. is also unfair. Love or hate him, Murray is relentlessly empirical. He does have blind spots and an interpretative framework that might be wrong. But he’s not bloviating in a speculative fashion.

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  • victoria wilson – mn

    Thank you for highlighting this somewhat uncelebrated economist. His insights are illuminating. That they germinated overseas, away from the biases and assumptions we hold over ourselves, is an endorsement of every college’s study abroad program.

    Like many economists, he wished to use a method, Exit and Voice, from the commercial economy and use it in the public goods economy in order to realize all of its benefits and efficiencies. But I have to agree with his self-acknowledged critic Brian Barry that in his “endeavor to present voice…, (he) understate(s) the difficulties of voice formation.”

    The concept of VOICE offers some understanding of the differences between private goods transactions and public goods transactions. In a commercial transaction the contract is straightforward. A customer goes to the store and purchases the item. If they are dissatisfied with it or the facility or the employee who assisted them they may voice a complaint. The commercial entity may or may not act on the complaint depending on their calculation of their best interest.

    In a public goods transaction, VOICE means to get involved. If you are not satisfied with your school you can join the PTA, hound your local representative, start an advocacy group for hearing impaired children, tutor disadvantaged teens, petition the neighbors to collect school supplies for those who are without, and so on. You have to work at producing a public good. At no time did the store ask you to participate in the manufacturing or delivery of the item you purchased.

    So families evaluate whether they are better off devoting time to a struggling school district, time which may require foregoing a paying wage in the commercial job market; or paying for private school; or moving to another school district that will not demand as much of their time, energy and resources.

    EXIT achieved by moving to another public school or paying for private school is fair game; it is a freedom and implies other consequences. EXIT through cashing out on a voucher system is a breach of the social contract, a revered American social contract: educating the entire public to support a free democracy. One might even say that those who use school vouchers are free riding. They enjoy the status of America’s reputation of promoting an open and civil society through universal education, without doing the work.

  • George Orwell

    I am not an expert on school vouchers, but I would hardly call those that advocate for them or use them as “free riders.”
    The concept of “voice” and “loyalty” are all well and good. However, they are based on a very unrealistic view of the world.
    First, the entrenched interests of teachers unions and administrators will never allow significant change, or improvement, of public education. “Voice” is irrelevant if no one is listening (or not acting upon what they hear).
    “Loyalty” requires parents to put the good of other people’s children ahead of their own. Good parents will focus on finding the best place for their children to be educated, be it home schooling, private schooling, or moving to a better school district. To ask them to loyally remain and fight the good fight while allowing their own children to receive a poorer education is unreasonable. It smacks of expecting parents to not place their children on a life boat to flee the sinking ship so they can show solidarity with the other drowning victims.
    Looking out for your children and doing whatever is best for them, regardless of what other parents do, is not selfishness, it is the definition of a good parent (and it is exactly what the “progressives” that scream most loudly about equality and collective responsibility do for their children). I don’t fault them for putting their child’s education first, but the hypocrisy of fighting school vouchers for other people’s children while sending their children to Sidwell Friends School is a little sickening.

  • victoria wilson – mn

    George – your opinion of teachers’ unions and administrators betrays your lack of faith in America’s contract to educate all its citizens. This could be why you are sympathetic to those who choose to completely opt out of the arrangement through vouchers.

    And you are not alone. There are many that share your view. But I am not interested in free riders or the outliers. I am interested in all those folks under the bell curve. I am interested in the interplay of their choices for the social arrangements they hold dear.

    If most Americans choose to opt out of public education with vouchers, then we are seeing a change in the education-for-all creed. Their action is signaling that they no longer want to participate in this exchange. As you say, their calculation of benefit to the larger group is not enough in comparison to the benefit of their immediate group – their children. This is the nature of all collective arrangements; it is neither progressive nor conservative.

    Some compacts should change; some should go away. Ultimately the bell curve folks will make their adjustments, everyday, with their choices. If politicians keep up with them, the transition can be facilitated efficiently. If they don’t, there will be cynicism and grift, skepticism and corruption.

    • This is nonsense. Vouchers are precisely a way for many who not being educated, to get educated. *We’ve abandoned education-for-all ALREADY.* Vouchers are one way to get it back.

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  • victoria wilson – mn

    The 2010 census tallied 53,980,000 children in the US between the ages of 5-17. The National Center of Education Statistics reports that nearly 50 million children headed off to public school (elementary and secondary) in the fall of 2012. The action of Americans seems to overwhelming support public schools at a 92.3% rate of participation.

    • mannning

      I wonder what percentage of parents had little choice in the matter; they live in a school district, pay their taxes, and hope that their public schools are up to par. Private schools are far too expensive for by far the majority of families. Only a few can slip their kids into the good public school in the next district by some means or another. So it is not support being expressed so much as it is resignation, disgust, and anger at the terrible systems that they encounter. Moving to another district where the schools are better is open to far too few families, since many are tied to their home, mortgage, and job, and cannot afford any significant losses. Trying to infiltrate the PTA and the school burocracy to effect changes is a noble and useless effort, if only because it is mainly the caliber of the student body that dictates the end results.

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