August 2020

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States is Albert O. Hirschman’s greatest contribution to social theory. One of the marks of its importance is that later thinkers from all corners of the political universe have constantly made use of its ideas.

Another is that we’re still talking about it fifty years after its publication. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has had a particularly interesting life in libertarian circles, where it has inspired a range of views and strategies among thinkers and activists. Some of these will be on display in this month’s issue, where we’ve invited a quartet of Hirschman’s admirers to talk about this book’s influence on their work: The lead essayist is Adam Thierer. He will be joined by Mikayla Novak, Max Borders, and Ilya Somin. Discussion among them will continue through the month, and readers are invited to comment for one month as well.

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Lead Essay

  • Adam Thierer argues that innovation can help dissatisfied customers—or citizens—in two ways. First, it offers an “exit” from unsatisfactory services in either the private or public sector. And second, this strengthened form of “exit” lends its power to individuals’ “voice” as well; when disgruntled consumers can easily leave, their threats to do so mean a lot more.

Response Essays

  • Mikayla Novak uses Albert O. Hirschman’s concepts of exit, voice, and loyalty to analyze Black Lives Matter as a social movement. She finds it a productive tool for thinking about current events and argues that Hirschman’s book holds up well even in an era of digital discontent, one quite different from the book’s own time.

  • Ilya Somin acknowledges that the digital ability to “exit” a bad governance or consumer situation is good as far as it goes, but that for some cases, it’s never going to be enough. A political or religious refugee commonly gains safety only through physically fleeing their oppressors, who control the government where they live. And even those who leave an area merely for better economic opportunities elsewhere exercise a kind of exit that can’t generally be replicated through digital substitutes.

  • Max Borders laments that liberalism is in retreat as nationalists and socialists have come to dominate American political discourse. Radical remedies are called for, and so Borders takes issue with Thierer’s concept of permissionless innovation. The point, he says, is not to make leaders more accountable; it is to make top-down leadership obsolete as a form of social organization. When that happens, the ideologies that rely on it will wither.

Coming Up

Discussion through the end of the month.