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Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States [Paperback]

by Albert O. Hirschman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 31, 1970 0674276604 978-0674276604 New Ed
An innovator in contemporary thought on economic and political development looks here at decline rather than growth. Albert O. Hirschman makes a basic distinction between alternative ways of reacting to deterioration in business firms and, in general, to dissatisfaction with organizations: one, “exit,” is for the member to quit the organization or for the customer to switch to the competing product, and the other, “voice,” is for members or customers to agitate and exert influence for change “from within.” The efficiency of the competitive mechanism, with its total reliance on exit, is questioned for certain important situations. As exit often undercuts voice while being unable to counteract decline, loyalty is seen in the function of retarding exit and of permitting voice to play its proper role. The interplay of the three concepts turns out to illuminate a wide range of economic, social, and political phenomena. As the author states in the preface, “having found my own unifying way of looking at issues as diverse as competition and the two-party system, divorce and the American character, black power and the failure of ‘unhappy’ top officials to resign over Vietnam, I decided to let myself go a little.”

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Editorial Reviews


Hirschman's work changes how you see the world. It illuminates yesterday, today, and tomorrow...His most important [book]. (Cass R. Sunstein New York Review of Books 2013-05-23)

A 126-page burst of lucidity...[Hirschman's] masterwork. (Roger Lowenstein Wall Street Journal 2013-03-22)

One of the masterpieces of contemporary political thought. (Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker 2012-07-30)

This unusual and subtle book exercise in interdisciplinary analysis focused on the interaction between market and non-market forces affecting the process of development and decline... Professor Hirschman develops a theory of loyalty as a key factor in the interaction between voice and exit: loyalty is shown to postpone exit and to make voice more effective through the possibility of exit. (The Economic Journal)

This is an imaginative little book. Its message should be of use to economists, political scientists, and all those interested in policy questions related to these areas. Hirschman starts his argument by assuming that in time all organizations (firms, bureaus, political parties, governments, and so on) develop slack and experience a deterioration in the quality of their output. The clients of a declining organization have two options for reversing this trend: exit and voice. And much of the book is devoted to an explication of the ways in which these options operate, their relative advantages and weaknesses, the interdependence between them... It is in these discussions of current problems and institutions, however, that I find the book most rewarding. His basic point, that there exists a symbiosis between exit and voice, is certainly valid and significant. Its importance gets driven home by the way Hirschman applies the idea to various current issues. One emerges from the book feeling he has obtained a new analytic insight into policy questions which can be applied again and again. (Dennis C. Mueller Public Policy)

Professor Hirschman's small book is bursting with new ideas. The economist has typically assumed that dissatisfaction with an organization's product is met by withdrawal of demand, while the political scientist thinks rather of the protests possible within the organization. Hirschman argues that both processes are at work and demonstrates beautifully by analysis and example that their interaction has surprising implications, a theory that illuminates strikingly many important economic and political phenomena of the day. The whole argument is developed with an extraordinary richness of reference to many societies and cultures. (Kenneth J. Arrow)

This is a marvelously perceptive essay which illuminates some of the most interesting economic and social questions of our time. I have read it with enormous interest and admiration, and the further pleasure that one has in being with an author who can think things through. (John Kenneth Galbraith)

There is, of course, no substitute for a mind as original, playful, subtle, and fresh as Hirschman's. (Stanley Hoffmann)

I read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty with absolute fascination and found that it pulled together, in organized form, many random glimmerings that I had previously understood only dimly. (Joseph Kraft)

About the Author

Albert O. Hirschman was Professor of Social Science, Emeritus, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, following a career of prestigious appointments, honors, and awards. Perhaps the most widely known and admired of his many books are Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (Harvard) and The Passions and the Interests (Princeton).

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (January 31, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674276604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674276604
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 3.2 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh view at market liberalism December 29, 1999
Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyality is a book written by an economist but accessible to all - a rare achieve in any academic disipline, especially economics. The book was written in the early 70's but still has relevant today. Its greatest achievment is the illumination of 'exit' as the mentality of modern western capitalist societies - the idealisation of the consumers' right to 'vote with one's feet' - and its spread into all forms of social activity. Hirschman adds a historical dimension to this by arguing that the whole of the United States has largely been built on 'exit' mentality - from the mass migration out of Europe from the 17th century onwards to the calls to 'go west' across the plains. Exit is the strategy advocated today by neo liberals as being the manifestation of democracy in the market sphere. Hirschman's observations were made in the early 70's, yet their relevance as an internal critique of the free market is perhaps even more important today in the post-cold war era when the traditional critiques of the capitalism (such as Marxism in its Communism manifestation) have so clearly failed. As liberals try to grasp the future - while opponents of liberalism turn their attention from Marx to Nietzsche (such as John Gray), Hirschman's Exit Voice and Loyalty is an accessible, refreshing and insightful look at market liberalism from within, and is therefore throughly recommended.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snapping the firm back to efficiency May 2, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hirschman argues that rather than operating at permanently optimal level - seeking profit maximization - firms often operate at a merely "satisfactory" level. Hirschman argues that this level of inefficiency leads to "organizational slack" in the firm. In times of strong competition, firms can draw upon this slack in order to squeeze out greater production through an investment in work hours, improved productivity, and other forms of pressure. When competition is not so fierce, firms are subject to a certain level of decline and subsequently become inefficient, i.e. they experience declining quality, high prices, etc. When firms are underperforming in this manner, customers have two options to correct this inefficiency: exit and voice. Both exit and voice are used by consumers in order to snap a firm back into efficiency. When selecting exit, customers leave the underperforming firm in favor of an alternative. When using voice, customers voice their concern directly to the firm or its managers. These two options are not mutually exclusive and may be used in tandem.

Exit represents the economic side of recuperation mechanisms and often results from a decline in quality. When quality drops, customers exit and the firm's revenues fall. When management becomes aware of customer desertion, it must take an active role in repairing the damage to the firm. However, the level of response varies with the level of exit. A small number of exiting customers is unlikely to lead to corrective action by management, because the damage caused by the exit is not significant to serve as an incentive for change. The same can be said about a high number of exiting customers. If the damage is too great, no recuperation measures will be pursued as the damage is too great to recover from.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I read this book in the 1970's when I studied Political Science in Jerusalem. The Author bridges the gap between Economic and Political Theory. He shows from his real experiences that not always a monopoly is bad for the Public. A situation where you have too many choices is worse than having a few choices. As People who have experienced Multi-Party Systems like Weimar Republic in Germany and France in the Fifties, Many Parties does not mean Effective, (Good) Parties. USA and UK Manage very Well with few Political Parties. The Implications of this book are wide. How do you encourage people to use "Voice" to improve organisations instead of Exit or Loyalty (Where people stay quiet). A must to read to Understand the Social Dynamics. Another must is Isiah Berlin on the Paradox and clash between Freedom and Equality.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Effort: Interesting and Important but Dry January 2, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Put simply, Hirschman's work here attempts to better understand the dynamics that govern dissatisfied consumers, group members and citizens in their decisions to either leave in search of a better product, group or nation or to stay put and try to make things better ("exit" vs. "voice"). It's a fundamental social dynamic that applies to a variety of institutions (as the book's subtitle indicates), and he rather diligently builds and shares his model for considering the issues -- a model that, as other reviewers have pointed out, is still very much in use in a number of fields four decades later. The prose in this book is NOT a delight nor even always easy to read; Hirschman writes very much like an academic economist. But the ideas conveyed here are provocative and useful -- not only for students of economics and political science but for product managers, human resource managers and business leaders. If you like understanding key governing principles so that you can carry them with you into new situations AND you can get through really dry writing, this short book is more than worth your time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Economist of Our Times
Albert O Hirschman is probably the greatest economist of our times! He gets little credit except for insiders. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Antonia Bercovici
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for a deeper understanding of economic power at the grassroots...
A classic and much needed work; an impressive guide to better understanding the nature of and dynamics related to our political nature and culture.
Published 3 months ago by paul
3.0 out of 5 stars Losing our voice
Good but very weighty discussion about the forces leading to decline in business and society. A little too academic for my tastes.
Published 7 months ago by Steve P. Sanders
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking Away Is Really A Political Decision
This is an excellent book which raises the provoking question about the various ways one can react to a failing institution where one is a participant who has made a commitment... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Alvin E. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars The Handbook for all business owners
I originally read this book when I was at Wharton eons ago. After a long and successful financial career - I believe it's one of the best books for every single business owner to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by ILonaE
5.0 out of 5 stars this simple book has reshaped my modes of thinking
I am still fairly new to scholarly economics, but Exit, Voice and Loyalty has helped illuminate for me what it is I like about the NORMS of economics (the encouragement to be... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Alex Major
5.0 out of 5 stars important book
classic book, good quality, important subject,basis for future economic theories. Concise and well written and helps not only to understand economics but groups and organizations
Published 8 months ago by Cody K Wasner
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough read
It's tough to plow through, but it makes sense as far as building loyalty among your customers, suppliers and employees.
Published 9 months ago by Nom de Gruyere
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable exercise in simplicity
This book contains a delightful exercise of framing existing theories on socio-economic interactions in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful
This short book is essentially a long essay examining ways in which decaying social institutions can be repaired. Read more
Published 16 months ago by R. Albin
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