What to do when you’re trapped — with the exit open?
Sense of paralysis is palpable in UK, where despite much politics there has been little progress, while no-one’s policy platform commands broad support
The economist Albert Hirschman wrote: “Under any economic, social or political system, individuals, business firms and organisations in general are subject to lapses from efficient, rational, law-abiding, virtuous, or otherwise functional behaviour.” That is the first sentence of his book, published in 1970. No kidding; look around. Rational, law-abiding, virtuous and otherwise functional behaviour is in short supply.
Hirschman’s book is about registering our discontent with such lapses, and whether our discontent makes a difference. Do we walk away? Do we protest? Or do we suffer in silence? The instinct of the economist, used to studying competitive markets, is to think of “exit” as the most straightforward and powerful protest. If we don’t like the product or we don’t like the price, we take our custom elsewhere. The alternative is “voice”: we complain, in any form, from a muttered grumble to a Molotov cocktail.