Voice, Exit, Loyalty, and Option #4

Albert Hirschman summarized the options of a consumer facing deteriorating quality of a good – voice or exit. That is, they can complain about the quality and hope the producer listens (voice), or they can just take their business elsewhere (exit). He extended this logic to government too, where voice is participation within a political system and exit is, well, not.

His discussions on loyalty are about how voice will often get used when exit is easier, out of loyalty. We see this in both the private and public spheres.

There’s a lot of sense to this, and it describes well how a lot of people act in real life. As an American example of the public sphere, voice is voting in local elections, and exit is moving to a new State for a better regulatory and job climate. Or maybe just switching careers to something differently regulated. This sort of freedom of choice by consumers produces a competition between providers that keeps the quality of available choices from deteriorating terribly.

Hirchman’s model also a trap. The lens of Voice, Exit, and Loyalty almost seems like a closed set of choices, but in fact there’s a Door #4, and if we forget it’s there a terrible surprise will befall us when it opens.

My co-blogger David has chosen exit as his response to the current culture war, but his closing thoughts remind us that Hirschman’s model is missing the fourth and, ultimately, most important option – Violence. There’s big, obvious violence like Timothy McVeigh or the Civil War, but also the everyday chronic violence of legal prohibition. Violence is the tool applied when voice is ignored and exit isn’t tolerable.

And I want to emphasize, that both the “winning” and “losing” sides of political contests may resort to violence once they tire of using voice. Both the loser and winners have failed to convince 100% of the population of the merit of their idea. Both the winners and the losers may decide that “live and let live” isn’t an option. Both the losers and winners may decide that the easiest solution is then simply to punish (whether by physical violence or other means) the recalcitrant other until they shut up and get with the program. Only the labels differ. The losers are “rebellious”, while the winners call it “enforcing the law”.

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