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Exit, Voice, and the State

  • Albert O. Hirschman (a1)


The possibility and widespread practice of exit, on the part of dissatisfied citizens, has important, though highly diverse, bearings on the formation, solidity, and “quality” of the state. An association exists between the wide availability of exit and the condition of statelessness in a number of aboriginal societies as well as in Rousseau's state of nature. In the 18th century, the exit option—which became available to the wealthy as movable forms of property increased in importance—was hailed by such observers as Montesquieu and Adam Smith as a restraint on arbitrary rule or taxation. Today, on the other hand, such exit (capital flight) tends to render the introduction of needed reforms more difficult. Emigration-exit was benign in its effect on the sending countries in the 19th century and may have been helpful to the process of democratization in Europe. Lately, however, exit has been considered a threat to the existence of the state and has led to strong, though very different, defensive reactions in Ireland and East Germany. The small modern state can fend off excessive exit by providing a variety of public goods to its citizens; one of these public goods is “understood complexity.”



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1 Hirschman, , Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1970).

2 Primarily in connection with the issue of resignation of officials who are in disagreement with public policies (see chaps. 7 and 8). I have touched on emigration in relation to the state in two subsequent papers: “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Further Reflections and a Survey of Recent Contributions,” Social Science Information, xiii (February 1974), 726, and “Political Economy: Some Uses of the Exit-Voice Approach—Discussion,” American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 66 (May 1976), 386–89. Secessionist movements are brought into the exit-voice framework by Rokkan, Stein, “Dimensions of State Formation and Nation-Building: A Possible Paradigm for Research on Variations within Europe,” in Tilly, Charles, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1975), 562600, and by Finer, Samuel E., “State-Building, State Boundaries and Border Control: An Essay on Certain Aspects of the First Phase of State-Building in Western Europe, Considered in the Light of the Rokkan-Hirschman Model,” Social Science Information, xiii (August-October 1974), 79126.

3 Rousseau, , Oeuvres complètes (Paris: NRF, Pléiade 1966), III, 203; emphasis added.

4 See Rousseau, , Essai sur I'origine des langues …, edition, introduction, and notes by Porset, Charles (Bordeaux: Ducros 1970), chap. II, 43; emphasis added.

5 ibid., 11 (introduction by Porset).

6 Lévi-Strauss, “The Social and Psychological Aspects of Chieftainship in a Primitive Tribe: The Nambikuara of Northwestern Mato Grosso” (1944), reprinted in Cohen, Ronald and Middleton, John, eds., Comparative Political Systems: Studies in the Politics of Pre-Industrial Societies (Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press 1967), 5354.

7 Bamberger, “Exit and Voice in Central Brazil: On the Politics of Flight in Kayapo Society,” in David Maybury-Lewis, ed., Dialectical Societies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, forthcoming).

8 Evans-Pritchard, , “The Nuer of the Southern Sudan,” in Fortes, M. and Evans-Pritchard, E. E., eds., African Political Systems (London: Oxford University Press 1940), 279.

9 Middleton, John and Tait, David, eds., Tribes Without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1958), 3. It should be noted that the book does not deal with these societies; it concentrates on those having “segmentary lineage systems,” where exit resembles secession rather than emigration.

10 Marshall, “!Kung Bushman Bands” (1960), reprinted in Cohen and Middleton (fn. 6), 17, 34–35.

11 Turnbull, Colin M., Wayward Servants: The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode 1965), 106. Turnbull attempts to explain this constant “flux and instability” of the Mbuti bands by their antagonistic relationship with the settled villagers who, as a result of this confusion, are unable to assert the lineal and territorial rights they claim over the Mbuti.

12 Nieboer, H. J., Slavery as an Industrial System (The Hague: Nijhoff 1900); Domar, Evsey, “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis,” Journal of Economic History, xxx (March 1970), 1832.

13 Nieboer and Frederick Jackson Turner were contemporaries, but were probably unaware that one was speaking of “open resources” as a factor conducive to slavery and the other of the “open frontier” as conditioning American-style democracy.

14 This is true even for so elaborate a function as that of the “leopard-skin chief” of the Nuer in mediating disputes. See Evans-Pritchard (fn. 8), 291–95.

15 Friedman, Milton, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: Chicago University Press 1962), chap. 6; Tiebout, Charles M., “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures,” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 64 (October 1956), 416–24.

16 See Finer (fn. 2), 115

17 Montesquieu, Esprit des lois, XX, chap. 23.

18 See Hirschman, , The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1977), 95, and Part Two, passim.

19 See “The Prerogative of Popular Government,” in Harrington, James, Oceana and Other Works, ed. Toland, John (3d ed.; London: A. Millar 1747), 243.

20 From essay, “Of Public Credit” in Hume, , Writings on Economics, ed. Rotwein, E. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1970), 9899. For a number of telling 18th-century quotes denouncing the new world of stockjobbers and finance, see Kramnick, Isaac, Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1968), 47–48, 71–76, 220, 246.

21 Montesquieu (fn. 17), XXI, chap. 20.

22 Later in the century, Turgot based very similar hopes on the emigration of persons. Commenting on Richard Price's Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution he wrote: “The asylum which [the American people] opens to the oppressed of all nations must console the earth. The ease with which it will now be possible to take advantage of this situation, and thus to escape from the consequences of a bad government, will oblige the European Governments to be just and enlightened.” (Letter to Price of March 22, 1778, in Oeuvres, Paris: Delance 1810, IX, 389.) Turgot here argues about the state losing citizens as though it were a firm impelled by the exit of customers to improve its performance. The actual political effects of emigration on the sending country and their considerable diversity are explored in the next section.

23 Steuart, , Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy (1767), I, ed. Skinner, A. S. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1966), 181; emphasis added.

24 Hirschman (fn. 18), 100–113.

25 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Modern Library ed., 800; see also pp. 345 and 858 for related passages; emphasis added.

26 MacDonald, John S., “Agricultural Organization, Migration and Labour Militancy in Rural Italy,” Economic Historic Review, 2d series, xvi (19631964), 6175.

27 I have looked in vain for any speculation along such lines in the notable mono-graphic studies on European migrations to the United States published as Dislocation and Emigration: The Social Background of American Immigration in D. Fleming and B. Bailyn, eds., Perspectives in American History, VII (Harvard University 1974). Professor Bailyn tells me that in his current work on 17th- and 18th-century emigration to North America considerable attention is being given to the social and political context of emigration in the sending country.

28 Nicholas R. Burnett, “Exit, Voice and Ireland, 1936–58,” unpub. (1977), 15; also Burnett's doctoral dissertation, “Emigration and Modern Ireland” (School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University 1976).

29 See Kindleberger, Charles P., “Group Behavior and International Trade,” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 59 (February 1951), 3046; and Gourevitch, Peter A., “International Trade, Domestic Coalitions, and Liberty: The Crisis of 1873–96,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, viii(Autumn 1977), 281313.

30 See Aristide R. Zolberg, “International Migration Policies in a Changing World System,” to be published in McNeill, William H. and Adams, Ruth S., eds., Human Migration (Bloomington: Indian a University Press 1978).

31 Thurow, Lester C., “The Income Distribution as a Pure Public Good,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 85 (May 1971), 327–36; Morawetz, David and others, “Income Distribution and Self-Rated Happiness: Some Empirical Evidence,” Economic Journal, Vol. 87 (September 1977), 511–22.

32 See Hirschman (fn. I), chap. 7, particularly p. 78.

33 Fox, , “An American Sociologist in the Land of Belgian Medical Research,” in Hammond, Phillip E., ed., Sociologists at Work (New York: Basic Books 1964), 349.

34 On the difference between the “native's” views of his society and the outside observer's, see Geertz, Clifford, “On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding,” American Scientist, Vol. 63 (January-February 1975), 4753.

* This paper was originally written for a symposium held in June 1977 at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, on the occasion of the 500-year jubilee of the foundation of the University. It is reproduced here with some changes. The author is grateful to Ulf Himmelstrand who organized the Uppsala symposium, and to Karen Blu and Clifford Geertz for discussion and critical comments.


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