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Sethi on Hirschman

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, by Albert Hirschman, has a title that’s too grabby for its own good.

You hear about the book and think: Yeah, that makes sense. In a difficult situation I can get out (“exit”), speak up (“voice”), or try to strengthen the organization (“loyalty”). We experience this choice in so many different areas of life, from kindergarten playgrounds to marriages to business dealings.

But Hirschman’s book does much more than lay out these choices. Read Rajiv Sethi’s fascinating appreciation of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty to see what’s there.

P.S. I’m sensitive to this issue of too-grabby-a-title partly because this happened, at a much lower level, with our book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State. Our findings on individual income, state income, and voting were already well known, and a lot of people just assumed that this was all that was in the book, not noticing all the material on religion, economic and social issues, and political polarization. I think we would’ve been better off with a vaguer title such as “Political Polarization: How Americans are Divided and How They’re Not.”


  1. Mark Palko says:

    Clumsy is the word I would have used. As you noted, the 'and' should be an 'or.' Worse yet, without having the title explained to me there's no way I would have assumed that 'Exit' and particularly 'Voice' were verbs given that the last item in the list was clearly a noun.

    Don't editors do anything these days?

  2. Mark Palko says:

    Probably should have read the review before writing the comment about the decline in editing standards. Sorry.

  3. Matt Stevens says:

    Phrases in the middle of a book can be too "grabby for their own good," too. Barrington Moore's "no bourgeoisie, no democracy" gets bandied about all the time, glossing over his non-standard definition of "bourgeoisie," the fact that it was necessary but hardly sufficient, etc.

  4. EmilyKennedy says:

    On the other hand, distillation gets conversations started. Some people will assume things are very simple, and other people will get the chance to expand on that simplicity to reveal complexity. The process rewards thorough readings.