Love it or leave it!


In the early 1970s as we pulled out of Vietnam, Richard Nixon went insane in the whitehouse, and Albert O. Hirshman wrote an facinating short book called Exit, Voice and Loyality: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States.

Hirshman, an economist, noticed that members of an organization have three broad choices about how to respond when the organization goes into decline.

  • Exit – They can leave.
  • Voice – They can argue for change.
  • Loyality – They can remain silent and loyal.

Different situations demand different mixes of these three. One is far more likely to use voice and loyality to tackle a problem at home, say with your children. In the marketplace, particularly the markets of classical economics, the bias is toward using exit. Don’t like the TV show you’re watching? Change the channel.

I’m sure that recently many of us have wished we could change the channel and stop watching the war show. Politics is not the marketplace, it’s where you live.

Yesterday I listened on the radio to the impassioned plea of a man that now was a time for the nation to draw together. A time for loyality to our troups, to our President. A time for solidarity against the threat our nation faces. A threat that 9/11 so vividly illuminated.

Hirshman points out that there are situations where exit becomes extremely difficult – citizenship for example – and where then only voice and loyality remain as choices. He goes on to point out that in some such situations – criminal gangs, totalitarian regimes for example – voice maybe eliminated entirely.

Yesterday a number of people spoke out against today’s war, and a number of other people told them to shut up. When exit isn’t an option telling people to shut up is a very dangerous move.

It is thinking like this that leads: to loyality tests, to paranoia about outsiders, to interment camps.

Here’s a perfect example of how that reflex uncoils. The other day Richard Perle, one of the leaders of the neoconservative movement that advocates kicking some butt to make the world a better place called a famous and respected reporter a terrorist because he wrote an article pointing out some linkages between Perle’s business dealings and wealthy Saudi businessmen.

Or consider what the president said in during his only recent press conference speaking first about Mexico not getting onboard with the his war plans: “I don’t expect there to be significant retribution from the government (what’s significant?), but there might be a reaction like the interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French, a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people.” For those who oppose the United States, “there will be a certain sense of discipline.”

This kind of “your loyal or you’re out” is a big stick to pull out when people can’t exit. Mexico isn’t able to stop being our neighbor. The American population of people who look a bit like they might have come from Mexico can’t all up and leave. And here we find our President threating them all with “discipline”? It is offensive.

Those who are leading us into war are playing the loyality card. They are playing it to silence the voices of the rest of us. They should be more careful. They should be ashamed.

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