Monday, March 25, 2013

Political economy

There was political economy before the divorce that gave us "economic science" and "political science."  Perhaps we are now getting back to political economy.  Fittingly, yesterday's WSJ included Roger Lowenstein's essay on Albert Hirschman's Exit Voice and Loyalty ("The Choice: To Squawk or to Go ... A refugee economist created an irresistibly useful approach to understanding how dissent shapes organizations.")

Human dignity is enhanced by the range of choices that people have. Choices are complex, as the title of Hirschman's book makes clear. They vary by place (many New Yorkers can shop in NYC or cross the river to New Jersey but many of us have fewer options) and by circumstance. They are relevant in how we evaluate and choose in our "public" as well as our "private" lives. Lowenstein mentions the lower schools. Once a family has the resources, the idea of fighting city hall (the school board) is trumped by enrolling in a private school (or home schooling).  As transactions and mobilization costs fall because of apps and such, voice becomes more plausible in many situations.

It is hard to imagine a more profound contribution to political economy than found in Hirschman's very short (126 pages) volume.