Before he was an academic, Hirschman helped thousands flee from the Nazis during World War II, contributed to the Marshall Plan, and pioneered development policies at the World Bank. Instead of economic models populated by fully rational people, Hirschman was intrigued by puzzles of unexpected failure. His most famous work, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, sheds new light on the road to and after a potential Brexit.
Hirschman put forward the idea that members who aren’t happy with an organisation, can either exit or try to change its course by voicing their qualms – clearly relevant as we approach the EU referendum. Whether you go ahead and leave comes down to how easy that exit will be; it is considerably less costly to leave a Scrabble club than it is to leave your family, your street gang, or for that matter your vast politico-economic union some 60 years in the making. The easier the exit, the less likely you are to bother voicing your concerns.
The political economist demonstrated his theory using the hippie movement and corporate shareholders, but the original idea occurred to him while riding trains in Nigeria. They were in a lamentable condition, precisely because the people most likely to voice their concerns were the first to switch to buses and trucks. Exit was just too easy, and nothing changed.