Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Got to agree to be angry 

Few thoughts rambling around from reading this week -- isn't vacation grand?

I ended up writing in macroeconomics and political economy largely from a single course in 1980 that had four books of great influence to me. One was a reader; the other three were Buchanan and Wagner's Democracy in Deficit, Olson's The Logic of Collective Action, and Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty. I still have all four books from that class. Buchanan got his Nobel, Olson I believe would have had he lived longer, and I agree with Tyler Cowen that Hirschman should get one.

Hirschman first suggested voice gets stronger and more effective when exit is limited. In his (earlier) vision, if you can leave you won't complain. Fidel Castro understood this and let many Cubans go, although of course they complained from Florida. It is sometimes suggested that in a world of school vouchers fewer parents would show up at the school board meeting. Don't yap, just yank your kid.

In reality voice often works best when competitive pressures are strong. HBO is more responsive than was East Germany. You are not wasting your time to complain at Wegman's, or for that matter at this blog. Competition and voice are more likely complements than substitutes. Hirschman admitted and indeed emphasized this point in his later writings.

As far as I know, no one has solved for the proper conditions for when voice is effective. Here is one recent model. The general problem is that the motives for voice are poorly understood.

"The motives for voice". I find myself thinking about that a lot these days: Why do we stay involved in our departments, our jobs, our politics, our churches -- why do we use our voices in cases where exit is easy (complements rather than substitutes)? That's playing in my head with a passage from Ephesians 4 that was the basis of my pastor's sermon this week:
26-27Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry�but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

29Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
The word that I come to in both situations is 'authentic'. Voice which is sincere rather than strategic would seem to be a division between motives where voice works and doesn't work. It would seem to me that good leadership in an organization is one that values authenticity in the voice of one's members as a gift and discourages strategic behaviors that are foul or dirty.

Voice also shows up in some of my pleasure reading this summer, specifically Alan Furst's new novel, The Foreign Correspondent. Long-time readers of Scholars will know he's my favorite spy novelist. It's a story about Italian emirgres in 1938 Paris writing a clandestine paper for distribution in Mussolini's Italy. The emigres had all three qualities of exit, voice and loyalty exhibited in their behavior, but for many others there was voice through little acts against the growing fascist state and its OVRA enforcers. It is interesting that what captures me in reading Furst as well is the authenticity of the actions of the protagonists like Wiesz; Furst's heroes are seldom people who are clever liars -- that might be why I like his heroes better than, say, LeCarre's.

(By the way, this has been the Summer of OVRA in my pleasure reading, having finally read Eric Ambler's Cause for Alarm just before Furst. Ambler's long bibliography keeps me going between Furst's offerings these days.)