12/14/2012 12:33 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Magnificent Trespasser

Albert Hirschman, an economist who became one of the greatest of the 20th century's moral philosophers, died Tuesday at age 97. Hirschman's intellectual odyssey took him from the study of Eastern European economies under Hitler to work as a development economist for the Federal Reserve Board, then in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, as an adviser to the Colombian Planning Ministry, and then to engagement with the enduring questions of economy and society from the 1970s until illness suspended his active life. Along the way he taught at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

To the extent that Hirschman is widely known today, it is mainly though a small book with a puzzling title, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, written in 1970. The book has a huge following among social scientists, mainly outside of Hirschman's own profession of economics. His basic insight is elegant, simple and original. Citizens and consumers have two basic ways of responding when they find anything from a product, politician, neighbor, or nation unsatisfactory. They can vote with their feet (exit) or stick around and provide constructive feedback (voice).

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