Albert Hirschman has died

by Henry on December 11, 2012

News via Dani Rodrik on Twitter. He was a great economist, whose influence was nonetheless far greater outside his academic specialization than inside it. I am almost certainly unworthy to comment on his work, but here you go anyway. Exit, Voice and Loyalty is the book that will be remembered, but his essays gathered in Rival Views of Market Society and other volumes glistened with insights and were wonderfully written to boot. His book on National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade, which turned his empirical work on how the Nazis reshaped trade relations to their own advantage is less widely read than it deserves to be, because it is so hard to get, but nonetheless had substantial influence on the field of international relations. I don’t know enough to say much about his work on development, except that people who know more than me took it seriously. He deserves a good biography – his life was nearly as extraordinary as his thought.



Nils Gilman 12.11.12 at 6:39 pm

I don’t know if the biography is good, but there is one forthcoming:


Kieran Healy 12.11.12 at 7:06 pm

When I was a first year graduate student I went to a small interdisciplinary conference. One of the panels featured an Assistant or young Associate Professor whose paper was, in part, a critique of Hirschman’s work on development. The tone of his contribution, as he began to read it out, was perhaps a little snarky—not extremely rude, but certainly there was a bit of eyerolling going on.

About five minutes into the presentation the door opened and an elderly man shuffled in slowly, to a general sussuration of comment. Incongruously, the closest free seat—which he was quickly offered, and sat down in—was adjacent to the presenter. The speaker continued for a minute or two more, with a couple of additional critical zingers being delivered with decreasing relish. Eventually he sort of came to a halt, and glanced to his right. “You know, when you write this stuff,” he said, “you don’t really imagine you’ll be sitting next to Albert Hirschman”. Hirschman waved him on, smiled and said “Oh, please continue, by all means.”


Colin Danby 12.11.12 at 7:28 pm

Here are a couple of papers with more on Hirschman’s development economics:

Carlos Mallorquín, “Theoretical misrecognitions as the source of Development theory Déjá vú”

Juan Pablo Couyoumdjian, “Albert Hirschman on the Political Economy of ‘Visiting-Economists’”

Hirschman’s work was distinguished by a serious interest in Latin American history and institutions, and in the writings of scholars in the region.


Jonathan Gilligan 12.11.12 at 8:37 pm

Exit Voice and Loyalty is his famous book, but The Rhetoric of Reaction had a much bigger impact on me. And I have always loved his essay, “The Search for Paradigms as a Hindrance to Understanding,” World Politics 22, 329 (1970).


Matt 12.11.12 at 9:09 pm

is book on National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade, … is less widely read than it deserves to be, because it is so hard to get

If you act quickly, you can get it used on Amazon for between $48 and $240 dollars (8 copies available. If you get it for $239, it’s available with free shipping for Prime members!) It sounds very interesting, but it’s too expensive for me, even on the low end, so I’ll let others buy it. (I wish interesting books were more available quite often.)


Corey Robin 12.11.12 at 9:59 pm

I came to Hirschman via The Passions and the Interests. One of the first books I read in grad school on the taming of the classical view of politics (the passions) via a modern philosophy of interests. Though in some ways the story had been told before, the book was a great introduction (and guide) to two of Hirschman’s virtues: First, his economy of expression. The man could say more in a sentence than most of us could say in a chapter. So he was a real model to me as a writer. Second, his capacity for nuance and modulation. These are talents that are often praised in academia, but seldom observed — or if they are, it’s usually in the service of (as a proxy for) confusion and muddle-headedness. But Hirschman was the opposite of confused: he had laser-like clarity. After Passions, I read The Rhetoric of Reaction. I’m proud to say I still have my detailed notes on the book — even though I lost it years ago. Here he genuinely broke new ground, in part by linking early conservative writers to more contemporary critiques of the welfare state. And also in identifying those three canonical modes of argument (perversity, jeopardy, and futility). The most memorable and important point there, to me at any rate, was that the most powerful conservative argument is that of futility: I think he’s wrong on this point but it’s one of those errors that I have found endlessly generative and provocative.


The Iron-Tongued Devil 12.12.12 at 12:05 am

Rajiv Sethi has a characteristically thoughtful memorial.


LFC 12.12.12 at 2:35 am

I think of Hirschman not just as a great economist but as a great humanistic social scientist (if I can use that phrase), fittingly recognized by, among other things, a prize in his name given by the Social Science Research Council. The Passions and the Interests is superb, as Corey says, not only for its economy of expression but for the nuanced argument about how ‘interest’ developed as a sort of middle ground between the passions on one hand and, on the other hand, a ‘reason’ rooted in divine inspiration and/or natural law. (There is good stuff there, too, about some related notions in the history of ideas, e.g. ‘reason of state’ — unless you really have to, why read Meinecke’s 500 pages on that when you can read Hirschman’s 3 pages?) The other Hirschman book I read, long before reading ‘Passions,’ was Exit Voice and Loyalty (so long ago that I don’t remember it all that well — but it’s still on my shelf).


David Ellerman 12.12.12 at 5:51 pm

For an intellectual biography of AOH:
Meldolesi, Luca 1995. Discovering the Possible: The Surprising World of Albert O. Hirschman. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.


David Ellerman 12.12.12 at 6:09 pm

Krugman on Hirschman:
“In effect, Hirschman said that both the theorist and the practical policymaker could and should ignore the pressures to produce buttoned-down, mathematically consistent analyses and adopt instead a sort of muscular pragmatism in grappling with the problem of development. Along with some others, notably Gunnar Myrdal, Hirschman did not wait for intellectual exile: he proudly gathered up his followers and led them into the wilderness himself. Unfortunately, they perished there. ” Krugman, Paul 1994. The Fall and Rise of Development Economics. In Rethinking the Development Experience: Essays Provoked by the Work of Albert O. Hirschman. Lloyd Rodwin and Donald Schon ed., Washington: Brookings Institution: 39-58, p. 40.


LFC 12.13.12 at 12:21 am

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