Sunday, February 3, 2013

Tribute to Albert Hirschman

Nowadays, there is a shortage of great thinkers with a sort of vision embracing different disciplines and areas of research. Albert Hirschman was perhaps one of the last great thinkers of the twentieth century. He was also a free thinker in the sense that he has never been tied up to any ideology. for over half a century, he was a living conscience for an entire generation of social scientists. Trespassing is perhaps the word which best characterizes his lifetime work.

He was an influential economist who wrote several books and articles on political economy.  His first major contribution was in the area of development economics where he emphasized the need for unbalanced growth. Like in F. Perroux's growth pole theory, he thought that industries with strong linkages with other industries should be encouraged. 

His later work was in political economy and there he advanced two simple but intellectually powerful ideas. The first describes the three basic possible responses to decline in firms : exit, voice and loyalty. The second describes the basic arguments made by conservatives: perversity, futility and jeopardy, in The Rhetoric of Reaction

But there is an intrinsic unity in all his work which is conducive to a deep reflection on the problem of development. He wrote: “ In dealing with the multiple and complex problems of development we have learnt that we must fashion generalizations at all kinds of ranges and be deaf, like Ulysses, to the seductive chant of the unique paradigm ”.

As the Economist pointed out, "Hirschman's exit will not silence his voice".

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