Albert O. Hirschman


I am embarrassed to say that I had not realized that Albert O. Hirschman was still among the living as of late 2012. His work has been so important a part of the world's intellectual and moral framework for as long as I can remember that I had assumed that he -- like FDR, like Louis Brandeis, like George C. Marshall, like name-your-other-consequential-figure from public life -- couldn't really have been part of the same world that contained Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, or name-your-other current attention-getter.

But Albert O. Hirschman, who was born in Berlin when it was the capital of Kaiser Wilhelm's imperial Germany, reportedly died today at age 97. I'll try to say more later, but for now I just have time to note his loss and to say: the best way to understand and recognize his life's achievement is to read his short book published in 1970, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. It is about the individual's options, and responsibilities, when one is part of an organization that is doing "the wrong thing" -- a business that is failing, a government that is betraying its people, any group embarked on a strategy that seems destined for grave error. The options he lays out have surprising value and resonance through the years, and across different types of organizations facing different sorts of decline. I appreciate his life and achievements and am sorry to hear of his death.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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