Using an interdisciplinary approach unusual for economists, Albert Hirschman has been an iconoclastic pathbreaker on the subject of economic development, never hesitating to step outside his discipline. His original concepts, including that of “exit, voice and loyalty” or “backward and forward linkages,” describe the political-economic stream, and have changed the landscape of the social sciences.
Born in Berlin in 1915, he lived and studied there until 1933, then went to France, where he eventually became part of the resistance to the 1940 Nazi occupation. In 1941, he came to the United States, remaining here as a naturalized citizen and a distinguished scholar and teacher.
With a focus on the field of economics and politics in developing countries, he is the author of an influential and controversial book, The Strategy of Economic Development, which outlined his disagreements with major figures in the field. Since its publication in 1958, that book has been reprinted and translated into ten languages, including Indonesian, Bengali, and Korean. His countless professional articles and other books are also significant. Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) is an elegant and profound rethinking of individual choice within institutions or organizations. A Bias for Hope: Essays on Development and Latin America (1971) encapsulates in its title the author’s optimism.
During his long and varied career, Hirschman has worked as an economist with the Federal Reserve Board; as an economic adviser in Bogotá, Colombia; and as a professor at Yale, Columbia, and then at Harvard, where he was the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy. In 1975, he joined the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, becoming emeritus in 1985.
Hirschman’s work has been the subject of numerous symposia and has won him many prizes and honors, including the 1983 Talcott Parsons Prize for Social Science from the American Academy of Sciences, the 1997-98 Toynbee Prize, and the 1998 Thomas Jefferson Medal, awarded by the American Philosophical Society.
Clearly impatient with the walls that divide disciplines and thinkers from each other, he has been described as a playful genius, someone who loves being unconventional. His latest book, published in 1998, is titled, appropriately, Crossing Boundaries.