Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Participate in the Political Process?

Two economists have discussed why people participate in political processes.  Both books were published in 1970, around when college students were demonstrating at Columbia, Kent State and elsewhere.  The first, Albert O. Hirschman in his book Exit, Voice and Loyalty suggests that there are two alternative methods of expressing dissatisfaction.  Exit is market behavior. If you don't like a pizzeria's pizza, stop going. You exit without voicing disapproval.  In contrast, people often voice complaints.  For instance, my sister was unhappy with her phone service. She complained. When that didn't work she went to the Public Service Commission.  Would she have gone to the Public Service Commission about a pizza?  I doubt it because there is a free market in pizza but a monopoly in her phone service.

Hirschman outlines the times when voice supersedes exit, one of which is monopoly.  Labor theorists have applied this to labor unions.  By establishing elements of monopoly in the workplace, unions have two faces, a monopoly face and a voice face (see What Do Unions Do? by R. Freeman and J. Medoff).  In Hirschman's view, creation of loyalty makes people more likely to use voice rather than exit.  Loyalty is equivalent to what business strategists call differentiation.  If you're loyal you protest because protest costs resources and loyalty increases protest's benefits.

Kenneth E. Boulding's idea with respect to protest hasn't received as much publicity as Hirschman's.  In Economics as a Science  (pp. 82-5) Boulding claims that there are two kinds of discontent, personal and political.   "Personal discontent with a location drives a man to migrate rather than to press for urban renewal.  Personal discontent with existing income drives a man to try new occupations."   Political discontent, in contrast, involves effort to change the political system.

Boulding argues the person with personal discontent is not likely to be politically active and is likely to see political activity as detrimental to his ambition.  In contrast, the politically active person "the revolutionary, the alienated, the dissident, whether of left or right, is apt to be either a middle aged person who has failed in the satisfaction of his personal discontent and become stuck in a location, an occupation or even a marriage from which he cannot escape and which he finds undesirable, or a young person who has found the competitive 'rat race' of the educational and economic establishment too much for him and has decided hat he wil get more satisfaction out of trying to change the system.  It is at least a plausible hypothesis that in social situations where personal discontent is frequently frustrated, economic development is slow and there are rigid class structures and caste structures that prohibit upward mobility, discontent is more likely to take a political form.   On the other hand, it is also true that in rigid and oppressive societies in which political discontent is brutally suppressed and the chances of political change seem poor people get discouraged from political action and tend to express their discontent in private mobility."  

Hirschman's model predicts that those most loyal to the US will protest its decline.  Boulding's model suggests that as opportunity declines protests will be more frequent as more and more Americans face, as I did in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, declining economic opportunity as the more vibrant firms exit a United States increasingly dominated by privileged special interests and financial institutions.

1 comment:

Doug Plumb said...

I've had many discussions regarding voting and the right to vote with fellow Canadians. The reason people vote, up here at least, has been unanimous, that is a moral obligation.

Those who do not vote do not have the right to complain and must accept the will of the majority without complaint.

But these views are of ignorance. Voting, when knowing that the system is a lie, makes you liable to it.

Voting is analogous to walking into a Wallmart, promising to buy their goods knowing they are the cheapest around yet complaining that prices are too high. If you don't think the prices are fair - don't buy the goods.

We confuse our governments with the land we stand on. Do what Dorothy did - throw a pail of water on the Wicked Witch of the West and watch it disappear. Stop being liable to the international banksters and their currency which has no substance and no oath and therefore no actual value.