I was a student of Professor Albert O Hirschman at Harvard in the late 1960s. First at Harvard’s Kennedy School and later at the University’s Economics Department, Professor Hirschman taught me development economics. He was a pioneer in that area of economics, one of the few economists who developed the discipline but was not awarded the Nobel Prize. He was not recognised for the reason that it was difficult to pin down his specialty: was he an economist or a political scientist; an anthropologist or a sociologist; a historian or a philosopher. Professor Hirschman died a few days ago, in New Jersey, at the age of 97. His last affiliation in the academia was with the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton University that was made famous by Albert Einstein, the scientist who changed physics and the way we know the world today.
When I was a student of Professor Hirschman’s, he was working on a book that was to have a profound influence on several disciplines. In the several discussions I had with him then, I talked about Pakistan. At that time, the prevailing wisdom at Harvard was that Pakistan under president Ayub Khan had found the road to economic success. Hirschman did not buy that conclusion. He believed that an inflexible political system did not have the capacity to absorb discontent when it surfaced. His book titled Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organisations and States appeared in 1970 and dealt with the subject of alienation and some possible reactions to it. If people are unhappy with the situation they are in, asked Hirschman, how do they normally respond? This question became extraordinarily relevant with the launch of the Arab Spring in 2011. It is also tremendously relevant for today’s Pakistan.