Justice and the Problem of Exit
In this paper, I will draw upon the concepts of exit and voice, as developed within Albert Hirschman’s 1970 work of economic analysis, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states, to focus attention upon a particular problem faced by the Rawlsian conception of justice. I will suggest that Rawls’ conception of justice may be regarded as an idealised version of the voice concept, of seeking to improve an organisation from within. Meanwhile, libertarian and classical liberal ideas of justice, such as that outlined by Nozick, may be characterised as being based upon an idealisation of exit, with proposed arrangements compared against all conceivable alternatives. I will argue that, while the concept of voice seems more intuitively appealing as a base for considering the fairness of social relations, there remains an associated problem of exit: the feasibility of a scheme of just social cooperation is dependent upon the assumption that cooperators will not leave to seek an alternative elsewhere. Although noting that the threat of exit may, at times, be overstated for bargaining purposes, I maintain that increased migratory potential poses a significant threat to the viability of egalitarian statist conceptions of justice, such as that outlined by Rawls. I will argue that the best way for Rawlsians to respond to the problem of exit is by turning to Hirschman’s third concept – loyalty. What is required is a better understanding of when exit is a permissible option, and of when we have a duty to remain loyal, even if this is at personal cost.