Elections and the use of Exit, Voice, and Complacency
How citizens react to social unrest

A few years ago, I came across Albert Hirschman’s book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty which described what he saw as the three primary responses one can take when faced with goods and services that declined in quality. Being an economist, Hirschman drew upon several examples of how these three decisions continually impact markets, politics, emigrations, and many other contentious relationships around the world.

Exit, Voice, and Complacency is my extension of Hirschman’s incredible work, but with a few different perspectives. And although I have tweaked and added a few concepts to make the framework more flexible, the premise is very similar: when faced with a relationship that has declined in quality, you have three primary options to take: you can either make your objections known in hopes of improving the situation (voice), you can end the relationship in hopes of finding a better alternative that meets what you’re looking for (exit), or you can remain idle and accept the deterioration as it stands (complacency).

I’ve come to use this framework when thinking about many types of relationships between almost any two entities. For example, the connection can be between a government and its citizens, a company and its customers, a manager and their employees, a recruiter and their candidates, or a parent and their children. And the declining good or service may be a policy that affects its citizens adversely, an interaction an employee/candidate finds distasteful, or a product that no longer satisfies a consumer’s needs.

Although those were all hierarchical examples where one entity can be seen as having more authority than the other, there doesn’t have to be a hierarchy to use the framework. EVC can also be useful in thinking about how nations collaborate with other nations, how companies do business with other companies, and even how friends resolve issues with other friends.

I’ll be writing more about EVC and how I’ve come to use the framework in various situations. But I think the current events around the United States and the upcoming presidential elections provides a perfect example of how EVC can be used to simplify and breakdown the decisions we citizens face: we can be complacent and just accept how unpleasant things are. We can exit and seek citizenship in a different country. Or we can make our voices heard and vote.

Citizens who are discontent enough to refuse complacency, yet can’t think of denouncing their citizenship and moving to a different country are left with but one option: voice. And elections are one of the exact mechanisms created to facilitate that voice and evoke change.[1]

EVC can be applied to many scenarios and I’d encourage you to try it out to gain perspective when encountering challenging relationships. But in particular, if you’re a US citizen of voting age and haven’t made up your mind on where you stand, I’d doubly encourage you to try out the framework when deciding what to do on election day regarding the current plight of the US.

[1] There are certainly more creative options to evoke change — especially given more time, resources, and thought — that'll write about in the future, but the relevant one to Nov. 3 is certainly the election.