Albert O. Hirschman passed away yesterday at the age of 97. Like Kenneth Boulding, Hirschmann is sort of an odd intellectual influence on my thinking. I was first introduced to Hirschman not as most are through his classic work, Exit, Voice and Loyalty (Harvard, 1970), but actually through a lesser known work, Essays in Trespassing (Cambridge, 1981) which Don Lavoie had me track down and read. Ideologically and analytically there was a lot for me to dislike in Hirschman, but his writing and style of argument were attractive. So for the next decade I read everything he wrote. Again a lesser known work caught my imagination at one point and I thought it would be great if I was this type of thinker, A Propensity for Self-Subversion (Harvard, 1998). Try as I might, I am not that subtle nor self-critical of a thinker to pull that style off.
Hirschman had a light pen and was easy to read, and yet he was talking about very deep issues. In 1992, I saw him at IAS give what I still consider one of the best seminar discussions I have ever attended on "Industrialization and Its Manifest Discontents: West, East and South." It is a brilliant mix of analytics, history, and humanities.
Over the years, I have taught repeatedly from what I is my favorite Hirschman book, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton, 1977). Again the combination of easy reading and deep thinking is a rare gift. For those of you who haven't read Hirschman, as we enter winter break and you have some time on your hands, sit down with Hirschman's books. They are short, well written, and they make you think hard about important issues. You will enjoy the disciplinary trespassing and the subverting style of reasoning.