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Exit option vs. voice option

Jan 14,2019
Ruling party lawmaker Sohn Hye-won, left, insulted former Finance Ministry official Shin Jae-min for his whistle-blowing.
Ruling party lawmaker Sohn Hye-won, left, insulted former Finance Ministry official Shin Jae-min for his whistle-blowing.
The author is a deputy financial news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

If a monk doesn’t like the temple, he needs to leave. Consumers can easily make the decision: if products from a certain company boast problems or low quality, consumers can choose products from another company. But the dilemma is more complicated for an employee or a member of an organization. There can be restraints that are not easy to break, such as family or nation. Options can be rather simple: be silent or resist.

Economist Albert Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” discusses this issue. It offers either the “exit option” or the “voice option.” The exit option involves not resisting the situation or the system; instead, simply ignore it and find an exit. It is a passive way of raising an issue by warning the organization via an exit. Conversely, the voice option literally refers to protesting change and attempting to put the system back on track. If you choose neither exit nor voice, you become a loyalist seeking a recovery plan while remaining within the system or organization by weathering the situation. If you advocates for change but receive no response, the last resort is to leave.

The exit and voice options came to mind because of the plea that the college friends of former bureaucrat-turned-YouTuber Shin Jae-min issued on Jan. 3. Shin raised allegations of the Blue House’s involvement in forcefully changing the head of KT&G, a private-run tobacco and ginseng company — of which the government has the largest stake — and the Finance Ministry’s alleged attempt to issue debt-financing treasury bonds to raise the level of government debts under the Park Geun-hye administration.

Regarding his controversial claims, his friends said they think people can have different views and they do not necessarily agree with him. But they defended Shin by saying he left his job and made a challenge, albeit reckless, to raise an alarm over the system.

The plea suggests that Shin used the voice option. The issues he raised are controversial and highly volatile. As critics say, his claims could be groundless, and their validity must be verified. But ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Sohn Hye-won and some critics responded immaturely — they have demonstrated an overly emotional reaction.

As such, our choices are to either shut our eyes or simply give up rather than protest or resist the system. Society still seems to encourage the exit option. Again, if a monk doesn’t like the temple, he can leave — yet in our culture, those who remain demand he leave the temple quietly.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 31