NEW YORK — Albert O. Hirschman, 97, who helped rescue thousands of artists and intellectuals from Nazi-occupied France and went on to become an influential economist known for his optimism, died Dec. 10 in Ewing Township, N.J.
His death was confirmed by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., where Dr. Hirschman spent the latter part of his career.
Dr. Hirschman pieced together his graduate work in economics in the 1930s while serving as a soldier and something of an insurgent. Born in Germany, he fought on the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War and joined the French Army in its resistance to the Nazis.
When France fell in 1940, he became an integral part of a rescue operation led by the journalist Varian Fry that helped more than 2,000 people escape to Spain, among them the artists Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp and the political theorist Hannah Arendt.
Dr. Hirschman found routes through the Pyrenees for those fleeing and smuggled messages in toothpaste tubes.
By the early 1940s, he had moved to the United States and enlisted in the Army, which sent him to North Africa and to Italy as part of its Office of Strategic Services. One of his duties was to translate for a German general in an early war crimes trial. Later, he worked with the Federal Reserve Board, focusing on European reconstruction under the Marshall Plan.
In 1952, he moved to Colombia to be an economic adviser to that impoverished but rapidly developing country. A few years later, he began a 30-year academic career in which he blended economics, politics, and culture and held posts at Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. He rarely invoked the experiences of his youth, but themes persisted.
Dr. Hirschman argued that social setbacks were essentially an ingredient of progress, that good thingscome from what he viewed as constructive tensions between private interest and civic-mindedness, between quiet compliance and loud protest.
He ranged widely in his writings, which include geographically specific studies on economic development, like ‘‘Journeys Toward Progress: Studies of Economic Policy-Making in Latin America.’’ A broader work was “Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States.”
The book outlined ways people deal with disagreeable rules or situations politically, culturally, or professionally. Some suffer silently out of loyalty, others raise questions, and still others abandon a situation. The theory has been applied to how politically oppressed people flee a nation as well as why shoppers stop buying a product — a retail variation of what Hirschman called the ‘‘exit option.’’
In 2003, William Safire led an informal search for the roots of the phrase ‘‘exit strategy.’’ The search led to economists, who pointed to Dr. Hirschman, who denied culpability, sort of.
‘‘Did he coin the phrase?’’ Safire wrote after interviewing Dr. Hirschman. ‘‘No; it’s nowhere in his book. He used exit option. ‘It was a somewhat new concept then,’ Hirschman recalls. ‘I used exit to indicate a possibility, a strategy. When you are dissatisfied, you can use your voice option or your exit option. It is not so different from the political use today. Speak up or get out.’ ’’