Sir Oliver Hart public lecture

Exit vs Voice: The economics of socially responsible investment

Sir Oliver Hart presents a 2023 Trevor Swan Distinguished Lectures.

Hosted by The Australian National University Research School of Economics.

Sir Oliver studies the relative effectiveness of exit (divestment and boycott) and voice (engagement) strategies in a world where companies generate externalities and some agents care about the social impact of their decisions. He shows that if the majority of investors are even slightly socially responsible, voice achieves the socially optimal outcome. In contrast, exit does not unless everybody is significantly socially responsible. If the majority of investors are purely selfish, exit is a more effective strategy, but neither strategy generally achieves the first best. Sir Oliver also shows that exit can sometimes reduce social welfare.

Oliver Hart is currently the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1993. He is the 2016 co-recipient of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, a Fellow of the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Finance Association, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and has several honorary degrees. Hart works mainly on contract theory, the theory of the firm, corporate finance, and law and economics. His research centers on the roles that ownership structure and contractual arrangements play in the governance and boundaries of corporations. He has published a book (Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure, Oxford University Press, 1995) and numerous journal articles. He has used his theoretical work on firms in two legal cases as a government expert (Black and Decker v. U.S.A. and WFC Holdings Corp. (Wells Fargo) v. U.S.A.). He has been president of the American Law and Economics Association and a vice president of the American Economic Association.