Language and Economics

Education or catastrophe.

Was it HG Wells who said that human history becomes more and more a competition between education and catastrophe?

The USA, a nation with 50 federal states, is the leading industrial country in the world. To a large degree this is thanks to its economic system, but a significant contributing factor has also been that all the 50 states are English speaking and that this language has become the dominant international language as pertains to so well international political relations as business, technology and research.

An American does not have to spend years of his or her youth learning a foreign language, even if he or she wants to become an engineer or a scientist. Why should they? However, those who do not have English as their first language have to do so. This poses them at a great disadvantage to the native English speakers, who do not have to “waste their time” studying languages. Most of those not native English speakers, who have spent several years studying English, will not be able to understand everything when they read specialist literature in their areas or go to conferences held in English.

A Radical Solution

July 31st, 2003, an OECD report was published which emphasized that the EU-countries must invest in structural reforms to support economic recovery. According to the EU’s Lisbon Agenda, that was adopted in a summit in Mars 2000, the EU shall be the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in 2010, with a durable economic growth, more and better job-openings and a higher degree of social solidarity. Now, in April 2005, not much has happened. The difference in growth between e. g. the US and the EU has increased, not decreased, and the goal of an employment of 70 % seems to be very far-away. The average yearly GNP between 1992 and 2002 was in the euro-area 1,9% compared with 3,3% in the US. The OECD predicts that the disparity will increase in the years to come. 1,7% for the Euro-area, 3,6% in the US and 8,8% in China. The OECD warned that if that ambition was to be fulfilled; much more radical changes would have to be made. My comment is that a truly radical solution would be to introduce a common working language for the EU. Of course, that is not enough. The EU needs e.g. a remodelling of the systems of taxation and more research. Only then would the Union have the opportunity to become a strong economically integrated unity. Then the communication barriers between Polish, Swedish and English engineers and managing directors would disappear. Even if it may take a few decades before the EU had completely moved towards a common language, the change would be much swifter in the economic sector, thanks to the greater economical incitements that such a change holds there. To have a common working language in an economic union is much more important than having a common currency, even if this too is important. Dear Politician, you have the responsibility for our Economy. Take it.

History is important too

Regardless of how many years of language studies we put young people through, this disadvantage will not only remain but will increase, due to an accelerating technological development in a world that is becoming more and more complex. Several of the years our students are forced to spend studying languages could instead be devoted to vocational training and to studying history, economics, literature and mathematics or in work. Language skills will become even more important for future generations. But future generations will be equipped with brains that are as restricted as those of today. How will they face this challenge? If our politicians are willing too, the problem can be swiftly resolved. There is already an international language that is very easy to learn. If the politicians in the EU and the UN would make this language the working language of their organizations, it would soon become the common world-language for international communication and science. Somebody just has to start the process.

Education levels are probably the most important explanation for differences in economic growth among countries with similar political systems. This means that if the youth of one country has to spend a total of two years of their schooling studying English in order to be ready for the job market, countries where the young have English as their mother tongue will achieve a higher level of economic development.

There are of course other factors that are important to economic growth, such as freedom from corruption, good infrastructure, stable rules for the market, a high level of investment and the price level as compared to that of competing countries.

Failed International business

Whether we like it or not, we have to accept that purely national economies no longer exists and that we are moving towards a growingly integrated global economy. Trade between countries requires communication between the seller and the buyer, which in turn requires a language that they both understand well enough to prevent misunderstandings. How many business deals have not been made between for instance Swedish and Japanese businessmen who happen to both speak not enough good English? According to the international lawyer firm Baker McKenzie (with offices in 35 countries) misunderstandings are the most likely cause behind failed international business.

The confusion of languages obstructs the trade among countries and translations costs vast sums. Money that in the very end the households of the world are bound to pay. The confusion of tongues every year costs the people of the world billions of dollars. Do you want a change?

Poor Countries Cannot Afford Bad Deals

Poor countries should not have to make bad international business deals because of weak language skills.

If the youth around the world are taught Esperanto in school instead of spending several years studying one or several languages that most of them will never master, there will be time available for them to learn other subjects that are of direct importance to their countries economy, which in turn will lead to a rise in the general level of education and standard of living. There will also be time left for further studies of history and one’s own language, which I consider to be very important.

Studies have shown that trade and investments increase between areas that have a common language. In a future EU where everyone masters both their own language and Esperanto, there will be no language barriers, despite the fact that Esperanto will not supplant any native languages. This will undoubtedly promote trade, investments and wealth.

The International Language of All Free Peoples

Only the rulers of totalitarian regimes have reason to fear the cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts and the international solidarity that would arise if all the people of the world could communicate freely. Of course the people under totalitarian regime will initially be kept from learning the common international language of all free people but no country can manage without international communication. Furthermore, Esperanto is so easy to learn that people wanting information will learn it whether permitted or not.

A more general use of Esperanto will give a swifter spread of new knowledge, and new technology will be assimilated quicker. Learning and science are promoted if students and scientists can retrieve information from wider areas than just their own language zone. A large group of scientists today only speak their mother tongue; French, English, Chinese, Russian or Spanish etc.

An Improved Situation for Everyone – it is True!

If we all inhabitants of the world can communicate, the life situation will improve for everyone. However, should a national language become the common international language this would not be the case, as this would amount to a linguistic imperialism that would make many national languages extinct. This would also equalize cultures across the world, which would result in national discontent and political unrest worldwide.

If the EU chooses Esperanto as its official language it will be a huge benefit for poorer countries as their schoolchildren can learn Esperanto much quicker and at a lower cost than any other language. This will help a global dissemination of welfare-raising technology. It is not enough that a handful of engineers in the capital can use the new technology if it is to gain ground in a country.

Twenty times As Many Languages

Having Esperanto as an international language would also bring more international contacts, not least for the poorer countries. Keep in mind that in for instance Africa, there are twenty times as many languages spoken as there are in the EU (approx 2000 compared to approx 100). The Africans have not agreed on a common language for their intra-continental contacts. Many in Africa are positive towards Esperanto.

It's better to be rich and healty than poor and sick

If we can agree on a common language that is easy to learn, this will have a great impact on the public health in all countries of the world.

Let me explain.

Such a language would promote the knowledge about the human rights among all countries of the world. (See above.) The human rights must be met if well-being and good health are going to exist in a country. The right to health cannot be segregated from other rights.

A common international language will further a rapid spreading of new medical technology to all countries of the world and promote and cheapen the education and further training of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

A common international language will promote the economical growth of all countries. Economy and social development are important determinants for the state of health in a country. But there is interplay. An effective medical service will promote the economy of a country. And when a country gets a better economy it can build up an infrastructure which will promote the state of health of the inhabitants which in turn will promote the economy and so forth.

With infrastructure is meant functioning schools, roads, railways, airports, harbours, power stations, power networks, water supply, waste disposal, telephone systems and so on.

© Hans Malv, 2004