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Language diversity vs. economics

September 4, 2011 – 8:48 am

The comments in a recent article went a little off topic. We were talking about translating certain modern words, then the discussion turned towards the language abilities of the general public and the economic value of a harmonized language landscape.

Aremonus wrote:

Are we to decadent and assertive to accept that our native language isn’t necessarily the most important in the world?

The by far most important language in todays world is English, and I’m sure most people coming from whatever country do understand that. However, accepting that English is the most important language, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone needs to learn English.

On the other hand, there are certain groups here, who really should. Last week there was an article in our local newspaper, where the local tourism organization lamented on the low number of international visitors. The reality is, you can’t buy a train ticket at a German train station in a small town using English. You can’t order a meal using English in a restaurant. I have witnessed a lot of incredible situations here, a city of about 20,000 inhabitants, where tourism is considered a major part of the local industry.

Aremonus wrote:

If I have to write laws [...] in 20 different languages

My mother tongue is German, but I don’t understand German legal speak. I can’t see changing the court language from German to English would benefit me in any way, despite having a solid grasp of the English language.

Aremonus wrote:

… costs …

During the last 10 years, in Germany, 50% of all wage earners got their wage reduced, when adjusted for inflation. That is despite an economic growth. During the last 10 years we have seen so many increases of productivity, increased GDP, yet 50% of all workers have to accept wage reductions. I have a very hard time understanding this. Why should those people support the companies to save costs by learning a common European language. Why should these people do that, when the end result will be a reduction in wages. The problem is simple: If we all speak the same language, not only your company will benefit, all companies will benefit equally. As soon as one company decides to put that saved money into marketing, the others will follow to stay competitive, the workers would gain nothing. You can’t ask the common people to do something, when they have nothing to gain. In fact, they would be stupid if they did learn one common language, just to fill the manager’s pockets. Pay them to learn and they will learn. Or did I miss something?

Looking at the topic from a non-commercial perspective…
Looking at the topic from a non-commercial perspective there are reasons to keep different languages and there are reasons to switch to one single language. Everyone has reasons, and everyone will prefer different points of view. Anyone is free to speak English or Chinese in public or at home or with friends. I don’t see a need for any discussion of what is the best way. The decision is up to the people and they can make a democratic decision at any time. When enough people in Germany speak English in everyday situations, then English will become an official language.

Justrecently wrote:

If we harmonized Europe with some kind of putong-english or putong-esperanto, this continent would become culturally and economically weaker, rather than stronger.

I agree.

  1. 4 Responses to “Language diversity vs. economics”

  2. @Law:
    If you don’t speak German law speak, it won’t matter if it is english either – both uhm… sociolects? heavily rely on latin expressions. For ordinary business people, however, it will be far easier to understand the laws in, say, Greece if they plan to open a company there.

    @decreasing wages:
    That’s the obvious results of the European Union and the globalization. Every German worker is in direct competition with eastern European and Chinese workers who live in countries where most things are cheaper than in Germany. That’s why the German workers are losing. But if we can make ordinary products cheaper here, both, workers and companies will be winning – although the trend won’t be stopped.

    For me, the solution for this dilemma is obvious: I need to be on the winning side, thus getting income from capital rather than from salaries. Therefore, I try to accumulate capital – by investing. At the moment, I’m investing in education, in my human capital – and perhaps in the future, I’ll invest in an enterprise.
    There’s always a winner in every game – and currently, the winners are those who are innovative. I’m not sure whether this is so bad after all – we already have everything here in the west and should focus on a higher goal than just consuming more.

    The decision is not up to the people, and that’s the problem: if a, say, American or a Chiense wants to live in Germany, he is forced to learn German by law. This stops many people from going to Germany – thus, much more talents leave Germany than come to Germany. This is a major challenge for German companies – 2000 scientists are just more innovative than 1000.

    By Aremonus on Sep 4, 2011

  3. Your example with opening in Greece makes sense. However I’m not sure how much of a show stopper the language factor really is. If I really want to open a shop in Greece, I could just buy “Greek Law for Dummies” and that will do.

    Yes, I play the same game. I invest into my education and hope by doing so, some day I can earn more money by doing less. And this will work out, I’m confident. But there is a problem to this. The system only works, when few other people learn what I am learning. SAP programming, leading a worldwide business, discovering new oil wells are all well paid jobs. But they are only that well paid, because very few people can do that.

    If a vast majority of the people can do a certain skill, then this skill is not paid anymore. Examples currently are reading, writing, basic math skills. Currently English is moving into this basic skillset. I’m not sure if we should include English into this basic skillset. If we do, everyone needs to learn English, but doesn’t get paid to do so. Adding one more skill doesn’t hurt, does it? But then we could add further skills to this basic unpaid skillset. SAP programming, Chinese, …

    My opinion is: We should not inflate this most basic skillset. If we start by adding one skill, it will only take a few years until we add another one. And this will just make life harder for everyone.

    Currently investing money has a great ROI potential and special skills have such potential. If absolutely everyone is highly skilled on a broad range of skills, only those holding capital will be able to earn big bucks and everyone else will be left behind.

    While I do care for myself the most, I still think society should be balanced. A huge income gap is not desirable at all.

    we already have everything here in the west and should focus on a higher goal than just consuming more.
    About a decade ago I thought, when productivity increases, the people have to work less and everyone will have more. Like in some sci-fi movie. But currently it seems like, a few people will have much more and the rest will just get so much, that they won’t start a riot. We are returning to the middle age, where royal family holds all the power and money, and the people just have to be thankful that the king only requests a 50% tax rate instead of a 75% tax rate. The only difference is, today kings are company bosses.

    By Hendrik on Sep 4, 2011

  4. Always remember: if you are educated, you already hold a considerable amount of capital. Although SAP programmers are well-paid, not everyone is taking the courses and buying the certificates from SAP. Although engineers, computer scientists, doctors and so on are really scarce in German speaking Europe, not many people are doing those educations.

    It’s right that we’ve already reached a certain education level in western Europe, but that won’t lead to less earnings – in contrary, educated people always want to be better, produce innovation and create more jobs. Those who only do tedious grunt work, however, won’t feel like innovating much…
    So I’m not worried about competition – there’s no need to.

    I also don’t share the notion that we absolutely have to work – you basically get everything you need to survive, even if you don’t work. The only thing you don’t get is fulfillment – and that’s a commodity that will always be scarce.

    The widening income gap, however, is a real problem in our contemporary world. The question is just, how to fight it. One way to do so would be stopping globalization, but I’d rather be not so rich than having millions of people starving in Asia. Another way would be to levy higher taxes, but that will just lead to new ways to people avoid taxes or, in the worst case, to less investments.

    From an economic point of view, the only viable solution for this issue is: time. If Asia and South America are also developed and work gets scarce there just like in Europe, salaries all around the world will raise quickly again and the rich will have to pay the workers more and more. So they will invest more into automatization and into Africa. It will be a nice world – but we shouldn’t try to stop investments into emerging economies now just to achieve this golden age in the West quickly while letting Asia fall apart again. I believe that we should develop the whole world, not just ten percent of its population.

    By Aremonus on Sep 4, 2011

  5. I’m not sure about getting enough money with little work.
    Yes, if I didn’t want any children, if I want to stay alone, then yes I don’t need to work much. However I do want children some day, and therefore I need money. The income question doesn’t have much to do with my personal happiness, it is connected to my future children.

    I agree, that all the countries all over the world should become developed nations. However, the demand for mid to lower educated people will not rise. And therefore their salaries will not rise at all.

    By Hendrik on Sep 7, 2011

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