[lg policy] 33 Comments on yesterday's article on "Language and the Socialist-Calculation Problem"

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 11 15:05:34 UTC 2010

Source link: http://blog.mises.org/13822/language-and-the-socialist-calculation-problem/
Language and the Socialist-Calculation Problem

September 7, 2010 by Mises Daily

Language policy is a perfect example of the socialist-calculation
problem. Governments necessarily adopt nonoptimal language policies.
They are incentivized to violate the rights of minority-language
speakers and support fewer languages rather than more. FULL ARTICLE by
Danny Hieber: http://mises.org/daily/4687

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Seattle September 7, 2010 at 9:18 am

    An absolutely fantastic article. It’s also nice to see austrian
analysis applied to something other than monetary policy for a change.

Jkillz September 7, 2010 at 9:39 am

    As someone who lives in Asia, where the fever of learning English
for the purpose of engaging in the globalized economy is at a pitch, I
greatly appreciate this article. I have pondered this question — about
the state’s involvement in languages — only a little, but have
recurrently been troubled by the problem.

    Fantastic article.

    Russ the Apostate September 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

        I’ve recently heard rumors that Japan is thinking about
simplifying the kanji, or going to Romaji (Roman alphabet) altogether,
to make the language easier to learn and thus make it easier to
attract “guest workers” to prop up the social system. Any truth in

        Jkillz September 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm

            Not sure, honestly, as I live on the mainland. But it
wouldn’t surprise me. There’s been a big push for side-by-side
Romanized transliteration and the native languages of the major Asian
economies (usually Korea, China, and Japan) in all public
transportation. How far this extends, especially in public schools,
I’m not sure.

        Peter September 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm

            That would certainly be counterproductive, ISTM. It’s much
easier to learn Japanese using kanji, or even kana, than romaji.

Allen Weingarten September 7, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Languages within a country are best left to private choice.
However, that does not require a government to accommodate many
languages. For example, at a traffic alteration, the police should not
be obligated to communicate with any of a hundred possible languages.
Nor should schools, at public expense, have to accommodate many


    Seattle September 7, 2010 at 10:35 am

        When a Government makes a decision about the number of
languages to accommodate they distort the “language market.” Public
schools only teaching in English is but just one example. The solution
is to get rid of the state itself.


        Allen Weingarten September 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

            So is your view that until we get rid of the state our
schools should accommodate many languages?


            J. Murray September 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

                No, we should get rid of the state schools. They’ll
then determine which language(s) to use.


                Allen Weingarten September 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm

                    So are you saying that until you get rid of the
schools that we leave things as they are, or change them till then?


                    North September 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm

                        I think he’s saying that you cannot “know”
until you remove the distortion. That’s the whole socialist
calculation debate in a nutshell.

                        You try for an optimal solution under
government mandate, but you have no way of knowing what is right. Your
guess is as good a theirs.

                        The profit and loss system lets you “know”
what is optimal (or at the very least hits you with a loss every time
you get it wrong).

                        The solution of eliminating the state is his
suggestion to add an objective measure. Instead of randomly guessing
in the dark (which the state is already doing anyway)

                    J. Murray September 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

                        North nailed it perfectly. The state school
CANNOT provide the right number of languages because it simply is
unable to know what the right amount is. The solution IS to get rid of
the state school, not to find ways to fix a system that cannot be

    J. Murray September 7, 2010 at 11:07 am

        You’ve just assumed the police are a valid function of
government. Especially the traffic variety, which aren’t in place for
safety but as a method to extract resources from the public for State


        Allen Weingarten September 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

            There has not been such an assumption, but rather the need
to address what exists. Are you saying that if a doctor is treating an
ailment, he ought instead address how it should not have occurred?


            Dave Albin September 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm

                Any good doctor should address preventive measures, to
keep the ailment from happening again. Or, read about it yourself…..


                Allen Weingarten September 7, 2010 at 5:29 pm

                    Dave, there is no question about the need for
prevention, but do you believe that you responded to the question as
to whether or not the doctor should treat the ailment as well?


                    North September 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

                        Your doctor example assumes the patient
continues the self inflict damage. It’s valid to some extent but think
of a heroin addict to really flesh out this argument (not that this
invalidates your argument, it just add a concrete perspective).

                        As far as I know doctors typically advise
patients to avoid copious amount of street drugs such as heroin. If a
patient continues the general advice is to, at the very least, refrain
from sharing needles (the two behaviours have been known to correlate,
and positivist doctors find the advice relevant and helpful).

                        The doctor’s advice is not to continue using
street drugs and use up public dollars for treatment, their advice is
to stop causing the damage in the first place. To relate this to the
school discussion, look at why no one knows the optimal language mix
and then eliminate the cause.

                        You are asking them to assume the cause will
never be eliminated, in the case of the school system. In the doctor
example I gave, not all doctors will treat a patient who continues to
self inflict damage like that to their body. Some will, and they’ll
offer advice on clean needle use until the patient is ready to kick
the habit. But others will refuse to treat (refer the patient
elsewhere) so they are not enabling the patient’s bad health choices.

                        Some economists refuse to give advice when
individuals or groups of individuals refuse to treat the cause of
their problems. If a group of people are addicted to bad economic
policy (printing money like bandits for example), the advice is to
stop the bad behaviour.

                        “Assuming” the poor behaviour will not end and
asking whether or not, for example, tarot cards are superior to
econometric modeling is as irrelevant to some economists as asking
some doctors if clean needles are superior to dirty needles.

                        The commenters here have reiterated the core
problem, as far as they can evaluate it. If you’re hooked on the
cause, perhaps come back to them once you’ve kicked the habit and
they’ll have advice you want to hear. Or seek treatment that will let
you stick to your addiction until you are ready to quit, but this line
of questioning requires different phrasing.

            J. Murray September 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

                Doctors only provide advice. My doctor can’t fine me
and throw me in prison for refusing to take a prescription medication
or deciding against a surgery. Police provide orders. Two different
beasts entirely.


David C September 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Most states can’t even respect their “official” language. They
keep trying to redefine what things like property, contract, freedom,
and rule of law mean. IMHO, their efforts to destroy their “official”
languages are as relentless as their effort to destroy the non
official ones.


    J. Murray September 7, 2010 at 11:40 am

        Very true. Whatever it is that lawyers speak clearly isn’t English.


        Sione September 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

            Lawyers, politicians, spokespeople, media reps,
bureaucrats, etc…. seem to have vested interest in conveying feelings
without communicating fact, without addressing ideas.


Sean September 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Great article! It is great to see praxeology applied to good other
than those typically treated in economics (as someone else has already

Ohhh Henry September 8, 2010 at 12:13 am

        … Governments necessarily adopt nonoptimal language policies.
They are incentivized to violate the rights of minority language
speakers and support fewer languages rather than more … the state is
not highly incentivized to recognize minority languages. Running a
multilingual government is a logistical nightmare (just ask India),
and multilingualism is a direct affront to the ideas of national
identity and standard education …

    While many governments have throughout history run roughshod over
minority languages, right now the trend in western social welfare
states is the opposite. Linguistic minorities are sought out using the
census data and entire fiefdoms of political pork and patronage are
created using these minorities as the anchor. It’s a new twist on the
aboriginal reservation system – invented in Canada and perfected in
South Africa. This is a good, old, tried and trusted strategy to
maximize parasitical revenue at the expense of the host population.
Your grandfather knew it as Divide et impera.

    Here is an example. First they made speaking French a requirement
for getting a Canadian federal government job, then for many
provincial government jobs outside of Quebec, then for municipal jobs.
Then they started erecting ornamental gates at the entrance to
Chinatown. Now I see that a street with mostly plain old houses, auto
garages and a couple of restaurants has a huge “Welcome to Little
Italy” sign erected by the municipality (with matching funds provided
by the province and feds). Probably the Sikhs, Tamils, Koreans and
Portugese are filling out the forms to get their gates too (and a huge
check for their political patronage headquarters – errr, community

    There was an absolute sh*tstorm recently over whether the Canadian
federal government should fine, imprison and (ultimately) shoot anyone
who declined to fill in a census form. Why? Because it is difficult to
find reasons to expand the Welfare Empire, unless one can find and
elevate aggrieved minorities with sufficient precision (sufficient to
determine which political jurisdictions will get to control the pork
and patronage). You might think that the sh*tstorm represents some
kind of misstep by government, but the opposite is true. The more
controversial the government intervention, the more polarizing, and
the more anger and strife which can be exploited by politicians to get
votes and power. That’s the real reason behind the multilingual
problems in India mentioned above. They kill some (languages and
people) and elevate others, because that’s how they get paid.


    North September 8, 2010 at 8:05 am

        Good insight!

        Do you have any references handy for further reading on the
reserve structure in Canada? I’m actually doing some research on that
part of Canadian history (annexation and treaties), so any additional
references are always come in useful.

        Of interest to your summary above, Canada actually made a
strong push to rid Western Canada of French before giving that land
“provincial status”. Shortly after confederation they annexed much if
not all of Rupert’s land, an unconstitutional move which surprised me
so quickly after creating the the thing, and immediately started
trying to bump the French speaking population off in favour of British


        Ohhh Henry September 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

            I don’t have any of what you would call solid references
for the link between Apartheid and the Canadian reservation system.
However it is frequently claimed that officials from South Africa
visited Canada to study their system in order to help design their own
system of homelands. For example. Possibly somewhere in the vast
literature on Apartheid there is some scholarship which either proves
or debunks this point. I have never formally studied the Canadian
reservation system itself, probably because the public school system
avoids this subject like the plague. Even the most fanatical statist
cannot defend this disastrous mistake, yet the system just keeps going
and going. In a way, aboriginal reservations are like a predecessor
and a proving ground for the welfare state as a whole. What they do to
Indians in one decade (imposing “free” health care and schools,
endless welfare checks, suppressing private property rights, etc.) is
what they will do to the entire population in the next decade.

            It’s true that Canada has in the past suppressed
linguistic minorities. In my own parents’ lifetimes the Ontario
provincial school system tried to suppress the teaching in French to
the thousands of unilingual French students then living in eastern
Ontario. Perhaps the official treatment of languages tends to have two
phases – (1) during the expansionary, empire-building phase such as
the annexation of Rupert’s Land or the building up of a small
provincial ministry into a vast bureaucracy, the tendency is to
suppress languages in the name of imposing fear and obedience; (2)
once absolute control is achieved, minority “rights” are suddenly
rediscovered and the minorities are thereafter indulged for the
purposes of expanding the bureaucracy. Phase (2) is actually a kind of
invasion of the majority population’s pocketbooks, because of course
by “protecting minority rights” what the government really means is
stealing money from the majority, subtracting a huge cut for the
government and then using what’s left to create a noisy, grasping
lobby group which will fight like wildcats to keep the racket going.


            North September 8, 2010 at 9:42 am

                Thanks for the link!

                And your thoughts are the two phases have merits, and
are certainly worth considering as I study historic examples further.
I haven’t looked into stages like this in much detail but Hoppe
mentions something relatively consistent to what you mention in his
Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. He talks about Democratic
Socialism’s redistribution technique of offering “equality of
opportunity”. This fits in line with the second stage you mention
where the formerly oppressed suddenly become a special interest group.

                What I don’t yet understand is whether the Canadian
example is a progression from feudalism to democratic socialism or if
it better illustrates a simple evolution of democratic socialism (or
if it illustrates both).

                Certainly gives me much to think about. Thanks!


Ohhh Henry September 8, 2010 at 12:26 am

    BTW, like everything governments do, any attempt to preserve
minority languages actually backfires and helps to kill it. French
speaking students in Canada are taught what is now a very archaic,
stilted form of French. This form of French is frozen because the
teachers and government nannies are terrified of “Anglicisms”, meaning
not just English loan-words, but any kind of phrase or grammatical
construction which smells like an Anglo-Saxon invader. When you freeze
a language you strangle it, and that is exactly what is happening.
Every day I hear French speaking kids on the street who after
struggling with obscure French grammar and vocabulary all day at
school (even the public school teachers struggle to remember their
French rules), immediately lapse into a happy creole of jumbled up
English and French. The bureaucrats can feel their power and their
big, fat paychecks slipping away every time they hear a kid say, “Je
ne care pas.” It’s why they’re going over the census with a microscope
looking for more victims, I mean, beneficiaries of official government
recognition and “protection”. The host dies, the parasite moves on.

Nicolás P. September 8, 2010 at 12:50 am

    It is really creepy that while I’m doing a summary of Benedict
Anderson’s “Imagined Communities” chapters 2-4, this article appears
on the front page of Mises.org

    It is a great read. Actually, I’m surprised that you didn’t
include it in your bibliography. You should definitely check it out.

bobobberson September 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm


    anyone read that article? About the failure of planning?

Gary September 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Man, can I just NOTgo along with this one!

    Language is not a good, nor or a service. It is not traded,
exchaged nor produced. Applying any kind of demand/supply, or economic
principle to it is just way too much of a stretch – IMHO.

    “Non-optimal” “language policies” are… what, exactly? I didn’t
know the USA HAD a “language policy” other than “We have to prioritize
Spanish”, maybe.

    How about languages will be born and die based on their utility or
popularity? Without intervention by any government?

    in South Africa, it’s ironic that the ANC government took steps to
“preserve” the Afrikaans tongue, formerly maligned as the “language of
the oppressor”. Why did they bother? Why waste taxpayer wealth on a
questionable quest? If it survives, it survives. How much will really
be “lost”, other than what our romantic notions suggest?

    A true Austrian approach would be to let the free market reign.
Let people choose to use a language, ….or not.

    Governmen’s only obligation is to communicate it’s laws clearly,
in the language of its tradition – a single language makes perfect
sense and is efficient. In SA, in a mindnumbingly assinine move to
“appease” or “include” as many (minority) groups as possible – and
likely in the perceived socialist tradition of “uBuntu” – all laws
published are done so in 14 languages – a wastefull example if ever
there was one!

    “…nationalization of the language industry”? Phew… there’s a
LANGUAGE industry?? Come on: there just isn’t. This just sounds like
another basis to malign “American” – using sound philosophy twisted to
suit your purpose, whatever that is.

    Excellent article?? I don’t see it. The more we differentiate –
especially by language, the more the “American Melting Pot” fails. I
don’t get it at all, apparently, …but I’ll sell you my foreign accent
for an American Eagle if you’re interested!


    Inquisitor September 9, 2010 at 12:24 am

        Try re-reading the article…

    GregB September 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

        I read the article. I agree with Gary.

        I re-read the article. I still agree with Gary.


        Inquisitor September 9, 2010 at 11:12 am

            …yet nothing he mentioned is implied in it…


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