English and Math

These thoughts by David Henderson over at EconLog have stuck with me since the day I read them (in 2012):

At the end, one of two hosts [of a radio program he was being interviewed at] asked me, “If you were giving a 12-year-old American kid advice on what languages to learn, what advice would you give?” I think he was expecting me to say “English and Chinese.” I answered, “Two languages: English and math.”

I think of this insight often when I read, mostly because they confirm my own anecdotal experiences travelling abroad. Everybody in Ghana spoke English, and only rural Iberians and Slovenians had trouble with English in Europe. Non-Native French speakers seem only to be in parts of France’s old empire, where old customs – learning the language of the conqueror to get ahead in the rat race – still prevail. English is learned because it’s necessary to communicate these days.

Check out this excerpt from a piece on Swiss language borders in the BBC:

There are four official Swiss languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh, an indigenous language with limited status that’s similar to Latin and spoken today by only a handful of Swiss. A fifth language, English, is increasingly used to bridge the linguistic divide. In a recent survey by Pro Linguis, three quarters of those queried said they use English at least three times per week.

Read the rest. That’s a lot of English used in a country that’s sandwiched between Germany, France, and Italy. I think the power of English, at least in Europe, has to do with the fact that it’s a mish-mash of Germanic and Latin; it’s a “bastard tongue,” in the words of John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia. Let’s hear it for the bastards of the world!

BC’s weekend reads

  1. heads roll at top of Turkey’s military in latest purge | Turkey’s 16th of April referendum will pave the way for authoritarianism
  2. great piece on Macron’s recent economic policies | French expatriates and foreign Francophiles
  3. Italy will be the EU’s third power once the UK leaves | the uniqueness of Italian internal divergence
  4. attempts to shut down free speech will no longer be tolerated, at least at Claremont McKenna | when is speech violence?
  5. cool science stuff is gonna happen soon | what makes it science?

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Turkey and the Case of the Magical Vanishing Coup
  2. Is the overthrow of a democratically elected government ever justified?
  3. John and Abigail Adams educated their son, John Quincy, to become the worthy successor of the Founding generation of the new regime
  4. An American economist’s observations from Europe
  5. The Influence of Culture on Science, and the Culture of Science
  6. Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor

PS: Did anyone else notice that the Brexit vote was 51%-49%? I mean, there’s a lot to think about there, especially for libertarians who claim that democracy sucks but Brexit/Nexit/Grexit is totally and completely justified if the people demand it…

The problems of ‘Exit’ and ‘Autonomy’ in (mostly American) libertarian thought

Over at EconLog, Italian political theorist Alberto Mingardi has a great post up on defining national socialism. Here is the money shot:

So, the nationalists are going to be more socialist, because they want to vindicate the power of the nation state in taking control of the national economy, and the socialists are going to be more nationalist, because strengthening regulation and advancing redistribution is all the more difficult in supranational arrangements, where a cooperative understanding is seldom reached.

My own mind was drawn to this insight, though:

I fear there is a symmetric problem for libertarians. If we take Applebaum’s points seriously, as we should, we are put in a very awkward position: which is defending the status quo, made of relatively free international trade plus relatively weak supranational institutions, as the least bad of all possible worlds. And yet libertarians are highly critical of the status quo and won’t feel well in the company of the current global elites.

This is largely correct. Libertarians are right, I think, to be critical of the status quo (even though it is the least bad of all possible worlds, and has been for the last three decades), but they veer off in the wrong direction when they start emphasizing exit and autonomy over entrance and interconnectedness.

This is not just a complaint about rhetoric, either. When libertarians constantly focus on exit and autonomy, a tendency begins to develop where these two concepts become harder and harder to critique and develop into more coherent ideas about liberty and freedom. Just look at all the support for Brexit by libertarians, or the support still given to the Confederate States of America (!). These libertarians have become so obsessed with exit and autonomy that they end up failing to even entertain the notion that you can’t have exit without entrance, or autonomy without interconnectedness.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Saudi-Iran Conflict Is Not America’s Fault
  2. Gains from trade: China and the United States
  3. How Bad Is Trump’s Brand of Authoritarianism?
  4. How Hiroshima Became A War Crime
  5. Art and Porn in Edo Period Japan
  6. The [True?] Meaning of Marxism

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The Criminalization of Curiosity
  2. Britain needs Christianity – just ask Alan Partridge
  3. Libertarians have nowhere to turn
  4. In light of ongoing events in Poland, this October piece by Dr Stocker here at NOL is worth reading again
  5. The West in the Arab world, between ennui and ecstasy

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The Two Asian Americas
  2. Is Hawai’i an occupied nation?
  3. A federal system for Britain
  4. Capitalists from Outer Space
  5. The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations
  6. Humane Canada