Friday, October 28, 2005

Dictionary for Western elites

"Fair competiton" and "social justice" are staples of the rhetoric that passes for normal discourse among elite Americans. Today's WSJ alludes to the Dictionary of Economics, published in Lithuania, and designed to unhinge discussions of economic matters from the vocabulary that people carry with them from the era of Marxist double-talk and double-think.

Yet, the discussion cited below applies here as well. In a better world, the Dictionary would also become best-seller in the West.

Defining Capitalism Up (WSJ, Oct. 28)

"In his 1946 essay 'Politics and the English Language,' George Orwell famously lamented that our language 'becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.' He was writing about his native tongue, but today a group of young free-marketeers in Central and Eastern Europe have discovered the same thing -- discussions of economics in their countries are being poisoned by a vocabulary inherited from their communist past.

"Ruta Vainiene, a young former central banker in Lithuania, has decided to do something about it. Last month, she published her plainly titled 'Dictionary of Economics.' The response, both in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe, has been striking. Since its release, the Dictionary has been the No. 2 nonfiction best seller in her native country. And plans are now afoot to translate the book into local-language editions in a number of other countries. Think tanks around Europe are supporting the effort, having seen the necessity of cleaning up economic language and thought that, a decade and a half after the collapse of the Soviet empire, remains infected by history.

"'The dictionary was my response to the market need to educate journalists and students about economic jargon that seemed very frightening to them,' Ms. Vainiene said in a phone interview. 'It explains the concepts in simple words. But also' -- and this is crucial -- 'explains them correctly.'

"The book notes, for example, that 'social 'justice'' is always related to the unjust redistribution of wealth, and 'fair competition' is almost always related to unfair government intervention in the economy.' In other words, Ms. Vainiene is trying to educate but also to eradicate the misleading and contradictory doublespeak that infects much economic language, especially as it is used in Europe."