catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The importance of culture and language

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Some good pieces at The Austrian Economists. Papers from the Cato Institute on the role of cultural factors in economic development. The leading paper from  Martin E Harrison has some comments on various countries including Chile which may be of interest just at the moment.

That Chile is different from other Latin America countries is apparent from its highly effective implementation of the Washington Consensus policiest—the only country in Latin America to do so. Its unique status in Latin America is also apparent from its 2005 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index rating: tied with Japan at number 21, with the next Latin American countries being Uruguay at number 32 and Costa Rica and El Salvador at number 51. And contrary to the often criminal comportment of police in other Latin American countries, Chile’s national police force, the Carabineros, has a solid reputation for professionalism and honesty.

Chile also enjoys an atypical entrepreneurial tradition. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, Chileans were noted in the Southern Cone for their entrepreneurial skills, and they provided a considerable impetus to the growth of the Argentine economy as well as their own. While other factors, including Chile’s geography and climate, so similar to California’s, doubtlessly also contributed to Chile’s entrepreneurial endowment, the disproportionate Basque influence had to have been an important source.

Foreign investment has played a key role in Chile’s economic development, above all in copper mining. But the entrepreneurial response to the open economic policies installed during the Pinochet dictatorship and sustained since 1990 by elected left-of-center governments has come principally from Chileans.

And some commentary on a talk by Graham Scott, Secretary of the New Zealand Treasury at a crucial period in their reform process, on the possible importance of language, specifically the lack of a good translation of  the world accountability in some other languages.

During his lecture Graham Scott remarked that the word “accountability” has no translation in many languages. For instance, it has no direct translation in French and Spanish. I presume it is the same with other Latin-based languages, such as Italian or Portuguese. While the word “responsibility” is Latin in its origin (and thus has equivalents in French and Spanish and other languages), it encompasses more than just accountability and, for that reason, is much less precise. In Scott’s view, the concept of accountability is at the core of the public management reforms in New Zealand. But its absence in many other languages may limit (and perhaps has already limited) the adoption of similar reforms elsewhere. Or it may lower the quality of their results. This would show the power of language in shaping institutions. An interesting conjecture…


Written by Admin

December 12, 2006 at 8:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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