Global Communication and Thoughts From London

I always like to read ‘farewell’ comments by truly exceptional thinkers. When the editor of the single best publication we read (The Economist) retires, we pay attention. John Micklethwait has headed The Economist since 2006. In his farewell editorial (January 31, 2015) he notes that there are two great debates going on in the world today. The first is about income inequality. Globalization is allowing the well-educated and the already rich, to do better than ever in this interrelated world. And this is not just a developed country problem. The issue is a big one in the emerging world as well.

A second debate is what government can do or should do to address this. The Economist is a “liberal” publication in the old sense. It believes in open markets, individual freedom and in general, small government. But with inequality Mr. Micklethwait argues the state must act. Early education for instance is something government can invest in to help level the playing field.

There were other interesting snippets that crossed my desk this month. I have always been interested in how people communicate in a global world. English has become the default language today, so much so that there seems to be no number two. How did this come about? For one thing English got there first. Now that it is entrenched it will be difficult if not impossible to dislodge. And second, some of the potential competitors, like Mandarin are so darn difficult to master that, as the Wall Street Journal noted recently, if the Chinese do rule the world 100 years from now, they will most likely do so in English!

Another interesting note is that as more non-native English speakers outside the US use English, more American immigrants, especially adults (see chart below) are less fluent in English. And finally, one of the most interesting places to witness the use of English is the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The population of the Gulf States is only about 10% local meaning everyone else is an imported worker. The only common denominator is English. A Wall Street Journal article noted that on a recent Emirates (Dubai based) flight to the U.S., the crew came from twenty different countries, speaking twenty-two different languages. Some serious training challenges here.