11/06/2008

You cannot dictate to ordinary people what words and coins they use

The Spectator, Jun 5, 1999 by Johnson, Paul:
The European Union is an anti-democratic institution run by bureaucrats, lawyers and political elites. When it is put to the democratic test - that is, when the people have a genuine choice about whether or not to abide by its wishes - it invariably gets the thumbs-down. Two particular instances are language and currency. You cannot dictate to ordinary people what words and coins they use. These two things go right to the root of their beings and they decide for themselves. At French insistence, the EU refuses even to consider using English as the common language, though it is the obvious choice, and the Academie francaise makes continual efforts, often assisted by law and government, to ban English. Yet the French themselves, led by their own teenagers, use more and more Anglo-Saxon expressions. Not long ago I spotted Le Monde, which huffs and puffs about the purity of the language, using 'stopper' in a front-page headline, though there is a perfectly good French word. In the same paper, in a front-page article complaining about Anglo-Saxon `cultural imperialism', the author employed the noun 'manager', though again there are two or three acceptable French alternatives.

More and more organisations inside continental Europe use English in their handouts because it makes sense. In Germany and Sweden, important companies with worldwide business now conduct their board meetings in English because it saves time and avoids misunderstandings. A few years ago, a journalist from Scandinavia, where all speak English and very few French, complained to Jacques Delors at a Brussels press conference that he answered questions only in French and had no simultaneous translation. Why? Delors answered that French was `the language of diplomacy', adding under his breath `et de la civilisation'. Neither statement has been true for a very long time.

The currency issue is more acute because the EU has deliberately chosen a common currency as the first step towards a federal superstate. It has identified its future with the success of the euro. This bureaucratic artefact has not even been subjected to the real judgment of the people since it does not yet circulate from palm to palm. But the traders do not want it because they know governments will not stick to the bankers' rules, which must be observed if it is to succeed, and in five months the sceptics have been proved absolutely right. Currency, like language, is demotic. In parts of East Africa villagers still trade and save in Maria Theresa silver thalers from 18th-century Austria because they trust them. In Russia, even under the old Communist regime and long before the rouble officially collapsed, ordinary people used dollars if they could get hold of them. Even Brezhnev had a dollar credit card; so did Mrs Gorbachev; Soviet cruise liners accepted only dollars. It made sense. It's not clear whether we need an official world currency yet but, if we do, the dollar is the obvious candidate. There is no reason why many small countries should have their own currency, any more than their own airline. Bermuda has used the dollar for many years with great success. Argentina, which has managed to keep the peso at parity with the dollar, now wants to join the dollar zone; so does Peru. I foresee a future in which all Latin American countries which contrive to run stable, successful economies will in practice treat the dollar as their own coin.

1 comment:

Ronduck said...

Since then the dollar and the American economy have gone downhill. Although I do agree about English .