The System of Basic English : Part 3. V - VI
accident, arbitration, asset, average, bill, broker, budget,
circulation, combine, consumer, conversion, correlation, cost,
deflation, demand, deposit, discount, efficiency, effort,
employer, experiment, factor, fatigue, guarantee, habit,
index, inflation, investment, liability, loan, margin, monopoly,
partner, pension, plan, population, purchase, rent, retail,
sale, saving, security, service, share, speculation, statistics,
stimulus, strike, supply, wholesale.
From one point of view this is certainly true. Running our eye down the list, we see words for the psychologist, such as effort, fatigue, habit, stimulus ; mathematics words, like average, correlation, statistics ; and words in completely general use, like accident and plan. Of those which have a clear connection with economics, a great number -— for example, demand, supply, and service -— are simply common words which have been given new senses. It is a strange fact that, while most experts take pleasure in dressing up quite simple ideas in new language, economists are noted for the opposite tendency. Even for their most complex ideas they take over words which have, as it were, had their edges rubbed off in the market-place.
The words in question, however, are not so out of place as they seem. The reason for the wide range of the list is rooted in the very material of economics, which, because it has a much looser organization than those branches of knowledge which are commonly looked on as sciences, is not so much a science as a field
of interest. ' Economic theory ' may be kept within more or less narrow limits, though even here the experts seem to have trouble in framing a covering statement. But it is not possible for what are normally talked of as ' economic questions ' to be pinned down in this way; and from this wider point of view, discussions about business organization or the psychology of work may be grouped under the heading of economics, though no space might be given to them in a handbook on economic theory.
The list seems so strangely uneconomic in part because the economist is cutting across other sciences, in part because economics is about everyday facts (so that words like fashion and season have to be looked at quite seriously), and in part because a number of the words which might truly be said to be special economics words —- price, value, interest, profit and the like —- are in the general list. Some of these are given a special twist, and it might be wiser to put other words or groups of words in place of them, but others are taken over without change because economics is based on general experience and is, as one might say, simply an angle from which certain common processes are viewed.
A second fact about the special list is that it has in it almost no words for ' finance ' or money business. That is because of the decision that 50 special words are needed for the operations of finance. It is even probable that Exchange business may be given one list and banking another, because the language used in these two fields is very complex, and has in a great measure become fixed, like the names of persons and places. Another reason for separating off finance is that it is needed equally in business and in economics, and as far as possible it is our desire not to go over the same road twice. Naturally the business and economics lists have some of the same words, because much of the material is the same and it would be unwise to make the learning of two lists necessary ; but the angles of attack are so different —- the business man being interested in the details of producing and putting on to the market certain goods about which he has expert knowledge, and the economist in the framing of general laws —- that the greater part of the lists are separate.
It has to be kept in mind that the purpose of Basic is not to make groups of words which are completely parallel to the divisions mapped out for the sciences, but to give every expert the words which will make it possible for him to put forward his ideas in an international language. Our first business, then, is to see what is, in fact, chiefly talked about by an economist, a physicist, or whatever he may be, and to make it possible for the same things to be talked about in Basic. If words are needed which seem out of place in a special list, the scientist will have to be given them. If, in certain ' sciences,' a great number of the important words are clearly taken from other special fields, this may well give the experts food for thought, but it is no part of our undertaking to make a new grouping of the material of science. It is only necessary to say here that if the experts did see the point of basing the divisions between the sciences on facts of language and were ready to put their houses in order, it would give Basic a very much better chance of completely covering the special fields.
It will be seen that the position of all the words in the list is not equally certain. The important thing at the present stage, however, is to put some suggestions before the public. It is only possible to put a working-system to the test by use ; and so that the test may be a true one, it is necessary to get as great a number of persons using it under as great a number of different conditions as possible. Then, again, the value of some of these words may be changed by time. Plan is a key-word in 1933 and may well be important for another 50 years because, though planning is simply another name for organization, it has come to be used in a special sense for the adjustment of supply and demand, and there is every sign that the process will be a slow one. But when public interest is turned in other directions it may become unnecessary.
At every point the language of economics is crying out for attention. Unhappily, it is quite impossible to go to the root of the question in building up a Basic system, because it is our
business to make discussion possible at the present level, and any attempt at the development of new habits of thought might make it harder to get support. Changes on the scale which is necessary for separating questions of language from questions of fact would only be possible with the agreement of economists themselves.
There are two ways in which a representative committee of economists might make language a better instrument for their purposes. They might make a start on a clean page and get a new system of names worked out with the help of language experts. The value of such words as margin would then be seriously questioned, and words like entrepreneur, which are at present used very loosely, would become fixed. Or they might put together a word-book in which all the different senses of the words used in economics were listed and grouped, so that anyone taking the word-book as a guide would be conscious of the danger-points in discussion. What is needed is an attack on the question from these two angles, but it will probably be a long time before economists are ready to make serious adjustments, even if habit and history are in some measure respected, and for the present a word-book such as has been outlined might well be undertaken as a first step.
Here is an example of the economics list in operation. It is a selection from the Malthus material used in "Basic for Economics", and from the point of view of the history of the science is possibly the most important statement which has ever been made.
MALTHUS ON THE FACTORS LIMITING POPULATION1
I . Statement of the question -- Relation between the increase of population and food.
[ From Basic for Economics, L. W. Lockhart ]
In attempting to see how to make the conditions of society better, the natural way of attacking the question is,
1 . To take note of the causes which have till now made it hard for men to be happy.
To go fully into this question, and to give an account of all the causes which have had an effect on man's development, would be far outside the powers of one person. The chief purpose of the present work is to make an observation of the effects of one great cause which has a deep connection with man's natural habits ; and which, though it has been frequently and strongly in operation as long as society has been in existence, has been taken into account very little by writers on this question. It is true that the statement of the facts on which this cause is based has been made again and again, and that they are frequently touched upon ; but its natural and necessary effects have been almost completely overlooked ; though probably, among other things, it has been responsible for much of the wrongdoing and unhappy conditions, and of that unequal distribution of the fruits of the earth which it has been the one desire of persons interested in the good of others to put an end to all through history.
2 . To see how far the destruction or part destruction of these causes is probable in the future.
The cause of which I am writing is the unchanging tendency for the increase of all living things to be greater than the food needed for their support. . . .
In plants and unreasoning animals, the view of the question is simple. The act of increasing themselves is forced upon them by a strong natural impulse; and this impulse is at no time stopped by doubts about their power of supplying the needs of their offspring. For this reason, wherever they are free they give effect to their power of increasing; and the over-supply which comes about in this way is cut down later by need of space and food supplies.
The effects of this limiting process on man are more complex. Though the natural impulse to do what is necessary for increasing his numbers is no less strong in him than in the other animals, he is faced by reason, which puts before him the fact that
he may be giving existence to beings which he has no power of supporting. If he gives attention to his natural impulse, the outcome of limiting the family is very frequently wrongdoing. If he does not give attention to it, there will at all times be a tendency for there to be more men in existence than there is food for. But because, by that natural law which makes food necessary to man, it is not ever possible in fact to get an increase in population to a point where it will not be supported even at the lowest level by the supplies in existence, the fact that it is hard to get food will all the time be a factor limiting population. This factor is certain to be in operation somewhere, and will necessarily be experienced in some sort of unhappy conditions or the fear of them by a very great number of persons. . . .
In the north parts of America, where the food supplies have been greater, the habits of the men and women more straightforward, and the reasons against persons getting married early less strong, than in any countries of Europe at the present day, the population has been increasing at the rate of too% in 25 years for more than 150 years.2 But, even at these times, in some of the towns, there were more deaths than births,3 a fact which makes it dear that in those parts of the country which made up for these losses, the increase was necessarily much quicker than is normal in other places. . . .
In Euler’s statistics, based on a death-rate of 1 in 36, if the births are to the deaths as 3 is to I, 100% increase will take place in only 12 years and 4/5ths. And this rate is not only a possible one but has in fact been in existence for short times in more countries than one.
It is the belief of Sir William Petty that it would be possible to have a 100% increase in so short a time as ten years.4
But to be quite certain that we are not making an over-statement, we will take the lowest of these rates of increase, a rate upon which there is general agreement, and for which there is no doubt that new births are completely responsible.
It may safely be said, then, that population, when not limited in any way, is increased by 100% every 25 years, or at the rate of x x2 x3 . . . xn.
It is not so simple to get an idea of the rate of increase of the produce of the earth. Of one thing, however, we may be quite certain, and that is that the rate of its increase in a limited space will necessarily be quite different from the rate of increase of population. . . .
Europe is far from having as great a population as it might have. In Europe there is the greatest chance that the industry of men will be under the best direction. Attention has been given to the science of farming in England and Scotland; and there is still a great amount of unfarmed land in these countries. Let us see at what rate the produce of this island might possibly be increased under the best conditions for higher development.
If we say that by the best possible direction, and by giving great support to farming, the normal produce of this island might be increased to twice its present amount in the first 25 years, we will probably be naming a greater increase than there is reason for hoping possible.
Let us take it that the additions which might be made year after year to the earlier average amount of produce, in place of getting smaller, which they certainly would do, will keep at the same level and that the produce of this island might be increased every 25 years by an amount equal to what is produced at present. It would not be possible for any greater increase than this to be hoped for. In two or three hundred years it would make every acre of land in Ireland like a garden. . . .
It may safely be said then, that, in view of the present average conditions of the earth, it would not be possible under the best conditions of man’s industry for the food supplies to be increased at a greater rate than that of x 2x 3x . . . nx.
The necessary effects of these two different rates of increase,
when in operation together, will be very surprising. Let us say that the population of this island is 11,000,000 ; and let us say that the present produce is enough for the support of such a number. In the first 25 years the population would be 22,000,000, and the food would be increased by 100%, so that supplies would be equal to this increase. . . . And at the end of the first 100 years, the population would be 176,000,000, and the food supplies only equal to the support of 55,000,000, so that a population of 121,000,000 would be quite without food.
Taking all the earth, and not only this island, there would be no chance of the population moving to some other place; and if the present population is equal to 1,000,000,000 , the rate of increase of man would be as the numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and that of supplies as the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 . In
200 years the population would be to supplies as 256 to 9 ; in 300 years as 4,096 to 13, and in 2,000 years it would be very hard to give the relation between the rates at all.
In this view no limits of any sort are placed on the produce of the earth. It may go on increasing for ever and be greater than any named amount; but still, because the power of population is so much greater all the time, the increase in the number of persons on the earth would only be kept down by the unchanging operation of the strong law of need, acting as a limiting factor upon the greater power.
A longer version in Basic appears in Basic for Economics
1 . T. R. Malthus : An Essay on Population (Everyman edition), Book I, chap. I-II
2 . It seems from statistics which were worked out a short time back that from the time when the first Europeans went to America to the year 1800 an increase of 100% in the population took place almost every 20 years. See a note on the increase of American population in Book II, Chap. XI.
3 . Price’s Observ. on Revers. Pay, Vol. 1, p. 274, 4th edition.
4 . Polit. Arith., p. 14.