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Poisoning the well of English



Raśl Escalante used the term "rent seekers", which puzzled me. He explains ""Rent-seekers" is a term in economese. It refers to people who extract "rents" they have no legitimate claim over, by lobbying, pressuring or otherwise coercing an authority that has control over a public resource. I found the following definition on the web: rent-seeking behavior : The expenditure of resources in order to bring about an uncompensated transfer of goods or services from another person or persons to one's self as the result of a "favorable" decision on some public policy. The term seems to have been coined (or at least popularized in contemporary political economy) by the economist Gordon Tullock. the definition is preceded by a more intuitive text: Whenever you have a situation in which a person or group is in power over a community, some in the community will seek to obtain special favors at the expense of all others in the community.

Rent-seeking imposes a net social cost on an economy, in a similar way to theft. Rent-seekers dedicate their own resources to obtain benefits that belong to others, instead of putting them to some more socially productive use. Investment in theft prevention (such as locks or security guards) is almost entirely non-productive".

My comment: Language should be transparent and reasonable, which this expression is not. Gordon Jackson says correctly of Bush's state of the union speech "I think the new slogan he put forward was "Let's roll." I too found it vapid, but it is likely to have some appeal because it is an expression that was commonly used by one of the brave passengers who took on the highjackers over Pennsylvania". An expression which gets my goat is popular "pushing the envelope". What exactly does it mean, and how do we explain it? The New York Times (1/30/02) has a feature article about A Harvard Law School graduate and now a professor, who has a radio talk show in which he uses language so coarse that his wife, also a professor, refuses to listen to it. He explains that he had to learn it, apparently to be viewed as one of the boys. There are black professors who promote Black English, which is a sure way to lose in the race for jobs. Some years ago, Stanford abolished its Speech Department without explanation. Listening to our TV stations“announcers squawking bad English in an ugly accent suggests that speech education is necessary. Curiously, some blacks speak beautiful English, but not Black English.

Ronald Hilton - 1/30/02


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