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By Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan
Whether you adhere to the idea of universal grammar (namely, that the underlying architecture of all languages is the same and therefore prior to social structure), or to linguistic relativity (which suggests that languages differ and that these differences shape and determine how society thinks about and shapes its reality), you can’t be indifferent to Blair Fix’s 2022 piece, ‘Have We Passed Peak Capitalism?’
Blair compares the use of economic versus biblical vocabularies. He shows (1) that, in the English language, the ‘jargons’ of the two vocabularies are almost mutually exclusive; (2) that, historically, the relative importance of these two jargons moved more or less inversely to each other; and (3) and most surprisingly, that in the late 20th century, the importance of biblical jargon started to rise while that of economics began to decline (first figure). If this latest inflection is a harbinger of future trends, Blair argues, we might have already passed ‘peak capitalism’.
Blair then creates what he calls an ‘ideological discord index’, which essentially measures the inverse of the absolute difference between the relative frequencies of the two jargons. When one jargon is highly popular and the other insignificant, the index approaches 0 (remember that he measures the inverse of their absolute difference). When the popularity of the two jargons is similar, the index is closer to 100.
The historical pattern of the ‘ideological discourse index’ is shown in the top panel of the second figure. In the early 19th century, the biblical jargon dominated. But as its importance waned relative to economics, the discord index rose, reaching 100 in the early 20th century when the jargon of economics first overtook that of the bible.
From then on, economics continued to gain relative to the bible, so discord declined. But in the early 1980s, the trend inverted: the popularity of economics jargon started to fall while of the bible to rise, causing the discord index to soar once more.
The bottom panel of the chart shows how these ups and downs of linguistic discord reflect/determine (your pick) the ‘polarization’ of U.S. Federal politicians – the correlation between the two series is +0.53.
The future of capitalism remains unknown, but the original way in which Blair maps and analyses it is fascinating.
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