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How translations can influence economic thought development

On the one hand, one of my hobbies is to read books on economics, despite my background in biology. At any rate, I am sure this connection comes through my interest in neurobiology and psychology, lingering through sociology and ending up in economics.

On the other, I can’t help but reading books and papers through the lens of someone who has dedicated his last professional years in the localization business sector.

Never mind getting in the argument lately heated up by Larry Summers’ statement in the NY Times that academia should use English as the “official” language. When reading Nicholas Wapshott’s book Keynes and Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics, I found two passages where I stopped to think about the importance of our sector.

The first one was my surprise to know that a hundred years ago English spoken economists lived unaware of the Austrian school of thought, due to the fact that most of the books and papers were in German and were never translated into English. Quite the reverse happened with the German spoken economists, who had a grasp of English and eagerly read all the literature in that language. Was that language gap positive at all? Hard to answer! Looking on the bright side, we may think that this fact gave room to developments in different theories that would later feed this clash. British economics more focused in a mercantilist trade-driven insight; Austrian economics more focused on investment and business cycles.

The second one was my surprise to know that, at the same time, Keynes’s The Economic Consequences of the Peace was such a blockbuster that after being explosively successful in English speaking audiences it was immediately translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Flemish, Dutch, Romanian, Russian and even into Japanese and Chinese. Also, after selling some 100,000 books, it was translated into German; and this definitely influenced Hayek and his colleagues in Vienna.

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