Military economies also accelerate the growth of defense contractors. One of the sectors to benefit from this policy has been the translation industry.
John Maynard Keynes was one of the first economists to advocate that governments devote a large portion of their budget to the military in order to stimulate economic growth. Doing so would create jobs, encourage consumerism, and develop technology. Modern examples of the policy’s results include computing, aviation, space exploration, nuclear power, and the Internet.
Quite apart from the fact that the policy siphons away investment in more immediately useful sectors such as health care and education, and from potentially more efficient, direct investment in civilian research, military economies also accelerate the growth of defense contractors.
These in turn become large-scale employers which are thus politically difficult to reduce. Worse still, in order to justify the continuation military expenditure, there has to be an on-going war, or threat of war. Neither are difficult to find. But the most adverse effect is that it incites countries with military economies to foment social and political unrest in regions that are militarily undeveloped, pose little geopolitical risk, but have sufficient natural resources to become allies, and purchase the military products and services of their newfound friends.
One of the sectors to benefit from this policy has been the translation industry: ever since the Second World War, the considerable expenditure in military research and development, which often requires a multinational effort, partly because of its sheer scale and partly because allied countries share not only the same views but also the same policy, has generated high levels of regular, secure income in the languages of existing and potential conflict.
The initial beneficiaries were scholars, then companies, the revenue trickling down to freelancers, before the companies were taken over by larger corporations in which confidentiality is key. In recent years, the process has also undergone “streamlining and globalization”, to quote the purchasing officer for one such corporation, a euphemism for outsourcing to low-cost countries and developing machine translation to replace people who have become too expensive.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yearbook for 2012*, the world’s top 15 military spenders in descending order were the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Turkey.
This list also includes the countries with the largest translation industries, and which invest the most in language technology.
In addition to the governments concerned, defense contractors such as L-3, CACI International, DynCorp, Mission Essential Personnel, and Raytheon BBN Technologies not only figure among stock market leaders, but are also among the highest employers of translators and interpreters, and among the corporations which invest the most in language technology.
Also according to the SIPRI yearbook for 2012, Africa was the region which saw the highest growth rate in military expenditure in 2011, despite the fact that it had the highest rates worldwide for disease and famine, and the lowest expenditure in health care and education.
No doubt we shall see increasing numbers of conflicts in Africa in the coming months, a region in which almost all of the military economies have vested interests. African interpreters in the war zones will, like their Afghan counterparts, become useful for a while.
Most linguistics scholars agree that by the end of the 21st century around half of the 6,000 languages spoken today will have disappeared, many of them out of Africa, taking their knowledge with them. This will be of little concern to the defense contractors selling their products and services to the region: instruction manuals only need to be understood by the people using arms, not those they kill.