Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'd still like to learn Latin

Latin may be impractical compared to learning Chinese. And its supporters may constitute a special interest group that knows how best to pluck resources from the busy majority. But I'd still love to learn Latin. You have to hand it to Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist for explaining the predicament...well very much like an economist.
You correctly observe that Chinese would serve just as well as mental exercise, and conveys the additional advantage of being able to talk to people other than the Pope. The technical term for this is that learning Latin is a “weakly dominated” strategy: it is never superior to learning Chinese, and sometimes inferior.

Unfortunately, you are up against politics here. Public-choice theory suggests that a small group with much to gain from a policy will tend to prevail against a large group who stand to each lose a small amount. The small group knows the stakes and is better organised - which is why we have trade tariffs, which help a small number of people while imposing poorly understood costs on a diffuse majority.

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