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The far-right is a real thing right now, and with it come promises of “economic protectionism” and often a preference for national economies at the expense of our international economies.
Translation depends on trade and international economies as an industry. Reductions in trade will likely cause reductions in translation. Some translation insiders are predicting doom—others, business as usual, and nobody knows how far we’ll slide toward the authoritarian right.
Opinions from around the translation industry
If nationalism grows in popularity this may spell the start of the end of globalisation. An industry built on the premise of localising products and services for alternative markets will no doubtably suffer. — Richard Brookes of K-International
Nationalism, when it limits globalization, must reduce corresponding translation incomes. If the correlation is linear or not is unknown, but there must be decline.
Regarding Brexit, Robin Bennett from Actuel Translations hopes that “we can also comfort ourselves with the fact that our work counters the ill effects of cultural isolation.”
On Trump, we know very little about his policies. His idea of a 35% import tariff would likely result in a serious impact on the translation industry, but retail and apparel giants are in wait-and-see mode. Will the rhetoric match the reality? Nobody knows.
KantanMT thinks that if Trump follows through on campaign promises to end NAFTA, offshoring, and limit trade with China and other countries, the localization market will be severely impacted.
In any case, limiting trade even a little is going to severely impact our industry, and the question then is just how serious is the shift in political power?
Documenting the authoritarian, far-right wave
How serious is the situation? Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and/or Fascism, whatever it is, is on the rise in the West. Generally speaking, it is rural, it is white, and it is publicly suspicious of the movement of goods, services, and people across borders that the translation industry depends on.
We have the results of a major survey on democracy (we’re borrowing the graphic from the New York Times) published by Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa in the Journal of Democracy called The Signs of Democratic Deconsolidation. If the study is correct, a majority of people don’t believe in democracy anymore.
Fivethirtyeight, the “data journalists,” tell us that public distrust of institutions is at an all-time high. That includes banks, schools, governments, newspapers, and several other institutions.
The data looks like this for the USA:
According to the New York Times, Yascha Mounk, author of the study “The Signs of Democratic Deconsolidation” and lecturer from Harvard, has studied global democracy and is challenging the knock-on-wood notion of Democratic Consolidation, that once you have a good democracy it will always stay that way. It seems that Western liberal democracy is showing the same signs that Venezuela, Poland, and other countries have shown before sliding into authoritarianism. Indeed, 1 in 6 Americans thinks military rule would be a good thing, which is absolutely startling if the study is accurate, and Europe is tending in that direction as well.
In the United States, Distrust of the press is ridiculously high and breaks along ideological grounds. People are turning away from institutions like the leftish New York Times or the rightish Los Angeles Times, with their large editorial staffs and adherence to traditional standards of journalism, and mainstream news channels like CNN, which scores high marks for truth, toward fake news.
A guy with an assault rifle recently busted into a pizza joint to take down Hillary Clinton’s child pornography ring after reading fake news, based on emails obtained by purported Russian hacks of the Democratic Party in which “cheese pizza” is obviously a code word for “child pornography.” It’s hard to believe a sentence like that can be true, but echo-chamber media consumption has removed the “checks and balances” normally placed on news organizations. It’s all to rare to see a retraction.
In Europe, the far-right nearly won the election in Austria, and extreme right-wing parties are winning more votes in several countries. Evidently, Poland is no longer a democracy. Hungary has been going off the grid, and recently shutdown a liberal newspaper. Turkey is moving towards the dictatorial as well, and some people think that Angela Merkel is Europe’s last hope.
Stateside, where our national voting takes place on a working Tuesday, Trump has questioned the validity of early voting, which disproportionately helps the working class and minorities to vote, because they are usually working on election day. Several polling places were closed in minority areas across the South after the USA Supreme Court altered the Voting Rights Act. Trump has threatened to throw his opponent in jail, has claimed that he won the popular vote (when in fact he lost by 3 million votes), has repeatedly said that the US election system is rigged, and his pick for heading USA National Security has tweeted several fake news items, including Hillary Clinton secretly waging war on the Catholic Church, Obama being a jihadi, that her campaign was involved in “sex crimes with children,” and several more. Trump also wants to be able to sue news organizations for libel.
The point isn’t to disparage traditional conservative politics or economics, but rather to point out that the sequence of events we’re witnessing isn’t normal by post-war standards, and the wave of rhetoric against international economies might have consequences for our industry.
According to VoxEurope, the EU is in danger. They summarize, “After 1929, many countries believed fascism to be the best response to the challenges of that time. Eighty years later, people are likewise drawn towards extreme solutions, today known as “populism”: the authoritarian right is at the helm in Poland and Hungary, working as part of the government in Belgium, Denmark and Finland, and is rapidly expanding in Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Italy.”
Of course, income inequality has been on the rise since neoliberal policies became normal in the ‘80s. Neoliberal policies, blamed for practically everything by The Guardian, have led to increased globalization, creating both winners and losers worldwide, and an increase in the translation industry. Currently, the translation industry is growing at about 5.52%, outperforming overall Euro area economic growth, which is near zero, making the industry something of a miracle for the European economy.
When trade happens, whether it’s goods or services or apps, translation and globalization happens. People get connected. With trade under attack by a resurgent brand of fascism/nationalism/far-right whatever, we could be in trouble.
What does Zingword think?
Way back in 2005-2006, when I was a young salesman for a macroeconomic publication in Barcelona, I lost a much-needed sale to General Motors that I had been working on for months when Delphi, the auto parts maker closely aligned with GM, declared bankruptcy. The budget forecasting guy at GM told me that, “we are not confident to purchase anything right now,” and a couple years later GM was bankrupt. I was also selling the publication to subprime mortgage company Countrywide, a company that had a significant part of the global recession. I lost several more sales.
During the early years of the full-blown economic crisis, I had more impacts. By that time, I owned a thriving multilingual services and marketing business in Barcelona when, in 2011, several customers nearly went bankrupt during the Spanish downturn and made cuts that affected my business. We were able to replace large customers with several small customers, but what was an easy and fluid market had become clogged and difficult, and there was no longer any pleasure in our work. Fast-forward to 2016, when we founded Zingword in London prior to Brexit, and I get the sense that these far-away events actually matter.
We are concerned for translators. The biggest concern is, “when will the rise of the far-right peak?” If we’re talking about a peak where we have four years of Trump, Brexit, and no other countries fall to the far-right, we can expect to see continued success.
If we’re talking about a peak where France, Britain, the USA, Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary, and more countries all fall into economic protectionism or worse, authoritarian regimes, we could be looking at some serious contraction. A 10% drop in trade between two countries could have serious consequences for translators working in those languages, including increased pressure on prices and an overall lack of work. Add several of those together at the same time, and the problem could compound across the translation infrastructure.
But by the time that happens, translation industry contraction may be the least of our concerns.