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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Anglosphere Yet Reigns Supreme

By Neil Reynolds

If Rome could survive Caligula and Nero, says American geographer Joel Kotkin, the United States can probably survive George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Indeed, he says, the U.S. and its “anglosphere” allies – Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – will continue to be the primary economic, scientific and cultural force in global commerce well into the 21st century. The economic and political crises of the moment will pass. For the English-speaking world, the best is yet to be. 


Author of the 2010 best-selling The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, Mr. Kotkin is singularly optimistic in his latest assessment of a world in which the anglosphere appears to be in truculent decline. The U.S. and Britain, after all, are experiencing serious crises of confidence. Now, in The New World Order, a study published in November by the London-based Legatum Institute, Mr. Kotkin and nine academic associates conclude that the anglosphere will remain the ascendant player on the world stage for a long time to come. 

Mr. Kotkin bases his prognostication on a strategic global review that rates kinship – ethnic and cultural connections – as a better indicator than geography of long-term economic success. Thus, he defines the “sinosphere” as a tribal grouping of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau; on the other hand, he defines the “indosphere” as simply India, all its important tribal groupings self-contained.

Along with the anglosphere, Mr. Kotkin says, the sinosphere and the indosphere will emerge as the three most important spheres of influence in the 21st century. In itself, this is conventional enough – although more explicitly dismissive of continental Europe (and Russia, too) than most such forecasts. But Mr. Kotkin puts the anglosphere in a class of its own. 

The anglosphere accounts for 26.1 per cent of global GDP ($19-trillion U.S.) – the same share the British Empire held at its height. The sinosphere accounts for 15.1 per cent ($11-trillion); the indosphere 5.4 per cent ($4-trillion). On a per-capita basis, the anglosphere leads by lopsided margins: the anglosphere, $45,000 per person; the sinosphere, $7,500 per person; the indosphere, $4,000 per person.

“Today, the anglosphere is predominantly a union of language, culture and shared values,” Mr. Kotkin says, with a population of 400 million. Beyond the anglosphere itself, two billion other people live in countries with a strong English-language bias: the countries of the Commonwealth, for example, and Singapore – which, its Chinese population notwithstanding, is a country where English is dominant.

“Since the Second World War, English has replaced French, Russian and German as the primary language of business and science,” Mr. Kotkin notes. English is now spoken by 40 per cent of Europeans, French by just 20 per cent. 

Further, the ascendancy of English in Asia, Mr. Kotkin says, “all but cements its status as the world’s ‘world language.’ ” The number of Chinese who speak English will soon outnumber the English-speaking population of the anglosphere itself. 

In cultural industries – movies, television, books, news media – the anglosphere has no real rival. It exports $20-billion in cultural goods a year; the rest of the world, $16-billion. And global demand keeps soaring. In Latin America, sales of anglosphere cultural goods increased last year by 25 per cent; in China alone, by 40 per cent. 

The anglosphere has a comparable lead in science. U.S. scientists publish three times as many technical papers as Japanese scientists – who rank No. 2 in the world. (Canada rates 7th, equal to Italy.) Of the top 500 software companies in the world, 450 are based in the anglosphere.

Equally important, Mr. Kotkin says, is the unique capacity of the anglosphere to attract immigrants – and its ability to “incorporate” cultures. In the past 10 years alone, 14 million people have emigrated to the anglosphere, among them 27 per cent of the 20,000 Chinese entrepreneurs whose incomes exceed $15-million a year. 

Winston Churchill was always a great champion of an English-speaking union. Indeed, he regarded it as “a common duty of English-speaking people to the human race.” This sounded for a while like a requiem for a dying empire. But Britain still stands apart from Europe, its alternative destiny, and the notion no longer seems quite so quaint. Note the U.S. decision a few weeks ago to build a forward military base in Australia. Churchill’s voice rings louder these days. 


Neil Reynolds is an Ottawa writer whose columns on national economic issues appear Wednesday and Friday in The Globe and Mail.  He is the former editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen


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