At the societal level, the need for language is generally defined within very general social goals, such as ‘national security’, ‘social justice’, or the like. The purpose of associating language with goals like these is to motivate policy and planning for language education at the national, state, or local level, or within the federal language education system. In an ideal world, every policy and intervention at the societal level would be discussed, based on an explicit cost-benefit analysis of the contribution of the intervention to the societal good. This would presume a clear specification of the contribution of the specific intervention domain (e.g., language) to the societal goal (e.g., national security), together with the qualifications of the responsible implementing agent (e.g., the Department of Defense and/or the higher education system). Such specification entails an economic approach, which involves specific description of the elements involved and the correlation of cost and benefit.
An economic approach to the language issue treats language as amenable to market analysis that describes its behavior and provides information to policy makers for their decisions on how to invest scarce public resources. It starts from the perspective that there exists a market for language in a given country, one which can be more or less well described, and which can be influenced by policy interventions from a centralized government body.