Economists are not shy about considering highly unlikely hypotheticals (HUH).
Here’s one: imagine that an upstart “Economist Party of Canada” comes from nowhere to win the next election. What policies might be in its platform?
This HUH is inspired by the announcement this weekend that a well-respected Canadian economist will run in the next federal election (for the Liberals that is, not for the “Economist Party”).
" Gerald Butts (@gmbutts) January 31, 2015
Shortly after this announcement in my corner of the Twitterverse, several other serious economists provided some support (including many regular Maclean’s contributors: Stephen Gordon, Kevin Milligan, Andrew Leach and Mike Moffatt).
In fact, discussions and jokes about the “Economist Party” have been a recurrent theme on Twitter. This got me wondering whether there are policies that a majority of Canadian economists would likely support.
(And while writing this blog, I found a Planet Money podcast based on a similar idea in the US in 2012.)
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (thanks to Scott Cameron for several suggestions):
1) attach a price to carbon emissions (e.g., see Chris Ragan’s ecofiscal commission — which one might consider a faction of the “Economist Party”)
2) use toll roads to reduce traffic congestion and encourage the use of public transit;
3) promote freer trade by lowering tariffs and removing internal trade barriers to better integrate domestic markets;
4) end supply management;
5) raise the GST rate back to 7% and more generally increase our reliance on taxes that hit consumption rather than investment;
6) reduce corporate income tax rates;
7) simplify the personal income tax system and reduce boutique tax preferences (e.g. fitness tax credits and the like);
8) legalize and tax marijuana, treating it more like alcohol and tobacco sales;
9) index fees — such as licenses, taxes and fines — to inflation so their real value doesn’t fall over time;
10) have a modest guaranteed annual income (negative income tax at the very bottom end) to ensure a basic standard of living for society’s poorest;
11) invest in beneficial public infrastructure projects — particularly now when long-term borrowing costs are negative in real terms;
12) subject new social policy programs to randomized controlled experiments and rigorously evaluate their effectiveness before scaling them up;
13) provide individualized, electronic health care “bills” to illustrate to users the costs of services received;
14) create a market for organ donation (or failing that, change the default to opting-in for organ donation);
15) make student loans contingent on income earned after graduation;
16) promote more competition in education by allowing freer choice for the public schools to which parents can send their kids;
…lastly, and perhaps most universally supported by Canadian economists…
17) restore the mandatory long-form census. Spend less to collect better quality data — it’s a no-brainer. Economists would even go further and grow Statistics Canada’s microdata collection and allow researchers easier and free data access, while ensuring respondents’ confidentiality.
Yes if economists ran the country, Canada might be a very different place. Cooler. More calculated. After all, economists tend to see the world differently than the general public. Certainly this list includes several policies that would be far more controversial for the public than for economists (particularly #4-9 and #14).
Actually, designing the Economist Party platform may be the easy part. Deciding what to do with the additional tax revenue raised by some of these proposals — oh, and convincing the public to vote for them — that would be much harder. Perhaps some HUH scenarios are too hard to think through, even for economists.