As I learned a few years ago, it’s hard to tell Canadian academic economists how they should spend their time. (If you missed that, see these excellent reactions in Exhibits A, B, C and D).

So I was particularly interested to read this article by Philip Cross, which argues that the Canadian Economics Association meetings are biased against private sector knowledge. (The CEAs took place this past weekend in Toronto.)

As it turns out, this academically-organized conference is not to Cross’s taste. It’s too academic and impractical.

So Cross takes the occasion of these meetings, not to attend them, but instead to air broader concerns ”” including that academic economists in Canada may:

  • lack an appreciation of risk-taking;
  • think that economic growth resides in the public- rather than private-sector;
  • remain isolated and maintain ”œobsolete prejudices”; and
  • ignore important public policy topics.

And over this past weekend on Twitter, others complained that the conference lacked diversity.

Some of these criticisms should be taken seriously. Specifically, we can feature more diverse perspectives, and we can focus more on important policy issues.

However, if you want to see Canadian economic policy research in action, you don’t have to look too hard to find it — some of our top academics are leading the charge: Miles Corak on inequality; David Green on ”œgood jobs”; and Kevin Milligan on tax reform; among others. (I said much the same thing after the American meetings in January, so I’ll stop here.)

Now you may respond that my short-list only checks the policy box, but not the diversity box.

That’s a fair point — though I think there’s much more going on here than most people appreciate, and there are plenty of younger-up-and-comers who will slowly change things over time.

But I’m less interested in complaints than in proposals for what should be done in future CEA conferences to address valid concerns.

As a starting point, it helps if we don’t view the CEA program as the preordained outcome of a malevolent plot by academics to keep others out. The sessions and presentations largely reflect who’s already active in the community, but it’s also “endogenous”, and depends on who wants to attend and who volunteers to share their ideas with other economists.

We had a great conference this year and you can help to improve it next year. The “how” is pretty straight-forward: organize the session that you want to see; do the research that you think is missing.

Then again, if I’ve learned anything it’s that I shouldn’t tell other economists what to do…

Stephen Tapp
Stephen Tapp was a Research Director at the IRPP, where he managed a multi-year research initiative titled Redesigning Canadian Trade Policies for New Global Realities. He previously worked at the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Bank of Canada, among other positions. Steve has a PhD in economics from Queen's University. Follow him on Twitter @stephen_tapp.

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