A response to “The Decline of Canadian Economics,” by Herb Emery, Wayne Simpson and Stephen Tapp, which appeared in our September-October 2013 issue.
The article is thought-provoking and draws out some important and interesting facts about the declining attention of Canadian economists to Canadian topics. My response is coloured by my own experience and research record, which involves a great deal of Canada-specific empirical research, much of which I’ve been fortunate enough to place in international journals. I have two brief points to express.
First, for me to produce the best possible Canada-specific work, I need to be surrounded by the best economists — “abstract” theorists, applied theorists, econometricians, empirical specialists and macroeconomists. My work is pushed in stronger and deeper directions when I am challenged and confronted with the best new ideas. If my department were to trade off quality for more “Canadian” researchers, my work would suffer. For the reasons mentioned in the article, it might be justifiable to shift the balance toward more “Canadian content” researchers, but the cost of such a shift would not only be lower international journal output, it would also threaten the quality of Canadian research by those of us who do it.
Second, I echo most of the concerns of the authors about data access, but my lament for the lost surveys is qualified. In my experience as an empirical researcher, to publish an empirical paper outside Canada using non-US data, one needs to have data that are superior in some dimension. We can’t just match — we have to beat to compete.
In the past, Statistics Canada surveys have often permitted us these opportunities. Looking forward, however, there is a strong global move toward administrative data, in the form of tax records, social program files and business data. These data sources are collected for administrative uses, but are also repurposed for research. The Scandinavians and others are passing us by with the availability of comprehensive, integrated administrative data. Without decisive steps taken to bolster our access to administrative data, I expect the next generation of empirical researchers will perform even worse on the Canadian content metrics.