There is a danger [of economists in Canada] becoming so preoccupied with technique for its own sake as to lose sight of our objective as social scientists of understanding society. As a result…we have not performed well our…function of providing criticism and guidance as to the nature and direction of the economy and of society.” Is this a quote from the Simpson and Emery article that appeared in Canadian Public Policy? No, this is John Graham in his Presidential Lecture to the Canadian Economics Association in 1971.

Hence, even then there was lament about a scarcity of policy-oriented economics in Canada. As Emery, Simpson and Tapp suggest in their valuable contribution, for university researchers it may be largely due to the lack of incentives. Maybe the funding could be tilted a little more toward economic research with more chance of improving Canadians’ lives, even if it is only of “national interest,” which always is a little less sexy than “international interest.” And clearly it would be very helpful to continue to make Canadian economic data more accessible (while stopping the extinction of irreplaceable data sources: rest in peace, Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics). When Canadian empirical academic economists can work on American data in their offices, while using the equivalent Canadian data requires travelling to a special facility and sometimes significant data fees, no one should be surprised if many choose the American data.

But even if there is less Canadian public policy research coming out of Canadian university economics departments, the work that is done often incorporates the new approaches, theories and methods from those academic economists in Canada and around the world who do not work on Canadian policy. It also includes, and competes with, the research insights from the expanded group of Canadian economic policy researchers outside academia. Quantity is down, but average quality is up.

Photo: Shuttestock by SmartPhotoLab

Mike Veall is a professor in the Department of Economics, McMaster University.

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