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Stephen Gordon’s mission statement

The ULaval economist is joining Econowatch. Welcome to a whole new conversation.


 

Maclean’s is the home of some of the sharpest, best-written contributions to the Canadian conversation; I’m glad of the chance to join and chime in.

If you are a regular reader of Macleans.ca, you may have already come across my name. But if not, then here is what you need to know about me: I am an economics professor at l’Université Laval in Quebec City, and I’ve been blogging about economics for almost seven years now, at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (the blog that I started and has since grown to be a collaboration with other economics professors) and at the Globe and Mail’s Economy Lab.

This is what I wrote in my first blog post:

Canadian academic economists have a low public profile. Offhand, it’s pretty easy to come up with at least three reasons for that:

  1. We’re Canadian.
  2. We’re academics.
  3. We’re economists.

That pretty much adds up to the trifecta in the category of “people whose opinions are not eagerly sought out.”

But I think there’s more to it than that. There are lots of people whose opinion isn’t in any particularly great demand, but who seek the spotlight anyway in order to promote their policy agenda. What’s special about us is that we don’t seem to need to do that. The Canadian economics community is pretty small, so academic and public-sector economists know each other fairly well. Government economists are people we’ve met at conferences, people we’ve gone to graduate school with, or (more and more frequently for me) people we’ve had as students. We don’t need to mount a public relations campaign in order to get a sympathetic hearing at the Department of Finance or the Bank of Canada.

Three of the most important policy initiatives that have been implemented by the federal government during my career are the FTA/NAFTA, the adoption of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and the Bank of Canada’s decision to adopt inflation targets. None of these policies can be characterised as a being a response to popular opinion: they all had their origins in the interactions between academic and public-sector economists. Even if this process has had the effect of producing good policy outcomes, the disconnect between how policies are made and what is being discussed in public is not healthy in a democracy.

Academic economists play an important role in developing Canadian public policy, and we have a commensurately important obligation to try to explain them as best as we can to the non-economist public.

Seven years later, that still serves as my mission statement. Sometimes it’s been fun: the posts in which I explain certain economic fundamentals are the one I most enjoy writing. Sometimes it’s frustrating. But I continue to believe it’s worth doing.


 

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