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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Stephen Gordon’s mission statement

  1. I should also add that Maclean’s also has one of the better comment boards of the media sites I’ve visited. I’ll try to respond as best as I can to questions and comments.

    • All teasing aside, I think you have made a significant contribution to economic discussion in Canada, and could see some day you receiving proper recognition. Your contribution to the CBC radio program The Invisible Hand as advisor was also noted.

    • I do hope you don’t dismiss those of us who are not schooled in economics.

        • Thanks Dot – he had mentioned them on his twitter…

          • Oh. The twitter blocking function has been busy from the academic economists. The quad squad. All around the same time, too.

          • I have been watching closely. All very interesting…:-)

  2. Well, what with globalization, trade upheavals and 3D printing it’s probably time to throw ye olde fundamentals in the dumpster, and start fresh.

  3. Hmmm, this should be interesting. Haven’t been banned by Macleans. Yet.

  4. For whatever reason, Canada does not value academics in any field, not just economics. M Wente has made a career for herself of reading trendy American social science books and then claiming the exact same trends are occurring here without evidence or stats or much of anything at all. Maclean’s does it all the time as well – interviews, articles and book reviews are mainly about American academics and journo will talk to Canadian academic and print sentence or two.

    Canadian society generally does not promote or embrace academics or their ideas and when it does, more often than not the person is a foreigner.

    • Tony, do NOT mention that woman’s name on these boards ever again….or I will hack into your account and subscribe you to her twitter feed.

  5. Well … if Batman (Gordon) is here, can Robin (Moffat) be far behind ?

  6. “Academic economists play an important role in developing Canadian public policy”

    I suppose there is some truth to that. But frankly I think the lines are blurred too often in negative ways. Economists rarely want to stop after providing advice, they would rather become politicians and campaigners themselves when their precious advice is not heeded.

    You mean you want to have power without bothering to run in elections? And you want to bloviate endlessly about the census, endlessly repeating yourself and reaching near hysteria, simply because your own personal opinion (based on your incredible and all-powerful economic expertise) should take precedence over us ignorant and stupid voters?

    Don’t forget to write periodic posts about the disaster that Canada has become without the mandatory long-form census. You will please Aaron Wherry’s fan base, I guarantee it.

    • You really didn’t think economists would give the wrecking ball to the census a pass, did you?

    • “Don’t forget to write periodic posts about the disaster that Canada has
      become without the mandatory long-form census. You will please Aaron
      Wherry’s fan base, I guarantee it.”

      I actually planned to post a comment like “I’m looking forward to the first time you’re accused of leftwing bias, haha!”

      But s_c_f has outdone himself and made the accusation right here, in your introductory post. Brace yourself M. Gordon, it’s all Punch and Judy from here on in. But I’ve been following your work online for a while and I’m glad you’re here.

    • Trolling.

  7. Welcome aboard Stephen. Look forward to reading your work.

  8. Gordon is a hack. Before Mulcair took up the Dutch Disease issue, Gordon claimed that it was good for Canadians, despite admittedly killing 300,000 jobs, because it raised the real value of wages by 25% (this ignores the reality it raised wage costs by 25% killing Canada’s competitive position and the 300,000 jobs…) After Mulcair made his statements, he came out with an article saying the Dutch Disease was nothing more than “economic hypochondria.”

    Economists who mix economics with politics are the reason macroeconomics is still stuck the Dark Ages in relation to science.

    BTW, it’s a complete fallacy that a stronger dollar makes the average Canadian richer; and a weaker dollar makes us poorer. If one checks the fluctuations of the dollar over the past 15 or so years, there isn’t any accompanying surge or drop in prices as the dollar falls or rises.

    Take from 1997 to 1999. The dollar dropped from 75 cents to 65 (14% drop.) Inflation during this time also dropped from 2.1% to 1% (one might expect it to rise by 14%.) And it wasn’t because the economy was weak. We had relatively phenomenal GDP growth: 4.2%,
    4.1%, 5.5%. (In 2011, we had 2.4%; the forecast for the next 3 years is lower…)

    So the highly overvalued dollar has acted like a 25% tariff on exports, killing jobs, turning a $20B trade surplus to a $50B trade deficit (-3% GDP), and now requires that wages get busted by 20% just to restore our competitive position. The only way the trade deficit and wages will equalize out is with recession and high unemployment. No one will think a dollar at parity is an advantage a few years from now…

    • Good lord….

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