Steve the Economist


Also from that Sun interview.

“As you know, I’m an economist and a big believer in a market economy.”

Setting aside recent evidence to the contrary (No recession! No deficit! Buying opportunities!), the supporting documentation for the Prime Minister’s status as “an economist,” would seem to be his undergraduate and Master’s degrees in economics. His career beyond his studies has been solely devoted to politics (Kady has a small, but valid, quibble with this below). But his status as “an economist” has periodically been asserted since the metaphorical wheels came off the economy.

So is the Prime  Minister an economist? Good question.

If you graduated with a degree in chemistry, then pursued a career in shoe sales, could you call yourself a chemist?

If you graduated with a degree in math, then spent the rest of your life working as a chef in a fancy restaurant, could you consider yourself a mathematician?

If you graduated with an English degree and were left only to wonder for the rest of your life why you bothered to get an English degree, could you, at the very least, identify yourself until your dying day as a literary scholar?

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Steve the Economist

  1. The focus is misplaced here. What exactly does it mean to be an economist anyway? Saying one is an economist is about as insightful as saying one is a medium.

  2. I have a degree in math, but work in business analysis. Can I or can I not call myself a mathematician? Certainly I work with number a great deal, but I don’t use much in the way of fancy math.

    • Which number do you work with a great deal? Is it 42?

      • The answer to everything.

  3. If you graduated with an English degree and were left only to wonder for the rest of your life why you bothered to get an English degree … you would be called a critic.

  4. This is dumb!

    • This is why some people spend the rest of their lives wondering why they bothered with higher education at all.

  5. I imagine a lot of professional “economists” were huge critics of John Maynard Keynes, back in his heyday. You might also consider Karl Max an “economist” for his understanding of how labour contributes to the economy.

    It’s pretty much the same vein as the notion of Samuel Pepys, the secretary of the Royal Navy, keeping a daily journal. Does that make him a journalist?

    • No. It makes him a diarist. A term one will generally find him associated with.

      • Ha, ha. Owned!

  6. Wealthy peeps used to be big fans of vassalage too. Doesn’t mean it’s good for the entire populace.

  7. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, just because I’m contrary that way: You could probably make the case that the Prime Minister was, at the very least, an economic theorist during his days at the National Citizens’ Coalition (in addition, of course, to being a lobbyist and, er, small business operator), although admitttedly, most of the high profile campaigns in which he engaged had to do with campaign spending laws, and not fiscal policy. The House of Commons database lists his occupations as economist, author and lecturer, and while there may be debate over the first two, I think we can all agree that third item on the list is beyond dispute.

    • I think we can all agree that third item on the list is beyond dispute.


      Don’t ever change, Kady.

      • Yeah, he’s really got that -” Look! Obviously… down pat.

    • Not all lecturers are pompous windbags, Kady. Some actually like (and are good at) teaching.

      Besides, being a TA for a couple of semesters does not a “lecturer” make.

    • “You could probably make the case that the Prime Minister was, at the very least, an economic theorist during his days at the National Citizens’ Coalition”

      What in the world is an economic theorist?

      • You know, somebody who … theorizes. About economics. Generally in front of captive audiences of likeminded souls who nod along in earnest agreement with every point.

        • Oh ! Right ! We see that here from time to time …….. it’s really dull.

    • Peter Coleman, the current president of the NCC, has undergrad degrees in Commerce and Arts. Just because he’s now heading the NCC, I’m not sure he can exactly call himself an economist, can he?

  8. And an author. Don’t forget that he’s an author – what with that hockey book he’s been writing that keeps coming up during elections and such.

  9. Don’t know if i’m with you on this one Aaron? You could aply this test to all of the members of parliament and find not a one qualified to be there. A better angle here might be: given SH’s shakey record re: economic prediction, does he really want to go around proclaiming his status as an economist? If he wer’n’t he might more plausibily be able to bleat: ” my fault. What did you expect? Look, obviously i’m not an economist after all.” From yr perspective he could plead that he studied economics before the flood and consequently is out of the loop. Maybe he should hold firm, it’s not like we expect the # to add up after all!

    • There are plent of MPs who have experience beyond their creditials in actually practicing what they studied whether its law, business, medicine, banking.

      The question here is: Is the PM an economist who got into politics, or is he a career politician who studied economics

      My opinion is that it is the latter.

      • I’m glad to hear that.
        And i second yr opinion.

      • “The question here is: Is the PM an economist who got into politics, or is he a career politician who studied economics.”

        Neither. He appears to be failed economist, a failed politician and is rather pursuing a career in simple mathematics; searching for the lowest common denominator that returns him a majority government.

        Would it not be it is to laugh it would be to weep at the political and economic positions and he has advocated then jettisoned with great abandon in his pursuit of raw political power.

        Worst . . . Prime . . . Minister . . . ever! A Dubya clone, that should be obvious to everyone but die hard right wing dead-enders? The would-be emperor has no clothes; the fact he and everything touches is not pretty should have been the first clue for even the most myopic of right-wing ideologues?

        • he figures if he jams enough different objects into that majority lock he’ll spring it eventually.

  10. “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free market system” George Bush, Dec ’08

    I think Harper is now channeling Bush when he says he’s a big believer in the market economy while proposing numerous bailouts of failed companies. If he was a market economy fan, Harper would allow failure/bankruptcy because it’s an important part of the market economy. Creative destruction is your friend!

    And no, Harper can’t call, or think, of himself an economist when that’s not what he does. Harper has a better understanding of economics than most of us, tho that’s hard to tell at the moment, but he’s not an economist.

    • Creative destruction is your friend!

      The free marketers have never really believed this.

      • Creative destruction gives them a chance to make money. If there were never new entrants and all firms were competently managed so that they never collapsed, it would be rather challenging to speculate and have people pay you billions to manage their funds.

  11. However, if you become a doctor, and then spend the rest of your life writing novels, you might call yourself a doctor.

    • That is because medicine, like law, engineering, planning, teaching and others, has specific professional designations and qualifications that one must meet. Economics does not.

      The mark of being an economist is whether one works in a job, likely in business or government, where the daily practice is of economics – such as creating economic models, predictions, assessing economic policy etc., or if one publishes on recognized economic subjects. How much of each does the PM do?

      • Fair enough. I was just trying to play devil’s advocate.

  12. Most MPs with law degrees still call themselves “lawyers” even though they haven’t practiced any law since entering politics.

    Maybe it’s a marketing or prestige thing…at this point, politicians are probably lower on the public esteem-o-meter than anything else they can call themselves (including lawyers).

    • I believe “lawyer” is an astrological category.

      • Are we still permitted to call you Jack? Or am i blowing yr cover? If i have already bown it, disregard.
        Lawer is i belieive a corruption of an old Canuck term meaning , iier ,as in lier for hire.

  13. According to Wikipedia:

    Harper then enrolled at the University of Toronto but after two months he dropped out, then moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where he found work at Imperial Oil, in the mail room. Later, he would advance to work on the company’s computer systems.


    I guess that makes Harper a postal worker [which explains why he occasionally ‘goes postal’] and a IT specialist so he’s dialed into the information economy. He’s just so smart! And he’s writing a book on Hockey which makes him a successful author, uhh when the book gets done whenever that is, if ever.

  14. Though, in some quarters :-

    If you were once a senator and are now a spelunker, you are still called Senator.

    If you were once a colonel and are now an astrologer, you are still called Colonel.

    If you were once a coach and are now a bartender , you are still called Coach ( or maybe Hey, You ! )

    If you were once a general and are now a lobbyist, you are still called General ( on CNN )

    And so it goes …

    • Ah, but if you were once a lobbyist and are now a prime minister, you are called Sir even by your closest friends.

    • “If you were once a colonel and are now an astrologer, you are still called Colonel.”

      Which reminds me… I wish Michel Drapeau would just go by “lawyer,” and not “retired Colonel.”

    • In the same vein,

      my degree is in Linguistics, not a highly marketable profession. However, now I’m a fairly well-paid information technology professional. So I guess you could defensibly say that I’m a cunning linguist.

  15. Harper’s true calling is complexity theorist. He just realised early on that he’d never be a very good one (since he’s too ideological and authoritarian) and opted for politics.

  16. Is anyone else starting to wonder why, of all the bloggers, Selley had to be the one laid off?

    • Oh, be happy for him. He’s returned to the Mother Ship. Though I suspect there’s nothing more polished than a CanWest staffers’ cv these days.

    • Not me. But let’s stay focused on you, avr (based on my degree, I’m a psychologist). You’re expressing some indirect hostility toward Mr. Wherry. We should talk about that. What is it about Mr. Wherry that upsets you so?

      • Is your meter running?

        • Is that a sneaky way of asking if I’m reading the Maclean’s blogs at work?

          • Not at all. Just expressing my inate fear of psychologists while making sure my wallet still there.

    • I’ve been wondering.

      • That makes me all warm inside. A conservative who cares.

  17. I have a degree in biochemistry and god help anyone who considers me a biochemist.

    • Looking for work? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has more work than they can handle. Would be good for a biochemist I think.

  18. Aaron the Journalist

    If you graduated with a degree in Journalism, then spent day after day nitpicking critical points about the one political party you disliked , in order to garner favor with your loyal fanatical readers, could you still be called a Journalist of the analytical non-partisan type ?

    • Depends whether or not he specifically majored in “non-partisan, you can only say an equal number of bad things about all political parties even if one of them is in power and f***ing the country because that’s what non-partisan apparently means” journalism with a minor in “analytical journalism aka any complaints about the Conservatives are nitpicking”.

    • I think your biochemicals are off-balance

    • I thought Ti-Guy was making a joke way up at the top of the thread when he cracked wise about a person claiming to be a medium, but William! You can read minds? Is that a degree or a diploma? What’s the pay like?

    • If you have spent any time in our public schools, colleges, and certainly universities, and your personality was the type where you were sub-consciously influenced by the political leanings of the teachers and profs, then one should not be surprised by the quality of our journalists.

      • If you have spent any time in our public schools, colleges, and certainly universities, and your personality was the type where you were sub-consciously influenced by the political leanings of the teachers and profs…

        Pop psychology imported lock, stock and barrel from the arsenal of the American culture war.

        You read to much TownHall and watch too much FoxNews, William. I went to school in Canada for a billion years, and while the educators certainly did express political opinion from time to time, there was only one who insisted his should prevail and could not bear dissent. He was a conservative.

        • I guess the key word is ” sub-consciously “—-those billion years of exposure to our professorial elite has certainly had it`s affect on your thoughts.

          • You can choose to believe that, but without evidence, it’s nothing but a churlish personal attack: that you think I’m too propagandised to think critically.

            Boy are you wrong. No matter who I’m dealing with, the bottom line is that I expect evidence to support whatever anyone is asserting. That’s how end up distinguishing between people with principled political beliefs and deeply held values and those who are simply poorly-socialised bullsh*t artists.

          • Ti-guy A: The free marketers have never really believed (that creative destruction is your friend).

            Ti-guy B:No matter who I’m dealing with, the bottom line is that I expect evidence to support whatever anyone is asserting.

            When someone is in the business of reading the minds of an extremely large and diverse group of people, they’re usually not also in the business of demanding facts to support propositions.

          • Zing!

          • When someone is in the business of reading the minds of an extremely large and diverse group of people, they’re usually not also in the business of demanding facts to support propositions.

            Olaf, have you not noticed the trillions of public funds being extracted by ostensible free marketers in the last little while? Somethings I just assume any minimally-informed, half-way intelligent person knows.

            *I* believe in creative destruction, but I’ve been around long enough to realise it rarely happens when it should. But I don’t call myself a free-marketer, which is probably where the problem begins. Seems for those people, it’s free markets on the way up and communism on the way down.

        • Ti-guy
          Everyone these days is worried about the radicalisation of religion. What we should be at least as concerned with is the radicalising of secularism, which is becoming increasingly intolerant and humourless by the day.

      • Are you concerned that people are being brainwashed, or that they are being brainwashed incorrectly?

        • If that was aimed at me [ hard to tell ] neither. fundalmentalism i expect from religion to some degree. When it starts to infect secular society i worry. One of the joys of a free society is its cheeful disrespect for everybody who takes themselves too seriously. But when secularism is held up as some sort of absolute itself, then we have real problems.

    • Not sure if i like the thought of Aaron ” garnering my favours”. And certainly not without my permission.

      • Aaron is performing a public service in making all the right ( ! ) people unhappy. And that’s good.

        For the rest of us, Coyne is on vacation. And that’s good.

        • Good pt.
          I’m getting bored with fooling Aaron into thinking i agree with him, when it’s entirely the other way around. AC now, there’s a bit of a challenge. I tried threatening to not watch him on tv anymore, but so far he’s ignored me.

          • It’s good that Coyne is off skiing somewhere. I was genuinely worried for his health after yesterday’s deficit numbers were leaked. He is going to be one angry fiscal conservative.

  19. Joe Clark called himself a journalist, since that was the only job he held before entering politics at a very young age, although both his degrees were reportedly in political science.

    Make of that what you will.

  20. I’m more interested in the people who consider Stephen Harper a ‘policy wonk.’ I can’t think of a single original, creative, effective public policy idea he’s ever come up with.

    • THE CLARITY ACT!!!!11!!

      • Harper did not come up with the Clarity Act !!!

        His Quebec Contingency Act tabled a few years prior to the Clarity Act was a complete disaster. It was highly discriminatory. It would have treated citizens from Quebec differently from other Canadians – it would not only have been found to be unconstitutional but it would not have passed the test of international law. Harper’s suggestion that a referendum on partition be held on the same day as a Quebec referendum on secession was ill-advised and so highly divisive that put into effect it would cause violent acts and civil unrests, in my opinion. Small wonder a smart person like Dion first opposed the concept as it was put on the table by Harper.

        In my opinion, Harper’s Quebec Contingency Act is the perfect example of Harper’s total incompetence – that and his stated ambition to turn Canada into another Belgium !

        • Strike 3 !!

  21. To answer William’s question – I would consider Aaron a political commentator who is upfront about his political views. I welcome this approach. The National Post, for example, has been upfront from day one about it being a vehicle for conservatism. It stated so in their first edition. I don’t expect journalists to be neutral. However, I expect a reporter to be neutral.

    John McCallum was ‘professor of economics at the University of Manitoba from 1976 until 1978, Simon Fraser University from 1978 until 1982, the Université du Québec à Montréal from 1982 until 1987, and McGill University from 1987 until 1994… and later Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of the Royal Bank of Canada. That makes him an economist who has entered politics.

    Stephen Harper is a politician now and has been a political operative for almost all of his working years. There is nothing wrong with that. But an economist he is not.

  22. I’m starting to theorize that Stephen Harper is wrong about everything, and in that vein, let’s take a quick gander at his investment advice abilities. While I don’t remember the exact date that the great clairvoyant recommended the ‘good buying opportunities’ on the markets, it was during the election campaign (after all, the champion of openness and transparency pretty much only brings himself to answer media questions during an election).
    The TSX closed at 10,230 on October 6, 2008, but if someone knows the date of his prosperity advice then we’ll go with that date and get similar results.
    The TSX clsoed yesterday at 8486. So if you were dumb enough to trust Stephen Harper’s ‘route to riches’, you would LOSE almost 20% of your wealth. Hasn’t anybody ever told Harper that when you’re running a trillion dollar economy, you don’t get redo’s?
    Some people can still debate the economiuc usefulness of Harper’s GST cuts and all, but I’d put more faith in a fortune cookie that any economic advice that Stephen Harper has.

    • The TSX closed at 9,829 on Tuesday, October 7, the day Harper told reporters “I expect some good buying opportunities may be opening up.” Had you invested on that day, you’d be down 16% by now.

      • First, an economist does not equal a financial advisor. Second, it depends on how long you are planning to hold the stock. If the market returns to pre-financial crisis levels in the next few years, you probably did pretty well buying back in October.

        • Well, mine is a bit of an artificial comparision. But would you not expect a self described ‘economist’ – especially one privy to the best analyses and statistics available in the country – to be able to recognize the fact that the cr@p is hitting the economic fan? And is it ever a good idea to invest – as Harper suggested – just before the wheels fall off? True, Harper has never claimed to be a financial advisor, but could an illiterate have provided WORSE investment advice to Canadians tht Stephen Harper did on October 7?

          • It was a stupid comment for Harper to make – there’s no doubt about it. I’m sure he regrets saying it. That being said, I don’t think anyone based their investment decisions on an off-the-cuff remark by the PM.

            sbt is almost certainly correct that the TSX will recover to pre-crisis levels, though it could take years. When that happens, any long term investor who bought TSX index funds on October 7, or today for that matter, will look like a genius.

  23. The man you are working for is not an economist!

    • Andrew Coyne … NOT an economist. Although he sometimes plays one on TV.

  24. Hmmm….if Harper was an economist, so smart when it comes to money issues – why is he still the average man – why is he not rich?

    You know, George Bush and Harper have the same degree in economics.

    • Wrong again. GWB majored in history before he got his MBA, though whether he learned anything from either degree is questionable.

      I assume you were being facetious with the “why aren’t all economists rich?” comment.

    • What makes you think economists are rich?

  25. Happy Anniversary, Prime Minister!

    In just three short years, look at your accomplishments. Surely no other Prime Minister in Canadian history has said one thing and done the complete opposite as many times as you. We know you have set the precedent for proroguing parliament to avoid a confidence vote, and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if you coupled that achievement with being the Prime Minister who has called more votes confidence votes than any other in our history. Even Lyin’ Brian might have difficulty surpassing your ability to obfuscate, mislead, and downright lie to the electorate.

    But gaining power on a platform of Accountability, then becoming the most unaccountable government we’ve ever had, has got to be the crowning glory.


    • Agh! Jenn! Tell me we didn’t miss his third anniversary! (In our defence, in past years, he’s given a speech and/or held a rally for supporters to mark the occasion.)

      • Is there a party? I wasn’t invited…

  26. As far as I’m concerned, there are far, far too many people who call themselves economists. There are people who think that getting a D- in Econ 100 in 1973 is enough to lay claim the title when they write op-eds.

    My own criterion is pretty strict: anyone who has come up with original work and has either submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal, who has presented it before a roomful of economics professors, or (ideally) both.