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A History of Canadian Economic Thought.

The last full-scale history of economic thought in Canada was Craufurd Goodwin's Canadian Economic Thought: The Political Economy of a Developing Nation, 1814-1914 (1961). The most famous of several surveys of post-war developments was Harry Johnson's 'Canadian Contributions to the Discipline of Economics since 1945,' which appeared in the first issue of the Canadian Journal of Economics in 1968. There is thus a case for another study and for this reason Robin Neill's contribution to Mark Blaug's Routledge series, which has already seen studies of Australia, Japan and Sweden ought to be welcomed.

In twelve chapters, and an excessively brief, two page conclusion, Neill takes his reader through his subject, providing enough economic history to give the non-Canadian reader some historical context. One of the chapters is introductory, four (two on the francophone literature of Quebec and one each on specific historical concerns of the Maritimes and the West) are on what might be called the economics of separate regions. For the rest, the coverage is predominantly of English-speaking Canada.

As any potential reader of such a survey might guess, the first problem faced by the compiler is one of definition. Neill casts his net on the following principle:

We have defined the economics of Canada to be what people thought was happening, or should have been happening in the economic activities of the country. It is made up of description, analysis and policy proposals. It is distinctive because of the specific environment of economic activity with which it deals.

For much of the period, this definition makes little difference to the coverage of the book, but with the growing professionalisation and internationalisation of the subject, it does result in some odd choices. It means that, unless Neill can assure himself that the analysis grew out of Canadian problems, contributions to pure theory by Canadian economists go for nought. Canadian contributions to applied economics (when Neill discovers them, and he ignores such things as the work of Bodkin, Sawyer and others on large-scale econometric models) do not count unless they deal with Canadian problems. Hence an odd and unbalanced discussion of the work of Harry Johnson and the ignoring of the contributions of 26 out of the 43 resident Canadian economists, living or dead, included by Mark Blaug in the second edition of his Who's Who in Economics (an even larger number, if Harry Johnson's broader criteria of selection which allows for foreign contributions stimulated by Canadian problems are followed). Another, despite the undoubted contributions of the 'Toronto school' of economic history, is an over-emphasis on disputes among economic (and even political) historians of Canada.

But let us accept Neill's selection criteria. How then does the work stack up? All in all, on the nineteenth and early twentieth-century contributions not too badly. Most of the leading figures make an appearance. Generally, their contributions are adequately set out and evaluated. Occasionally one wonders whether some of the regional discussions make much sense: chapter 2 on the economics of the Maritimes, with its no fewer than 16 references to later chapters seems somewhat misplaced. Overall, the scholarship seems satisfactory, although one winces occasionally over historical details, such as the suggestion that Robert Gourlay (born 1788) studied under David Hume (died 1776), or that there were no cuts in the general level of American tariffs between the Civil War and 1935, or that Victoria College had reached Toronto from Coburg, Ontario by 1841. One gasps at statements such as 'It is unfair to judge Canadian economic thought on the basis of its published residue in a period in which publication was not as desperately sought as it was later to be'. One is also surprised by the absence, as economics became more professionalised, of any serious account of the teaching of economics in Canada, despite the long discussion in Goodwin and the existence of such works as Ian Drummond's history of the Department of Political Economy at the University of Toronto.

When one comes to the later period there are more problems, partly perhaps because economics becomes more technical and complex, partly perhaps because there is more literature to assimilate. Neill's sense of chronology still continues to desert him on page 143 where Keynesianism appears to have existed in 1934, or on page 146 where an article published in 1922 'amends' one published in 1928. Meade's The Balance of Payments appears in 1952, a year after Harry Johnson's 'vicious' review. Individuals' academic affiliations go awry: Harrod's Towards a Dynamic Economics becomes 'the only contribution of Cambridge (England) to economics, after Keynes'. The terminology often becomes obscure: it is far from clear, for example, what Neill means by Keynesian if he is to state, as he does on page 173, that in the late 1940s 'it was not crystal clear what the |Keynesian~ paradigm was.' More seriously, contributions that should appear on his own criteria go unrecognised: one would have thought, for example, that the line of thought opened up under the name 'Mundell-Fleming' would receive as much notice in a survey of Canadian thought (especially with the role played by Harry Johnson in the diffusion process) as the contributions by Trevor Swann did in the Australian survey in this Routledge series. Indeed, although one chapter title uses the words 'small open economy,' that whole strand of international monetary economics is missing, perhaps because Neill, who refers to Meade's The Balance of Payments as 'an extension of Keynesian analysis to international trade', does not seem to understand it, or its important role in documents such as the Royal Commission on Banking and Finance (1964). The role of Harry Johnson in Neill's discussion of international economics also serves to obscure other contributions such as Lipsey's to the theory of custom's unions or the extensive, applied work on the floating Canadian dollar in the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, it is surprising that Neill did not use the MacDonald Commission's own surveys of the 'state of the art' in Canadian economics in the mid-1980s, for the surveys were tailor-made for his definition.

Thus, while this book might be useful for some purposes, it can, at best, only be recommended with a 'use with care' label. It certainly does not supplant its predecessors.

D. E. Moggridge University of Toronto
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Author:Moggridge, D.E.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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