With the federal budget set to return to balance this fiscal year, we can once again debate how to deal with future surpluses. Priority could be given to paying down the debt, cutting taxes, or re-investing in public services and social programs.
These options should be judged on how much they contribute to a stronger economy as well as a fairer and more inclusive society.
The gloomy view that the global economy faces a prolonged period of slow growth and high unemployment holds increasing sway among mainstream economists. A new eBook from the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), “Secular Stagnation: Facts, Causes, Cures” edited by Coen Teulings and Richard Baldwin includes interesting contributions from such luminaries as Paul Krugman, former US Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, and the International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard.
While the authors look at the issue from diverse perspectives, it is striking that the solutions offered by many are more radical than those commonly discussed in Canada.
There is a lot of talk about the need to build a “knowledge-based economy” if we are to retain and create good jobs in a world where production is shifting in a major way to lower wage developing countries.
To compete, Canada must indeed produce high value-added goods and services commanding a price premium in world markets because they are sophisticated and unique. But, there are few signs of a sustained transition to a more innovative economy in Canada. Indeed, we are moving in the wrong direction.
Bill Scarth is a highly respected mainstream Canadian economist at McMaster University. In a piece just published by the C.D. Howe Institute, a generally conservative think-tank, he argues that the pace of federal deficit reduction should be slowed in order to lower unemployment.
His key point is that the economy still has a lot of slack which will not be quickly closed just by maintaining interest rates at their currently very low levels.
Recessions are always harder on young workers, but we are nearly five years out from the end of the last recession and there is still no recovery in sight for this important demographic.
Between October 2008 and January 2014, there was an increase of 100,000 unemployed young workers (15-29), so that there are now some 540, 000 unemployed. Even more startling, over 350,000 young workers left the labour force entirely over that same period.