Who should be in charge of climate policy?

By Peter Shannon, Queen’s University

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Questions from California’s battle over carbon emissions

Battles over climate change policy between state, provincial, and federal governments have been a common occurrence in 2018. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency started a row with California over emissions standards. Then EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that it would repeal automobile emissions standards set by the Obama administration and threatened to waive individual states’ power to set their own emissions standards if California was unwilling to negotiate over its own higher pollution and mileage standards. California’s Attorney General replied that California was prepared to sue the EPA if necessary to maintain its current regulations. [1] California followed through on this promise, filing a lawsuit with 16 other states in May. [2] The disagreement over emissions policy extends far beyond automobile standards: California is the only US state with a complete carbon market, although nine northeastern states have tradable emissions caps that apply only to power producers. Meanwhile, the President Trump withdrew America from the Paris climate accord, scoffed at the notion of federal climate change policy and claimed scientists predicted the polar ice caps “were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records.” [3] With the battle over carbon policy becoming one of the most significant issues in Californian politics, it is worth asking whether carbon pricing is a worthwhile policy and if so, which level of government should handle carbon emissions policy.

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What can the human genome project teach us about intellectual property policy?

By Kyla Fisher, M.A. Economics, Queen’s University

Innovation is one of the primary drivers of economic growth and improvements in living standards. It often produces larger social benefits than private benefits, leading firms to under-invest in R&D compared to the socially-optimal level. One of the ways that the government works to overcome this gap is through offering intellectual property (IP) protections, giving firms a temporary monopoly on commercializing their ideas. In addition, many governments allocate significant funds directly towards research through public research institutions or universities. However, it is difficult to determine the impact of these public efforts to stimulate innovation as we are unable to know the counterfactual. This article reviews the findings from an innovative study by Heidi Williams (2013) on the use of IP during the sequencing of the human genome. The study exploits the discrete nature of gene sequencing and the fact that it was researched both publicly and privately to evaluate the impact of IP on innovation outcomes. Despite the importance of IP policy for technological innovation there are relatively few empirical studies in this area. For this reason, Williams’ study generated quite a bit of interest at the time of publication and has been cited in multiple U.S. Supreme Court briefings.

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Queen’s Organizational Economics Conference

By Saad Khan, Queen’s University

On Thursday, June 14th, 2018, the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University hosted the Organizational Economics Conference. The conference covered a broad range of topics of particular interest to policy decisions related to the organization of businesses. The topics were as follows:  [1] growth prospects of franchises versus independent businesses, [2] the performance of serial entrepreneurs, [3] the effect of acquisitions designed to preempt competition on the continuation of the acquired project, [4] the effect of middle management treatment of employees on worker turnover and productivity, and [5] the optimal design of wage contract. This article summarizes the main findings of three papers presented at the conference and comments on policy implications.

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Worker Mobility, Inequality, and Credit Scoring: Insights from the Macroeconomic Frontier

By Blair Long, Queen’s University

On Tuesday, May 11, the Queen’s Economics Department (QED) hosted the 12th Frontiers of Macroeconomics workshop (hereafter Frontiers). This conference brings together a diverse collection of contemporary research, exemplifying the frontier of modern macroeconomics. This article summarizes the objectives and findings of some of the conference’s presented work, and provides some commentary on the direction of both theory and methodology in macroeconomics.

What are the Determinants of Worker Job Matches?  

Ilse Lindenlaub’s “Multi-Dimensional Sorting of Workers and Jobs in the Data” (with Fabien Postel-Vinay) explores the mobility of workers and asks which worker skills are relevant in the sorting process. By sorting, economists mean how workers move from job to job, each time finding a “better” match, and ultimately finding one that is stable, in the sense that neither the worker nor the job (the firm) expects to prefer another working arrangement. The key methodological contribution is to develop a relatively simple test of how skills drive sorting behaviour, accounting for the considerable heterogeneity of skills. In doing so, the authors break from a standard simplification found in much economic theory: that worker ability (for instance) is one-dimensional. Of course, in the real world, we can group workers according to a near-infinity of skills, such as interpersonal, cognitive, non-cognitive, routine, manual, or creative. Read More »

Buying Votes on Credit

By Peter Shannon, M.A. Economics, Queen’s University

Ontario’s 2018 budget was released March 28, projecting an unanticipated deficit of $6.7 billion for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The 2017 budget projected that Ontario was on track for consecutive balanced budgets and indeed, Ontario ended a 10 year string of deficits with a $642 million surplus in 2016-17. [1] Given the province’s rapid growth and low unemployment in recent years, tighter fiscal policy seemed imminent. However, pre-election promises of free childcare, expanded prescription drug coverage and increased health care spending will push Ontario back into red ink this year. [2]

The political motivations of Ontario’s 2018 budget are clear: with the June 7 election looming, Premier Wynne’s Liberals are attempting to replicate the success of their federal counterparts. Like Justin Trudeau in 2015, the Ontario Liberals are promising to run a series of deficits to expand social programs, with an emphasis on families with young children, seniors, and mental health. [2] Both governments display a shift in focus from net debt levels to debt-to-GDP ratios as a measure of sustainability.

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Indigenous Education – Transition Briefing

By Maggie JonesQueen’s University

Ontario is home to about a fifth of Canada’s Indigenous peoples aged 0-24, nearly 85% of whom live off reserve. In total, this means that Indigenous peoples make up about 3.4% of the off-reserve population aged 0-24 in Ontario. While the federal government has jurisdiction over the provision of education on reserves, it is the responsibility of the provincial governments to provide education to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples living off reserve. The incoming government should seek to implement policies that reduce the gap in schooling outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples living off reserves.

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Statistics Canada Crowdsources Cannabis Prices

By Allan W. Gregory and Eliane Hamel Barker, Queen’s University

Statistics Canada recently took up the difficult challenge of finding out what Canadians pay for their cannabis both medically (licensed and unlicensed) and recreationally. Currently only licensed use of medical cannabis (both dried and oil) is legal to purchase from licensed producers under Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). One reason governments are so interested in the street price of cannabis is the legalization of marijuana for recreational use due sometime this summer. The thinking is that legal marijuana prices must not be greater than those on the street; otherwise black markets will continue to flourish.

Statistics Canada is not new to the survey business and have in the past attempted to price cannabis and quantities smoked. However, in their most recent effort, a novel feature was using crowdsourcing on a web site survey to gather the data. Statistics Canada understood that there was a selectivity or participation problem in such a methodology but decided this was the best approach possible. We agree with this decision. Since cannabis was soon to be legalized for recreational use and no special personal identifiers were asked, the participating decision should not be associated with either positive (higher price) or negative (lower price) bias.Read More »