Looking past the easy targets: Miles Corak on the cancellation of the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics

It’s easy to be a critic: find something that annoys you and explain why you don’t like it. From the early Usenet flame wars, complaints and criticisms have been one of the Internet’s killer apps.

It’s much, much harder to explain why you don’t like something while placing the issue in its proper context without resorting to ad hominem attacks, and then to propose a way of looking at the problem in a way that  attacks the underlying issue, not the surface symptoms.

All this to say, go read Miles Corak’s excellent kinda-eulogy for the longitudinal Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, the latest casualty of the Conservative government’s government-wide cutbacks, and which follows the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census. As someone who’s used SLID, this definitely seems like a really bad idea.

It would be very easy to start and stop with a comment about how this fits with the current government’s well-documented dislike of empirical, evidence-based policy. And there’s certainly some truth to that.

But Corak doesn’t go there. Instead, he essentially argues that the real problem may be that, as a government agency with a one-year budget horizon subject to political whims, Statistics Canada isn’t the best placed agency to handle projects with time horizons that stretch beyond electoral cycles into decades. This means that even throwing the bums out wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. New boss, meet old boss and all that.

Looking beyond our borders (always a good idea), he notes that long-standing SLID-like projects in the UK, the US, Australia and Germany are all funded by universities or arm’s length funding bodies:

As Canadians embark on another experiment in longitudinal survey taking they should have confidence that Statistics Canada will design and manage the technical details in an efficient, effective, and indeed innovative way; but past experience, both here and abroad, may also make them wonder if the managerial structure and financial responsibility is designed to match the long-term horizon these data require.

Left unasked but implied in this quote is: given this state of affairs, how could Canadians organize such a survey outside of Statistics Canada? I don’t know the answer, but it’s a useful and productive way to frame the debate. 

Anyway, check it out.

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One Response to Looking past the easy targets: Miles Corak on the cancellation of the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics

  1. Pingback: Food for thought: important links on StatCan and longitudinal surveys in Canada | the zeds : academic librarianship

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