The Great Canadian Census Debate: The Economists Call It

It looks like we can call it a day on the Great Canadian Mandatory Long-Form Census Debate: the economists have weighed in, and they think the government’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

Today’s Globe and Mail reports that 76 percent of economists surveyed by the Canadian Association for Business Economics say that it’s a bad idea to scrap the long-form census. Out of 252 economists surveyed, only 14 thought that it was a good policy. Of course one of these 14 was the Fraser Institute’s Niels Veldhuis, who has demonstrated a less-than-encouraging understanding of statistical analysis in his creative defence of the government’s position (Check out Stephen Gordon’s merciless takedown of the Fraser Institute).

Does this mean we can tentatively conclude that about five percent of economists don’t understand statistics? Or, as Gordon might put it, that they are not part of “the community of evidence-based policy analysts”?

But the truly bizarre finding from this poll? That 30 economists surveyed didn’t know whether or not scrapping the mandatory long-form census was a good idea.

Really? In a field that worships numbers and statistical analyses, in a debate that has galvanized the Canadian research community, 30 economists didn’t know whether scrapping the long-form census is a good idea or not? That’s 30 economists who either haven’t been paying attention to the policy-wonk equivalent of a monthlong Lollapalooza festival, or who can’t be bothered to recall their first-year stats training.

Can anyone explain this? Are we witnessing the birth of a new subfield of economics that rejects the possibility of knowledge through statistical analysis? (I hope so; a postmodern turn in economics would be great fun.) Were these 30 economists actually sociologists in disguise? Enquiring minds, etc., etc.

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