Economists looking to satisfy their curiosity

James
James McLeod
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One of the first projects on the agenda of a new Memorial University research group will be doing an economic analysis of moose-vehicle accidents and the costs associated with preventing accidents.

Researchers at Memorial University are trying something they say is unique in Canada - setting up a group to fund purely "curiosity-based" research on economics.

The Collaborative Applied Research in Economics (CARE) group has managed to wrangle around $700,000 from the government and private groups for a three-year project at the university.

Economics professor Wade Locke said the goal is to inject some good information into public debate on important issues, based on sound economics.

"A lot of discussions and debates have gone on, based on either opinion or description with a paucity of good, technical economic analysis that's explained in a way that people can appreciate," he said. "It's meant to address issues that both we and the public feel are important for the people of the province, and that's what we're trying to do without being political."

First on the agenda are two researchers funded by the CARE plan to watch for the moose.

The idea is to do an economic analysis of moose-vehicle accidents in the province and the costs tied to preventing accidents.

"The issue is there are policies that are designed to mitigate moose accidents. How do people perceive the benefit of that, and what (are) the costs of it, and is one worth the other?" Locke said. "That's what they're doing, and within a year they'll have results in terms of a survey they're doing."

The CARE group was launched by Memorial earlier this week without much fanfare, but Locke said the real interest will probably come later on, when they start to roll out the fruits of their research.

They have a laundry-list of projects under consideration, tackling everything from the Newfoundland and Labrador labour market to a case study of rural economic development on Fogo Island.

With all of these projects, the idea is to do the complex economic analysis, but then explain it in a way that normal people can understand - without dumbing it down to just a list of recommendations.

Locke said part of the problem with a lot of economic research is that it boils down to big words and complex equations.

"The words are one thing, but the technical math that underlies it is so complicated that you either take it on face value ... if you're a policy decision-maker, you've got to say, OK I either accept that or I don't accept that," he said. "It's a problem, because it's not the best way to make policy decisions. What we've decided to do is try to give our students a sense of applied economic research and provide very technical, but explained in a way that's easy to understand, analysis."

For the moment, the CARE group plans on running as a three-year project out of Memorial, but if it's successful, Locke said, he'd like to see it turn into a permanent institute doing public-policy research.

"We're not directing research. We want people to do research they find interesting. We want it to be easy for them to do it," he said. "I hope that we're able to make a positive contribution to this particular province so that there can be more and better empirically-based policy decision-making in this province."

The project is getting money from the federal government through Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the provincial government, Memorial University and Husky Energy.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Collaborative Applied Research, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Husky Energy

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Fogo Island

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  • Linda Bishop
    October 14, 2012 - 09:27

    I can understand why they didn't want fanfare. This is embarrassing! If this money was put into actually implementing solutions to decrease the moose vehicle accidents that are increasing on our highways, public outcry would decrease. So many lives are being affected. Studies have been done again & again, now is time for action. Again, shame on our NL Government.

  • W. Bagg
    October 14, 2012 - 02:21

    Sounds pretty useless,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,maybe they should see where the cut off point is in health care, age vs money to treat someone, like they said, The idea is to do an economic analysis.

  • Ken Collis
    October 14, 2012 - 00:40

    I would love to see an independant economic review of the benefits and costs associated with isolated rural communities compaired to rural communities that have road access. What are the average incomes and taxes paid between each? How do the social services costs match up? What is the difference in the cost of providing a ferry compaired with the costs associated with building and maintaining roads? What are the costs of providing health care? We all wonder if the isolated communities are economically viable and this kind of independant research would help inform folks. (raw data should not be used when accessing ferry costs due to the mismanagement of provincial transportation dept. employees eg. using choppers for service when ferries are in re-fit due to poor planning of replacment vessel. Use only usual contracted figures.)

  • W McLean
    October 13, 2012 - 17:30

    This is fresh and exciting, given the remarkable lack of curiosity on the part of economists in Newfoundland in the past 10 years or so.

  • Winston Adams
    October 13, 2012 - 15:23

    Excellant idea. I wonder if Mr Locke would assess my proposal of Energy Efficiency as an alternative to new generation source such as Muskrat Falls. Especially since other jurisdictions are achieving over 2 percent per year reductions verus 2/10 of 1 percent per year here. Given the uncertainity of our island load growth, this is a critical issue to address before Muskrat gets sanctioned, as efficiency may cripple the economics of this project. Electricity for efficient space and water heat consumes less than half the electricity. Is there any better and more urgent need to address the economics of this for the homeowner and small business? Yes , put politics aside. Look at the technical issues, reliability, and especially the economics.

  • yo mama
    October 13, 2012 - 11:33

    There are no costs associated with preventing accidents...do the limit, put down the phone, newspapers, lipstick, food, Shit-zu's....open your eyes and pay attention, problem solved.