Alex Paterson

Think Tank Round-Up Volume 1: Feb. 19, 2013

February 20, 2013

As Larry Summers noted when he spoke at our Ottawa event in November 2013, “much of what political leaders say is the result of a careful study, a well placed op-ed, a strategically targeted email from an important and influential think tank.” It is easy to miss what is going on in this vibrant world, so we have decided to produce a bi-weekly round-up of news and views from think tanks in Canada and abroad.

We will focus on our five core areas of work, but also highlight any work that is of particular relevance to Canada and our subscribers. We hope you find this service useful. We’d love any feedback if you do (or don’t!).


In January and February, The C.D. Howe Institute published a series of reports on the sustainability of our healthcare system (Managing the cost of healthcare for an aging population). According to the reports, all provinces must modify the design of healthcare delivery from a pay-as-you-go to a prefunding structure (similar to pension funds). In addition, each province should benchmark its spending with other provinces to get the best “bang for their buck”. This is in line with the thinking from our own work on raising productivity within the public sector. Canada lags many other countries in its efforts in this regard. Even where we experiment, we frequently fail to learn from each other and make little use of strategies such as benchmarking.

Meanwhile, the Hudson Institute, a non-partisan Washington think tank, published an interesting report looking at the growth and profit of food chains. In Lower-Calorie Foods: It’s Just Good Business, the Hudson Institute discovered that companies that introduced more low-calorie products have seen better growth in sales. It seems that healthy simply makes good business sense.

Income inequality and productivity in focus

The hot topic of the hour, not only here in Canada but in the US, is income inequality and its broader impact on productivity, health and education.

The Brookings Institute looks at the impact of programs such as Success for All in the US in its report Middle Childhood Success and Economic Mobility. The study shows that programs of emotional learning and school reform improve the outcomes of children in low-income families by increasing family income at age 40 by 4%.

Following on from the State of the Union Address, the Centre for American Progress outlines a plan it believes the President should champion (Investing in Our Children – a plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care). As with the Brookings Institute work, the core argument is around the need to invest more money, more smartly in developing human capital, which will have a knock on effect on economic growth and improve the US fiscal situation. Childcare and preschool education provides an increasing focus for think tanks with this work being mirrored by an ongoing flagship project at the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK, entitled, Childcare: A strategic national priority?

Closer to home, the Conference Board of Canada presented new data in its How Canada Performs project. Some of the relevant findings are that Canada faces high rates of poverty and income inequality and this can, in the long run, threaten social cohesion.

Carbon and energy

On January 22nd, the Pembina Institute, a Calgary-based energy and environment think tank, published a report entitled Competing in Clean Energy. Based on interviews and discussions with energy entrepreneurs, executives, investors and academics, the report identifies two key hurdles faced in Canada: the lack of stable, long-term government policy and the difficulty of accessing capital. To remedy this, the Pembina Institute points to developing federal financial tools to encourage clean energy entrepreneurship, developing a national energy strategy and sending the right price signals.  

If you are looking for infographics, try the Our Growing/Falling Consumption page of the Canadian International Council website. It depicts the evolution of energy consumption of major economies and how they break down in terms of source of energy from 2001 to 2012. The infographics illustrate that China’s consumption of coal has more than doubled since 2001.

South of the border, the Centre for American Progress (CAP) published the report Increasing Opportunities for Chinese Direct Investment in U.S. Clean Energy. It argues that the United States and China have different comparative advantages and therefore should work together to innovate and rapidly commercialize and deploy new technologies. According to CAP, the partnership would lead to economies of scale.

That’s a wrap for this edition of the think tank round-up. If there’s something we missed, please do let us know by posting in the comments below.

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