Carney questions the diagnosis

Mark Carney takes on the Dutch Disease debate.

Some regard Canada’s wealth of natural resources as a blessing. Others see it as a curse. The latter look at the global commodity boom and make the grim diagnosis for Canada of “Dutch Disease.” They dismiss the enormous benefits, including higher incomes and greater economic security, our bountiful natural resources can provide. Their argument goes as follows: record-high commodity prices have led to an appreciation of Canada’s exchange rate, which, in turn, is crowding out trade-sensitive sectors, particularly manufacturing. The disease is the notion that an ephemeral boom in one sector causes permanent losses in others, in a dynamic that is net harmful for the Canadian economy.

While the tidiness of the argument is appealing and making commodities the scapegoat is tempting, the diagnosis is overly simplistic and, in the end, wrong. Canada’s economy is much more diverse and much better integrated than the Dutch Disease caricature. Numerous factors influence our currency and, most fundamentally, higher commodity prices are unambiguously good for Canada. That is not to trivialise the difficult structural adjustments that higher commodity prices can bring. Nor is it to suggest a purely laissez-faire response. Policy can help to minimise adjustment costs and maximise the benefits that arise from commodity booms, but like any treatment, it is more likely to be successful if the original diagnosis is correct.

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