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Roy George.

Montreal, Insti­tute for Research on Public Policy, c1983.
82pp, paper, $5.00.
ISBN 0-88654-003-9.


Reviewed by Thomas F. Chambers.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

In the past few years the Canadian economy has performed poorly. Tra­ditional policies have not solved our prob­lems; indeed, critics would claim that they have made them worse. This has re­sulted in considerable frustration and em­barrassment for our governments, who are often identified as the creators of our problems by the media. In desperation, politicians have been urged to try new policies, and being pragmatic, have been attentive to any sound idea.

One of the most popular of the new suggestions at the moment is for govern­ments to pick industries with a sure future and then support them in every way possible. This is called targeting win­ning industries. If this is done, advocates believe, Canada will be able to tap vast new markets, and create large numbers of new jobs. We will be able to depend less heavily on our traditional industries, and develop a new economy based on exciting new technology.

Roy George, in a thoughtful study, questions the validity of the winning in­dustry approach. It is his belief that it is almost impossible to choose industries with a sure future, and if assistance is given, we will have to ignore our tra­ditional industries In which we have had a comparative advantage.

Since the idea is relatively new, George surveys ten countries, including Canada, that have made some attempt to recog­nize and support winning industries. Eight of these are in Western Europe. The ninth is Japan. All have political systems comparable to Canada's and similar econ­omies. The conclusion George reaches is that we should be careful before embark­ing on a targeting approach. The results in every country are inconclusive and some­times confusing. Japan, for example, which strongly supports the strategy, has had considerable industrial growth; West Germany, on the other hand, which has paid little attention to targeting, has also had a lot of growth.

The targeting idea is popular in Canada George believes, because it promises a simple solution to our economic prob­lems. There is, he claims, no simple solution and all the evidence indicates that we should resist such a policy. Governments could easily pick the wrong industries, as they have done before, and the taxpayer would be left with the bill.

Thomas F. Chambers, Canadore College, North Bay, ON.
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