Fraser Forum

Economic progress stalling for Canada and other G7 countries

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Economic progress stalling for Canada and other G7 countries

For decades, Canada and other countries in the G7 have been known as the economic powerhouses of the world. They generally have had the biggest economies and the most prosperous countries. But in recent years, poor government policy across the G7 has contributed to slowing economic growth and near-stagnant living standards.

Simply put, the Group of Seven countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States—have become complacent. Rather than build off past economic success by employing small governments that are limited and efficient, these countries have largely pursued policies that increase or maintain high taxes on families and businesses, increase regulation and grow government spending.

Canada is a prime example. As multiple levels of government have turned on the spending taps to expand programs or implement new ones, the size of total government has surged ever higher. Unsurprisingly, Canada’s general government spending as a share of GDP has risen from 39.3 per cent in 2007 to 42.2 per cent in 2022.

At the same time, federal and provincial governments have increased taxes on professionals, businessowners and entrepreneurs to the point where the country’s top combined marginal tax rate is now the fifth-highest among OECD countries. New regulations such as Bill C-69, which instituted a complex and burdensome assessment process for major infrastructure projects and Bill C-48, which prohibits producers from shipping oil or natural gas from British Columbia’s northern coast, have also made it difficult to conduct business.

The results of poor government policy in Canada and other G7 countries have not been pretty.

Productivity, which is typically defined as economic output per hour of work, is a crucial determinant of overall economic growth and living standards in a country. Over the most recent 10-year period of available data (2013 to 2022), productivity growth has been meagre at best. Annual productivity growth equaled 0.9 per cent for the G7 on average over this period, which means the average rate of growth during the two previous decades (1.6 per cent) has essentially been chopped in half. For some countries such as Canada, productivity has grown even slower than the paltry G7 average.

Since productivity has grown at a snail’s pace, citizens are now experiencing stalled improvement in living standards. Gross domestic product (GDP) per person, a common indicator of living standards, grew annually (inflation-adjusted) by an anemic 0.7 per cent in Canada from 2013 to 2022 and only slightly better across the G7 at 1.3 per cent. This should raise alarm bells for policymakers.

A skeptic might suggest this is merely a global phenomenon. But other countries have fared much better. Two European countries, Ireland and Estonia, have seen a far more significant improvement than G7 countries in both productivity and per-person GDP.

From 2013 to 2022, Estonia’s annual productivity has grown more than twice as fast (1.9 per cent) as the G7 countries (0.9 per cent). Productivity in Ireland has grown at a rapid annual pace of 5.9 per cent, more than six times faster than the G7.

A similar story occurs when examining improvements in living standards. Estonians enjoyed average per-person GDP growth of 2.8 per cent from 2013 to 2022—more than double the G7. Meanwhile, Ireland’s per-person GDP has surged by 7.9 per cent annually over the 10-year period. To put this in perspective, living standards for the Irish grew 10 times faster than for Canadians.

But this should come as no surprise. Governments in Ireland and Estonia are smaller than the G7 average and impose lower taxes on individuals and businesses. In 2019, general government spending as a percentage of GDP averaged 44.0 per cent for G7 countries. Spending for governments in both Estonia and Ireland were well below this benchmark.

Moreover, the business tax rate averaged 27.2 per cent for G7 countries in 2023 compared to lower rates in Ireland (12.5 per cent) and Estonia (20.0 per cent). For personal income taxes, Estonia’s top marginal tax rate (20.0 per cent) is significantly below the G7 average of 49.7 per cent. Ireland’s top marginal tax rate is below the G7 average as well.

Economic progress has largely stalled for Canada and other G7 countries. The status quo of government policy is simply untenable.

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