Skip to main content

Mike McCracken, a pioneer of Canadian economic modelling and an outspoken champion of full employment, has died.

Mr. McCracken, founder and president of Informetrica Ltd. collapsed and died suddenly outside his Ottawa home Monday night, according to long-time friend Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He was 75 years old.

Born in Tulsa, Okla., Mr. McCracken was lured away from the U.S. government in 1970 to lead the Economic Council of Canada's first macroeconomic modelling project, known as Candide, designed to simulate the performance of the economy over the short term.

He never left, founding Ottawa-based Informetrica in 1972, one of the country's first independent economic forecasters.

Never shy about sharing his views, Mr. McCracken emerged as one of the country's best-known and most widely quoted economists and forecasters.

"He was one of the people who helped shape economic thought in Canada because of his work on [macroeconomic] models," explained Ms. Yalnizyan, who says Mr. McCracken has been a friend and mentor since the two worked together on a federal workplace task force in the early 1990s.

Mr. McCracken was a controversial figure in Canadian economics because of his belief that central bankers and government officials were too focused on fighting inflation and slashing deficits, instead of job creation. He often sparred with former Bank of Canada governor John Crow, who established the bank's first inflation target in the early 1990s.

"He was not always on the favourite side of people at the Bank of Canada and the Finance Department, although they respected him greatly for his knowledge," acknowledged Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. "He lost a lot of credibility in academic circles because he didn't buy into that model. He felt very strongly that we were still under capacity, even at 6-per-cent unemployment."

Mr. McCracken would have been a fan of the federal Liberals' platform in the current federal election – that "balanced budgets are not the cure-all for our economic issues," according to Mr. Sharpe.

Mr. McCracken was a hero to many left-leaning economists, but was seen as an anachronism among government and Bay Street economists.

Yet, Ms. Yalnizyan insisted Mr. McCracken was a firm believer in markets to the end.

"He was not a progressive," she said. "People think of him as progressive, simply because he believed that full employment should be the ultimate goal. End of story. This guy was a pro-marketer."

Mr. McCracken was a macroeconomist, but he liked to tweak his models with demographic date to get a better feel for how powerful economic forces affect real people, particularly during hard times, said University of Alberta labour economist Alice Nakamura.

"He really believed in Canada," Prof. Nakamura said. "As an American, he saw what a difference equalization payments make for people in Canada."

Mr. McCracken, with degrees from Rice University and Southern Methodist University, was a driving force behind the Canadian Association for Business Economists. He led the organization twice, in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Canadian Economics Association created an award in his name in 2010 to honour individual contributions to the development of economic statistics in Canada. He won the John Kenneth Galbraith Prize in 2012, for his lifetime contributions to economics and social justice.