History in the Staples Approach Essay

1279 Words 6 Pages
One of Canada's contributions to the history of ideas has been a kind of historical
economics. Now a neglected
artifact within the history of economic thought, as economics has moved on to non-historical,
modeling approaches to understanding, the staples approach can serve to show
how economics can be enriched by a historical dimension.
What is the staples approach and what makes it especially suitable to an
investigation of how history informs economic understanding? The staple theory has
been Canada's original contribution to the world of economic ideas (along with the
notion of "effective protection" devised by Clarence Barber of the University of
Manitoba3). The observations of Harold Innis, and others, in the 1930s led to
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It should be emphasised that Harold Innis was an economist and the staples
approach he put forward was market driven, in the sense that prices for the staple and for
the inputs into its production were the dynamic motive force in triggering, and sustaining,
the staple development. However, he was clear that Canada's development took place
with massive government intervention - the railways, the National Policy, the geological
survey - and accepted that without it Canada might never have come into existence as a
leading world power. Since The Wealth of Nations in 1776 economists had moved away
from a study of what induces economic development to a study of the allocation of
resources . One of the virtues of the staples thesis was its rounded approach to both
development and efficient allocation. In the language of Thomas Kuhn (1962) this was a
paradigm, reflecting a world view.
In Innis's staples approach considerable attention is directed towards the physical
characteristics of the particular staple product under consideration. One of his most
important works, The Fur Trade in Canada, has as its first chapter a short description of
the beaver and its typical locale, commencing with this passage:
The history of Canada…