Basic income & beyond: Researching economic policy topicsPublished by Mark Bodnar
If I were to ask you to do some research for an essay, you'd probably assume I was referring to digging up some academic journal articles, right? The connection between scholarly articles and essays is undeniably strong, and with good reason: the peer review process involved in publishing such articles ensures their high quality.
Nevertheless, there is a vast world of information beyond journals. For many assignments it may be acceptable to cite government reports, think tank analysis, ebook chapters, and even news articles. (Ask your instructors about the boundaries before taking my advice!)
This term, our ECON 220W students are researching some economic policy topics (e.g., progressive vs regressive taxation) that are deeply covered in a wide range of information sources. I thought I'd highlight for those classes –- and for all business & economics researchers –- the wide range of information types available on such topics.
I'm going to use Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a hypothetical research topic. UBI is a hot topic these days, and it's similar to the topics assigned in ECON 220W this term. Most importantly, UBI is covered in enough sources that I can use it to explain the categories that pop into my mind as soon as I start researching almost any economic policy topic.
Canadian Points of View Reference Centre : Start with these short Overview and Guide to Critical Analysis essays on basic income programs, then scan the brief Point and Counterpoint summaries to get a sense of the key issues and perspectives.
CQ Researcher is a good source for "... original, comprehensive reporting and analysis on issues in the news" –- and I see that it offers a detailed report on Universal Basic Income. The perspective is American, but the content may still be useful. Be sure to check out the Pro/Con segment as well as the Bibliography.
Harvard's Journalist's Resource "...examines news topics through a research lens." Start with their 2017 article: Universal basic income: Money for nothing or efficient equalizer?
Government and intergovernmental organizations
A few samples:
- Canada: Costing a national guaranteed basic income using the Ontario basic income model
- US: Universal basic income proposals for the United States
- UK: The introduction of a universal basic income
- Australia: Basic income: a radical idea enters the mainstream
- OECD: Basic income as a policy option: Can it add up?
- World Bank: Exploring Universal Basic Income : A Guide to Navigating Concepts, Evidence, and Practices
- IMF: Universal Basic Income: Debate and Impact Assessment
Think tanks & research institutes
Before you use such reports, be sure to read any available "About" section on each organisation's page and scan the titles of their other reports so that you have a clear idea of the perspective they are likely to take on such topics. Seek balance!
Explore the results of the following pre-run searches at three major Canadian think tanks to start:
- CD Howe Institute: Basic Income & Guaranteed Annual Income
- Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Basic Income & Guaranteed Annual Income
- Fraser Institute: Basic Income & Guaranteed Annual Income
And if you need more of this sort of thing...
Harvard's Think Tank Search tool can be a useful way to search across many such think tanks, although it does tend to cover more US-based organizations than others. Sample search: Universal Basic Income.
The public policy aspect of the Canadian Electronic Library from desLibris can be a good source for government documents, think tank reports, and research institute analyses. Sample search: Basic Income as subject. (You might need to click twice on that search link.)
Also see Coalition Canada: "...a cross-country network of experienced basic income advocates." Be sure to check out their member list to find many more interest groups!
As with think tanks, it's important to be aware of the perspective such groups have on a topic so that you can look elsewhere for information from other perspectives.
Public opinion polling firms
- Basic Income? Basically unaffordable, say most Canadians (Angus Reid Institute) - Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the detailed tables.
- Public Perspectives: Universal Basic Income (Ipsos) - As discussed in this news article.
- Majority approves of Ontario's basic income plan, many find $17,000 per year too little an amount (Campaign Research) - Full details including tables available here.
Still with news sources, the following publications are known for producing in-depth, high-quality stories:
- The Conversation – search for Basic Income
- The Guardian – search for Universal Basic Income
- Canada's National Observer – search for Basic Income
- Financial Times – search for Universal Basic Income, plus see this sample: "Explainer" on UBI
Note: SFU researchers recently gained full access to FT content. Click here for details.
As with think tanks and interest groups, it's important to actively seek out alternative/counter perspectives on any topic. It can be easy for a flood of articles from one perspective to drown out all others. See, for instance, this article from Spring Magazine.
Even though I'm urging you to expand your horizons, journal articles remain integral to most academic papers, so of course I'll list a few key journal sources here, starting with what may be the perfect publication for this topic: Basic Income Studies.
Think beyond the borders of your discipline when choosing which article database to search... research on a topic like UBI may have been published in business, economics, political science, or sociology journals... and that's just a start!
Here are some key databases in each of the subjects listed above, along with links to pre-run searches for articles on universal basic income:
- Business Source Complete – rough search
- ECONLIT – rough search
- Political Science Complete – rough search
- Sociological Abstracts – rough search
Or for interdisciplinary searches, try...
- Academic Search Premier – rough search
- Google Scholar (via the SFU Library to streamline access to our subscribed resources) – rough search
- Microsoft Academic – rough search
Finally, although they aren't peer reviewed, working papers by academics and by organizations such as Central Banks can be useful resources for many economic policy topics. Some, such as the NBER working papers, are available via SFU Library subscriptions (sample search), but most are free online. Use sites such as SSRN and IDEAS/RePEc to dig up working papers on your topic.
Again, as interesting as universal basic income is as a topic, this post is actually a not-so-sneaky attempt to highlight the wide range of information types available to economics researchers. I hope that by exploring the same sources (and by generally thinking in terms of these categories), you'll quickly find all the information you could ever hope for. If not... email me!
Good luck with your research!
Economics & Business Librarian
P.S.: Images of Canada's Parliament buildings courtesy of Clem Sim, of a person reading a newspaper by Julius Drost, and of currencies by Annie Spratt, all on Unsplash. Line drawings are all from The Noun Project.