Benefit-Cost Analysis of R&D Support Programs

Posted: 14 Feb 2013

Date Written: February 12, 2013


The knowledge created by private spending on research and development (R&D) generates benefits for society as well as for the firm performing the research, so there is a strong case for government intervention to encourage R&D. But intervening in the market has costs, and these costs may exceed the benefits derived from the additional R&D. This article describes an approach for assessing the net economic benefit arising from R&D support programs and presents results for two federal programs: the scientific research and experimental development (SR & ED) tax credit and the industrial research assistance program (IRAP).

The benefit-cost approach used in this article calculates the impact of R&D subsidies on real income taking into consideration the benefit created by knowledge spillovers from the induced R&D, the cost of financing the subsidies with taxes that unavoidably harm economic performance, the cost of shifting resources from their market-determined uses, and administration and compliance costs. The SR & ED credit has two components: a regular 20 percent credit and an enhanced 35 percent refundable credit for smaller Canadian-controlled firms. The regular credit generates a net economic benefit, but the enhanced credit fails a benefit-cost test, owing to higher compliance costs and a higher subsidy rate. IRAP also fails a benefit-cost test, despite the assumption that IRAP-funded R&D generates higher spillovers than R&D funded by the tax credit, owing to the high cost of administering and complying with the program.

The policy recommendations flowing from the analysis in this article are that the enhanced SR & ED tax credit should be aligned with an unchanged regular credit rate and that the IRAP model of providing firms with a substantial amount of one-on-one advice and imposing relatively burdensome reporting requirements should be revisited in order to reduce costs. The 2012 federal budget took a different approach: the regular credit rate was reduced to 15 percent, and IRAP funding was doubled without any changes to the program's structure. In contrast to the policy recommendations made in this article, these changes will reduce the net benefit from both the SR & ED tax credit and IRAP. In particular, without any changes to program structure, the additional IRAP funding will substantially increase the net loss from the program.

Keywords: Benefit-cost analysis, evaluation, R&D, SR & ED, tax credits, tax policy

Suggested Citation

Lester, John, Benefit-Cost Analysis of R&D Support Programs (February 12, 2013). Canadian Tax Journal/Revue Fiscale Canadienne, Vol. 60, No. 4, 2012, Available at SSRN:

John Lester (Contact Author)

University of Calgary

University Drive
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4

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