Tagged: Fraser Institute

Great moments in timing

Despite having been embroiled in democracy protests for the last few weeks, the Fraser Institute has decided this is an awesome moment to trumpet Hong Kong’s freedom…the only type of freedom that matters to them:

Priorities, people. Priorities!

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Childcare in the real world

Spouse just updated me on a friend, a single Mom.

In the Fraser Institute’s world, she is someone who spends nothing on child care. In the real world she is someone who has been forced to take 2 night shifts a week (ie. work until 3 am) to accommodate care of her child.

Because she couldn’t find childcare for her toddler.

Now, think about that. You work 2 night shifts. 3 day shifts. How do you think your sleep pattern is holding up? How often do you get to see your child?

She has a good union job. It’s not about being unable to afford it, although it would undoubtedly be a big financial hit.

It’s because there simply aren’t enough childcare spots to go around.

Reader mail: On the state of journalism

A friend and former reporter from Scotland writes:

Right. I’ve read the post. So how do I put this…

You’re right. And you’re wrong.

Right, inasmuch as the shenanigans highlighted are a sad and troubling sign of the decline of the journalism professionalism.

Wrong, inasmuch as the role of “editor” is no longer one synonymous – or requiring – extensive, practical journalism experience. And it hasn’t been for 30 years or so.

As sheer commercialism has come to dominate the newspaper industry, so has the role of editor become one more attuned to that of departmental manager in a large industrial organisation. He need not necessarily have a nose for news or be capable of noticing the subtle swings in his readership’s attitudes so long as he can deliver a “product” to a budget.

Too, I’ve got to say, having this Mr Mihlar cruise from a thinktank into a media role and then into a public policy position is substantively no different from newer generations of politicians graduating from think tanks to public positions and then to cosy board appointments. Both types of career can be subject to accusations of nest-padding or shilling. How often do we bait our political masters over their lack of “real life” experience, of having experienced only the world within a bubble of unreality?

I was touched to read “The public need investigative reporters, not court stenographers or industry spokespeople.” You could have had this in the era of that redoubtable Canadian press baron, Lord Thomson. But in the day of Murdoch? Not so much.

Seriously, for an insight into the general lie of the media land today, have a gander at “Flat Earth News”.  Written from a UK media perspective, it nevertheless applies across the board  in those places where a “free” press is supposed to prevail. Read it, weep, and wonder no more why I turned my (principled?) back on the field years ago.

Mr Mihlar’s progress is merely a symptom of a deeper disease. It’s that malady that should be being railed against. But it’s difficult to do (or, at least difficult to do credibly) because it means recognising that the media audience/market has changed, that readers no longer clamour for news and that we ourselves bear responsibility for this decline from the ideal. The mover-and-shaker classes (the career politicos, big business etc) have recognised that, by and large, people just don’t give a sh!t any more. It’s said we get the politicians we deserve. Same goes for our media.

Perhaps I’m idealistic or naive or both but I tend to think the decline in profitability of newspapers is in part due to this de-highlighting of their traditional role outlined above. Despite the widely held belief “the people” want Entertainment Weekly rather than hard news I think it’s more a case the people want Entertainment Weekly with their hard news. The success of The Guardian speaks to that, I think.

But The Scot is wise and almost always right.

Fazil Follies: The Perfect End

Fazil Mihlar went from the Fraser Institute to being an editor with the Vancouver Sun to being the Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of the B.C. Liberal government’s oil & gas initiatives. Joining other journalists who have moved seemlessly from the pages and television screens of big journalism into the employ of those they were reporting on and, supposedly, serving as watchdog over on the public’s behalf (Hi, Pamela Martin!).

During his time at the Sun, Mihlar wrote countless articles in support of oil and gas projects (Example. Also: See here). Can we really say he was acting on the behalf of the public interest during his tenure?

That’s a rhetorical question.

This is a big problem for the field of journalism. A big problem, and I’m sorry that people like Vaughn Palmer don’t see what the big deal is. The public need investigative reporters, not court stenographers or industry spokespeople. Even if it’s just a perception of a conflict of interest, perception counts. And in this case I don’t think it was merely perception. The record speaks for itself.

P.S. I’m sure Mihlar is a very nice fellow on a personal level.

UPDATE: Here is Mr. Mihlar’s LinkedIn profile. You’ll note he has an M.A. in Public Administration, a B.A. in economics, a “diploma” in Marketing and, notably, no degree/certificate/diploma in journalism. Yet he was Editorial Page Editor at the Sun 2003-2012. Guess which degree diploma he got the most use out of?

Again, I’m sure he’s a very nice fellow. This is not ultimately a comment on Fazil Mihlar. What this really speaks to is the Vancouver Sun and how much faith you, the public, should put into it.

Fraser Follies: Kids are cheap edition

Every once in a while the Fraser Institute will write something so sloppy and transparent that even a schmuck like me can see through it. Such is the case with today’s release of their report “The Cost of Raising Children” (also discussed here in the Globe, CBC and by Don Cayo in the Sun.

The big red flags in this report is that they don’t include the cost of daycare or housing.

Yes, you read that right.

But first, based on a 2011 Moneysense article1 that bases its estimates solely on costs in Winnipeg and an “informal online survey” down in 2010 for Today’s Parent magazine (amongst other things) the Institute calculates the cost of raising a child – sans daycare, sans housing – to be $2,264.38/yr for a 4-year-old and $4,115.04 for a 12-year-old. Or $6.20/day for the former and $11.27/day for the latter. That’s not food. That’s everything. Except daycare. And housing.

One thing that popped out for me is the Institute study used average family household income for families with children, rather than median. Which is what you’re supposed to use, really, when discussing non-symmetrically distributed things like income. According to the study, the average after-tax household income in 2009 with 2 parents, 1 child  was $109,412. According to StatsCan, the median after-tax household income in 2007 with 2 parents, 1 child+ was $73,000. Gee, I wonder why they chose to use the average rather than the median. The study also doesn’t include the loss of income if one parent stays home because it’s “difficult”. But that’s easy to calculate from the StatsCan report above – the median income of  a 2 parent, 1 earner with children household is $49,300. So 73,000 – 49,300 = $23,700. Of note, the average cost of daycare in Vancouver is estimated at $1200/mo (which jives with my personal experience). That’s $14,400/yr and certainly not economical for one parent to forgo employment.

So, yeah, daycare. Why wasn’t it included?

Well, says the Institute, based on nothing at all,  “it’s mainly because many families with children will have little or no daycare costs”. For example, “in some two parent (intact) families, one parent may decide to stay at home” which, as we saw above, isn’t actually very economical. How many households are there where one parent decides to stay home? Well the HRDC (sorry only Google web cache available at the moment) says it’s the minority. In 61.9% of 2 parent households with children both parents work. Oh, btw, that’s for 2001. So by “many families” the Fraser Institute actually means “the minority of families”. Oh, there’s this chestnut too: “In other cases, parents may have free daycare at their place of employment or have a close relative who cares for pre-school children.” Yes, free employer-provided daycare. You get that when you receive your T4 and your unicorn. A relative helping out is more reasonable, but again no stats are cited in support. From anecdotes I know some relatives get paid for full-time daycare service or some other cost in kind.

And then there’s housing, also known as “shelter”. Well it shouldn’t be included either. Home ownership, you see, is a “financial investment that yields a rate of return over time.” The “over time” part is the key one. Oh sure, when you’re 65 you can sell your house and make, perhaps, a nice profit. But that really doesn’t help you in the here and now, does it? Also suggested by the Institute: Housing costs don’t have to rise if you have extra children – you can just make them sleep in the closet under the stairwell.

So what’s it all about then? Well, concludes the Fraser Institute:

There are vested interests in having high costs for raising children. The social welfare community, a broad coalition of public service workers, social activists, academics, and many journalists, is active in lobbying the state for more resources for families with children. This agenda, associated with left-liberal and social democratic positions, is part of a redistributionist perspective and it would be naive to ignore the influence it has on public policy. A high cost of children is consistent with this agenda.

The infamous Childcare-Industrial Complex. Also, and: Socialism.

Similarly, child support schemes that compel non-custodial parents to pay custodial parents [more in child support]

Nothing angry white man about that.

So, people of Canada, stop being afraid and start having more babies. Canada needs a good source of future cheap labour a boost to the national birthrate.

1 The author of which stated “I found that some of the costs we calculated were a little low” (Cornell, 2011: 6)”.

UPDATE: Edited for clarity.

UPDATE 2: RossK explains why some of the peer reviewers at the Fraser Institute might still be dead.

Ethics Absent: A Grand Unified Theory of Political Scandal?

Yesterday three stories dominated my Twitter feed.

The first was the news that the Government of Malaysia had employed a conservative writer of my acquaintance, Joshua “Tacitus” Trevino, to write stories (or subcontract out to others) favourable to the Malay government and/or critical of opposition [and pro-democracy] figures. And that he did, failing to disclose to the publications he wrote for that he was operating as a marketer rather than as a journalist. Failing to register too, with the US government that he was serving as a foreign agent (ie. someone in the employ of a foreign government) – a serious offence that could lead to jail time (they allowed him to retroactively register to his great good fortune). He even lied when confronted by another journalist.

His tweets after the story broke indicate a lack of remorse. Or an awareness he had betrayed his [extreme] conservative values by advancing the interests of a repressive [and Islamic!] government. The only thing wrong, to Mr. Trevino, was that he got caught.

The second was the continuing fallout of Tom “Conservative Godfather” Flanagan.

He demonstrates the fundamental flaw in libertarian thinking with his involuntary reductio ad absurdum. Let the marketplace decide, goes the mantra, but there are markets that simply should not be created, and child porn is obviously one of them.

“Obviously?” Not, it seems, to an ideologue like Flanagan. As Michael Harris asks, where does he think child porn comes from? It’s just pictures, right? The radical immorality at the heart of libertarianism is brutally revealed.”

The last is closer to home – the “ethnic-gate” scandal, which continues to unfold. Now the ethically challenged nature of the B.C. Liberal government is well-documented but what is interesting is the reaction by the Vancouver Sun’s editor Fazil Mihlar which is, more or less, there is no wrong-doing here.

I will outsource to Ian Reid that appropriate response to Mr. Mihlar’s lack of understanding of the law, the rules that govern the B.C. civil service and ethics in general.

But it really struck me that these three stories are related and are rooted in a certain strain of conservatism. You can add in the foibles of the federal Conservatives too – Bruce Carson, Dean Del Maestro, Tony Clement, the F-35 affair.

They all display a similar set of ethics. A set of ethics that stands apart from the traditional maintream understanding of what ethics means.

And I am beginning to believe there is a sort of grand unified theory out there that explains it all. I can’t really express it coherently yet, but I don’t really think it’s “mere corruption”. The philosophy of Ayn Rand plays an important part and it’s view that it’s the market and not the state or society that determines morality and ethics. Whether any of the figures mentioned above are direct devotees of Rand or not, her ideas have infected modern conservatism and modern conservative political parties. Certainly, in this country, through the Fraser Institute and certainly through the “Calgary School.”

UPDATE: Paul Krugman

Think Tank’s Ideas Shifted As Malaysian Ties Grew:

For years, the Heritage Foundation sharply criticized the autocratic rule of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denouncing his anti-Semitism, his jailing of political opponents and his “anti-free market currency controls.”

Then, late in the summer of 2001, the conservative nonprofit Washington think tank began to change its assessment …

Heritage’s new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage’s president, began representing Malaysian business interests. The for-profit firm, called Belle Haven Consultants, retains Feulner’s wife, Linda Feulner, as a “senior adviser.” And Belle Haven’s chief operating officer, Ken Sheffer, is the former head of Heritage’s Asia office and is still on Heritage’s payroll as a $75,000-a-year consultant.

Hmmm.

It seems that some years ago Malaysia’s ruling party took a good look at leading pundits and policy intellectuals in the conservative movement, reached a judgment about their personal and intellectual integrity or lack thereof, and acted in accordance with that judgment.

The market at work in the fields of morality.

The Fraser Institute’s idea of academic freedom isn’t quite like yours or mine

Yesterday there was a bit of a Twitter fight between Kevin Milligan, Professor of Economics at UBC, and whoever runs the Fraser Institute’s Twitter account. Basically Professor Milligan noted the Niels Veldhuis’s poor grasp of statistics was grounds for promotion at the Institute (having recently been named President).

This is all based on Veldhuis’s defense of axing the long-form census last summer, something that was opposed by the overwhelming majority of think-tanks across the ideological spectrum, as well as business and community groups. Here’s but one critique.

Sometimes the discussion wasn’t very polite. I understand “toadlicking suckups” might have been said by one party, and “Krugmanesque shrillness” (My god, pass the smelling salts!) by another. Oops. Professor Milligan later apologized for some of the more colourful terms:

https://twitter.com/#!/kevinmilligan/status/190576943085785088

So….what would you do if you were a libertarian think-thank committed to freedom as well as being an equal opportunity workplace for the differently living?

Okay. Hmm…I wonder what “Sierra Rayne” has to say that’s so good about this that it justified a shout out by the Fraser Institute?

What a disgraceful public performance by a civil servant. This level of behavior should be grounds for immediate disciplinary action by UBC against Milligan – provided the post-secondary system had any accountability and basic standards for public behavior by academics (which, it sadly appears it does not). One could imagine how a professor from a major North American university publicly attacking the credibility of a private sector think-tank could negatively affect the current and future cash flows of said think-tank. Why should taxpayers be on the financial line for such irresponsible behavior as Milligan displayed?

Yes, won’t someone please think of the donors.

Although I have a hunch that for the Fraser Institute’s secretive group of donors, Niels Veldhuis’s grasp of statistics is a feature, not a bug.

UPDATE: Kevin Milligan has written a full recounting of his criticism of Veldhuis.

UPDATE 2:

UPDATE 3: Welcome Gazetteers!

Orwell’s Clowns: Co-opting Pay Equity

I think most Canadians have heard of pay equity – although it’s not just equal pay for equal work.

Equivalent responsibilities + equivalent qualifications = equal compensation.

The market, you see, can be subject to the same negative social bias – gender, racial, sexuality – as anything else. It hasn’t corrected the effects of financial discrimination in the workplace without prodding. Hence pay equity initiatives.

In the most Orwellian attempt to co-opt a term I’ve heard in a long time, the Canadian Taxpayers Institute has come up with their own pay equity.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) released an Angus ReidPublic Opinion poll today showing an overwhelming number of British Columbians believe government workers are being paid more than taxpayers can afford and should be brought in line with the private sector.

Four in five British Columbians said compensation for government employees should be the same as what private sector employees earned. Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) said they would support provincial legislation—a Compensation Equity Act—to ensure governments can’t blow the budget on bureaucrat wages.

How nice. Basically they want public sector wages tied to the private sector. There’s quite a few problems here, including the poll itself. Here’s a sample:

In fact, government employees are paid, on average, 10% more than private sector employees doing the same work, and receive a total compensation that is 30% higher. Thinking about this, do you think this situation is fair or unfair?

Followed by…

[DO YOU THINK] compensation for the government employees should be in line with what private sector employees earn in the same jobs.

What’s the question not asked? Well, this:

[DO YOU THINK] compensation for private sector employees should be in line with what government employees earn in the same jobs.

The CTF claims government employees are paid, on average, 10% more than private sector employees doing the same work, and receive a total compensation that is 30%
higher. And what’s that claim based on? Well…

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation cites as the source for its wage gap estimate studies by right-wing think-tank the Fraser Institute, as well as the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Say, now that sound familiar! I’ve written about them before, particularly the Frontier study here and here, and see this from Policy Note. Despite the claim, these studies are not apples to apples comparisons. They’re apples to oranges, or cherry-picked professions that support their argument, ignoring the professions that don’t. That said, the Brits have found...[w]ork in the public sector and you will be paid more, get shorter hours and probably be more qualified. But it’s not as simple as that…

No, it’s not. I would read the whole thing here. Read that, then let’s return to my old friend Jordan Bateman:

Bateman pointed to the controversy over TransLink executive bonuses as the most recent example of the public saying enough to ever-increasing pay and perks for government employees

Note he doesn’t choose median wage earners for his example. He chooses upper management. Which is funny, because upper management is better compensated in the private sector. Presumably under the CTF’s Compensation Equity Act our Translink executives would see a pay equity boost to their compensation.

And at lower income levels….well, yes, the statistics do suggest the public sector is better treated. For example, women don’t see as much wage discrimination. Or immigrants.. You know, because of things like pay equity.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation isn’t about lifting ordinary people up. It’s about cutting ordinary people down…all for the benefit of the most privileged in our society.

And they know it, so they are trying to muscle in on and co-opt the message of #Occupy.

#occupyvancouver: Picking your targets wisely

Occupy Vancouver protesters disrupted the first major mayoral debate of the civic election, shouting down Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Non-Partisan Association Coun. Suzanne Anton

Vancouver Sun

That a movement dedicated not only to shining a spotlight on the economic imbalance in our society but also the restoration of our democratic system would choose as it’s 2nd major target a democratic function is a damn shame and an own goal, in my opinion.

You might feel – with some justification – that both Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton unhealthily represent the interests of real estate developers. You might feel – with absolute justification – that debate moderator and Vancouver Sun editor Fazil Mihlar is a mouthpiece for the Fraser Institute. But it’s irrelevant: a candidate’s debate is an exercise in democracy regardless of who the participants are, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that a democratic movement would seek to squash it. It makes is seem you are attempting to suppress what little democracy we have left rather than restore and enhance it.

If it had been any event other than a debate. A speech. A fundraising dinner. And so on. There is, in fact, significant sympathy in the mainstream press. The Globe now has an ongoing series, and just yesterday Pete McMartin had a very sympathetic column. If this is truly a movement “of the 99%”, then don’t piss away some of the 99%’s good will. A truly mass movement will require compromises. For example, secular Egyptians made common cause with the Muslim Brotherhood, and vice versa.

Every #Occupy movement has it’s issues unique to it’s city. Every #Occupy movement seems to be developing it’s own flavour. What are the key issues facing Vancouverites? Homelessness. Housing affordability. Stagnant Wages. A moribund electoral system. Less so some of the issues with the banking sector that, say, New Yorkers righteously have. Let’s face it, Vancouver is not a centre of finance. So while I don’t mind the first action #occupyvancouver took – occupying a TD Bank – I don’t think it will strike a chord here.

They need to choose their targets for maximum relevance and maximum effect. (And hey, maybe the Olympic Village is appropriate here…)

Earlier I worried that #occupyvancouver might simply be an exercise in “the usual suspects”. So far it seems to be playing out that way. Old techniques. Ancient grudges. Same old, same old.

I truly hope to be proved wrong.

UPDATE: A proposed code of conduct for #OccupyVancouver, and it’s not bad!

UPDATE 2: The #OccupyVancouver twitter account (whoever that is) denies this was an official action:

Brett Mineer:

It seems more likely someone from the camp went down with a few Occupiers on their own (this would later be confirmed when a few protesters

Things that make you go hmmm…Koch Bros edition

Oh my! It would seem I’ve recently received a visit from someone working for the infamous billionaires, the Koch Brothers – financial backers of a large array of extreme right-wing causes and astroturf. Why, they were in the news just yesterday, for very naughty things.

So what, you say. They have a right to use the internet and if they stumble in here, well, it’s not statistically impossible.

However, my WordPress.com stats tell me they came, not via Google or Yahoo or Bing, but via us.cisionpoint.com. What’s that? Why it’s a media and social media monitoring service. If your company is mentioned in the press or on the internet, Cisionpoint will help you find it and assess it. Which is probably a good business practice these days.

However however, the story they came to, directly, isn’t about the Koch Brothers. The Kochs aren’t mentioned at all.

It’s about the Fraser Institute.

Why is somebody at Koch Industries monitoring media and social media mentions of The Fraser Institute?

Hmmm? (asked rhetorically)