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Never mind the details: Fraser Institute's a leader in press release production

TORONTO -- According to a press release issued last week by the Fraser Institute, which is one of Canada's leading producers of press releases, government employees earn more on average than equivalent private sector workers.

One is tempted to respond by shouting, "It's the market, Stupid!"

After all, when you're comparing qualified professionals doing important public service work to unskilled workers in the retail sector, as the Fraser institute seems to be doing in this slapdash and amateurish "study," one would expect the market to set higher rates of pay for the workers with skills and necessary qualifications.

What's more, one would also expect the Fraser Institute’s extremely well-compensated "researchers" to understand the concept of the market above all things -- since it's the alleged superiority to market solutions for everything, the facts notwithstanding, that is quite literally their raison d'etre.

Indeed, the market was exactly what they pleaded in their own defence when they were exposed on the day of their latest press release as highly paid hypocrites by an Ottawa Citizen blogger, who noticed in a U.S. tax return that a dozen Fraser Institute staff members are compensated in the comfortable six figures for their tireless market proselytizing, and that their founder and "senior fellow" is paid more than the Prime Minister of Canada!

But never mind that blind alley, because in fact the Fraser Institute’s "analysis" in this "study" and all the others exactly like it -- as has typically been the case with output of this organization over the past 38 years of its existence -- is full of apples-to-oranges comparisons, deceptive omissions and intentional ignorance designed to achieve the propaganda goals of its corporate paymasters.

So while it might be accurate to say public employees have a marginal edge in earnings over their private-sector counterparts in most provinces, the Fraser Institute's claim that public employees in Canada are paid on average 12 per cent more is almost certainly bogus.

The conclusion is based on labour force data for a single month (April 2011) and appears not to have taken occupation into account at all -- PhD statisticians make more than 7-Eleven clerks, quelle surprise! The study doesn't account for the level of government that employs the workers. It provides no figures on what the actual wages the group's researchers are looking at are -- just its magic "12% Delusion." I could go on, but why bother?

When a Canadian Union of Public Employees researcher did a better study using census data in 2011 -- I know, I know, CUPE's a public sector union and has a dog in the fight -- he found the difference between Canadian public and private sector workers in 2011 to be less than 1 per cent.

CUPE used census data and looked at 500 different detailed occupations to find, first, that there isn't much of a difference between public and private sector pay when the same jobs are compared honestly, and, second, that what difference exists is explained by the fact there's a much smaller wage gap for women in the public service than the private sector.

Indeed, back home in Alberta, when the Fraser Institute trotted out the same analysis of Alberta public employees' pay and claimed Alberta public employees earn 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts, a more detailed analysis using the data form the long-form census showed Alberta public employees earn an average 2 per cent less than their private-sector counterparts doing the same or similar work.

I guess that’s why the Fraser Institute's friends in the federal government were so anxious to get rid of that long-form census!

What's actually shocking about the Fraser Institute's latest claims is, given the difference in the marketability of the skills needed by a public sector shrunken to its bare essentials and those wanted by the de-skilled private sector, that the pay gap is so small.

But then, the Fraser Institute's job isn't really to provide honest comparisons. As has been said in this space before, its "researchers" are nothing more than full-time propagandists and unregistered lobbyists, paid to produce this nonsense and pass it off as legitimate, peer-reviewed research. Thanks again to their friends in the federal government, they are bankrolled by all of us through the organization's charitable status while its many technically prohibited political activities are winked at by the thoroughly politicized Canada Revenue Agency.

The Fraser Institute purports to be a "think tank" -- or, as it risibly puts it on its website, "Canada’s leading public policy think tank."

In fact, as noted above, about the only category in which it can honestly claim to be a Canadian leader is in the production of press releases.

So far in the first 98 days of 2013, the Fraser Institute has issued 21 news releases. That's one roughly every four and a half days for those of you without a calculator.

In 2012, the Vancouver-based organization published 54 releases, better than one every week.

Astonishingly, virtually all of them touted research that found "market solutions" always work better than public services. The few that didn't announced appointments and awards designed to give the "institute" its faux academic image, or that the University of Pennsylvania has ranked it the "top think tank in Canada."

Please! If this is top work, you really have to wonder about either the mushrooms they put in the omelets they serve in University of Pennsylvania’s cafeteria! Either that or the sophomoric efforts of all those other think tanks.

The Fraser Institute achieves this volume of press release production in part by recycling the same shoddy research over and over again into new press releases.

So the same meretricious research on which last Thursday's dubious claim that Canadian public sector workers enjoy a 12-per-cent premium over workers in the private sector, for example, was trotted out at least three times before -- for Alberta on Jan. 22, British Columbia on Jan. 24 and Ontario on Feb. 20.

In each case, the media picked up the story with naïve credulity and ran it without a word of reaction or criticism by experts in the field or opponents of the Fraser Institute's views.

Next: How the Fraser Institute always manages to get it news releases to run in the media without opposing comments.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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