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The Fraser Institute's 'research' is junk -- have a happy Labour Day!

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While the conclusions of the Fraser Institute's annual Labour Day attack on labour unions and the rights of working people to bargain collectively are predictably in tune with the market fundamentalist nostrums of the globalized corporations that bankroll its efforts, the group's methodology appears to be shifting in an interesting way.

The so-called "institute" released a paper yesterday that asserts the more heavily the labour relations field is tilted in favour of corporate employers, the more "balanced" it is -- an absolute inversion of reality.

This is no surprise because, no matter what the subject, Fraser Institute "research" always lines up precisely with the agenda of its corporate financiers.

However, in the past, the Fraser Institute at least has reported measurable facts accurately in the fine print even as it reached conclusions those facts could not support. Often, it cherry picked which numbers to count and, if that wouldn't work, fell back on statistical sleight of hand and simply reported conclusions unsupported by the evidence.

Most of the time, this technique works pretty well since the journalists who receive the organization's myriad press releases seldom bother to actually read the group's reports or seek balancing commentary.

However, it has also resulted in some spectacular "own goals" by the $11-million-plus market-fundamentalist boiler room's crack research team when someone has actually bothered to read through their "peer reviewed" efforts.

For example, in the Vancouver-based organization's 2012 Labour Day report -- which unsurprisingly reached virtually identical conclusions to this year's effort -- the statistics accurately reported in the back pages showed the opposite of the "conclusions" reached by the researchers.

This is a very common Fraser Phenomenon, often noted in the pages of this blog. Recently, to cite just one other example, a Fraser Institute report that concluded "Alberta's finances are in worse shape than other energy-producing provinces and states" was based on hard numbers that in fact showed Alberta's finances are in better shape than other energy-producing provinces and states.

Returning to the Labour Day argument, while the Fraser Institute claimed in 2012 that strong unions, fair minimum wages and plenty of public sector jobs undermined growth and productivity, the statistics cited in the same report showed that Canadian provinces that ranked near the top for economic performance also ranked near the "bottom," in the Fraser Institute's estimation, for labour market conditions.

U.S. "right to work" states, which have laws designed to make it difficult for unions to operate, did poorly by contrast according to the same broad economic measures -- the opposite of the Fraser Institute's misleading conclusions stated at the top of its press release.

So, this year, the Fraser Institute seems to have dealt with this chronic problem by simply eliminating the embarrassing data contained in their previous Labour Day releases on labour market performance entirely and moving directly to writing fiction.

The 2014 Labour Day report continues to have pretty charts with coloured bars and lots of numbers, but they don't report on any metrics that are actually relevant to the paper's two authors' stated belief that laws making it hard for unions to operate produce higher living standards.

The reason, of course, is that if you actually dig out the hard numbers not found in this latest Fraser report, they show the opposite, just as economist Andrew Jackson illustrated with the numbers the Fraser Institute published in 2012.

So the "conclusions" of the 2014 Fraser Institute Labour Day paper are nothing more than the authors' unsubstantiated opinions.

In other words, the Fraser Institute is now applying the methodology of "creation science" to the study of economics! The results, of course, are much the same.

The Fraser Institute's holy, beneficent and all-powerful market, like the notion of "intelligent design," is at base a religious view, although one that conveniently serves the economic interests of the "institute's" financiers.

In its 2014 effort, the group rather cutely did create an index score for every jurisdiction in Canada and the United States (with a suitably scientific-seeming decimal point), said to indicate "the extent to which labour relations laws bring flexibility to the labour market while balancing the interests of employers, employees, and unions."

But it produced no evidence to tie this to its claim -- presented as if it were a conclusion -- that such anti-union legislation results in a higher standard of living.

Unsurprisingly, states where employers have all the rights were quite subjectively declared to have done well, and provinces where the rights of working people are better protected, not so well.

Since any measure showing a relationship between these rights and economic performance is no longer noted, the potential for embarrassment is thereby eliminated.

According to the Fraser Institute's claims, places like Newfoundland, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are terrible places to live, work and do business, whereas jurisdictions like Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina are just peachy.

It's tiresome to have to say this, but these points bear constant repetition: The Fraser Institute is not a serious research organization. The research it produces is junk. Its conclusions are fundamentally dishonest. And any newspaper editor who publishes its press releases without balance or reaction is a disgrace.

Have a happy Labour Day weekend.

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

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