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The 10 per cent delusion: Fraser Institute gins up fake facts about Alberta public sector pay

The Fraser Institute didn't write the book "How to Lie With Statistics," a guy named Darrell Huff did, but they might as well have!

You've got to have a little respect for the tireless political lobbyists at the Vancouver-based "institute" -- they just never flag in their efforts to twist facts like pretzels to fit their paymasters' ideological agenda.

The full-time political lobby group's recent "study" purporting to demonstrate that public sector workers in Alberta earn 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts is a typical example. 

This in itself is not troubling. After all, the Fraser Institute's "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 -- bankrolled in part by all of us through its charitable status while its many political activities are winked at by the Canada Revenue Agency.

To their credit, sort of, these Fraser Institute apparatchiks normally base their spurious and misleading conclusions on actual facts -- giving rise, as in this case, to a species of data we have come to know as "Fraser Facts."

What is troubling -- indeed shocking -- is the habitual willingness of mainstream media to reprint this baloney without even giving its opponents an opportunity to comment on it, let alone critically examining it for themselves.

Naturally, the Fraser Institute's propagandists count on journalists to not read past the first few lines of their press releases -- or in the case of particularly conscientious hacks, the executive summary. It is hard not to see something more sinister at work, however, in the media's consistent failure to seek out balance when reporting on Fraserite findings, as every journalist is taught she must do in J-School.

In this way, Fraser Facts go down in the popular imagination as actual facts, unshakeable ideological building blocks upon which is built the foundation of our understanding of the important policy questions of the day.

And so, for example, we have the fanciful claim there's a 10-per-cent difference between public and private sector wages in Alberta, and moreover a 14-per-cent gap in B.C. (Stand by for Fraser Institute news releases making similar claims in every Canadian province because, whatever their deficiencies as researchers may be, they make up for them with their public relations skills, which are without parallel.)

Count on it that you’ll be hearing "the 10% Delusion" trotted out at political meetings and in letters to the editor from now until the day everything is privatized and the perfect ideological nirvana is in place -- and then watch out!

Don't, by the way, expect to be collecting a pension while you're watching out, because one of the principal goals of the Fraser Institute's research in to deprive working Canadians of fair defined-benefit pension plans and leave us all at the mercy of the "wealth management" industry, which is no doubt among the generous and anonymous corporate donors who support the group’s work, as it scoops away our savings a percent at a time into corporate profits.

So here's question the media could have asked, and didn’t, about this latest Fraser Institute study: Does it compare apples and apples?

Research done by an economist employed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees -- which like the Fraser Institute can be said to have a dog in this fight -- found the difference between Canadian public and private sector workers in 2011 to be less than 1 per cent.

Obviously there's a difference in methodology here. So, did anyone in the media think to compare the research methods used? (Rhetorical question: The answer is clearly, "Nope!")

The problem with the Fraser's conclusions is that they do in fact make the proverbial comparison between apples and oranges -- and it's worse that merely comparing, say, police officers' public sector salaries to security guards' private sector salaries. But now that we've mentioned it, who would you rather have coming to your house when you think you've heard a burglar? Obviously, such differences in training and responsibility are pretty significant -- and a good thing it is, too!

In fact, however, the methodology of the Fraser "study" is inferior to this. It doesn't appear to compare occupations at all! This may be a convenient way to reach conclusions that fit the Fraser Fact finders' biases, but it hardly lends confidence to their conclusions, if only anyone had bothered to check.

Do you think there might be a difference in training and responsibility between a Registered Nurse (a job typically found in the public sector) and a retail clerk (typically found in the private sector)? And who would you rather have caring for you as you cling to life in hospital? Just asking.

Should RNs be in the private sector? Well, no. But that's another question -- not the one the Fraser Institute is pretending to answer with this bogus study.

CUPE's research last year looked at 500 different detailed occupations and found, 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.

And this, it is said here, goes to the heart of the Fraser Institute's true objectives in publishing and publicizing this malarkey -- and also why they and their paymasters hate public service unions like CUPE so.

One thing the emphasis on fairness in public service has done is bring male and female wage rates much closer together.

Since the private sector employs large numbers of women, and since its objective is to pay everyone less, this presents a major problem for those who are determined to take advantage of the effects of large workplace pink-collar ghettos to lower everyone's wages. To put this in its most basic way, treating women fairly costs corporations money, and they don't like it one bit.

So the point of the statistics cooked by the Fraser Institute can be seen as an attack on the public sector's habit of treating women more fairly than the private sector does.

Indeed, CUPE's research indicates that when you compare just men, the private sector on average pays men 5.3 per cent more than the public sector. Almost certainly, the difference is quite a bit larger here in Alberta. Of course, that's not the kind of number that helps the Fraser Institute's case, so it doesn't get mentioned in their "research."

Women in the private sector, according to CUPE's research, got paid an average 4.5 per cent less, which I guess from the Fraser Institute's perspective is OK.

It's not reasonable to expect the Fraser Institute to stop perpetrating these fantasies. It's their job.

We should be able to expect the media -- understaffed as it is nowadays -- to do its job and stop acting as if this nonsense was carved on stone tablets and brought down from Mount Sinai.

At they very least they could start referring to these Fraser Institute "studies" as what they really are -- to wit: "press releases."

As for the Fraser Institute, I'm sure they'd prefer it if you didn't read Huff's book.

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

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