Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

Fraser Institute

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 2

Gavin Rogers, 19 December 2016

The Christmas spirit has been in full swing the past week at Fraser. On Friday, we had the Secret Santa where I was fortunate enough to receive a 6 pack of the local Steamworks IPA – quite a lovely drop. Secret Santa followed the quarterly presentation and pizza lunch, where Bacchus provided an extremely interesting presentation on Canada’s deteriorating healthcare system, and the longer waiting times it has resulted in.

During Bacchus’ speech, he stated how ‘universal healthcare’ shouldn’t imply that healthcare has to be free and exclusively provided by the public sector. A more useful interpretation of universal healthcare is healthcare that is easily and efficiently accessible by everyone. It is difficult to summarise his entire speech, but I think there were two main takeaways. Firstly, free healthcare isn’t free – it’s funded by the taxpayer. Secondly, as any first-year economics student knows, anything with a price of zero can theoretically have infinite demand – so when ‘every man and his dog’ feels it is worth visiting the GP for a cut on their finger because it is perceived as free, they are simply increasing the waiting time for patients with legitimate healthcare needs.

Saturday rolled around and further indulgent eating and drinking took place at the Vancouver club for Fraser’s Christmas party, where it was difficult to decide whether I enjoyed looking at the interior décor or dinner spreads more. Now this evening, we visited the German Christmas markets and I reminisced on last year’s Euro trip with a bratwurst and hot chocolate with schnapps. Oh, and let’s not forget the copious offerings of cake, cupcakes, and other homemade goodies brought into the office during the week – I’m meant to be eating more calories for the cold anyway, right?

Finally, I thought I’d throw in a fun fact: From the beginning stages of mining, grassroots exploration projects have a less than 0.001% chance of eventually becoming a profitable mine. With odds like that, it’s obvious that a positive policy environment is crucial for encouraging continued exploration investment, as I’ve learned from working on the 2016 mining survey over the past week. Until next time!

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 1

Gavin Rogers, 9 December 2016

After twenty-five hours in transit, I made it to Vancouver alive. Mother nature must have known there was an Australian in town, as she decided to celebrate my first day at the Fraser Institute with an overnight deluge of snow, what a way to be greeted! Although rain is very common over Vancouver’s comparatively mild Canadian winter, snow instead produced a reaction much like the first rains of winter in Perth: absolute mayhem. On my walk to Fraser I witnessed multiple cars hopelessly sliding around, three fire engines with lights and sirens blaring, and a very unfortunate BMW driver that had managed to slide sideways into a power pole.

Despite all odds against me, I arrived at Fraser safely and now felt like a battle-scared veteran after making it through both my flight and Monday morning walk in quick succession. The warm welcome that awaited me could not have more starkly contrasted the snowpocalypse outside. At the morning meeting, I immediately got the opportunity to thank the whole team for so kindly accommodating me for the next three months, and heard about everyone’s Indiana Jones-esque journeys to work.

After meeting some of my fellow team members I got a more personal feel for Fraser’s mission to improve the lives of all Canadians with quality research and evidence-based outcomes, and I knew that it was love at first sight. By the next day, Fraser’s highly regarded Global Petroleum Survey had been released for 2016 and I couldn’t help but pore over the entire thing. Within Australia, Queensland suffered the largest drop of 10.3% in their Policy Perception Index. The PPI is a measure of jurisdictions investment attractiveness based purely on survey participants’ opinion of policy areas, and the oil and gas industry had not taken kindly to Queensland’s increased costs of regulatory compliance and poor quality of infrastructure. WA also saw a slight drop of 2.18%, however, Timor Gap shone through with a whopping 34.99% increase over 2015.

As a car fanatic, I can’t help but make a side note about the beauty of free trade and free markets, and the endlessly diverse range of automobiles they have produced for North America. That car in the pictures might look like an unspectacular ute to most of you, but to me it’s a cultural memento. Take a gander at that woodgrain panelling!

Ramin Farrell – ISFLC week

Ramin Farrell, 29 February 2016

After leaving the Fraser Institute and Vancouver a week ago, I flew straight to Washington DC. I attended the International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) on the following weekend, but the week leading up to it was mine to explore this great city.

After running into Mannkal scholars, John Hugo and Dean Wicken, at Denver International airport, and then Jordan Armstrong at the National Air and Space museum a few days after arriving in DC, it seemed that we were destined to spend the week together.

Each day we got up early and dashed around the nation’s capital, to absorb as much culture as humanly possible – we went to the Washington Monument (a truly impressive structure that is so much larger than I thought), the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Furthermore, we visited the National Holocaust Museum, where I reflected upon both the abject horror that humans are capable of inflicting on each other, and the strength of people to endure and to love after experiencing such torment and anguish.

As the ISFLC began on Saturday morning I couldn’t wait to get involved in all the discussion and debate on issues affecting liberty.  On the first day at 9am sharp the talks began.  I became engaged in a debate concerning the conflict between conservatives and libertarians, the economic pros and cons of immigration reform, and how Wall Street created and corrupted the United States Federal Reserve bank.

However, my favourite talk was on Sunday morning, when NSA whistle-blower, Thomas Drake, spoke of his persecution by the United States Government for upholding an oath he made to the Constitution of the United States of America.  Mr Drake stressed the importance of liberty and upholding the rights that were outlined in the Constitution.  Mr Drake currently works for Apple as a consultant and is engaged in the current debate on whether Apple should provide access to terrorists i-phones.

Attending the ISFLC was a wonderful opportunity to increase my knowledge of issues affecting current libertarian thought, and I want to sincerely thank Ron Manners and Mannkal for providing me with this opportunity.

Ramin Farrell – Week 12

Ramin Farrell, 22 February 2016

My final week at the Fraser Institute flew by so quickly, it feels like I just woke up from a dream.

Fittingly, I spent the week updating the report notes for the Fraser Institute’s 2015 Annual Survey of Mining Companies.  I was able to reflect on my contribution to this publication, and the sheer amount of time and effort that the Centre for Natural Resource Studies, specifically Taylor Jackson and Kenneth P. Green, has given to this study.  It is for a good reason that the Fraser Institute is widely recognised as a reputable and trustworthy source of information, using robust statistical techniques and processes to ensure that companies and markets can use the data to make the most informed decisions.  I feel that the Centre for Natural Resource Studies has done justice to the Fraser Institute’s slogan, “If it matters, measure it”, with this Survey which provides first-hand information on the perceptions of mining operations, straight from the mining company director’s mouth, to mining firms all over the world.

This last Thursday, the Fraser Institute hosted Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute (A.E.I), a Washington based think-tank, to speak about the issues covered in his new book “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.”  Mr Brooks had just given a 15 minute speech at the TED conference which was being held in Vancouver, and he was kind enough to come to the Fraser Institute’s offices and give us the one hour version.  Among other things, Mr Brooks argues that the reduction in the level of world poverty (defined as living on $1 or less in 1987 US dollars) of 80% since 1970 has not been due to the success of the United Nations, US foreign aid or the International Monetary Fund, but to free enterprise.  Mr Brooks’ book is a fascinating read which challenges the reader’s perceptions about the benefits of a free enterprise system, and asserts such a system’s potential role in bringing about the most improved life for the greatest possible number of people in the world.

I was also lucky enough to attend my first NHL (hockey) game this last Monday.  The Vancouver Canucks went up against the Minnesota Wild at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and I loved it.  I was enthralled from before the first whistle, when the referees whizzed around the hockey rink.  Unfortunately, the Canucks lost by 5-2, but as my colleague Josef Filipowicz said, “At least you got to see a bunch of goals.”

I am so grateful for being granted this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to Vancouver and intern at the Fraser Institute for three months.  I can honestly say that my time spent here has been the most intellectually stimulating and rewarding period of my life so far.  I am determined to come back to Vancouver very soon, and hopefully I too can make some contribution to advocating the role of free enterprise in improving peoples’ lives.  Words really cannot express my gratitude to the Fraser Institute for having me as an intern for the past three months, and to Ron Manners and the Mannkal Foundation for allowing me this opportunity.  Thank you so very, very much.

This is Ramin Farrell, signing out from the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, Canada.

Ramin Farrell – Week 11

Ramin Farrell, 15 February 2016

The inaugural 'Quarterly Breakfast Club'

Every three months the Fraser Institute issues a release, appropriately named ‘The Quarterly’, to the general public which highlights and gives a summary of issues that the Fraser Institute has been covering.  Many of the articles and columns which are borne from the Fraser Institute’s studies come after two or three months of intense research from a dedicated team.  All of this hard work means that analysts and researchers do not always have the time to inquire about the work of their peers, and there is a risk of researchers not seeing the forest for the trees and losing the big picture of the Fraser Institute’s mission.

With this is mind, the inspired Ben Eisen suggested a ‘Quarterly Breakfast Club’, where people could meet up before work and provide explanations of their major projects detailed in ‘The Quarterly’ report, and the inaugural event was held this last Wednesday morning.  When I first arrived at the Fraser Institute 11 weeks ago I was handed a copy of ‘The Quarterly’ to better understand what the Institute does.  I found this event particularly useful as it gave me a different perspective on my colleagues’ projects to what I had gained from reading the report, and an understanding of the difficulties encountered during their projects.  I was also very curious to learn about the political and historical environments which acted as catalysts for these projects and why they were considered important issues to address.

With everyone feeling perky after having chowed down a few glazed donuts at 7:30am, Bacchus Barua, a senior economist in the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Health Policy Studies, spoke about his column “National Drug Program Won’t Help Canadians Who Need It Most”, which appeared in The Toronto Sun newspaper.  In the months leading up to Canada’s national elections in 2015, many political parties came forward with propositions to institute a National Drug Plan along the same lines of Canada’s health care system.

Without getting into the pros and cons of such a plan, Mr Barua examined the two main premises upon which this proposition was predicated.  The first of these premises was that the poor do not have drug coverage – this was found to be false, as currently in every single province there already exist public drug plans specifically for the poor.  The other premise was essentially ‘other people have a national drug plan, so why can’t we?’  While it may be true that almost all other universal health care systems in the world provide coverage for drugs, the problem arises with the definition of the word ‘universal’.  Many of the systems defined as ‘universal’, and which were compared with Canada by political parties, provide such coverage through private insurers or through required cost sharing.  This raises the question of, if this is the outcome you want for a National Drug Plan, are you also willing to work in conjunction with a system that embraces private insurers.  Mr Barua’s article successfully broke down the foundations of the argument for why a National Drug Plan was needed and his explanation during the ‘Breakfast Club’ reminded me to always remain critical of such Policy suggestions.

Next week is going to be my last at the Fraser Institute for this internship.  I can’t believe it’s nearly over already.  It feels like I just got off the plane, and soon I’ll be jetting off to Washington DC.  I really will miss this place and all the friends I have made.  But I really should defer such sentiment until next week.

Speaking of which, until next week…

Ramin Farrell – Week 10

Ramin Farrell, 8 February 2016

This last week I have been busy proof-reading the report for the 2015 Annual Survey of Mining Companies, which will soon be peer-reviewed and out of my in-tray.  It has been a fascinating and thoroughly educational experience being a part of the team that puts together such releases.  I am very grateful to Taylor Jackson and Kenneth P. Green for giving me the opportunity to assist in this project.  I’ll keep you updated on when this report is released.

A topic of ongoing discussion at the Fraser Institute since my arrival last December has been the rising cost of government debt and the effects this will have on Canadians in the future.  One of the core tenets of Keynesian economics is to increase government expenditure during times of recession in order to stimulate the economy, with the expectation that any resulting deficits will be recouped during the next market upswing.  However, as has been seen in Canada since the economic recession in 2008/09, the federal government and every provincial government in Canada quickly fell into deficit, and have continued down a path of persistent deficits and growing public debt ever since.  This is clearly not a sustainable policy, and the Fraser Institute has been making a huge effort to inform Canadians about the long-term effects of this issue.

A recent paper released by the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Fiscal Studies, named ‘The Cost of Government Debt in Canada, 2016‘,

highlights the major costs of this debt accumulation, the first and foremost being the increased costs of interest payments on this debt.  This paper found that Canadian governments (federal, provincial and local) collectively spent an estimated $60.8 billion on interest payments in 2014/15, equal to 8.1% of their total revenue that year.  This paper illustrates the financial benefits foregone through having to meet these interest payments.  Placing this spending into perspective, $60.8 billion is more than what is spent on pension benefits through the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans ($50.9 billion) and is approximately equal to Canada’s total public spending on primary and secondary education ($62.2 billion as of 2012/13).

The growing awareness of the public debt position has elicited a reaction from Canada’s newly elected Trudeau government, proposing policies which are ambitious but, the Fraser Institute argues, are also misguided and short-sighted.  In an attempt to close budget gaps, there have been many calls across Canada to increase corporate taxes.  Charles Lammam, of the Centre for Fiscal Studies at the Fraser Institute, refutes this “solution” in his article titled “Higher corporate taxes mean lower wages for workers”.  Mr Lammam argues for a long-term approach, with lower corporate taxes providing a stimulus to investment, improving productivity growth, wage-growth and the standard of living across Canada.

This discussion will continue to rage on, and I will continue to listen intently.  I have been exposed to so many new ideas during my brief time at the Fraser Institute as an intern – I can’t bear to think of my time here ending so soon.

Until next week…

Ramin Farrell – Week 9

Ramin Farrell, 1 February 2016

At the Fraser Institute this last week the air has been thick with discussion, argument and counter-argument as a public forum was held to analyse the state of Canada’s health system.  The Fraser Institute hosted as a guest speaker Dr. Brett Belchetz, a practicing emergency room physician from Toronto, to give his take on the problems that face the Canadian system.  Dr. Belchetz’s presentation, named ‘We Need to Rethink the Canada Health Act, and Fast’ outlines what he believes is the best course of action to improve Canada’s health system based on an inside perspective.

I have learned that a “free” public health system is almost seen as a Canadian value, and the juxtaposition of the

Dr. Brett Belchetz, presenting at the Post-Secondary Seminar his talk : We Need to Rethink the Canada Health Act, and Fast

state of Canada’s almost-entirely public system with the almost-entirely private system of the US has resulted in a public (and hence political) reluctance of Canadians to take any steps in the direction of private funding.  Misinformation and a lack of education have allowed this mawkish and naïve ideal to flourish while the Canadian system flounders.  Despite public expenditure on Canada’s health care system exploding from 7% of inflation adjusted GDP in 1975 to greater than 11% today, health outcomes have steadily deteriorated, and Canada is now ranked 10th out of the 11 Commonwealth countries studied in Dr. Belchetz’s presentation.

The woeful performance of Canada’s health care system bears a striking contrast to its supposed objectives.  The idea that the Canadian system is fair and equitable, even if you have to wait longer for care, does not stand up to reality – while approximately 50% of Canadians report that they are unable to access primary care within two days, 38% report they can easily get after hours care without going to the ER, and 31% of Canadians have to wait four hours or more when they go to the ER, Canadians with better means are reporting better access to, and quality of, health care.

Dr. Belchetz identifies the source of these innumerable problems to be the Canada Health Act (CHA), introduced by the Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau in December 1983.  This piece of legislation stipulates a $0 price for health care, no user fees allowed and no extra billing.  Any first year economics student would realise that with a $0 price and a fixed supply, demand will go through the roof and overwhelm the system.  The CHA makes it illegal to have private health care in tandem with the public system, which stifles innovative ways of expanding the supply of health care and leaves many people who are suffering without a health care option.  Mr Belchetz gave an example of one of his friends who was recently diagnosed with MS, and who expressed that he would pay anything to see a doctor tomorrow, but was instead told that he would have to wait four months to see a specialist.

Dr. Belchetz is not arguing for a replication of the US system – in fact, he explicitly states that a public system is a necessary safety net for those with lesser means.  Instead, Canada should be striving towards the approach of countries that have a two-tier health care system, with public and private health components, such as Australia, the UK and the Netherlands, which consistently achieve higher satisfaction and lower expenditure levels.  To do this, Dr. Belchetz argues for the immediate scrapping of the CHA, and the pursuit of a capitalistic, market based approach to satisfying Canadian’s health care needs.

This last Saturday the Fraser Institute held a seminar in Vancouver for university students from across the country.  Along with Dr. Belchetz, many other speakers made presentations regarding public policy issues, such as the Bitcoin movement, China’s one-child policy, and the importance of entrepreneurship from the perspective of small businesses in BC.  A talk I found of particular interest was presented by Chief Karen Ogen, of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who spoke of her attempts to improve the standard of living for her struggling community by capitalising on LNG pipeline development.  In the discussion groups afterwards many students were talking through the options that were available to best advance the standing of First Nations people in Canada, and a consensus was reached which echoed the thoughts of Ravina Bains, the Associate Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies at the Fraser Institute – the promotion of property rights for First Nations peoples.  This seminar was a great experience, and I was buoyed by the intelligence, interest and insight of the university students who attended.

Until next week…

Ramin Farrell – Week 8

Ramin Farrell, 25 January 2016

Jason Clemens chairing the Hayek 'Essential Reading' discussion

Every month the Fraser Institute has a group discussion on an important piece of libertarian economic literature, to promote the examination and debate of ideas, and to make sure that people take a step back and refresh their perspective on their mission to advance the case for free markets and individual liberties.  I love the collegiate atmosphere that this discussion brought out of my colleagues, and it reinvigorated my desire to dive back into libertarian literature.

Over the last two months at the Fraser Institute my colleagues have been poring over Donald Boudreaux’s ‘The Essential Hayek’, which aims to elucidate the theories and insights of Friedrich A. Hayek, whose work concerning the economy, markets, business cycles and pricing continues to resonate with economists today.  F. A. Hayek, who became a Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences in 1974, was uncompromising in his analysis of market systems, emphatic in his rejection of the Keynesian status quo, and is renowned for maintaining an objectivity and integrity in the face of political and idealistic pressure.  His work remained un-read and unrecognized for a significant period after his initial publishing, but became more widely acknowledged after the failings of Keynesian economics became evident during the periods of stagflation in the mid 1970’s, and his work is now championed by the Fraser Institute.

As a relative novice to economic theory, having relatively recently been introduced to libertarian and free-market ideas, and only exposed to Keynesian theories at university, I found this book to be invaluable in helping me to understand Hayek’s ideas.  It breaks down and explains in simple English Hayek’s most significant insights, including the roles of prices in conveying information and the difference between law and legislation.

Among the liveliest topics of the discussion were the difference between law and legislation, and the perception of economic booms and busts, specifically the association of an economic bust with a “market failure”.  The discussion illustrated to me how thought-provoking Hayek’s work continues to be today, more than 70 years after his first major work, ‘The Road to Serfdom’ was published.  I felt that a comment by the Fraser Institute’s Director of Fiscal Policy, Charles Lammam, epitomised the sentiment of the group concerning Hayek’s contribution to economic thought.  Mr Lamman expressed that what he gained from reading this book was recognising  “the importance of being humble about what we understand about the world… and respecting the signals we have in society to better inform decision making – Hayek specifically refers to price signals, and we must be very careful about distorting these signals, which can very easily be distorted.  If you accept these premises then it must necessarily influence your views on the role of government with regards to public policy, and what governments can do to improve situations versus what they do to actually make things worse.”

This Saturday last I was invited by some of my colleagues to head up to Grouse Mountain and enjoy the snowy slopes, while strapped to a snowboard. I was initially hesitant, having recently been involved in a frightful ice-skating incident (not really) which rendered me “too sore” (scared to death) to hurtle down the side of a mountain.  But I ended up having one of the best days of my life, and I am still alive to write this blog.  I would like to express here my sincere gratitude to a small child who broke my fall at the end of the chair lift.  I owe you my life.

Until next week…

Sunset on Grouse Mountain

Snow Ren, Alyson Tan and Yours Truly on the chairlift at Grouse Mountain

Ramin Farrell – Week 7

Ramin Farrell, 18 January 2016

This last week has been a very productive one at the Centre for Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute.  Much progress has been made in making the Mining Survey Policy Perception Index more statistically robust, so that it can take into consideration more of the data collected from the Survey of Mining Companies, and provide a better indication to Mining Company Directors of the policy environments of different jurisdictions around the world.  This research holds jurisdictions accountable for their policy decisions, and is an invaluable education resource for mining companies.  The advocacy of transparent, easy-to-access information in order to educate the public so that they may make their own informed decisions is central to the mission of the Fraser Institute.

The very high standards of independent, non-partisan research conducted by the Fraser Institute, along with the unwavering determination to improve the lives of Canadians through the promotion of objective research and education is the legacy of Travers Patrick Boyle, who co-founded the Institute in 1974.  Sadly, Mr. Boyle passed away recently, and this last week a remembrance was held at the Fraser Institute’s Vancouver office to reflect on his life, his contributions to the Fraser Institute, and his influence on shaping how Canadians think about the role of government in society.

The catalyst which would eventually lead to the creation of the Fraser Institute came at a time where economic thought was dominated by Keynesianism, and when there was heated debate on how best to organise the economy.  In 1972, British Columbia elected to government its first New Democratic Party – a party whose leader, along with five other Cabinet Ministers, had in 1969 signed a document which would later be named “The Waffle Manifesto For an Independent Socialist Canada.”  This document proposed that “Capitalism must be replaced by socialism, by national planning of investment, and by the public ownership of the means of production.”

These ideas were soon reflected in British Columbia’s government policies, and many people engaged in economic activity became concerned about the future economic development of the province.  Among these people was T. Patrick Boyle, a senior industrial executive.  After meeting with like-minded people such as the economists Michael Walker and Csaba Hajdu, Mr. Boyle conceived of the establishment of a non-partisan, independent social research institution that did not bow to political pressure and would boldly comment on public policies which were not in the interests of Canadians.

The Fraser Institute is, and will continue to be, an enduring legacy to T. Patrick Boyle’s unwavering vision for a better Canada.  You can learn more about Mr. Boyle and his very eventful life at traverspatrickboyle.tumblr.com .

Until next week…

John Hugo – Week Five: Vancouver (Part 1)

John Hugo, 11 January 2016

My name is John Hugo and I am a 2015 Mannkal Scholar

Vancouver is a city of diversity, culture, and wet weather. Unlike Calgary which is frozen most of the time, Vancouver is one of those cities where it never stops raining.  Sleepless in Seattle was filmed in Vancouver to give the impression that it also always rains there. I remember a particular quote from the movie, “Seattle, the city that gets rained on nine months of the year?” Upon my arrival this description seemed very fitting. Fortunately for me, in the middle of winter, there was not a cloud in the sky for the whole week the day after I arrived.

I was fortunate enough to stay with a fellow Mannkal Scholar, Ramin Farrell, for just one night before moving into a small hostel in the central business district. Canada’s ingenuity to reduce population sprawl astounds me. Ramin had become one of the many people of Vancouver that lives inside a furnished basement of a small home, along with a large group of individuals. This concept is foreign to me. Back home it is the Australian dream to own your own home with a backyard big enough to play a decent game of backyard cricket, hide and seek, and exercise your dog. Only recently has my neighborhood in Sorrento allowed subdivision of regular sized, 711sq m, lots. What a thought provoking regulation on the ‘quality’ or suburban lifestyle, and how population density of your neighborhood affects the quality of your life. That’s something I’ll have to investigate with the City of Joondalup council upon my return.

Ramin was still at work this week so on Monday he brought me along to the office to meet his cheery colleagues at the Fraser Institute. Fraser’s motto is, “If it matters, measure it.” In policy debates it is often easy to get swept away in arguments of both sides of the political spectrum without understanding the material impact of each side. The Fraser Institute aims to provide the needed data for this policy transparency. Upon my departure I was generously gifted a book, “Immigration Policy and the Terrorist Threat in Canada and the United States.” Each chapter of the book was an issue raised in the conference Fraser Institute held. Although it was published in 2008, it still is an important issue to North America, Today.