for economic freedom
Updates from the Prairie Centre/Centre for Prairie Agriculture in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Hot off the press! Don Baron's Jailhouse Justice
web posted April 22, 2002
By Kevin Avram
Although many people are not familiar with the concept of a paradigm (pronounced pair-a-dime), it is nevertheless true that there isn't a person on the planet who's not influenced by them.
A paradigm is a prism or window a person looks through that allows them to exercise judgment and measure what's taking place. When a paradigm changes it is referred to as a paradigm shift.
One of the most strikingly visual examples of a paradigm shift is portrayed in a Kirk Douglas movie called Final Countdown. Douglas stars as Captain Yelland, the senior commander of the USS Nimitz, a modern, radar equipped nuclear aircraft carrier that is stacked to the gills with supersonic jet fighters and high tech weaponry. Due to a freak electrical storm, Yelland's entire ship and crew gets thrown back in time to December of 1941, just as the Japanese are about to attack Pearl Harbor.
Knowing what's going to happen, Yelland launches a couple of fighter jets to shoot down two pathfinder Japanese fighter planes that precede the raid. The supersonic jets introduce themselves to the Japanese pilots by blowing past them, just a few feet overhead, faster than the speed of sound. Then they execute an upward 360, returning to the Japanese fighters where they literally fly circles around them. One of the jets launches a guided missile that blows the first Japanese plane out of the sky, killing the pilot. The remaining Japanese pilot all of a sudden sees what he thought was his advanced state-of-the-art aircraft, as a puny little thing that can only shoot lead bullets in one direction while crawling along at a snail's pace compared to the supersonic jets.
This second pilot survives the destruction of his aircraft. As he's bobbing in the ocean a helicopter arrives and winches him out of the ocean. He's amazed because he's never seen a helicopter before. Then he's taken back to the Nimitz where he disembarks to be escorted across a flight deck that's bristling with jet fighters, radar towers, and sophisticated weaponry. His paradigm shift is complete.
Paradigm shifts take place in economics, government policy, farming, and a host of other areas. The invention of penicillin initiated a paradigm shift in the prevention and treatment of infection. Bill Gates' development of the Windows Operating System shifted the paradigm for personal computers and their use.
The farmers and farm organizations that first called for the creation of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly lived in a 19th century paradigm. At the time, there wasn't a single farmer who could get quick or easy access to market information. There were no phones or radios; television hadn't been invented; computers were unheard of. In many places there were no roads. Grain was hauled sixty bushels at a time in a horse-drawn wagon. They didn't understand the science of wealth creation. Today's farmers are equipped with cell phones or two-way radios that allow them to call anywhere in the world while standing in the middle of a field. Highways and all weather roads abound. One big rig on the highway moves as much grain in a day as a farmer used to in an entire season. Fax machines, mass communication, television, computers, and Internet access abound. Many people understand that given the right policies wealth can be created in an almost unlimited fashion. The paradigm has shifted.
So why is it that an institution that was born out of 19th century paradigm still controls so much of 21st century agriculture? The answer is the paradigm. The men and women that still support the monopoly, including the politicians, are like those Japanese fighter pilots prior to being confronted by supersonic jets. They're oblivious to new realities and the accompanying opportunities. They're locked into an old paradigm, and because they find it comforting they want others to be locked in there with them.
Kevin Avram sits on the Prairie Centre's Board of Trustees.
web posted April 8, 2002
The role of government in wealth creation
By Dr. Dr. Graham Parsons
Over the years, governments around the world have looked for models, approaches, and policies that could raise standards of living. As populations continued to grow, economies were not always able to keep pace and standards of living fell. In the industrial countries of the developed world, populations grew only slowly as women entered the labour force and birth rates fell. For these countries, Canada included, the economy and incomes generally grew.
In the lesser developed countries of the world, population growth generally vastly exceeded the rate of economic growth and wealth creation. Consequently, incomes and standards of living fell. Accordingly, wealth creation became a subject of much research and investigation for many international development agencies. The findings of this work all identified important lessons for sustainable wealth creation. These lessons are now being applied in many countries of the world and realizing benefits in the form of expanded economic growth and incomes.
In 1991, the World Bank finished a detailed investigation of its development programming for the previous forty years. The report reviewed the historic approaches towards development, the lessons learned from billions of dollars of development spending, and the evolving development theory underway around the world.
The Bank identified a combination of factors that were seen as critical to growth. The Bank described "a market-friendly approach in which governments allow markets to function well, and in which governments concentrate interventions on areas in which markets prove to be inadequate." Allowing markets to operate and allocate resources in response to price signals within a freely trading environment was central to the approach.
Ultimately, the World Bank stressed wealth creation was highly dependent upon the domestic policies and institutions managed by government. Put another way, from the lessons of development, many governments had the necessary tools to improve the level of wealth creation within their jurisdictions. Successful development was therefore dependent as much on the actions and approaches of local governments as the natural resources they might be sitting on.
Central to a more effective public policy framework for development was the notion that institutions and policy frameworks would be adjusted to meet the current and emerging social, economic and technological practices of the day and the foreseeable future. In times of structural social, economic, and technological transformation, it is important that the policies of government be changed to support and not to constrain the new technology and economy. The balance between the government institutional and policy framework and the state of technology, the economy, and society can be critical to the pace of growth.
For example, government policies and institutions can be restraints on the economy and society. Subsidies, for example, may keep people in jobs and institutions that long ago lost their economic and even social rationale. Public institutions may preclude the development of more effective and competitive private companies.
The key here is to rethink the nature and role of the state to meet the aspirations of the day and the available social, economic, and technological opportunities within the global marketplace. If we fail to do this, institutions and policies developed for an earlier era and economy can today constrain the introduction of new technology and the related contributions to wealth creation.
-- Excerpted from, "This Year Country", by Dr. Graham Parsons. Dr. Parsons sits on the Prairie Centre Policy Institute's Academic Advisory Board and is former Chief Economist for Western Canada with the Canada West Foundation.
Dr. Parsons' entire report can be downloaded from the Prairie Centre
Policy Institute's web site at www.prairiecentre.com.
web posted April 1, 2002
Spin doctoring at the CWB
By Kevin Avram
In modern lingo, "spin" is what happens when a political party or agency of government takes information about itself and deliberately presents it in a way that makes people believe it says what it doesn't mean. Spin is the strategic application of bull#%&#.
Spin has become such a significant part of modern culture that it spawned the hit TV show Spin City. Hollywood cashed in on it when it made the hilariously funny movie, "Wag the Dog", which starred Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. In Wag the Dog, using nothing but spin, a couple of White House communications people and a Hollywood movie producer engineer a communications campaign that gets the US president re-elected right after he gets caught having a sexual romp with an underage girl.
The Internet has numerous websites devoted to spin. A tongue-in-cheek site called squealnewspig.com boasts that it has "news so necessary that we invented it!" Not too long ago, the Toronto Star ran a column titled "Confessions of a Spin Doctor." The column was Eric Sparling's first hand account of the way spin-doctors influence what people hear and see on the news. He writes: "[spin-doctors] write stories that our clients want us to write, send them to newspapers, magazines, or TV stations, [and then] journalists write stories using our information..."
It was the art of spin that came to mind when I read a recent press release that had been cobbled together by spin-doctors at the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). The release was the CWB's spin on what the Auditor General of Canada said in the recent audit report of CWB operations.
The first sentence of the press release declares: "The CWB's accounting and reporting systems are economical and efficient according to a special audit conducted by the Auditor General of Canada..." A few sentences later, CWB chairman Ken Ritter is quoted as saying: "We see the audit results as confirmation that the CWB is an effective marketing organization."
The fact that the Auditor General of Canada didn't even study the "effectiveness" of the CWB as a marketer makes it pretty easy to determine whether the CWB's press release is designed to inform people or apply "spin". Furthermore, to see the CWB's spin doctoring in a clearer light, consider what the Auditor General's report really did say about certain aspects of CWB operations and performance. The following statements are taken word-for-word from the Auditor General's report:
"...the CWB lacks clear and measurable targets, both financial and operational, to assess its ongoing performance..."
"...the [CWB's] communication and corporate policy functions lack operational plans with clear goals and strategies to guide activities and measure and monitor performance..."
"...[We have noted] significant deficiencies in governance, strategic planning, performance measurement and reporting, and the management of information technology..." "...deficiencies in performance measurement were identified in the marketing areas of sales plans, sales negotiations, performance of Accredited Exporters, and market development..."
With each passing year, the CWB grows more adept at spin, which explains why its communications budget is climbing through the roof. The irony is that in the midst of all this propaganda, it refuses to release detailed information concerning how much farmers spent on demurrage 2, 10, or 22 years ago. It won't let anyone know how much was received for a bushel of oats back when it still handled oats. It won't provide farmers with details related to export prices for durum, wheat, or barley on sales that were made several years in the past. It won't give out any information about anything that allows anyone to independently evaluate its performance.
In short, the CWB doesn't practice accountability. It prefers spin.
Kevin Avram sits on the Prairie Centre's Board of Trustees.
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