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Learn, laugh and connect with other like-minded women in Kansas City or Wichita during a thoughtful conversation Lenore Skenazy and the Kansas Policy Institute.

Mind of My Own; An Interview With Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute

By The Policy Circle Team

Sally Pipes is the President and CEO of The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI), a California-based free-market think tank which promotes “the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility” through policies that emphasize a free economy, private initiative, and limited government.

We were able to chat with Sally about her role at PRI, how she sees The Policy Circle as advantageous for spreading the word about the principles of free enterprise, and her cat, Maggie, named after Margaret Thatcher. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

My name is Sally Pipes, I’m President, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Healthcare Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. I’m originally from Canada and I’ve been working on healthcare policy and anti single-payer issues since the late 80s. I moved to the United States in 1991 to take control of the Pacific Research Institute.

PRI was founded in 1979 by British philanthropist Sir Antony Fisher, and we work in several policy areas in addition to healthcare including the environment, education, business/economics, and our Center for California Reform where we are trying to put the gold back in the golden state.

What do you do at the Pacific Research Institute and what do your day-to-day activities look like?

My day is a long day; I usually start at 7am and finish around 7:30pm. I spend about 50% of my time writing op-eds, doing radio and tv interviews, giving speeches and participating in debates on healthcare policy. Then, I probably spend about 30% of my time fundraising, 20% of time working with scholars and setting up events for PRI.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role? What is it like to be the head of a free-market think tank in San Francisco?

The biggest challenge was taking PRI from being an organization with an annual budget of $550,000 to over $5 million. Fundraising is always challenging, but if you have good policies and good scholars it makes it much easier.

Is it as hostile (as one might think) having a conversation about free-market policies in a place like San Francisco?

Well, the reason PRI was founded in San Francisco was because our founder, Sir Antony Fisher, met his wife there. San Francisco is a tremendous challenge. California is a challenge; especially as more people are leaving; tax rates are so high, single-payer healthcare is on the agenda, but we hold an annual gala (Sir Antony Fisher Gala) and it’s always amazing to me that we get between 400-700 guests and people talk to each other and realize they’re not alone in their beliefs.  

People are afraid to talk politics unless they know one another and know their views. That’s why it is great to give speeches and participate in debates where you’re challenging the orthodoxy. Somebody has to be out there challenging. Making the case and educating people in California and through the U.S. is a tremendous opportunity for us.

Most of our Policy Circle leaders and members are women of action. They come together to learn from policy briefs, but ultimately, their goal is to implement positive change in their neighborhoods. With that in mind, can you think of an example where civic engagement led to a change in public policy?

I think the Policy Circle is fantastic. We need many different avenues to get the message out about free market policies and why they’re so important. In terms of actual change here in California at the state level, it’s very difficult. But, just recently the Assembly Select Committee on Healthcare Delivery in CA was holding hearings and one of the members got in touch and asked me to provide questions that she could ask other members of the committee – which I was more than delighted to do.  She asked what the proposed SB-562 single-payer initiative would mean for doctors, wait times, rationed care. And while single-payer is not dead, it is on hold and won’t be coming forward in California. The kind of questions she asked made a difference.

It is somewhat simple or easy for you to talk about implementing change and debating policy issues with others.  What advice or words of wisdom do you have for women who are interested in diving into the world of public policy but might feel a bit stuck or not sure where to start?

I think that is one of the reasons why The Policy Circle is so important. Bringing women together in a living room gives each woman the opportunity to share and learn new ideas so that when they talk to their friends they can educate them on the issues, why they are so important to their children, grandchildren, the future of this country.  

I spend most of my time working on sharing information and educating others – and I think that an organization like The Policy Circle is perfectly positioned to engage women who are not able to spend most of their time working on and learning about these issues. Women need a way to engage in public policy dialogue without it having to be their career.

Let’s talk about you…

You’ve won numerous awards and recognitions for your work surrounding health care policy, but tell me, what does your life look like out of office?

Well, I’m married to Professor Charles Kesler, a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College – we actually met through one of my Scholars who was a PhD student of Charles’.

I am a former competitive tennis player, and continue to play with my husband. We have a cat, Maggie, named after Margaret Thatcher – who really runs the house. We enjoy wine, food, tennis, and love traveling to France, Italy, and London.

Were you in leadership roles when you were younger?

I founded the first economics club at the University of British Columbia – we were a small group because as you can imagine, most of the professors were not of the Milton Friedman view. I set up the club so that we could bring in speakers and educate other students.

What or who were your major influences as a young person?

I met Milton and Rose back in 1980 when I was a young Junior Economist and over the years they both mentored me in my career. Milton Friedman was my mentor and friend, he actually wrote the forward to my first book, Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Healthcare Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer, that was in 2004.

What big projects are you working on right now? Do you have another book coming out? Do you have any final comments or last words for our Policy Circle Leaders and Members in California?

Because of the nature of California, The Policy Circle Members need to get out and educate their friends about free market ideas in a way that the person on the street can understand and get a grip on it. There’s no lack of great ideas out there, but for politicians to adopt ideas that we believe in they have to feel that there is a demand for them – that’s why it is so important that we have many many people offering up great ideas to restore market-based policies and principles.

In terms of my own work, I’ll be defending competition and  free market healthcare until after the 2020 election. My new book will be the basis for that; The False Promise of Single-Payer Healthcare. But I’ll continue to work on making the case for free-market healthcare reform to people not only in California but around the country so that when they go to the polls, they will not elect politicians that support ideas that will be harmful in the long run to their own healthcare.

What’s the best way for people follow the work that you’re doing?

Our website is You can find my info there and my books are all available on Amazon.

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