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The nefarious census

May 22, 2012 - John Stack

How do autocratic regimes control the populace? A favorite way is to control the dissemination of information. In the former USSR it was almost comedic as the official news agency TASS would put on TV spots and radio stories about how production on household goods was beyond demand as at the same time people would be waiting in line for hours just to get bread. Today’s China does its best to control any information that is negative to Chinese orthodoxy. A recent story told how China has banned Skype to keep any current information not vetted by the government from getting to the citizens of China or the world. South Korea continues to be one of the most insular, despotic nations in the world by its iron fisted control of information. It is also one of the most comedic – claiming crazy stories about deceased leader Kim Jong Il’s prowess at golf (4-5 hole in ones per round) , his invention of the hamburger, and that he was the world’s most beloved leader.

Now, let’s say there is a terrible outbreak of some terrible disease in some small community. Turns out that it has been caused by contaminated ground water. The young and the infirm are dying and the healthy are becoming very sick. The contaminated groundwater is caused by a one of a number of homes in the hamlet that have no flush toilets, just outhouses. But, no one knows which of the 1000 homes have no indoor plumbing. Is this easy to get information which should be readily available? Not if you are a Republican in Congress.

Billions of dollars are spent by the US department of housing which help millions of American families afford decent, safe and sanitary housing. It would surely be helpful to know where these billions of dollars should be spent year to year. Just as important, it is useful to make sure the US Government allocates this money wisely, and that the money is actually helping areas that need it, and the appropriate amount of money is being spent. Do you think we should have the information on where billions of federal dollars are spent, and that it is spent wisely?

I’m a multibillion dollar computer chip maker. I need to build a new chip plant. It’ll cost me about $4 billion to build my plant and employ 5,000 people making very good salaries. I need to know about local education levels, housing stock, infrastructures and population numbers within commuting distance. Should I guess at all of these variables? Or would it help to have this information all ready collected to help thousands of people better able to afford and live the American dream as well as grow the business? According to House GOP member – guess.

How about if you are the President of a country with a budget in the trillions of dollars, and a GDP of 13 trillion. The greatest financial tragedy has hit your country. Why? What should we do? Not sure. Congress has cut back funding so that the empirical data needed to aggressively combat the recession is lacking (they did save $8 million though)

Recently, House GOP member voted to defund the American Community Survey. This is the little sister to the decennial census we all are familiar with. Rather than wait every 10 years to get information needed to allocate $400 billion in federal funds, as well as countless billions saved by businesses in the US and an incredibly efficient program to help local, state and federal governments best meet a growing and changing society. Only 3 million ACS documents are sent out in the interim between censuses. The leader against the ACS is GOP Congressman Dan Webster. He says the survey is an unwarranted of privacy. With a straight face, and what has should be grounds for immediate impeachment for stupidity, “What really promotes business in this country is liberty,” he said, “not demand for information.” Really. Or as Will Smith might say ‘For real?’ is there a company out there that would rather NOT know taxes in an area, NOT know traffic patterns, NOT know educational levels, NOT know infrastructure capacities but who believes his company will do better if he has more LIBERTY and less INFORMATION?

Then again he says without shame :“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators.” Liberty of course means reauthorizing the Patriot Act and voting for the $642 billion in defense spending for 2013 which of course relies upon information to do its job effectively and safeguard the US. What about his ‘cost saving rhetoric “We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.” Even though the definition of a scientific survey would actually INCLUDE the phrase ‘random sampling’. Then again, if Congressman Webster had any shame, he wouldn’t include on his official government website a link to…census data of his own district compiled by…well I think you know…


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