In this entry, I argued that the census is of little value to central planners. The cost of over $11 billion is one fact I cited against it, but on second thought, no critique on that front holds water, because the Constitution itself mandates the taking of the census—and for a purpose wholly unrelated to the gathering of economic intelligence. So if the government must take the census, the cost of doing so does not signify.
It seems to me, however, as though the government already possesses all the information the census is meant to collect and more—neatly tucked away in the IRS Individual Master File: name, income, spouse, dependents, residence, whether you own or rent the place where you dwell, what you ate for breakfast, etc. The only question on the census to which the IRS doesn’t already demand an answer—that I know of, at least—is that of race. “But … but … that’s not what the Constitution says. The founders meant for the census to…” Yeah, sure. … Indeed, that such an institution as the IRS should even exist in these united states would scandalize the founders if the poor devils were around to take note. No matter. The IRS is here to stay. So why not make the most of it? The government could query its database every year, instead of ten, by means of an electronic process, which would practically cost nothing. That’s over $1 billion of savings a year, which could, in turn, be wasted far more imaginatively over trifles less mundane.
This morning, while riding the express train to work, I stood facing one of those ubiquitous census ads and, for the first time, began considering its wording in earnest. I am sure you’ve seen it too: “If we don’t know how many schoolchildren we have, how can we know how many schools to build? … If we don’t know how many people we have, how can we know how many hospitals to build?” And so on and so forth.
That the government should still pose such questions—innocent as they are—suggests that the so-called problem of economic calculation afflicts the endeavors of central planners today no less than it did in the 1920s, when Ludwig Von Mises first set it forth. Not only that, but the government has also failed to find tools more efficacious in tackling this problem than the nationwide survey—that is, the census. And what a crude device that is!
For one thing, any information collected through it soon becomes outdated, since the census is taken at intervals of no less than 10 years, during which time a lot can happen in terms of economic development and population shifts. For another, delivering the surveys to every doorstep in the country, entreating the citizens to fill them out, and ensuring that a tolerable number of them actually do so amounts to an onerous affair not cheap to orchestrate—as is plainly evinced by the handsome budget of $11.3 billion allocated to the accomplishment thereof. And for all the pains that go into collecting it, this information winds up reaching the government incomplete and only approximately accurate—the proportion of falsified surveys that alloy the census results being a matter of contentious and largely partisan debate.
Read the rest at Commentary.
We’re just ready to get out the door…
Here is a very tired, very sleepy, very unkempt Kejda dancing with her lover at his sister’s wedding reception. Good times!
Whereas here I am putting my rusty artistic skills at work, drawing a portrait for a Québécois cousin of Lucille who has an extremely interesting face.
It quickly started looking like this. Her face is something else, isn’t it?