don't trust the census

Jim Westrich westrich at
Wed Mar 29 07:24:50 PST 2000

(For purposes of full disclosure, I work at MISER which houses the state data center for Massachusetts--the official state arm of the U. S. Census Bureau)

The nastiest thing Census information is used for is all the franchise planning and marketing strategy. And they would just use less accurate and more invasive techniques to determine how many Starbuck per square inch your neighborhood can accomodate if they did not have the Census. Not surprising that a libertarian site would ignore the most important private abuses to exaggerate government ones. The web site you posted is filled with some important historical facts but little of it reflects badly on the Census (the Census bureau may have been guilty by association-and we ALL are--but the horrible internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII is the fault of the State Dept. and the Army) and devolves into dated libertarian drivel (as if housing code violations were some constitutional right for slumlords).

There are some potential losses of privacy in answering the Census and if you are rich and white and don't need any government services or proportional representation you may not want to respond.

However, there are some benefits as well. This is an important Census politically because of the loss of statistical sampling (far more serious than people realize). If you are not counted you don't count. This may be ok for some but I think on net most people will benefit more than they "lose" (given how little the expected value of your privacy loss is). The poorer and more non-White you are the more important your "representing" is. Poorer people tend to have lower response rates. This means government funding formulas for schools, infrastructure, and the like are skewed a few percent toward the richer. Any social phenomenon that disproportionately impacts poorer or non-White people will automatically be less significant in any empirical work describing them (or addressing them). I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Medicaid budgeting process (which I am peripherally involved in) is impacted by current undercounts and will be worse unless response rates are higher.

Even my most paranoid anarchist friends say they are responding as long as they don't get the long form. I have also been scoring a lot of the Census' "NO CIA, NO FBI, NO INS" posters for them (they cut off the part about answering the census).


>>Don't Trust the Census.
>>When the US Government rounded up Japanese-Americans in 1942, they used
>>the "supposedly private" census data to tell the soldiers how many
>>Japanese lived on each block. Perhaps they didn't hand out these
>>families' census forms, but the data needed to put them into prison camps
>>certainly came from the "strictly confidential" census. Don't participate
>>in it, don't work for it, don't fill it out, and feed it false data
>>whenever you can. There is no effective law against doing so; the maximum
>>penalty is $100, no jail, and it is VERY rarely enforced. The
>>Constitution authorizes them to count heads every ten years, not to ask
>>how many bathrooms you have and what racial group your ancestors are from.

"Things have an eloquence that words lack."

--Louise Michel, The Red Virgin: The Memoirs of Louise Michel

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