Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Silly Me...The Census is "Pro-Market"

Hearing people go back and forth regarding the census over the past couple of weeks has been pretty interesting. I haven't decided whether to fill mine out or not (Voluntaryists unite!) but I'm not sure it's worth having even more of my paycheck yanked from me just for not filling out some piece of paper (no coercion there, right?). Of course, this is what this little bout of pandemonium is all about; a somewhat significant group of people are making a fuss over the census and refusing to answer it completely or respond to it at all. And of course their nay-sayers ensue with their own accusations. And, like always, I think both groups have it all wrong.

The majority of the people who are in supposed opposition to the census this time around seem to be Republicans or conservatives in general. There are reasons flying left and right for their position. I think it's safe to say that the majority of the real rationale just lies in a fundamental tendency to be in the opposition in relation to the current administration - no surprise there. However, what they seem to be claiming is that the census, at least in part, is unconstitutional. Of course, there's a whole strata of variation within that reasoning. The most reasonable arguments claim that the government only has the power to essentially get a straight numerical count, as opposed to a count followed by a hodge-podge of requests for additional demographic data. On the other hand you have some of these people that claim that forcing people to fill out a census form is unconstitutional altogether. These people have apparently never picked up a copy of their constitution.

And on the other side you have a group of liberals latching onto some of the demonstrably laughable ads appearing on metro transit as of late. Apparently people have been spotting census ads throwing up sophisticated questions like, "If we don't know how many people there are, how will we know how many buses we need?" That is simply brilliant. One of my favorite responses was posited by Andrew Fischer, "I mean this is all rather obvious. You determine how many buses you need in the exact same way that Apple determines how many iPads it should conducting an exacting census of every man, woman, and child in the United States." I don't think I could have responded any better myself.

While it's true that many businesses (particularly ones that operate on an interstate or international level) use census data collected by the government to direct advertising and marketing, it certainly says little about the average economic education of U.S. citizens if this has proven to be a viable PR point for people working for or defending the census. In fact, the same thing could be said for anything of relative utility the government "provides" (and on that note it better damn-well provide utility if citizens are being forced to pay for it). For instance, corporations use the public roads that people are forced to pay for to transport huge amounts of merchandise back and forth across the country. However, just because they use something that has been supplied to them for free (at the margin), it does not mean that those corporations couldn't pay for private roads to operate if the government wasn't providing it.

Likewise, if the government didn't conduct a census, there's no reason why businesses couldn't do some of the marketing research themselves, or even pay other private organizations to collect data (they already do!). This doesn't even address the fact that A.) the census is just a demographic snap-shot in time every ten years (can you imagine how bad your business model would be if you relied solely on ten-year-old data?) and B.) A simple head-count of every person in ANY area doesn't hold a direct correlation of any real demand to a product-base. Do you think a city in California with the same population as a city in Ohio will have the same basic demand for a product? Is there anything to be said about socio-cultural differentiation in preference and wealth between different geographical areas? Or is it just some homogeneous blob of demand out there? Of course it's different from place to place. The way that companies figure out how much of anything to make is simple. It's supply and demand; prices. Knowing there are 100,000 people in your town may help you determine some things, but it's certainly not going to tell your local bakery what the level of demand for their product is going to be...especially not statically over a 10-year swath of time.

And so here we stand; we have a group of conservatives who have never learned the constitution and a group of liberals who have never picked up a book on basic economics. And here I am saying that your terrible economics or silly piece of parchment don't matter much to me. I just don't believe in initiating force upon innocent people. How much more clear or concise could a position be? Psychobabble about the value of central planning and social contracts just skirt the issue in my opinion. The real crux of the issue, as always, should fall back upon ethics. But don't bring that to anyone's'll just be accused of politicization and obfuscation. It's funny how people think (or don't) sometimes.

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