The Congressional Attack on Fact

There is another war going on in America. You may not have heard about it, but Congress has declared war on facts.

The House of Representatives voted to kill the Economic Census and eliminate the American Community Survey.

The House passed its version of the FY13 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill, H.R. 5326, on May 10. This bill includes all funding for the Census Bureau. During debate on the bill on May 9 an amendment sponsored by Representative Daniel Webster (R-FL), which eliminates all funding for the American Community Survey (ACS), passed with a vote of 232 to 190.

This is a disaster in terms of ascertaining GDP, business development, prices and employment. The American Community Survey is a key resource on a host of statistics, facts and figures critical to making policy decisions, business decisions and getting a clearer picture on the state of America. In a rare move, the Census itself made a statement on what it would mean to stop the Economic Census and lose the American Community Survey.

 

 

We need better data and statistics, not less facts. Why would the House of Representatives defund such a critical statistical survey? Well, one reason seems to be complete ignorance.

Representative Daniel Webster, for example, is a sponsor of the anti-ACS survey in part because he thinks $70 per survey respondent is "not cost effective ... especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey."

Of course it is random! Since one cannot survey in great detail everyone in the United States on a yearly basis, of course one needs a sample and of course it needs to be somewhat randomized. Additionally, the Economic Census is not random and critical to accurately estimating economic activity in the United States.

More possibilities are facts interfere with what the GOP wants to do, such as destroy social safety nets while giving tax breaks to the uber-rich.

Most economic sites and economists are aghast that Congress would consider defunding this survey. Instead Congress should be authorizing larger surveys and more data details. For example, we need the immigration status of workers in the employment statistics. Right now the BLS counts illegal workers and foreign guest workers, along with permanent residents and citizens all lumped together in their unemployment rates and payroll counts.

Calculated Risk also says we need more data, not less and points out economic statistics were expanded due to the Great Depression. Back then, policy makers being completely in the dark on the state of the economy and which element affected what. Literally the government did not know the actual unemployment rate in the 1930's.

In the early stages of the Depression, policymakers were flying blind. But at least they recognized the need for better data, and took action. All business people know that when there is a problem, a key first step is to measure the problem. That is why I've been a strong supporter of trying to improve data collection on the number of households, vacant housing units, foreclosures and more.

While this bill has not yet been voted on in a Senate, there too we have a war on facts:

The Census Bureau budget faces similar hurdles in the Senate. Sen. Paul Ryan’s budget eliminating ACS was defeated in the Senate, but on May 10, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a bill (S. 3079) that would make ACS voluntary, eliminating a rarely imposed $5,000 fine for recipients who do not complete the form. So the path is not clear. Unlikely to de-fund the ACS completely, the Senate will take up on S. 2323 in June. Then, the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled, probably in a lame duck session after the November elections.

Congress is also squeezing the Census budget, putting in peril the Census's ability to do their job and even complete surveys. Statistics, in order to be valid, require certain sample sizes, a randomization of samples, complete data sets and a host of other metrics. Else one simply gets a bunch of sheets of paper that have no statistical validity. Congress seems hell bent on making sure America is kept in the dark about this nation, especially economically and has clearly declared war on the Census bureau.

Many organizations as well as the press are writing articles, letters to Congress and op-eds trying to stop these bills. There is even a complete organization fighting to save information and economic statistics.

That said, it would be a really great thing if you could write your Senators and House Representatives demanding the Census be funded, the American Community Survey and the Economic survey be reinstated.

May we suggest going further and demanding the government accurately report offshore outsourcing, the number of foreign guest workers in the country, and tabulate employment and the unemployed by immigration status. We also need to know the underemployed in this country. Wouldn't it be damn useful to know what U.S. multinational corporations are doing abroad as well? Don't you think we need better trade data and country of origin details? Wouldn't it be nice to have accurate price deflators and better inflation metrics? Pick your favorite statistical question, or even pet peeve, write your representatives and demand they authorize the answer.

How can one possibly prescribe policy without having any clue what the current economic conditions are, the true state of employment is and a host of other statistics one needs to even base everyday government and private sector decisions on?

Returning to the dark ages is simply not a good idea, even for potential feudal lords and nonsensical political rhetoric.

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Comments

Good enough for the Founding Fathers - not for these dolts

Funny how the Census, post offices, and so many other items were good enough for the Founding Fathers that they decided they should be mentioned in the Constitution but our current "leaders" seem to have problems with them. I guess the Founding Fathers are good enough for certain things, but not others. Let me check my readings and see if there's any mention of running a pizza chain while sexually harassing women as a qualification for President, or selling American workers out while helping build foreign nations' economies, or if there's any mention of G-8 summits where the Executive watches soccer games while the American people suffer. No, no luck. I guess it's one of those things like "random sampling" and "statistics" and "census." Only our betters in DC and boardrooms are smart enough to understand if those things are real or not, and if they say they are not, I trust them 100%.

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don't let facts get in the way

of an agenda. I'm pretty convinced the motivation here is try to turn the lights out on what is happening to Americans economically.

If I was designing government statistics, we would have, mandatory, online forms, required to be filled out by everyone, but the individual details protected by privacy laws for individuals (not for businesses, corporations yet with some sort of time window to protect business activity, roadmaps and such).

I'd be building a "Facebook" of government statistics and interactivity. These cats are ridiculous. Private businesses already know how many times someone flushes the toilet. Seriously, Google assuredly knows when you visit the bathroom, cell phone companies know exactly where you are every minute of the day to the point geolocation business models have been around for about 15 years. Visa, MC? Don't even get me going on how much they know and Target knows when you're pregnant, all by AI analysis.

So, let's see, it's perfectly fine that Visa, MC and many others "profile" you by running artificial intelligence algorithms to predict your behavior from your purchases of soap, folic acid and moisturizer....yet the government cannot know what kind of business activity is going on so we can get someone accurate estimates of economic activity to estimate economic growth?

How did these people get into office and can we stop organizations like the Koch Brothers from turning this nation into a bunch of crazy people?

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The "profit" above all else is obvious nowadays

It's safe to assume someone or some organization is behind most moves nowadays. If someone out there is still watching Fox or NBC or other MSM, just precede every story by "This message is brought to you by [Mega Corporation]" and then watch the story.
Who benefits from destroying the USPS? Safe to assume FedEx and UPS want the USPS gone, then no competition and can jack up prices and force people to drive if they live too far from a distribution center (too bad if they don't have cars or cannot afford fuel).
Who benefits from the fight against well-educated students and liberal studies? Corporations that want drones and customers only. Why else would Murdoch hire the former head of NYC's schools immediately after that same individual negotiated a deal involving Murdoch's company (by the way, nice integrity - sell out education to the highest bidder and then work for a phone hacking organization).
Who benefits from unlimited campaign funding? A farmer or small business owner or solo accountant or mega-rich multinationals?
Privatizing roads? Why large corporations of course that can jack up tolls.
Privatizing Social Security? A widow living on a small monthly payment or the same banksters that don't even understand derivatives they create and lose billions on for their clients but make personal fortunes off of for whatever it is they do.
Cutting funding to schools? Corporations that want drones brought to by [fill-in-the-blank].
Fewer regulations in mines and on oil rigs? The miners and roughnecks working below ground or fifty miles off shore or the big bosses in the big offices?
Getting rid of sanctions? The troops that face Iran's IEDs or the companies that want to trade with whoever they want (Koch Bros. + Fox News - how's that "patriotism" work out for you when Stalin or the mullahs dangle some coins in front of your father or you).
Profit, profit, profit. The concept of enabling fellow human beings, fellow citizens, and making the world a better place mean nothing when it's all about comparing bank accounts. Now stop reading and thinking and get back to work in [fill-in-Chinese outsourced factory here].

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Except the penny post office

Except the penny post office was invented by the libertarian free enterprise Lysander Spooner.
The US postal service then as now is model of waste and corruption.
I believe with scientific sampling methods a Census of the US could be done for far less money and more accuracy than
what the Census bureau does.

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U.S. Postal Service

Folks, I'm sorry but pay attention to the facts here. Just take a typical service. Try sending a package via USPS that is small vs. UPS. You'll quickly realize the difference. There are pension and budget issues with the Post office that Congress forced upon them. But in terms of service and costs, it's only when one gets into large heavy shipping that UPS competes. Then, FedEx is all about speed.

On the Census, that again is in part Congress's fault. Google, MasterCard and Visa know every move we make yet Congress will not let the Census, the BLS or the BEA update their surveys, collection methods and most importantly, add more data points. The demographics alone are from the 1960's, which is why I mention work by immigration status. That's what we need to know now. But absolutely they could. For example, simply allow the Census to collect data electronically, i.e. via web forms. Yet here come our "privacy" groups all up in arms, all the while Target knows when you are pregnant before you do. It's ridiculous. If they allowed the BLS access to private employment records from businesses, which they should consider, we could find out how many jobs are offshore outsourced but corporations instead force the BLS to sign NDAs and give them hardly any data on this.

Again, not right. We have a right to know about the state of work in this country.

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