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