The Shotgun Blog
Friday, August 13, 2010
Fraser Institute: We're getting pilloried over support for making long-form census voluntary
The Fraser Institute sent out the following letter today:
In recent weeks, the Fraser Institute has been pilloried and criticized in both the mainstream media and among the country's political and academic elites for our support for making the 2011 long-form census voluntary, rather than mandatory.
Our rationale for opposing the mandatory long-form census comes down to a core belief that Canadians should not be forced to disclose private and non-essential personal information to the government.
In its current format, the long-form census requires Canadians to complete 40 burdensome pages of intrusive personal questions. Canadians are forced to disclose this information without good cause. The census has simply become a cheap way for academics, economists, and social scientists to get information that should be acquired using market surveys of the kind that are routinely conducted on a voluntary basis.
Having census data collected by a central government agency does not serve Canada's interests, and it does not serve your interests.
We've been called "media shills" by Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson for also siding with voluntariness over mandatoriness. You can read why by scanning our WS on the census page.
Saturday, August 07, 2010
Premiers reveal an ideological divide on the census
The Premiers of Canada have not agreed to stand united against the rather moderate census reform that is being brought forth by the federal government. It is interesting to look at which Premiers are on what side of the issue.
On one hand we have the Premiers who are crying out about the injustice of the reform and making worried noises about the collapse of civilization:
New Brunswick’ Shawn Graham (Liberal)
PEI’s Robert Ghiz (Liberal)
Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty (Liberal)
Quebec’s Jean Charest (Liberal)
Manitoba’s Greg Selinger (NDP)
On the face of it, this looks like a pretty partisan list. But in Canada there is little or no connection between parties on the provincial level and federal level. None of these people care what federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will think about their position. So you should ignore the partisan labels and look at what these people have in common.
They are the Premiers that put the most faith in the ability of the government to run the economy.
Now let’s look at the Premiers that say that the issue is not important:
Alberta’s Ed Stelmach (PC)
BC’s Gordon Campbell (Liberal)
Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall (Saskatchewan Party)
These are the premiers that have shown the most faith in the free market. Yes none of their track records are perfect, but compared to the last group of politicians these three are stalwarts of the free market.
The ideological division is clear. Those that believe in big government are for the census, those that believe in at least somewhat freer markets do not think that it is an important issue.
This underlines the fact that you only really care about the census if you think that government has the ability to run society. And the truth is that government can’t run society, so why should we care about the census?
Thursday, August 05, 2010
French organization and misleading the census
The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada, a French language interest group, is using legal action to try and prevent the government from making changes to the long-form census. They claim that reliable data on the number of French speakers is needed to provide adequate French language programs.
I would be interested to know if this is the same organization that mobilized French speakers to lie on the 2006 census. Many bilingual French-Canadians were encouraged to claim on the 2006 census that they could only speak French. The idea was that this would boast the amount of French language programs, even in areas that it wasn’t needed.
How about that for reliable data?
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
The moderate Census 2011 reform
The census debate has been raging for more than a month now. My first post on the government decision to make the mandatory long-form voluntary was on June 30th. Re-reading that post I am struck by how much this debate has spun out of control. The opponents are jumping up and down in outrage for what they call a radical ideological agenda. The reality is that the reform is a very moderate one.
The important thing that has to be kept in mind, and I feel like so many people are losing sight of this, is that the government is not proposing to cut the census. The short-form will still be mandatory and refusal to fill in this form could still lead to fines or jail time.
The short-form is not as intrusive but it is still intrusive. It asks you questions about your age, your family, your ethnicity, and other basic demographic questions. The 2011 Census will then still be a ‘snap shot’ of Canada’s demographics.
I keep getting the impression that the opponents of the reform are confused. They keep defending the ‘vital’ demographic data that the census collects. We can debate how ‘vital’ this data really is, but such a debate would be abstract because that ‘vital’ data is not really being threatened.
The sort of information that won’t be gathered by coercive means in the new census is: how many rooms you have in your house, what time you get up to go to work, and which parent spends more time with their children. These are all examples presented by the government, and I have yet to hear any critic try to defend any of that as vital to the operation of government.
That is because there is no legitimate argument that any of that data is anything but of academic interest.
Some like the Western Standard have used this opportunity to engage in a debate over the legitimacy of using force to collect statistical data. This debate should not be confused with the debate over the government reform. Despite the libertarian language used by Minister Tony Clement, there is no proposal on the table to end the use of force in census collection.
Opponents of the government’s census reform should take a deep breath and tackle the issue more honestly.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Libertarianism 101: Mike Brock vs. Stephen Taylor
Yesterday, Western Standard blogger Mike Brock and Stephen Taylor debated whether or not the Conservative government's move to make the long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory would make libertarians be interested in the Conservative Party again. The debate quickly changed into a broader debate about libertarianism and conservatism. Here's video of the discussion, courtesy of Roy Eappen:
Obviously you can't trust voluntary surveys
The Globe and Mail is reporting on a survey that shows that 76 per cent of polled economists think that the long-form census should remain mandatory. An interesting number to be sure, but unfortunately the survey is completely unreliable.
You see, no one threatened anyone with fines or confinement to fill out this survey. If no one was under physical threat then how can we possibly trust the results?
I call upon the government to institute a mandatory survey of economists and their opinion on the census. It is only then that we will get to the truth of the matter.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
"I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting..."
Western Standard blogger Mike Brock just appeared on CBC's Power and Politics alongside Stephen Taylor, prominent Canadian blogging pundit. The two of them got into a bit of a debate over the mandatoriness of the long-form census, and over whether or not this move by the Stephen Harper-led Tories would bring more libertarians into the conservative movement.
Brock and Taylor seemed to be at odds with one another. While both were supportive of this most recent move by the Tories, Brock was insistent that this move is not enough to bring in libertarians. That libertarians cared about other issues that the Conservative government has failed them on. He cited the war on drugs, a dramatic increase in the size of government, and the G20 as thorns in the side of libertarians who might, otherwise, take a second look at the Conservative Party.
Taylor hit back, arguing that Brock's view was too low to the ground, that he needs to go up 30,000 feet to see the bigger picture, and to realize that politics is about the art of the possible.
While Brock is sure to post a few follow-up posts after his debate, one thing might surprise those watching the show -- Brock and Taylor took different positions, and debated the issue, but both Brock and Taylor count themselves as libertarians.
Rosemary Barton, host of CBC's Power & Politics, basically said "huh?" when Taylor said he was a libertarian. She double-checked. And, sure enough, Taylor did admit, somewhat sheepishly, that he is a libertarian (this isn't news to readers of this blog, or to readers of Taylor's blog either. Taylor's been a libertarian for a long time).
No one would be surprised to hear two conservatives differ about policy or strategy. Of course they would differ -- conservatism is a broad movement, comprising fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, social liberals, foreign policy hawks and doves, and so on.
But the same is true of libertarians.
Libertarianism is both a political philosophy, as well as a political morality. On the former, it is a view about the proper function of government, and the proper size of government. It is possible to be a consequentialist, utilitarian, deontological, social conservative, natural rights, and so on, libertarian. "Libertarian" describes what your view is on the role of government, but is silent on why you endorse that role, and no other. For that, you need to look at political morality.
As a political morality, libertarianism refers only to the natural rights foundations of libertarian political philosophy. This might be part of the confusion, since the same label refers to two distinct things -- foundations and outcomes.
Recently, I posted about reason magazine's debate entitled "Where do libertarians belong?" It was a debate between Brink Lindsay, Matt Kibbe, and Jonah Goldberg. This CBC panel on the census was a snapshot of the same debate within the libertarian movement about where libertarians belong. Taylor thinks being a part of the conservative movement is the best way to reach more individual liberty and individual responsibility, while Mike Brock is no longer so sure.
Barton permitted Brock and Taylor to tussle back-and-forth for some time. When all was said and done, she laughed and said, "I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting! Thank you to the both of you for making it so."
It is exciting.
Learn more, pick up these major works of libertarianism (two authors are Canadian, two are American):
WS writers around town: Mike Brock will be on CBC's Power & Politics tonight at 5 p.m.
Shotgun blogger Mike Brock will be on CBC's Power and Politics tonight at 5 p.m. in order to bring a libertarian view to the census debate.
The show is available as a live-stream here: Power and Politics.
If you'd like to know what libertarians think of the census, you can check out our census page on WS on the census.
Bullshit, and the Ironic Invalidity of the Census Debate
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” – Professor Harry G. Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”, pp. 55-56.
The ironic truth is that a debate focusing largely upon the validity of census data is comprised of so much bullshit as to make the debate itself invalid. Witnesses and Parliamentary Members at committee hearings, columnists, and even those who write letters to the editors of our vestigial newspapers have decided that the this issue – more than most others – demands that all concern over truth and falsehood must be abandoned if the debate is to be resolved favourably. The debate has turned even serially honest thinkers, writers and speakers into at least second-class bullshitters for the purposes of either backing or opposing the Conservative government’s decision to make completion of the long form census voluntary; to repeal laws that impose penalties of fine or imprisonment for failing or refusing to fill out the long form census and remit it to government.
In the hope that participants might choose to stop bullshitting, and instead state clearly what they want, why they want it, and who they think ought to be footing the bill for what they want, I provide, below, a short-list of seven of the most salient and high-profile bullshit submissions upon which decision makers are likely to rely due to pressure from their constituents (who are the intended victims of all of this bullshittery). I conclude with a succinct description of the real issues that the bullshit arguments are designed to bury or obfuscate.
Bullshit Submission #1: "The fact of the matter is that we [made the decision to make the long form census voluntary] on a principled basis, that we wanted to balance off the interests of those Canadians who are worried about this with the desire [of users of the data] for more and more data." - Conservative MP Tony Clement, Industry Minister, at the July 27, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (hereinafter referred to as the "SCIST Hearing").
This claim is bullshit for at least two reasons. First, the Conservatives clearly are not acting on any "principled basis". A principle is a fundamental truth of general application. For example: "Government must use coercion only to prevent the violation of individuals' lives, liberty, and property" is a principle. At the SCIST Hearing, Clement represented that "...we should encourage people and use non-coercive methods if we want data from them and that's simply our position". This is, in my view, was a wording (i.e., "non-coercive methods") deliberately chosen to lure the sympathies or loyalties of those who think that government ought never to use force other than to defend every person's own life, liberty, and property. It is a wording chosen to suggest, falsely, that Conservatives have a principled objection to government coercing the governed with respect to acts and omissions that harm nobody. But, as even the Liberal MPs on the SCIST panel were quick to point out, the Conservatives are not consistent on their allegedly "principled" stance against coercive methods. Most damaging to the Conservatives' claim to principle is the simple and painful fact that the Conservatives are proposing that fines and imprisonment continue to be imposed with respect to those who refuse to fill out the short form of the census (not to mention the fact that the Conservatives have no qualms about threatening Canadians will fines and imprisonment with respect to refusals to file income tax returns).
Second, it is now clear that I was called upon by the Liberals to be a witness at the SCIST hearings on July 27th. It is equally obvious that I was chosen because of what I wrote on both the Western Standard's Shotgun blog and on my own blog on July 17, 2010 (the general thrust being that the decision to make the long form voluntary was little more than an attempt to bring "libertarians" and other objectors who oppose government coercion into, or back into, the Conservative fold). It is similarly obvious that the Liberals chose me as a representative of "libertarians" or others who are the targets of the Conservative pandering to which I referred in my July 17th post. Finally, it is obvious that, having presented me as a representative of that target group, they wanted the public to believe that, if such a representative says his group is being pandered to, his group is indeed being pandered to.
What is most interesting, however, is that, despite the fact that I wrote that I agree with the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary, not one of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel asked me any questions. None of them took the opportunity to bolster the Conservative claim to acting on "principle", by asking me a question to which I could respond that making the census voluntary is quite a principled thing to do. None of them took the opportunity to appear friendly to a freedom advocate well known among Objectivists, libertarians and other individualists in Canada; a to risk the appearance of being allied with, or of similar mind to, a reasonably well-known opponent of government coercion. All of the Conservative MPs on the SCIST panel avoided that opportunity like the plague. The message to all lovers of liberty: 'we want your support, but we do not actually share your commitment to individual freedom, and we certainly wouldn't want to be seen allying with you in public'. So, ask yourself: if Conservatives do not want to appear to be supported by, allied with, or of similar mind to principled opponents of government coercion, how can their claim to holding a principled opposition to government coercion be anything but utter bullshit?
Bullshit Submission #2: Only 50 or so people have called the privacy commissioner to complain about the census, so the actual number of people who object to filling out the long form census is being immensely over-stated.
This line of argument was offered up primarily by Liberal MP Dan McTeague, during the SCIST Hearing.
The argument is bullshit for numerous, somewhat obvious reasons. Two biggies follow.
First, the violation of ones privacy is a concern for only a fraction of the estimated 19 per cent of Canadians who would not fill out the long form census were it voluntary (note: the 19 per cent figure is a result in a poll conducted by IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker, who testified to the SCIST Hearing. I, for example, do not regard it as a well kept secret that I am a middle aged Caucasian male: anyone with could easily find that out. I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy for people to look at me, so I do not regard it as a violation of my privacy to write down, in a census form, that I am a middle aged Caucasian male. And I have no fear that the census will tell the government something "private" about my money: it already gets that information from me yearly via my tax return. Because I have no concern about such alleged "privacy", I have absolutely no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner.
As any politician debating the voluntariness of the 2011 census should try to remember or discover, in the lead up to the 1996 census, the public was outraged that it was to be denied the opportunity to identify their "Ethnic Origin" as "Canadian". Political pressure led to the inclusion of "Canadian" as a response. They objected then -- as objectors do now -- to a government that doles out special barriers and disadvantages, and special privileges and advantages, to different Canadians based upon their "ethnic origin". A large -- perhaps the largest -- proportion of Canadians upset with the mandatory long form these days similarly are upset not because of privacy issues, but because they want a government that is blind to issues of race, sex, religion et cetera. They have no reason to call a Privacy Commissioner when what is bothering them is collectivism.
Second, among those objectors whose concern is the violation of their privacy, we may rightly expect to find individuals who are distrustful of or who fear government. Survivors of the Holocaust who were targeted because of their race, religion, profession, income, et cetera; those who - like former StatsCan head Ivan Fellegi -- have left countries because of governmental tyranny; or as the SCIST heard from a witness, Inuit living in the remote north: all have reasons for fearing that the government will use such information against them. Mr. McTeague would have us believe that people so terrified of government would actually contact the government's Privacy Commissioner to complain about the government's census. For people having such fear of government, that is like expecting them to stand outside of Parliament with a sign saying "Shoot me, loot me, I'm your enemy." A government body can say all it wants about how it will maintain the anonymity of complainants, but can anyone permanently terrorized by the abuse of governmental power and information rationally be expected to trust that a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner will not put them in the government's cross-hairs?
The bottom line: the argument that the number of complaints made to the Privacy Commissioner demonstrates few people care about census penalties is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #3: Nobody has ever gone to jail for refusing to complete the census. That people go to jail is an "urban myth". Therefore, the government’s decision to eliminate penalties for non-completion of the long form census is a response to a crisis manufactured by government.
Bullshit arguments of this sort have been made most prominently by NDP MP Charlie Angus, and by Liberal MP Marc Garneau.
The essence of this bullshit argument is that that, because the imprisonment penalty is never actually imposed, nobody is harmed by it, so there is no reason to repeal the penalty. This line of thought has at least two possible interpretations.
One interpretation is that the penalties have no effect on anyone. If that is the case, there is no rational reason for opposing their repeal, so the argument is bullshit.
The other interpretation is that the effect of the penalties is nothing more than to create sufficient fear of imprisonment that non-consenting Canadians will be coerced into completing the long form census. If that is the case, then it is false that Canadians are not being harmed by the imprisonment penalty: fear and coercion is harm. It is because of that harm -- because of that violation of ones liberty -- that, if a stranger were to appear at your door and say, in a threatening manner, "Tell me your name, or I'll forcibly take all of the money from your wallet", he could be charged with a criminal offence. As with the first interpretation, the implication that the law harms nobody is bullshit, so the conclusion drawn from that bullshit - that the penalty should not be repealed -- is also bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #4: What we advocate is a mandatory long form census, not penalties.
Arguments to that effect have been made most prominently by Statistical Society of Canada President Don McLeish, and by former Toronto Dominion Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond (now Chair of an Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information), both of whom were witnesses at the SCIST Hearing. See also a (typically) bizarre media release by the Green Party of Canada.
Sexual contexts aside, one cannot suck and blow at the same time. In law -- and I say this as a lawyer -- "mandatory" means: if you do not comply, your liberty or property will be taken away to one extent or another. There is no other meaning for "mandatory", if we are speaking about a law. The argument is bullshit because -- if pressed to take a stand on whether or not all penalties for non-completion of the long form census should be repealed -- those making this bullshit argument ultimately state that at least some form of penalty (i.e., fine or imprisonment) must remain. In other words, the people spouting this bullshit argument want their audience either to remain ignorant of the existence of a penalty, or to hold a false belief that things mandated by law do not necessarily involve penalties or coercion of any sort.
Thanks to the cross-examination done by Conservative MP Mike Lake (who should have been a litigator, and probably deserves a promotion...perhaps to Tony Clement's position), the argument was exposed to be bullshit both when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don McLeish and when made by SCIST Hearing witness Don Drummond. Their testimony -- and their faces -- must really be watched to get the full feeling of their discomfort with giving an honest answer to Lake's questions, but here are the exchanges in question (without changing the meanings of the questions or answers, I edit out parts of the questions and answer that are not directly on-point). First, the cross-examination of Don McLeish:
Lake: "Should your daughter...be threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?'" McLeish: "...My Society has not taken a position on what the penalties associated with non-compliance with the Statistics Act should be, because that's not really our expertise. That's a government decision."
Lake: "Your association does advocate for penalties though." (Note: McLeish was testifying as a witness opposed to the Conservative government's decision to repeal penalties associated with non-completion of the long-form census).
McLeish: "No. My association advocates that the voluntary long form of the census be mandatory as it has in the past... In my personal view, they should not be threatened with jail time, in part because it's never happened and it's a red herring in this debate; in part because [the magnitude of the penalty is] all out of proportion [to the nature of the offence]... The word 'mandatory' is important. I submit that the level of fine associated with it, which is under government jurisdiction, is much, much less important".
Next, Lake's cross-examination of Drummond, who was also testifying in opposition to the Conservatives' decision to make the long form census voluntary. Lake gives Drummond essentially the same question he gave McLeish, namely, should a person threatened with jail time or a fine for not wanting to answer the question 'How much house work did you do last week?
Drummond: "If the problem is the threat of jail time, remove it, you don't need it. It's not used."
Drummond having dodged the issue of fines with his answer, Lake moves in for the kill, asking Drummond whether a fine should be imposed were a person not to answer a long form question about the amount he has spent upon water.
Drummond: "The fine itself is not the issue. There's a notion in Canada that filling out the census is mandatory. I don't think people look at the fine. The fines are not invoked very often. I don't think that's the notion. The right notion, which people have understood in Canada, is: it's mandatory. And the vast majority of Canadians do it. And I don't think they do it because of the threat of a fine..."
Lake: "So, you're saying we could go without fines then?"
Drummond: "The fines probably have to be there on paper, but I think they're not really the central issue. If people understand that this is a benefit and it's part of being a Canadian citizen, then they would fill it out whether there's a fine or not. They won't pay attention to the existence of the fines."
Lake: "Isn't that a voluntary system, then?"
Drummond: "The fines are there, on paper, so it's not a [does not complete his sentence, for obvious reasons. He instead switches to] It's more of an attitude, and it's a promotion of [public duty, personal benefit]."
Lake: "Okay, so that's basically the approach that the government has put forward, and that sounds like the same approach you are talking about".
Drummond: "No...I think that you need some measure of -- on paper, at least -- hopefully not used very much, but certainly not jail."
When subsequently questioned by NDP MP Claude Gravelle, Drummond states: "I think the most important thing is the question: 'Is there a sentiment that it's part of your civic duty to fill it out or not?'. I think the fines and the penalty are irrelevant, relative to that."
Again: one cannot suck and blow. When McLeish and Drummond say they want completion of the long form census to be "mandatory", even they are unwilling to deny that "mandatory" requires the continued existence of a penalty. Had they been so willing, they would actually be witnesses supporting the Conservatives' decision. In short: the above argument -- an argument made by numerous opponents of the Conservatives' decision -- is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #5: "I would fill out the long form census if it were voluntary".
IPSOs pollster Darrell Bricker testified to the SCIST that 19 per cent of people he polled would not voluntarily fill out the long form census, and that 80 per cent would do so. A good proportion of those saying they would fill out the long-form census in a voluntary system are clearly bullshitting. These poll respondents expect us to believe that although they are barely more than 50 per cent likely to find it worth their while to take 10 minutes to walk a block and place a single check mark, to answer a single question (i.e., the ballot) once every few years, they are somehow 80 per cent likely to answer 50 or 60 questions comprising a 40 page long-form questionnaire asking them about their religion, their "race", and -- for all intents and purposes -- whether they are regularly having sex in their home with someone who is not their spouse. They are the same people who promise themselves they will start dieting and working out tomorrow, and who buy year-long gym memberships to work off the Christmas goose, only to quit by the end of January. We all like to believe that we will take the time to do things like vote, and take voluntary government polls and, when asked, few of us want to admit -- to ourselves, and much less to others -- that we just do not think voting, or census-completing, or gym membership buying will ultimately end up giving us anything of value. In the immediate term - when we really do not care whether or not our answer will turn out to be true -- a significant percentage of us will answer to a pollster that, yes, we would answer a voluntary long-form census. We will take a "tomorrow's another day", wait-and-see attitude with respect to the issue of whether or not we are bullshitting ourselves and others (knowing full well that we will, by that time, have forgotten even being polled). The claim by a good proportion of the 80% - that they would answer a voluntary long-form census - is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #6: If we were to get rid of the jail term, and leave the fine in place, that would be a good compromise.
Noteworthy sources of this bullshit proposal are numerous, but clearly include Don Drummond, as indicated by his testimony, above.
This argument is the perhaps the oldest bullshit in the history of tyranny. That it is bullshit is probably best demonstrated with an example. In 1986, it was illegal for most retail stores to open on Sundays. To challenge the constitutionality of the ban in court, then London bookstore owner Marc Emery opened his bookstore contrary to the ban. At trial, he was fined $500. He refused to pay the fine. The government's response: imprisonment. He remained in jail for four days, until the general public contributed the money to pay the fine. The lesson: there is no such thing as a fine that does not necessarily imply the availability of imprisonment as a penalty. In other words: the notion of a penalty that excludes the implication of imprisonment is bullshit.
Bullshit Submission #7: "What Canadians are witnessing in the census saga is the temporary triumph of ideology over reason...The Statistics Canada fight is not the usual clash of competing political visions, of left against right, of Conservatives against progressives. Rather, this is a fight about rational decision-making that requires the best fact-based evidence available against a reliance on ideological nostrums that scorn facts and reason when they stand in the way of those nostrums." - Direct quotation from Jeffrey Simpson's July 23, 2010 column in the Globe and Mail.
Noteworthy sources of this bullshit argument include not only Jeffrey Simpson, but also NDP MP Charlie Angus, and Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Nadeau (who, in the SCIST hearing of July 27th, 2010, kept insisting that the central issue is one of science and of the validity of census data, rather than one of whether or not it is morally right to penalize a person for refusing to complete and remit the long-form census).
This argument is not only bullshit, but hypocritical bullshit. The fact that evidence exists, and that it is accurate, does not mean that the evidence is relevant. A person's belief that one ought not to eat an apple each day does not necessarily imply the existence of an ideology that makes one willfully blind to the fact that apples are red. An alternative implication is that the colour of an apple has no bearing on whether or not one ought to eat an apple every day. Similarly, the (pretty much undeniable) fact that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the census does not necessarily imply that it is wrong to make the census voluntary. The effect of voluntariness upon the usefulness of the census is a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; a matter of what IS. Given what IS, the question of what the government ought therefore to do is a question of ethics and politics, not of metaphysics and epistemology.
"Ideology" is a matter of ethics and politics, not a matter of metaphysics and epistemology; it is a matter of what ought to be, not of what is. Even if both sides of the debate were to agree that making the long-form census voluntary will cause sampling bias that will narrow the usefulness of the long form census, it is no more and no less "ideological" to argue that the government therefore ought not to make the census voluntary, then to argue that the government therefore ought to make the census voluntary. In other words, everyone who has an opinion about whether the government ought to make the census voluntary and of narrowed use has an "ideology". It is utter bullshit to say that "ideology" has trumped "reason" if one believes the government ought to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census, but that "ideology" has nothing to do with it if one believes that the government OUGHT NOT to make a decision that narrows the usefulness of the census.
In short: no matter which side of the debate argues that their opponent's stance is an example of ideology triumphing over reason, the argument is utter bullshit.
Lying beneath all of these bullshit arguments is a rather simple debate that nobody wants to have in public: Should the government distribute wealth and political influence to individuals in accordance with each individual's race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera, or should the government be blind to such individual differences and stick to the business of defending the lives, liberty, and property of all individuals, irrespective of their race, sex, religion, nationality, mother tongue, income, wealth et cetera? In other words, those complaining about being forced, under penalty of fine or imprisonment, to pigeon-hole themselves into man-made collectives see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism; as a matter of government as keeper of peace, order and good government among adult Canadians, versus government as daddy of a Canadian family that shares wealth equally, regardless of which individuals earn it.
Those collectivists opposing the lifting of penalties for non-completion of the long form census also see the issue as a matter of individualism versus collectivism. However, they do not want anyone to know that that is the issue in question. They are happier obfuscating the ethical-political issue with yammerings-on about the metaphysical and epistemological issue of the effect of voluntariness upon the validity of census data (which is, in reality, a non-issue, because it is simply true that making the census voluntary will introduce sampling bias, thereby making the census a picture of the nature of people who choose to fill out the census, rather than a picture of the nature of the entire Canadian population).
This debate is not happening for one reason: the majority of both liberals and conservatives want to be treated as children of a collectivist daddy government. They are, in other words, on the same side of the real issue involved (i.e., individualism versus collectivism). However, there is nonetheless inter-party disagreement about making the long form census voluntary because, unlike the liberals, the conservatives want to have their cake and eat it too. To individualists -- many of who, for years, have misguidedly treated the Conservatives as allies in a war for individual freedom -- they want to be seen as defenders of rugged individualism. The conservatives want individualists to believe that, if the Conservatives only had a majority, there would be a big anti-collectivism, pro-individualism revolution. However, to the majority of conservatives -- who are not pro-individualist but who are pro-theocracy types; 'cops can do no wrong' types; 'bring back the good ole' days' types; 'gimme the common sense, dumbed-down Homer Simpson version' types; and so on -- the conservatives want to appear as the defender of the status quo; the "natural governing party"; a party that twiddles with the fine tuning knobs of government, but that never touches the big dial. Thus the bullshit Conservative use of the words "principle" and "principled" in the context of a decision so utterly unprincipled (e.g., long form census voluntary, short form census mandatory) that even Conservatives can hardly keep a straight face when they use such words.
So here is what is going to happen. If the Conservatives fold on this issue, it will prove a lose-lose for them electorally: they will have lost this tussle over the census, and will be seen by the pro-individualists to whom they implicitly are pandering, as cowardly turn-coats; as lacking the desire, will or courage to stand up for individual freedom; and as having lacked any viable plan for proposing and delivering their long form census decision to the public. The mooching egalitarians will continue to point to point to income disparities between those who produce more and those who produce less, blaming such disparities on racism, sexism, and any other collectivist ism they find to meet with general public disgust. The mooching researchers and central planners will continue to stick the taxpayer with a good part of the cost of their research, most of which will be research devised to support claims that there is a problem that government ought to fix, at taxpayer expense. Producers will see less and less wisdom in assuming the risk and burden of producing and, in increasing numbers, they will jump on the moocher-looter bandwagon instead of continuing to pull it.
If, instead, the Conservatives dig in their heels, the public will simply grow bored of reading about the issue, and lefty writers who continue to carp on about it will have their readership rolling their eyes (to the general public, this whole issue is totally fringe, so dwelling on it makes any writer look out of touch). When the voluntary 2011 census rolls out next year, the left will again start writing columns about the voluntary nature of the census: some will write that the Harper government has made it worthless; others will implicitly campaign that it is in every moocher's and looter's interest to fill out the census, and that it is every Canadian's "civic duty" to fill it out. Response rates will be much lower than 80 per cent. The general public will get its first true datum -- response rate -- concerning how many Canadians think the census is something they should be paying for and spending their time filling out. As a result of poor public interest in filling out the long form, the public will be much more willing to agree that it's time to get rid of the long form census altogether. An actual, non-bullshitty debate about individualism versus the collectivist purposes of the long form census might actually be held and debated on its merits. And, if opponents of a mandatory long form census (Conservative or other) remain in power until 2016, there might be no long form as soon as 2016. As I wrote a few days ago, the long form -- a weapon used by racist egalitarians and other collectivists to make the government take more money from those who earn it, and give it to those who do not -- will be destroyed. It will be somewhat harder for the collectivists to blame differences in wealth and income upon false claims of racism, sexism and the like. The collectivists will have to fall back on being more truthful; on saying that they simply want what others have earned, and are willing to beg, steal, and vote to get it. The mooching researchers, academics, businesses who use data of the kind collected in the long form census will start paying for the data they get, like everyone else does. And those of us who want our freedom - who honestly believe that they are members of only one race: the human race -- will have won a significant battle against collectivism, though certainly not the war.
WS/LP joint poll: Conservatives want to scrap the mandatory long-form census -- what do you think?
Had about enough of the census debate? Yeah, us too, really. Brian Lee Crowley from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute suggests we call issues that matter a great deal only to those in government buildings (or the media and academics that care very much about what happens in those buildings) as "Inside K1A" issues.
We like that description. And the census seems like a K1A thing. But, who knows, maybe you care a great deal. So give us your opinion.
This is a joint poll of the Western Standard and Libertas Post.
[Note: Obviously unscientific. It's not like the census. It's just meant to be fun, etc.]
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Filibuster on the Census
The census is still causing a stir. We've seen Jedis up in arms, a battle between nations over who has the most absolute and per capita Jedis, a curious attempt to figure out whether Jedis are libertarian or socialists, the resignation of our chief statistics bureaucrat, a gathering of interesting witnesses before Committee (including WS blogger Paul McKeever), an online live-blog debate between our associate editor Terrence Watson, CBC Inside Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon, the libertarian cavalry come riding onto a field with almost no allies, the Green Party issue a strange mandatory and voluntary census proposal, and on and on.
It should come as no surprise that WS cartoonist J.J. would turn his poison pen to this issue, with the above result.
J.J.'s commentary, appearing on his website Filibuster Cartoons, is reproduced below:
As there was in the States some months ago, there has been much controversy in Canada recently regarding the so-called “long form census.” Tony Clement, Stephen Harper’s minister of industry, has said he considers long census questionnaires, which ask all sorts of prying questions about race and religion and occupation and whatnot, excessively intrusive, and plans to phase them out. The government has already phased out punishments for non-completion, and is promoting the idea that the bulk of long form census data should only be submitted voluntarily.
Since most Canadians don’t even receive the long form survey to begin with (the short-to-long ratio is presently about 70-30), a lot of statisticians and demographers are raising a fuss, saying the Clement plan will lead to all sorts of distorted and useless statistical data, which will in turn lead to the poor management of government programs that rely on it.
My pals at the Western Standard’s Shotgun blog recently asked me for my opinion on the census kerfuffle, to which I replied:
A lot of people seem to be clinging to this misguided idea that census data only exists for the benefit of the government. On the contrary, I find thorough demographic statistics a vital tool that ordinary Canadians can use to hold their government to account.
When the government makes claims about jobs, or immigration, or bilingualism, or families, or multiculturalism, or any one of dozens of other topics, it’s always nice to know that the Census website is only a click away to find out if the facts match the rhetoric.
In my more conspiratorial moments, I sometimes wonder if undermining the census is just a very convenient way for politicians to keep the citizenry in the dark about the realities of their own country.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Harper the Tyrant
Liberal MP Joyce Murray had an interesting take on the census debate:
A Liberal MP from Vancouver has said the Conservative government’s move to scrap the mandatory long-form census and make it voluntary is “definitely part of a pattern that is very bad for democracy and bad for Canada”.
“This is also part of the pattern of trying to control the independent agencies and offices of Parliament that are the oversight to government and are a very important part of our democracy,” Joyce Murray, the MP for Vancouver Quadra, told the Straight by phone today (July 22). “Having those neutral agencies and voices to be able to speak to Canadians is a very important [part of] governance. And that is what separates a government from a tyranny.”
Independent agencies are what fundamentally separate a good government from a tyrannical government, really? It isn’t civil liberties, free speech, or property rights. The most important feature of good government is independent agencies? Are you kidding me?
Oh don’t get me wrong, there is certainly merit to having certain functions of government out of reach of a politician’s control. Offices of Parliament are also most important when they are able to operate independently of any influence of a political party. Yet to say that these are features that distinguish Canada from a North Korea is an exaggeration that does nothing but make Ms. Murray look absurd.
Ms. Murray looks even more ridiculous when you consider that Stats Canada is not an independent agency of Parliament or any other government body. It is part of the portfolio of Minister Tony Clement and the Minister has responsibility for the actions and policy of Stats Canada. Mr. Clement made a policy decision that was completely within his rights to make. To argue that the census reform is undue interference with Stats Canada would be like arguing that ordering a deployment is undue interference with the military.
The very basis of Westminster democracy is Ministerial responsibility, but apparently for Joyce Murray this is tyranny.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
CBC Live blog on the census
Associate editor, Terrence Watson, is participating in a CBC Inside Politics blog live townhall regarding the census. Also participating are CBC Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon.
You can check it out on the CBC website here, or follow along below:
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Green Party: Keep the mandatory long-form census mandatory and voluntary (?)
The Greens today issued a wonderfully bizarre press release. They support the "mandatory" long form census, but think that a legal penalty for non-compliance "goes too far." I'm not sure what they think "mandatory" means, but what is a census that doesn't have any legal penalties behind it except, uhm, voluntary.
Is there some sort of magic attached to the word "mandatory" that makes Canadians fill out paperwork even if it's understood that nothing will happen to them if they don't? I don't know. Perhaps they will use Jedi mind-tricks, in place of legal sanctions.
Here's the press release:
The Green Party of Canada supports a mandatory process for Canada's long-form census but says that a legal penalty for non-compliance goes too far.
"We need to ensure that Canadians understand the usefulness of the type of data contained in the long-form census but we must do so through a process that builds community and strengthens citizenship," said Eric Walton, Green International Affairs Critic. "It is far better to engage in an informed dialogue with someone concerned about completing the long census than to come down hard on them with legal sanctions for not disclosing what they may consider to be confidential information -- even if it is untraceable to them."
"We need adequate information to set policy and the data needs to be reliable," said Green Leader Elizabeth May. "Neither a voluntary process nor coercion will result in dependable data. The long-form census is important to informed decision making on a wide range of policies. If we need to better address privacy concerns, we should do that but to make it completely voluntary would distort the census data."
I can't help but wonder what this magical third option is between mandatory and voluntary. If it's voluntary, and you don't fill it out, then there are no legal penalties. If it is mandatory, and you don't fill it out, then there are legal penalties. That's it, near as I can tell.
WS on the census: Ezra Levant "So long, long form"
In a column printed in the Sun chain of newspapers, Ezra Levant, former publisher of the Western Standard, writes that he's glad to be rid of the mandatory long-form census. An excerpt:
As someone who received the long-form census in 1996 — and refused to complete it — let me tell you why this is a good thing.
The regular census is short. It asks who lives in your house and some questions about how everyone is related to each other. It also asks about language use -- information that fuels Canada’s bilingualism policy. That’s about it.
But the long-form census feels like it was written by the biggest gossips in the country. The 2011 version hasn’t been released yet, but the 1996 one can still be seen online.
Some of it is the basic stuff. But how about this: Question 7 demanded everyone in your home describe any physical or mental-health condition, and what limits that places on your school, work or home life.
Sorry, that’s just none of the government’s business. It’s supposed to be a census, not a peek through a family’s medicine cabinet.
Ezra also made reference to the famous Jedi:
In another question, the census asked your “cultural group.” It listed only one religion (Jewish), and several countries. Is Jewish a country?
Given that “etc.” was also listed, it’s not surprising that in a recent census, 21,000 Canadians described themselves as Star Wars Jedi Knights.[...]
Let the nosy bureaucrats pound sand: Scrapping the mandatory long-form census is a small victory against big government.
Read the rest
All WS on the census
Monday, July 19, 2010
Jedi knights mobilize against libertarian cavalry
In response to our series on the census, the Jedi Knights have amassed a campaign to defend the mandatory long-form census against the libertarian cavalry. Jedi Knights demand to be demanded to be counted.
The force is strong with these ones.
And we reject the use of force, whether from the light or dark side.
Maxime Bernier: Scrapping the compulsory long-form census questionnaire
I intervened in the media over the weekend to defend my government’s decision to scrap the compulsory long-form questionnaire of the census. There has been a lot of opposition to this decision over the past two weeks coming from all kinds of interest groups who use the data from the census.
Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don’t.
Most people don’t want to be called or be visited at home by a census bureaucrat pressuring them to answer the questions and threatening them with sanctions. They understandably do not want trouble with the government and when they get such threats, they simply comply. Few will officially complain to the government, although when I was Industry minister in 2006 during the previous census, several thousand email messages of complaint were sent to my MP office. (Some people have asked me to show proof of this. It was evidently part of an organized campaign, as my Parliament colleagues and I sometimes receive vast numbers of messages on controversial issues. They are one way among others to gauge the level of public support or opposition to a decision. These messages were obviously not filed for future use by my staff and were deleted.)
As I keep saying, government is already much too big and intrusive, and this decision will restore some balance. Private businesses and organizations who want such data should pay to get surveys done that answer their needs instead of relying on government coercion to get them.
For those who want to read more on this issue, here is an excellent column by Gordon Clark in the Vancouver Province, and this one by two economists from the Fraser Institute in the National Post. Also, the Western Standard has been publishing a series of commentaries supporting the decision, including one by one of my former advisors at Industry Canada, Martin Masse.
Those who have never seen the 40-page long-form questionnaire that is at the center of this debate can check the 2006 one here on the website of Statistics Canada. Among other intrusive questions, you are asked about your ethnic background, how many hours of unpaid housework, yard work or home maintenance you did the previous week, details about what kind of job you are doing, how you get to work, all your sources of income, who pays for what in your household, how many bedrooms there are in your home and if it needs minor or major repairs, etc.
Why in the world should peaceful and honest citizens be threatened with jail if they refuse to answer these questions?! Why do the Liberals support this?
Maxime Bernier is a Member of Parliament from Beauce, Quebec. This post is also available on his blog, here.
All WS on the census.
NDP "Reality Check": Dmitri Soudas uses the Jedi defence
Long known for defending minorities in Canada, the NDP throws the Jedi Knights under the bus:
Dimitri Soudas created an instant internet classic with his line of defence on eliminating the Census long form:
“21,000 Canadians registered Jedi knight as a religion in the 2001 census. Religion is asked every 10 years. We made the 40-page long form voluntary because government should not threaten prosecution or jail time to force Canadians to divulge unnecessary private and personal information. Canadians don't want the government at their doorstep at 10 o'clock at night while they may be doing something in their bedroom, like reading, because government wants to know how many bedrooms they have.”
What do 21,000 Jedis have to do with the Long Form Census? Nothing. What does the long form census have to do with government officials showing up at 10 o'clock at night at Canadians’ doors? Nothing. What does bedtime reading have to do with an accurate statistical portrait of our country’s demographics? Nothing.
But there you have it: the spokesperson for the Prime Minister of Canada talking about Jedis.
The force is weak with these ones.
Perhaps. But the farce is strong.
More WS on the census.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Does Canada lead the world in Jedi knights?
It is difficult to argue with the claims of long-form census supporters that the long form of the census is really important and vital (although we've given it a shot -- see here for the latest in a series of posts entitled "WS on the census"). For example, how else can we find out how many people are Jedi knights?
According to the 2001 census, 21,000 Canadians listed "Jedi knight" as their religion. Dmitri Soudas, communications director for the prime minister's office, made prominent reference to this fact in an email to the press gallery:
21,000 Canadians registered Jedi knight as a religion in the 2001 census.
Religion is asked every 10 years.
We made the 40-page long form voluntary because government should not threaten prosecution or jail time to force Canadians to divulge unnecessary private and personal information.
Canadians don't want the government at their doorstep at 10 o'clock at night while they may be doing something in their bedroom, like reading, because government wants to know how many bedrooms they have.
The Ignatieff Liberals promise to force all Canadians to answer personal and intrusive questions about their private lives under threat of jail, fine, or both.
We're not sure if Canadians want the government to show up on someone's doorstep at 10 at night, but we are fairly certain that no government official wants to mess with a competent Jedi knight, especially if the knight has succumbed to the dark side of the force.
This is unfortunately the case for Canadian Hayden Christensen, whose Jedi name is Anakin Skywalker. Christensen is one of the three or four most significant adherents to Jedi knightry.
In spite of the significance of this Canadian to the faith, and in spite of Canada being, on January 12, 2009, the first country in the world to recognize the Order of the Jedi Inc. as a federally incorporated non-profit religious entity, Canada did not lead the world in Jedis.
According to 2001 census reports from the English-speaking world, England and Wales led the world in absolute terms, with over 390,000 (0.8%) Jedis. "The 2001 census reveals that 390,000 people across England and Wales are devoted followers of the Jedi 'faith,'" the BBC reported in 2003.
England also has the distinction of having elected a Jedi Member of Parliament. Jamie Reed, then-newly-elected Labour Party MP, commented on the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill by saying, "as the first Jedi Member of this place, I look forward to the protection under the law that will be provided to me by the Bill."
Canada also lagged behind Australia, with over 70,000 (0.37%) Jedis in 2001. In May of 2001, the Australian Board of Statistics released a press release to the media on the topic of Jedis. "If your belief system is "Jedi" then answer as such on the census form. But if you would normally answer Anglican or Jewish or Buddhist or something else to the question "what is your religion?" and for the census you answer "Jedi" then this may impact on social services provision if enough people do the same," read the press release.
The honour of most Jedis on a per capita basis goes to New Zealand, with over 53,000 adherents, making up 1.5 per cent of the population, second only to "Christian" at 58.9 per cent ("No Religion" accounted for 28.9 per cent, with 6.9 per cent objecting to the question).
Membership in the Jedi Church is not restricted to English-speaking humans from Earth. "The Jedi Church recognises that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together, and accepts all races and species from all over the universe as potential members of the religion," explains the official website of the Jedi Church.
The Conservative Party promises to make the long-form of the census voluntary, which may, according to census experts, make the results statistically non-robust, and therefore will not be as useful as earlier censuses have been at accurately capturing the total number of Jedis, and providing specific services tailored to the needs of Canadian Jedis.
More WS on the census (a.k.a. the "libertarian cavalry"): Pierre Lemieux, Mark D. Hughes, Karen Selick, Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.
UPDATE: This story appears on Fark. You can read Fark readers' comments on this story by clicking here. It's worth the trip.
WS on the census: Pierre Lemieux, "The statistization of the population"
The abolition of the long form of the census is one of the very rare pieces of good news to come from Ottawa in a long time.
The only reason for forcing individuals to answer intrusive questions in a census is that many wouldn’t volunteer answers. They have good reasons not to as the questions are intrusive. The state should do like private researchers, pollsters and marketers; that is, gather its information from voluntary respondents. If the information is not as good, then let it be. The only way to have perfect information on citizens would be to put them in jails or in convents.
This last comment points to a deeper reason to be suspicious of any request for information by authority -- especially the sort of detailed information contained in the census long form. Such information is used for surveillance and control of the population.
Is it also used to help people? Yes, of course, but this basically amounts to the same: making people dependent on the state is a way to control them. As French political scientist Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote, “The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.”
As is often the case, the idea that the total “statistization” of the population is a good thing found its most frank expression on a somewhat more extreme location of the political spectrum. “How can wages be adjusted to food requirements if there is no exact measurement of both?”, asks Jean-Guy Prévost paraphrasing fascist Italian statistican Paulo Fortunati (see Prévost’s interesting A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy ).
The timid measure announced by Minister Tony Clement is a small step against the statistization of Canadians. My prediction -- alas! -- is that his initiative will be blocked. Many powerful and favoured interest groups are subsidized by the state producing information for their free use, including academics in the social sciences. They will express their greed by protesting.
Pierre Lemieux is a columnist with the Western Standard, an economist in the Department of Management Sciences of the Université du Québec en Outaouais and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA.
More WS on the census (a.k.a. the "libertarian cavalry"): Mark D. Hughes, Karen Selick, Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
WS on the census: Mark D. Hughes, "Always choose the voluntary, peaceful method"
Ed's note: We sent out a call to WS friends to send us thoughts on the census. Of course, we did not email everyone who might have wanted to share their thoughts with us. That led Mark D. Hughes, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Privacy Issues, to drop a comment under Professor Walter Block's submission with his own take on the census. We thought we'd pull his comment out and place it up on the main page. Here it is:
I am greatly troubled by the recent cacophony of vitriol and anger spewed out by the army of special interests who insist the census long form must be imposed by threat of state violence. "Tell us what we want to know or we will lock you away and take your money." How is that part of the Canadian ideal?
These folks (let's be real... supporters of hegemony and state coercion and enemies of peaceful cooperation) employ an argument something like "unless the long form is backed by the threat of state violence no one will give us the information we want." Hmm, why does that sound so familiar? Oh right, that's what they say about the need to torture prisoners in the war on terror... everyone knows a good threat will always get your victim to tell the truth. Right?
To argue that Statistics Canada can derive scientifically reliable data only with the threat of state sanctioned violence is a vile commentary on the degree to which some elitists worship at the alter of government information gathering.
More to the point, this whole mode of thought must necessarily reject an entire body of social science dedicated to the peaceful collection of data by way of voluntary surveys. Should we never again trust (within the scientific parameters set) an Ipsos Reid poll because it wasn't taken at the point of a gun? What utter nonsense!
As to the privacy issues regarding the long form, they are obvious to all but the most dull. In my estimation, however, privacy is not the primary catalyst for the public's dislike of this particular form of state snooping. Indeed, as has been pointed out by many who agitate for a mandatory census, most of the information collected on the long form is not that dissimilar from what the average Canadian is willing to discloses on Facebook.
What really bugs most people about the census process is that the state demands they divulge these intimate details about themselves and their households. And these demands are echoed by elitist special interests -- as diverse as academics, bureaucrats and business marketers -- who enjoy the benefits of this taxpayer-financed information landslide.
Finally, it is delightfully ironic that the vary argument advocates for a mandatory census use to marginalize/ridicule the notion that privacy is a relevant and sensible issue in relation to the census (i.e., the fact that so many Canadians voluntarily empty their guts on Facebook), lays bare the lie that scientifically reliable data, of the sort the long form is designed to capture, can only be derived by way of coercion... backed up by the state's monopoly on institutionalized violence.
If Canadians will voluntarily confess all to Facebook, surely they will answer a few questions from Statistics Canada if they are asked nicely. Indeed, as the Edmonton Journal's Lorne Gunter so wisely reminds us in his excellent June 11 article, "In a democracy, the bureaucrats and politicians have to ask us nicely to comply; they cannot demand we do except in very special circumstances."
I say, if you genuinely value freedom, always choose the voluntary peaceful method.
Mark D. Hughes is the Executive Director of the Vancouver Island-based "Institute for the Study of privacy Issues" (ISPI) and the editor of ISPI Clips, North America's leading news service for identity, surveillance and privacy issues.
WS on the census: Karen Selick
The chief Tory spokesman against the mandatory long form census has been Industry Minister Tony Clement. Too bad Tony is so inconsistent in his views about defending freedom and privacy. When he was health minister, Tony spearheaded the drive to bring in Bill C-6, the so-called Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. That bill (which died on the order paper, but has recently been revived as Bill C-36) is chock-full of powers for bureaucrats to intrude upon Canadians’ privacy.
It will deploy a vast army of inspectors to poke their noses into every nook and cranny of Canadian businesses—including those operated in people’s homes—seeking phantom dangers. No-one has yet produced any evidence that the existing law (The Hazardous Products Act) has failed to ensure consumers’ safety. In fact, during hearings, the Health Canada bureaucrats promoting the bill admitted that the old law has done a good job. The new bill seems to be desired primarily by those same bureaucrats for the purpose of building their empires.
In addition to authorizing frequent intrusions into business premises (including homes), C-36 also authorizes the federal government to give confidential business information about Canadian businesses to foreign governments, without the consent of the business.
But back to the census. All the do-gooders who want to make it mandatory seem to cite reasons that are themselves illiberal. For instance, Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute, writing recently in the Globe & Mail, cited the need for information in the fields of education and health as a reason. But the provision of education and health are not services that properly fall within the mandate of the state. Both should be privatized, and then -- poof! -- there goes the reason for needing the statistics.
It’s funny that the suppliers of other necessities to the poor—for instance, inexpensive clothing of the kind sold in WalMart or Giant Tiger stores—they don’t seem to need the census to figure out where to put their stores, what quantities of goods to order, or what price to offer them for.
Notably silent on the census issue has been the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). One would think this would be an issue about which they would have clear, strong freedom-oriented views. Alas, much of the decision-making in that organization is in the hands of committed leftists who no doubt support the idea of the state supplying education, health and more.
The sectors of the economy that keep devouring greater and greater shares of our resources, and producing worse and worse results are -- guess what? -- education and health care! And this is after they’ve had the supposed benefit of the long-form census for all these years!
Karen Selick is the litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
WS on the census: Paul McKeever "Optional long form census a blow to racism"
Canada's Conservative government has announced that completion of Canada's "long form" census will cease to be mandatory in 2011. Shrieks of condemnation can now be heard from a wide range of interests. None of them are justified. To the contrary, this is one step the Harper government has announced in recent history that is actually praiseworthy.
Pursuant to the instruction of Industry Minister Tony Clement, on June 28, 2010, Statistics Canada announced, in part, that:
The 2011 Census will consist of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire. It will be conducted in May 2011.
The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS). This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census, but will exclude the question asking for consent to release personal census information after 92 years as this is only required by the census. The NHS questions will be made available by the end of July.
The National Household Survey will be conducted within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and will include approximately 4.5 million households. (emphasis added)
The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution. For this reason, we have introduced changes for the 2011 Census.
The rationale for objecting to lifting the mandatory completion of the long form are numerous. According to the CBC, the long-form of the census includes questions about religious affiliation every 10 years (2011 being the next such year) and religious groups complain that they need the data to deliver programs and services and to track changes the "religious landscape". The Star reports that Canadian Medical Association journal needs long-form information for health care planning. In short, a good number of private associations like getting free data, and are quite happy to have the federal government threaten Canadians with fines and jail time in order to get it.
Others, not focusing upon the use to which census data is put, complain instead that taking a gun from the heads of those asked to fill out the long form will undermine the quality of the data. For example, the Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner, and a host of statisticians about whom he writes, express concern that:
...the switch from a mandatory to a voluntary form will bias the data in many ways and increasing the number of households that get the long form won't correct the biases. It will just produce more numbers. That are biased. And not comparable with past census data.
Toronto Dominion Bank senior economist Drummond has complained that if the long form is optional, white middle-class individuals will submit a greater percentage of the long-forms, leaving minorities, aboriginals and the very wealthy under-represented in the data. He says that, eventually, the data would be useless.
Implied in such complaints is an underlying belief that the data collected with the long form should be used by government. So, what exactly is the nature of the data that so many are clamouring for, and to what purposes can a government put such data?
In 2006 - the year in which the most recent long-form census was sent out to Canadians - talk radio host Robert Metz described in great and illuminating detail the questions set out in the 2006 long form, which he refused to file. Metz is the founder of the pro-free-market Freedom Party of Ontario and a long-time opponent of the census. In his account (which is a must-read for anyone weighing in on the issue of continuing to force people to fill out the long form), he explains that the long form of the census divides Canadians into discrete collectives distinguished by race and wealth:
None of the census questions relate to any proper function of government or of its proper relationship to the citizen: the administration of justice, maintenance of an objective court system, or the function of the military. They're all about genetic make-up and wealth redistribution.
Many opponents of the plan to make the long form optional take the position that the long form does not take too long to fill out. Others, like Liberal Party industry critique Marc Garneau argue that:
"...no one has gone to jail over the census, at least as far back as 1981. Only about 50-60 people are charged over each census, with about six having to pay fines".
Metz's account anticipates that argument, and responds as follows:
But again, fines and jail sentences are a secondary issue, particularly when rarely enforced. The real significance of Canada's Census lies not in the seemingly senseless questions being asked, nor in the threats of penalties directed against us, but in what we are being told about our collective future. Sadly, if the racists and other collectivists who design and administer the Canadian Census have their way, Canadians can expect a continued reversion from a productive society --- which survives by consensual trade in which wealth is earned by productivity --- towards an uncivilized jungle inhabited by warring tribes forced to segregate and divide themselves according to a genetic code.
Now, before the reader rebuts that Metz, an unflinching advocate for individual freedom and free markets, might be misrepresenting the purpose of the collection of such data, consider the statement issued last Tuesday by Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the collectivist Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives:
The long form is a critical tool that helps business, communities and governments decide where you need your money...
Without this information, we are all punching in the dark. Without this information, we cannot properly allocate our resources. The people who will pay most dearly are those who are already most vulnerable: the poor, aboriginal communities, recent immigrants and racial minorities.
Yalnizyan essentially agrees with Metz about the intended use of the data is to redistribute wealth to collectives distinguished by race. To conclude that those not getting "our" resources (i.e., government subsidies) thereby "pay", it is necessary first to assume that the money taxed out of the pockets of those who earn it is, in fact, money that is owned by, and owed to, Canadians collectively. Characterizing collectives of
individuals defined almost exclusively by race as those who "pay", Yalnizyan confirms Metz's summation that the collectives in question are racial collectives; that the census is a tool to impose and facilitate tribalism (a state of affairs in which government governs not individuals, but collectives distinguished by race, sex, nationality, et cetera).
Whether or not they realize it as explicitly as does Yalnizyan, the opponents of making the long-form optional are condemning not merely privacy and the freedom not to provide information, but also the individualism and free markets that the long form data is ultimately intended to undermine. Whether the opponents want unpaid-for data or consistent statistical history, their objections are in the service of the most vile form of collectivism - racism - and of that well-known toxin to any economy, central planning.
It would give me great comfort were I to believe, as Liberal Party industry critic Marc Garneau somehow does, that the Harper Conservatives are motivated by a desire to put an end to central planning:
"By attacking the census, this government is throwing us in the dark on immigration-related issues. They're doing the same for aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled, and for those arguing for the need for pay equity...That's what the Conservatives' endgame is here -to permanently hobble the government's ability to enforce legislation and deliver social programs aimed at our most vulnerable."
To be sure, the economic case against the practicality of central planning is as damning as the moral case against it (the immoral being the impractical, such will always be the case, in the long term, as knowledge grows). But, alas, I do not share Garneau's belief that the Conservatives are using privacy concerns as a cover story for a secret agenda to end central planning. The painful evidence is everywhere about us that the Harper Conservatives have no particular affinity for free markets, and no particular opposition to central planning. Billions of dollars borrowed by the federal Conservatives to bail out or nationalize private companies (after having campaigned against such bail-outs and deficit spending); cuts to the rate of the inherently single-rate, less invasive GST instead of to the progressive rates of income taxes; soccer-mom hand-outs at taxpayer expense; quiet and countless transfers of billions across little community groups like Youth for Christ of Langley, BC: all stand as the best evidence that the Conservatives' only agenda is to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to stay in power.
Moreover, such Conservative actions have been backed also by Stephen Harper's unequivocal condemnation of free markets; a condemnation not made in public to lefties and righties alike, but to a closed-door conservatives-only audience in 2009 at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. In that speech, he condemned liberals for thinking government to have a role in all economic decisions, and condemned "libertarians" for thinking government to have no role in economic decisions. Like so many on the left, his argument was founded upon the falsehood that the west's economies are free markets, and that it was the alleged free market - rather than fraud, credit inflation and government mandated loans to the uncreditworthy - that led to the current economic crisis. Playing second fiddle to no fellow Keynesian, Harper made it clear he thinks individuals are all irresponsible children that need governmental parenting from cradle to grave:
Now, I know the libertarian – and I am sure there are a few in this room that define themselves that way – the libertarian says, and it's a perspective that I have a lot of sympathy for, let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.
The problem with this notion is that conservatives know from experience that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions. I don't speak *just* of individuals who may have ruined their lives through drugs or crimes or whatever, but look at Wall Street, the great free-enterprise financial institutions who wanted so much freedom from government regulation. They were the first in line for government support when the recession hit. And now I read, I read yesterday, that now some of them are saying they don't like that this government money may limit their freedom.
These are not the words of a closet capitalist. They are the anti-capitalistic (i.e., anti-free-market) words of a man who, first and foremost, likes the Prime Minister's chair.
It is true, in my view, that the Conservatives do not at all care about the quality of the data collected in the long form of the Census. And I would quite agree with any leftist who said that the Harper Conservatives, in fact, have no real need or desire for census data: I sincerely doubt they will use it to identify spending priorities, and I suspect that the only reason they did not announce scrapping it altogether was to ensure that the various people wanting free data (including Conservative-friendly religious organizations) could not argue that they have been deprived of it (they are left, instead, making sleep-inducing technical arguments about statistical accuracy, and other things that few voters care about).
Though it pains me to say it, the decision to eliminate the mandatory completion of the long form is not founded upon a secret Conservative agenda to end central planning. It is, in reality, nothing more than an effort to feed a bit of red meat to that slender, politically homeless demographic that nowadays finds itself so uncomfortable associating itself with a Conservative Party so bent upon managing the economy, pandering to the more radical religious elements, and setting itself up as a hand of god that will deliver us from such 'evils' as the decision to smoke a bit of cannabis. For years, the Conservatives have dangled the carrot in front of that constituency, communicating by wink and smirk - but never by voice - a false promise to deliver a pro-free-market, pro-individualism revolution. The mandatory long-form is a long-term gripe of that constituency and making it optional - without eliminating it - is only the latest half-hearted attempt to maintain whatever party loyalty there remains among those who seek individual freedom and capitalism.
I do not think the Conservatives will gain or maintain much loyalty from that constituency, but neither do I think they have much to lose by taking the step they have taken (unless they commit the cardinal sin of, again, reversing themselves only to fend off the Liberals and other collectivists). Nonetheless, making the long form optional accomplishes something more important for Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike. I anticipate relatively few people will volunteer to spend their time filling out an optional long-form census and, if that ends up being the case, the Conservatives will at least unintentionally have struck a blow against that most destructive and dehumanizing form of collectivism: racism.
Friday, July 16, 2010
WS on the census: Fraser Institute's Niels Velduis with the libertarian objection
Niels Velduis, Senior Economist at the Fraser Institute had many interesting things to to say to The Globe & Mail, but I appreciate that he raised the quintessentially libertarian objection:
While every household must answer basic questions when the census-takers come calling, about one-fifth of Canadians have traditionally been required, under threat of fines or jail time, to respond to a lengthy list of 50-plus enquiries about their home, work lives and ethnicity.
“It's obviously much cheaper to get the data if you're forcing people to answer these questionnaires than it would be if you had to voluntarily get them to respond,” Mr. Veldhuis says.
“But that doesn't make the decision to force people to do it right.”
Read the rest.
More WS of the welcome demise of the long-form census: P.M. Jaworski, Walter Block, J.J. McCullough, Terrence Watson, Martin Masse on colbertisme, Hugh MacIntyre (after returning from the dark side of threatening innocents) and Publius.
WS on the census: Government Information Theft
Those defending the Census' mandatory long form have clothed their arguments in the public interest. We need, they argue, a detailed, fair and statistically accurate count of the population to ensure that government services and programs are effectively delivered to Canadians. Without going into how useful many of these programs really are, let's agree that the Census provides an enormously valuable store of data. Data that is used not only by all three levels of government, but also market researchers, academics, corporations and charities.
The data gathered by the Census is a vital resource for both the public and private sector. But it is not the only valuable product or service used by governments. Governments also large use large quantities cemment, asphalt, paper, sophisticated electronic equipment and the services of tens of thousands of Canadians. Yet it is expected that government pay for these products and services, from Canadians who voluntarily exchange their talents and energies.
If employees of the federal government started randomly seizing cement trucks, or conscripting people off the streets to build roads, such conduct would be rightly denounced. It would be the sort of behaviour one expects of thugs like Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro, not the government of a free country like Canada. The Census, for the all the recent beating of breasts and furrowing of brows, is just another service the government needs to conduct its affairs.
A mandatory cenus is less about some hazy notion of the public interest, and more about governments, corporations, academics and other consumers of Census data getting a free ride. Rather than having to conduct their own research, and make careful adjusts to compensate for possible distortions between samples and the overall popualtion, these data consumers get the government to force ordinary Canadians to save them the bother.
So that governments and corporations can avoid some extra hassle, the freedom of all Canadians is infringed. It's a small infringement, but an infringement nontheless. The fact that the Census has been mandatory for decades, and is common practice in other countries, doesn't make it right. Arguing over the Census, to many Canadians, seems like a quibble. It doesn't take much time. True, but it's the principle of a mandatory Census that matters.
Our private information belongs to us. We have a right not to be forced to surrender that information, and certainly not because it would make the lives of Statistics Canada bureaucrats easier. If the government needs our private information, they can ask nicely, and if that doesn't work they can pay for our information (as many market research firms do already), and if we say no, they should accept our no. In Canada the government works for us, not the other way around.
WS on the census: threatening the innocent
The Western Standard has been posting articles discussing the scrapping of the long-form census. Here is the original post by Peter Jaworski and other articles by: Martin Masse, Terrance Watson, J.J McCullough, and Walter Block.
This is my own personal take on the census reform:
I worked as an enumerator for the 2006 Census. Basically this meant that I was given a list by Statistics Canada of people in my assigned area who had not filled out the census form. I then went home to home demanding that they fill it out, and I was paid a commission for every form that was filled.
A key part of my training was how to get people to fill in the census. I was told to first ask politely, then insist strongly, and finally inform the resident that they could be facing legal action. That’s right, I was told by the government to threaten innocent people in their own home; their only crime was not filling out a government form. The true sin of the census is not the intrusiveness but the unwarranted threat of force against the citizenry.
Getting rid of the mandatory long form is at least a step towards removing this threat and leaving private individuals in peace.
WS on the census: Martin Masse "Census data feeds government intervention"
Martin Masse, publisher of the libertarian webzine Le Québécois Libre (whose banner ad we've been proudly hosting for going on two years now) and former advisor to Industry minister Maxime Bernier, responds to our request for opinions on the census with a longer and more thoughtful piece. (For shorter quip-like responses, check out Terrence Watson's, J.J. McCullough's, and Walter Block's responses).
It’s interesting to note that the first general census in North America was conducted in New France in 1665 by the then-intendant of the colony, Jean Talon (who has a big street and a metro station named after him in Montreal). Talon had been sent to North America by Louis XIV’s finance minister, the famous Jean-Baptiste Colbert.
Colbert was the master bureaucrat of his time. He used his considerable powers to direct French economic development and to increase the prestige and revenue of the French state. His version of mercantilism, the interventionist doctrine popular in all European countries at the time, even bears his name: colbertisme.
Talon was of course a follower of colbertisme and he had all kinds of good ideas to “stimulate” the colony’s development, which then numbered about 3,000 inhabitants. But first, he had to know more precisely the state of the colony. How can you plan the economy and tell people what to do with their lives if you don’t first have a clear picture of the situation?
There is a page on Statistics Canada’s website devoted to the first statistician on the continent, which explains very well what censuses were for in Talon’s time, and are still for today, which is to help governments “manage” societies:
As Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance, Talon's tasks were to stimulate the economic expansion of New France, increase the colony's self-sufficiency and bring order to its financial administration. He was a man of enthusiasm and vision, and although he ranked below the Governor, he soon became the real manager of the colony.
After collecting his statistics, Talon put them to work. He was responsible for everything from taxes to health, from bridge building to chimney sweeping, and his influence touched every facet of government, and of the day-to-day lives of colonists. He used knowledge gained from the census to develop the colony in many directions.
Fast-forward 350 years, and who do we hear denouncing the Conservative government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire of the census? All those whose job it is to plan and manage society’s development. There was only one such bureaucrat in the 1660s, but today there are hundreds of thousands of them in Canada, at all levels of government and even beyond, in all the parasitic “private” organizations and professional fields that depend on government to conduct their business.
You know who you’re dealing with when a unanimous chorus of protest emerges from organizations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Economics Association, the Canadian Council of Social Development, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, francophone minority groups, women’s groups -- and the list goes on and on.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve heard that it would become extremely difficult for governments, municipalities and community groups to make decisions regarding education, health care, income inequalities, immigration, urban planning, and countless other fields, if the government goes ahead with its decision. A Liberal MP, Marlene Jennings, said that visible and linguistic minorities could suffer (that is, might get less government money) because the demographic studies that help government organizations and others hone in on the problems in certain regions rely on the results of long-form census surveys.
Despite the modern jargon, Talon would find the arguments entirely familiar. As a professor of Urban and Regional Economics reminded us in The Gazette, “enlightened policy decisions can only be taken if the government and its advisers have a good idea of what is happening in Canada.” Or hear this unnamed statistician asking in the Globe and Mail: “Should those who collect and spend our tax dollars on matters determined to be in the public interest not do so with the most informed statistical information possible?”
A census can only gather accurate information with the use of widespread coercion and intrusion in people’s private lives. Whether or not masses of citizens find it worthwhile to protest officially is not the point; this in itself is enough to oppose it from a libertarian perspective and the government was right to justify its decision on this basis. But everyone should also be aware that statistics are not just any neutral information that is useful to have.
As the great libertarian economist, Murray Rothbard, explained half a century ago:
Certainly, only by statistics, can the federal government make even a fitful attempt to plan, regulate, control, or reform various industries - or impose central planning and socialization on the entire economic system. If the government received no railroad statistics, for example, how in the world could it even start to regulate railroad rates, finances, and other affairs? How could the government impose price controls if it didn't even know what goods have been sold on the market, and what prices were prevailing? Statistics, to repeat, are the eyes and ears of the interventionists: of the intellectual reformer, the politician, and the government bureaucrat.
Without their eyes and ears -- or at any rate, with poorer eyesight and hearing -- the interventionists will find it more difficult to defend their work and they might lose some legitimacy. Which is why we should enthusiastically support this decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire.
Now, if only the government had been a little bit more coherent and scrapped the thing entirely instead of replacing it with a voluntary questionnaire sent to more households that will cost more, produce less reliable data and be a source of unnecessary controversy for years to come. Perhaps industry minister Tony Clement really believes his lines about the new data being as reliable and useful as the data collected the old way? That would not be surprising, coming from a government that has shown almost no inclination to cut spending, stop managing the economy and get out of our lives.
WS on the census: Terrence Watson
"My opinions about the census aren't very strong," writes WS editorial team member Terrence Watson. "I did find it amusing that Warren Kinsella has come out defending the plan to scrap the mandatory long form."
Here is what I think: Getting rid of the long form will indeed hamper social science research.
Is that bad? Not necessarily.
That research is often used by our benevolent overlords to justify additional government intrusion. Weaken the census, and you weaken the ability of the government to plan. More than that, you limit the ability of special interests groups to rely on that data when engaged in rent-seeking attempts.
Thus, maybe it's better to keep them in the dark. Perhaps Harper even knows this -- the long game, again? This isn't the kind of thing that's going to do damage right away, but only over time. Some of the lefties have figured this out, and they're really mad about it. And Kinsella sounds like a libertarian talking about it.
WS on the census: J.J. McCullough
Continuing our series of posts on the census, here is Western Standard cartoonist (and Reader's Digest's top-five Canadian cartoonists to watch) J.J. McCullough's contribution:
A lot of people seem to be clinging to this misguided idea that census data only exists for the benefit of the government. On the contrary, I find thorough demographic statistics a vital tool that ordinary Canadians can use to hold their government to account.
When the government makes claims about jobs, or immigration, or bilingualism, or families, or multiculturalism, or any one of dozens of other topics, it's always nice to know that the Census website is only a click away to find out if the facts match the rhetoric.
In my more conspiratorial moments, I sometimes wonder if undermining the census is just a very convenient way for politicians to keep the citizenry in the dark about the realities of their own country.
WS on the Census: Walter Block
We're putting up opinions about the census from around the Western-Standard-verse. Here's Professor Walter Block's contribution:
Statistics are the eyes and ears of government. Therefore, the less of them they have, the better off we will all be. Why? Because data, information of the sort collected by a compulsory census enables the government to engage in central planning, and the less of that the better.
Or, have we not learned any lesson from the failure of the 5 year plans of the late and non lamented USSR? Any step in the direction of reducing the impact of the census is a step in the right direction: it is a step in the direction of liberty. That government is best that governs least, and the census enables the state to govern more. So, that census which gives the government the least information is the best.
Dr. Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, and author of several books, including these:
WS on the census: Why dumping the census might be a good (or bad) idea
Aaron Wherry, over on Maclean's, has sent out a call to all "conservative-minded" organizations to try and defend the Conservative government's move to scrap the mandatory long-form census.
We're "libertarian-minded" over here at the WS, but we thought we'd oblige Wherry a little, and offer some thoughts on the census.
But let's be clear. It's weird that the Conservatives, whose leader has given the signal to purge libertarians from Conservative Party ranks, have been sounding a libertarian tone on this issue. That tone rings entirely hollow to our ears.
It was Harper, after all, who gave libertarians the elbow during the Manning Centre get-together a few years back. And it was under the Tories that Marc Emery was unceremoniously shipped off to a federal prison in the U.S. to face five years for a "crime" he would have gotten a slap on the wrist for here in Canada. Also, mandatory minimums? And never mind the budget.
This? Scrapping the mandatory long-form census is supposed to be the fop that brings libertarians within the folds of Harper's skirt? If you want us back, dearest Conservative Party, then legalize pot, bring Emery back to Canada to serve his time in a Canadian prison, cut the income tax, reduce spending, and balance the freakin' budget.
Scrapping the long-form census won't lead to droves of libertarians lining up to join the Conservative Party. But, and this is an important but, we're happy to see movement towards greater individual liberty, regardless of motivation, and regardless of party label, and regardless of past attempts to give libertarians the cold shoulder (or the elbow). We're reasonable people over here. If you want to talk increasing individual liberty, we'll talk.
We've sent out requests to our little constellation of the Western-Standard-verse to offer reasons why we might not be so fond of the long-form census (or why some of us might like the census, the request was not restricted to only slagging the census). This weekend, we'll be posting responses as we get them in our inbox.
But I'll begin with myself:
Eliminating the mandatory long-form census strikes me as a good idea.
We're all familiar with polling companies, is there a reason why use of polling companies is not a good idea? Why this alternative is somehow unreasonable or ridiculous? (I really don't know, you tell me).
Come to think of it, why wouldn't compensating people for filling out the long-form census be a good idea? Forget spending money on advertising and census enforcement, spend it on compensating participants for crossing ts and dotting is. Would that be a wholly outrageous suggestion? Would that, dear statisticians, motivate enough people to fill out this thing so that the government can centrally plan much better? Would it yield sufficiently robust findings?
Okay, those are my constructive suggestions for the folks who think that, in principle, it's just fine to make people fill out forms under threat of sanctions. But why should we think that it's okay to make people fill out forms without paying them for it and without them having a choice about it?
I really don't know how much uncompensated time I'm expected to spend filling out forms for the government, but I really don't think it should be more than a minute or two. It's insulting enough for a taxpayer to work for the government half the year, but to have to spend several hours agonizing over hundreds of exceptions, exemptions, special tax breaks, brackets, and so on, just adds to the frustration. And never mind starting your own company and keeping up-to-speed with the latest wisdom in the forms of new regulations coming out of Ottawa or more local governments. I suppose I may be a special case, since filling out paperwork is an especially tortuous form of hell for me.
We might also wonder just how well the census helps the government make really good decisions. I'm not sure how familiar you are with economics, but a general conclusion is that governments are real bad at allocating resources efficiently. Do we have studies to demonstrate that the census has improved allocative inefficiencies? Census-supporters: Can you show me empirical studies demonstrating that the thousands of hours Canadians collectively spend filling out the long form of the census has actually made the Canadian government (or any government) more efficient?
Of course the census might be useful at doing just that. And I bet that, in several cases, it actually does help. But do you really think that government spending decisions are made on the basis of census data, rather than on the basis of possible electoral gain? Do you think it's a really surprising coincidence that the Conservatives have dumped stimulus money on Conservative ridings, or on swing ridings? Really?
But we're getting off track. I'm trying now to persuade you. Instead, I should really be focusing on explaining why I, personally, dislike the census. We can rephrase all of the above into this simple little explanation:
1) I think it's unseemly to expect Canadians to fill out forms without compensation.
2) I think it's extra unseemly to threaten people with sanctions for not filling out forms.
3) Electoral considerations trump other considerations when it comes to dispensing tax money.
4) Opinion polls might be just as good as the census in terms of getting the info, without it being unseemly.
5) A voluntary census with compensation can be not unseemly, and might be sufficient.
So there are my (constructive!) suggestions, and my explanation for why I don't like the census. Soon, Aaron, you'll get some more responses. Some, I suspect, will be fairly radical. So be on the lookout for them.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Making the census less intrusive
Good news from the Conservative government. They have decided to scrap the mandatory long answer form for the 2011 census. This is only a partial move, since the shorter form will still be mandatory. But at least the government is getting rid of the most intrusive part of the census.
Critics say that by making the long form non-mandatory it will make the census information less reliable. This is an issue because this data is used to assign government services. The truth of the matter is that the census was never good at calculating demand. The only way to truly know the level of demand is to look at market signals through pricing, and government simply can’t do that.
All that the census is, and I say this as someone who once worked for Census Canada, is an intrusion into the privacy of the individual. So I applaud the government for at least taking this small step towards ensuring greater privacy.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Evidence that the Census is useless
In early May I posted a link to an article from the Freeman that explained why government census is not an effective way for calculating demand. Part of the inefficiency of government is that they assign resources where it doesn’t match demand. The census is meant to help with this problem but it is deceptively unhelpful. Demand can only truly be calculated by the price of a service or good on in open market.
As if to prove the point, an article from the Ottawa Citizen is reporting an organized effort to lie in the 2006 census. The idea was that if Francophones claim to be unable to speak English, the government would then give more resources to programs for Francophones outside of Quebec. This campaign was so successful that Statistics Canada warns that their own data is unreliable. Thus demonstrating how easy it would be to manipulate the process for a political agenda.
The census: nothing but an invasion of privacy.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Census is useless for calculating demand
Census surveys are meant to aid the government in calculating how much services a particular area requires. This, however, is a fallacy. You can’t find out how many people are going to be sick or require bus services simply by counting them. Nor can you effectively do it by finding out their demographics. There is only one way to know how much of something a community needs: the price of that something in a free and open market.
Read this Freeman article for a full explanation.