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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.

More WS on the census: Karen Selick, Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 17, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink


Kudos to Mark for describing it like it is. How refreshing!

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-17 1:38:12 PM

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