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Sunday, July 18, 2010

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.

Posted by westernstandard on July 18, 2010 in Census | Permalink


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