There have also been reports in recent years of government bureaucrats examining the tax returns and medical records of celebrities. The Clinton administration was caught with 1,000 FBI files on political opponents in the White House. We are also told by former Clinton adviser Dick Morris that candidate Clinton in 1992 spent $100,000 in federal campaign funds to hire private detectives to investigate the personal backgrounds of women who had had relationships with Bill Clinton. This information was to be used to intimidate, smear, and discredit those women.
I could go on with many other examples but there can be no doubt at all of the clear pattern here, that the federal government has embarked on the most massive invasion of privacy in the country’s history. Many Americans see that pattern and thus, understandably, are reluctant to hand over to an intrusive government the information requested on the census.
A third question is, What problems result or might result from collecting information on the census beyond that needed to allocate electoral votes?
The above examples suggest many of the possible abuses of such information. But let me review a number of specific issues. First, consider an example of how that information currently can be misused. The Justice Department will accuse, for example, an entrepreneur who employs 45 percent of a certain minority in his facility of racial discrimination. As a basis the government will claim that even though the proportion of that minority in the entrepreneur’s city might be only 25 percent, in his neighborhood or local area, the proportion is 65 percent. Such cases are based on the manipulation of census data. Such data, of course, do not necessarily indicate cases of actual racial discrimination. They usually represent attempts by predatory bureaucrats to make their reputation by harming the innocent.
Second, I will also raise several possible problems with the American Community Survey. Currently, the census long form is sent to about one in six households, that is, cost to 20 million households. If the Survey samples, say, 2 million households per year, then the same number of households will be burdened by intrusive questions as is now the case. Further, this rolling survey could be a problematic criterion on which to base federal government expenditures and actions. Let us say, for example, that New York City is sampled in 2002 but Indianapolis not until 2008. If federal funds in 2009 are passed out on the basis of population, how will the populations of the two cities be calculated? Will the population of New York City be extrapolated to a projected 2008 figure? Sometimes population changes are not steady. Would it be better to take the population in some base year when both cities were sampled, say, the obvious year of 2000? That solution too would be imperfect. But would it be fairer than counts taken at different times?
A third problem with extensive census questions, whether in the current long form or proposed survey, is that many seem calculated to provide free marketing data for corporations, with the federal government’s footing the bill and the American people, who are free to tell private pollsters to mind their own business, forced to answer to government agents acting as agents for businesses. Former labor secretary Robert Reich was correct to denounce corporate pork. The census is a primary example of such a handout. Businesses are welcome to conduct whatever surveys they wish, but not at the public’s expense. As I mentioned earlier, concerns for privacy are producing a market for information in the private sector. The census undermines that market.
The fourth question is, What should be done?
The obvious answer is that the federal government should eliminate most of the questions on the census, retaining only those few, maybe only one, necessary to exercise the constitutional mandate to enumerate the population every decade for the purpose of assigning electoral votes.
It is clear that the census for the most part no longer serves a constitutional purpose. Census information now serves more the needs of political elites who, to control us, must have detailed information about us. We have seen the strong resistance of the citizens of this country to the census. Several lawsuits have been filed challenging its intrusive questions.
The current census is a damning indictment of the current political regime. Contrast the regime embodied in the census form with the civil society envisioned by the Constitution. Individuals should have the right to live in peace, as they see fit, to share their lives with family and friends, and to open their hearts to whom they choose. The challenges of life should be met in vibrant civil institutions. Individuals should be equal before the law, regardless of race, religion or ethnic origin. And the role of government officials should be limited to protecting the lives, liberties and property of individuals, not meddling in our affairs and managing our lives as means to maintain their positions of power and privilege.
Perhaps a proper response to the census and the regime it seeks to strengthen is found in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were held in the cave of the savage Cyclops who “knew nought of justice or of law.” To escape, Odysseus blinds the monster. It is sad when citizens think of their own government as a dangerous creature that might devour them. Congress can begin to restore respect for the government by showing the proper respect for the citizens. It could start by eliminating the questions on the census that are not necessary for apportioning electoral votes and leave the private affairs of the citizens as just that, private.