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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

A census – as any social scientist knows – is absolutely essential to modern government. We cannot plan social policy if we don’t know how many people there are, where they are, what they do, how long they live, etc. A non-judgmental collation of information – which is what a census is – is the bedrock of civilised society. Democracy and accountable government depend completely this kind of knowledge. If we lose it, government will be run by gossip, innuendo and Daily Mail after-dinner ‘common sense’ (as if it isn’t already, but hey)

Guardian commentator tark

26 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I think it was Sir John Cowperthwaite, the senior civil servant who ran HK during the post-war years during the colony’s boom, who refused on principle to collect such data, arguing that it would be put to bad use, and simply encourage government meddling.

    It is, if you think about it, a marvel that the civil service could and did produce such wise people. He’s what you might call a statistical outlier. He’s also proof that not all people who have worked in public life are what might be branded indiscriminately as part of an “Enemy Class”.

  • Alsadius

    There’s exactly one valid reason for a census, and that’s to apportion electoral districts. All the ridiculous personal information though, much as I sort of like it as someone who likes data and studies social sciences, is not even close to something the government ought to be collecting.

    Actually, we had a big fight about this in Canada a few months back. The government made the short-form(name/age/address) shorter and the long form optional, and the leftish government-service-worshipping crowd absolutely flipped. Thankfully, the government stood firm on it.

  • simply encourage government meddling

    Cowperthwaite’s observation applies not only to the economy. It’s only the collection of vast data sets concerning food consumption that leads to the government trying to micro-manage our diet.

  • And of course we know who’d doing the census (Lock-Mart) and we know what the Patriot means about any data held by a US company.

  • pete

    Angrygranny comments

    Can’t it be done much more cheaply in-house using existing central and local government employees and paying them over-time?

    That’s an easy one.

    No.

    Government staff doing things cheaply? That’ll be the day!

  • Paul Marks

    JP is correct.

    Nor was Sir John the first person to point this out.

    Walter Bagehot (third editor of Economist magazine and defender of corporate welfare – although on a modest scale by the standards of today) claimed (in his “classic” book “The English Constitution”) that an “old women” told him she opposed the Census of 1801 because…….

    Well for the very reasons that the Guardian writer claims are virtues. Almost needless to say, Walter B. thought the “old women” was very silly.

    There is actually a sequel – a young (and rather statist) Winston Churchill claimed that only an “old women” thought that the schemes his friend David Lloyd-George was introducing would grow out of control and undermine that very civil society institutions (“Friendly Societies” and so on) that the Liberal party government claimed to love. And of course only this “old women” believed that imposing ever more regulations on the railways (both pro union laws and direct regulations) would would undermine them and lead to socialism………

    Most likely this “old women” was a made up character – but I like to think of a Miss Marple (or Granny Weatherwax) figure – with an understanding of the world vastly greater than the politicians and “intellectuals”.

  • Dr. Zharkov

    Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” – 1 Chron 21:1

    Just sayin’

  • Kim du Toit

    Here’s exactly how it went, as told by Milton Friedman in 1963:

    I remember asking [Cowperthwaite] about the paucity of [government] statistics. He answered, “If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.”

    Cowperthwaite explained that he resisted requests to provide any, lest they be used as ammunition by those who wanted more government intervention.

    Lest we forget the outcome of Cowperthwaite’s actions (or rather, his inaction): in 1960, economist Milton Friedman put the average per capita income of Hong Kong at 28% of Great Britain’s. In 1996, Hong Kong’s per capita income was 137% of Britain’s.

    Apart from the logistical nightmare, I think that a true free-market political party should be called the “Cowperthwaite Party” in his honor.

  • guy herbert

    There’s exactly one valid reason for a census, and that’s to apportion electoral districts.

    I’m unconvinced that’s a valid reason. It’s the reason the census is in the US constitution, for example, but that got fixed at a time when documenting and surveying the population in any other way was impractical.

    The best way to do electoral districts is from the actual electoral registers, which can these days be readily summarised, compared and mapped without disclosing personal data.

  • Paul Marks

    Given the endless arguments that counting people has caused (should slaves be counted? and so on) as well as the abuse of the statistics….

    Perhaps the New Jersey Plan was correct – just have the States represented (State legislatures choosing their representatives – as they still do in Germany to this day), no House and no popular election for President.

    After all if one sets up a “national government” (with a directly elected House of Representatives and so on) is it really sensible to assume that it will stay a limited government?

    Paul now hides under the desk – for fear of the brickbats that are likely to be heading his way.

  • MarkE

    One thing that shocked me about the last census was the response to the optional question about religious affiliation. Out of 60m responses only about 400,000 excercised the option to keep their affiliation private. I didn’t expect a huge proportion to do so, but for such a small number of people to withhold data the state had said they didn’t have to offer did surprise and disappoint me.

    I was one of those 400,000, and I also (illegally, apparently) declined to answer the ethnicity question; if the government want to bring in racist policies they can do it without my cooperation.

    I am also proud of the two questions I answered with such pedantic accuracy as to make my answers misleading, but that is just the childish side of my nature.

  • Paul Marks

    The religion question is a troubling one for me.

    I am no longer comfortable with saying I am C. of E. (Rowen Williams and so on), but I am not sure what I should say instead.

    Perhaps I will just do the classic cop out and say “Christian” and leave it at that.

  • Laird

    Paul, that was indeed the original plan: Senators would be selected by the states, to represent their interests, and Representatives would be elected directly by the people. Nice idea; too bad it was gutted by the 17th Amendment (which provided for direct popular election of Senators). I consider that to be the start of the downfall of our “federal” system and the beginning of the truly “national” government we have today. The evisceration will be complete if we also abandon the Electoral College method of selecting presidents, which is regularly proposed.

  • The only freedom loving answer to the religion question is to state you are a Lectorite.

  • David Lucas

    Paul – don’t forget the option to write in “Jedi” which came in ahead of many other religions last time.

    Or decide to answer No Religion on the basis that this
    most undermines government interventions to fund relgions.

  • CaptDMO

    Are those the same Census-essential social scientists that rely DESPERATELY on “Recent survey of 0.05 percent of the
    population actually surveyed PROVE that X% of all people demand free stuff from gub’mint that social scientists endorse.”?
    Are they the same ones paid to “estimate” political supporter crowd attendance numbers based on the particular “nose” of the mornings US$5.00 coffee-farts they’re sipping at the time?

  • MarkE

    Last time the religion question was optional; you did not have to answer it at all. Surely the best answer in that case was no answer?

  • Paul Marks

    Laird – I know (1913 – reaction to the selling of a seat in the United States Senate by the State legislature of Illinois).

    My point was a more radical one – the New Jersey plan would not have had a House of Representatives or an elected President at all.

    Certainly most of the things the United States government does are unconstitutional – but as it is seen as a “national government” it gets away with them.

    If it was openly (in its very structure) just an alliance of States, it would be less likely to.

    It would be like a “European Union” with no Commission (a full time “civil service” and “Executive” is basically an open door to ever bigger government) and with no European Parliament (just the Council of Ministers).

    “But that means that the statism would just be a State and local level”.

    This misses out the whole point of Federalism – the ease of moving from one jurisdiction to another. People “vote with their feet” to keep taxes and regulations down.

    Of course having most govenrment taxes and spending at the Federal level (as it has been since F.D.R.) undermines the basic point of Federalism.

    The religion question…….

    Not replying (on the grounds that it none of the government’s business) does indeed seem to be the right move.

    Thanks people – I was unsure what to do.

  • Paul Marks

    To those people who state that governments always grow – that structure does not matter.

    EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) did not. That is why statists hated it.

    And NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) has not.

    In both cases they might have grown into mega governments – but they were carefully STRUCTURED so that they did not.

    Clearly defined aims (free trade in the first case, defence in the second case) and national veto power (thus making it clear that this was not an all mighty new govenrment) were the key.

    Make sure your Federal (or Confederal) government has clealy defined (limited) aims (no loose talk in preambles about the “general welfare”) and make sure that its structure indicates it is not a “national govenrment”.

    No one person one vote for a House (let alone a President).

    By the way – both the German Federation and the Swiss Confederation FAIL both of these tests.

  • Laird

    Paul, I don’t like your idea (the “New Jersey Plan”). I like having a bicameral legislature that often fights among itself. I like having a President (often of the opposition party to at least one of the Houses) who can veto legislation. I like having a Supreme Court which can invalidate laws. I like all of those things because they slow down the pace of government. Because most of all I like gridlock. Give me a separate organization of states with the veto power over federal laws and regulations, or state nullification powers, and I’d be happier still.

    Oh, and as to NATO — sorry, but you’re wrong about it not growing. Oh, the administrative structure may not have grown (I don’t know about that), but its mission most certainly has. What started out as a purely defensive response to the clear threat posed by the Warsaw Pact nations has metamorphosed into a free-ranging civil relief agency. Sort of a blue-helmeted Red Cross. It’s an organization in desparate search of a purpose, and should be disbanded.

  • lucklucky

    “A non-judgmental collation of information”

    Obvious the leftist cognitive dissonance is here for all to see. It precisely for leftist judgmental reasons that he want it done.

  • Kim du Toit

    Nothing wrong with enumerating the population, of course — it’s how representation can best be approportioned — and in our case, is mandated by the Constitution.

    But it is JUST a count. All other data are none of the gummint’s damn business. When our Census Bureau types brought in a “long” form some years ago, there was such an outcry, and a concomitant decrease in compliance, that it was first made “optional” and then dropped.

    Even so, our form contained crap like “race” — to which most of us simply checked “Other” (which required further input), and wrote in “American”.

    Sic semper populi.

  • Laird

    “A census – as any social scientist knows – is absolutely essential to modern government.”

    Which, of course, is yet another illustration (as if one were really needed) of the rule that putting “social” in front of any other word serves to completely reverse the normal meaning of that word, sort of like putting a negative sign in front of a numeral. “Social science” is to science as “social justice” is to justice.

  • QOTD material there Laird.

  • Paul Marks

    Laird – you harsh person.

    You are using the Federalist Papers on me – checks and balances.

    I can not fight the Founders’ arguments (or Montesquieu who is behind them).

    No fair using the big guns on little me!

    Of course I am just seeking a different start point because (like you) I hate where things have ended up – and hope that a different start might have led to a different place. Like you I am conservative in the American sense (a reactionary – I want to change things back) not the British sense – the sense of accepting whatever the left change the government into and then tryng to stop further changes, and then accepting new changes if the left push them into effect and then………

    However, it might have led to the same (or worse) place even sooner.

    So let us be content with getting rid of the loose words “general welfare” and “regulate interstate commerce” get rid of those five words (which we know by two centuries of experiense are the only really loose words the forces of evil could find in the document) and the job is basically done.

    As for NATO……

    Each nation has a veto – if America has a problem with a policy, veto it.

  • Laird

    Paul Marks calling me harsh — I’m blushing!

    I’m with you on those five words. Actually I’d settle for eliminating just three: “regulate interstate commerce”.* I can deal with morons who don’t understand how to read “general welfare” in context, but those three are a loaded gun in the hands of an imbecile.

    As for NATO, yes we have a veto. So what? It’s our membership in NATO which I oppose, and especially the cost that entails. We also have a veto in the Security Council. Despite that I still want us to withdraw from the UN (and to kick their worthless butts out of Manhattan).

    Harsh enough for you? :-)

    * Of course, that’s not an exact quote from the Constitution. Eliminating that power would actually require the manipulation of more than just three words.