I hope you didn’t like knowing things about the country you live in. The House voted a few weeks back to eliminate the American Community Survey, a data collection tool performed since the 1790s that creates a detailed portrait of the lives of Americans. Sure, the ACS collects some pretty obscure data, such as flush toilet usage. However, they also do some important things, like finding out what language is spoken at home or if you’ve got a job.
Republicans, perpetually scared of facts that don’t originate from Leviticus*, find a natural enemy in the ACS. Rather than taking issue with the methods or usefulness of the ACS, they’ve decided to attack the ACS on the grounds of privacy. This is the same party that argued for warrant-less wiretapping, has routinely passed the PATRIOT Act (without even reading the damn thing), and pushed for telco immunity for NSA spying. If it’s your email, phone calls, bank records, health insurance records, credit card transactions, tweets, texts, telegraphs, pigeon carried letters, Facebook statuses, or mumbled utterances, those are perfectly ok for the government to log, analyze and store. But knowing how many toilets are in your house is a bridge too far!
Naturally, the privacy argument doesn’t hold much water among those trained to be suspicious of Republicans.** It’s fairly obvious here that the goal is to further render the government incapable of doing what it’s supposed to do. Lets say in the bizarro US, the government actually was able to spend money on things like infrastructure. Where in the hell do you, Mr. DC bureaucrat, decide to build things like sewers? Well, having data about flush toilet penetration from the still-in-existence ACS would tell you that hey, this county has a lot of outhouses. Maybe we should look there? But back in the regular US, the ACS would be dead and you’d be incapable of finding out where to spend your stimulus money. In fact, that’s exactly what the government uses the ACS for. In 2008 more than $416B was distributed (PDF) based on this data on top of the regular budgeted distributions (budgeted distributions that also use the ACS).
As with everything the government does, there are also a lot of people in the beloved private sector that use this. Businesses across the US rely heavily on this data for planning everything they do. Things like what commercials to air on TV, what and how to stock the shelves in their stores, where to open stores, if they need flush toilets in their stores. There’s a video with Target executives showing how much they love the ACS. Even the god forsaken crowd over at the Chamber of Commerce loves the ACS. And why wouldn’t you? It’s federally mandated market research that you can use for free.
When you start to think about it, the “government” is a very large census organization. Every dollar taken in and every dollar sent out is done so in the manipulation of data points. Where to build things, what programs to fund, what programs to cut, who to feed, who to kill, who to protect and who to punish is all a form of data observation. With this attempt to “shrink the government”, tea party members have essentially blinded the government, pushing it to become less effective and more wasteful. I understand that they have a long term goal of creating a government that they can then be reelected to kill off, but when you do it for 40 years like Orrin Hatch, you’re instead creating a wasteful government that you’re responsible for. Soon enough we’ll just give into the obvious and rename the US to Oceania, where the facts no longer exist.
*There’s also a census in the Bible, where God commands Moses to count the Israelites (Numbers 1) and then count the Levites (Numbers 3). In Republican fashion, God wasn’t too concerned with anything beyond the most basic demographic data unless you were a firstborn male.
**Generally assumed to categorically include those with a pulse.