Monday, July 26, 2010

Your Daily Census

Neil Reynolds makes an argument common among those few that support the government's move to a volountary census long-form:

Yet, as The Economist noted, the census is essentially recognized as obsolete in a growing number of countries – a conclusion that arises from the intuitive fact that the world is so filled with statistical data that it would be a greater public service to lessen the quantity than to increase it. Britain will hold its last census next year, as will Germany. Denmark hasn’t had a census for decades. Sweden, Norway and Finland retain only a rudimentary census. With its constitutional requirement of a room-by-room head count, the U.S. government spends $11-billion to count its population – $36 a head. Finland spends 20 cents a head.

I'm lazy this morning, so I'll just cut an paste a response from the comments at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative:

The Scandinavian countries can do this because they have central population registries where nearly all personal data can be found. The equivalent would be to merge health insurance databases, electoral rolls, drivers' registrations, social insurance databases, real estate records, and I'm sure plenty of other databases that I've forgotten. Not only does it go completely against the government's own privacy rationale, the mishmash of jurisdictional conflicts between the feds, provinces, and municipalities would be an operational nightmare.

And, operational nightmare or not, remember we're not being offered anything like the Scandinavian option: we're just getting the same old census, but made worse.

Anyway, that's the high-point of the Reynolds column. The rest is down hill, invoking Austrian Economist/Philosopher Frederich Hayek to argue that, basically, society should not think too much, and go with its gut on issues of vital importance. The simple answer to that is bullshit; when the Bank of Canada starts wondering if the census changes will impact their work of managing the Canadian economy via monetary policy, offering up quotes from a dead philosophers isn't going to satisfy.

3 comments:

Scott Tribe said...

I haven't checked at the G & M yet in their comment section to see if anyone has brought that up to Neil (the reasons you listed as to why the Scandinavian example is a bad one to be using), but that point has already been brought up on them.. yet these folks still try to persist in using it to try and counter that having no mandatory census is no big deal.

Blair said...

For me, this census issue--particularly Neil Reynolds's talking point defence of it--illustrates why the Liberal Party is superior to the Cons and the NDP.

At the end of the day the Liberals are guided by facts and pragmatic solutions, not ideological answers. Reynolds appeals to a philosophy text, nothing more.

Josh said...

Does anyone actually take Reynolds the least bit seriously? His columns are always laughable; why, Margaret Wente is a paragon of reason and thorough research compared to him.

Blair, you'd be hard pressed to find an example of many "ideological answers" coming from the NDP in the past decade at least. Populist answers, yes, but the flakes have found their home in the Green Party with Elizabeth May.