I’m working on a long, long post that ties together a whole bunch of stuff and is proving to be more work (and time) than I initially expected. (It’s supposed to be thoughtful, but for me thought takes time—at least, if I want it to be vaguely intelligent.)
So in the meantime, this.
The Harper government is planning on scrapping the long-form census. There is a huge outcry against this from academics, economists, religious organizations and other groups—the list goes on and on—who use the information provided by the census to set policy and determine the need for services and so on.
On the other hand, the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, supports the government’s position.
Yesterday (yesterday? the days are all running together….) while driving I heard an interview on the CBC with a spokesman from the Fraser Institute. (I think it was their senior economist, Niels Veldhuis, but I’m not sure.) His argument came down to this:
The census is not supportable because it invades privacy by asking personal questions that many might prefer not to answer. The short form can be mandatory, that’s okay, but the long form with the detailed questions should be voluntary.
(Er, the census may ask questions some find uncomfortable, but it is ANONYMOUS. Personal information is removed. As I understand it, if you are sent the long form and don’t respond, a worker will come to interview you. I will grant that if you live in a small community where your neighbour is a volunteer who might end up interviewing you there could be issues; but surely mechanisms can be put in place to deal with this situation and protect privacy.)
Now, there is a lot of discussion about whether using voluntary completion and the short-form census is a valid alternative in terms of collecting accurate data; I’m not an expert and won’t get into that. But I think there are some additional dots that nobody seems to be connecting.
The FI spokesman acknowledged that costs for the census would rise if the census was made voluntary, because of the need to advertise and get a larger sample to compensate for lost data, but said that costs should be shifted to the users of the data. (The Fraser Institute takes the position that the agencies that use information collected in the census, such as researchers and economists, are “vested interests” and shouldn’t get a free ride.)
Of course, it’s not just the private sector that uses this information, it’s also various government/public agencies.
Many of these agencies provide services to the taxpayer—you. If they pay for the data, the costs will come out of government budgets, and will have to be passed on to the taxpayer—you. You will be paying more for the information that the government uses to govern effectively.
So it comes down to this: the Fraser Instititute thinks that it’s more important to allow people to refuse to answer anonymous questions than to keep costs and taxes down.
<sarcasm> Gee, it’s nice to have them protecting my privacy. </sarcasm> Personally, I’d rather answer the questions.