Should Census Funding be Cut?

Jonathan Parker over at Everything Finance brings up a good point . . . should the U.S. Census Bureau be the target of budget cuts?  Here is what he has to say:

With the house returning to Republican hands, economists are worried about the quality of economic data suffering due to cost cutting.  There is a very small constituency for using scarce taxpayer moneys to pay to collect economic statistics, especially when that means bothering said taxpayers with phone calls and surveys.  I just filled out and mailed in the American Community Survey – it took me two tries and several trips to the file cabinet.  But this survey is a very valuable way for us to keep track of how the economy is evolving and to develop more efficient ways to spend government money.  But as recently pointed out by the governmental relations committee of the American Economic Association, the Republican National Committee has threatened to change the survey so as to either undermine it or increase its cost.  The RNC resolution is here, some facts about the Survey are here. The Census has experimented with making the survey voluntary, has studied the results, and concludes here that there are serious quality/cost problems with making the survey voluntary.  The recent crisis should have emphasized the importance of having high-quality, timely economic statistics and I would encourage Congress to protect our ability to conduct economic policy in real-time and to study and improve our existing approaches. [Note: I have stripped the links because for some reason they do not work, even on their blog post]

I have to agree with him on this point, but for a slightly different reason.  My problem is that having high quality census data is a Constitutional mandate necessary to fulfill essential functions in the Republic such as redistricting.  I thought Republicans support Constitutional functions?

In the end, I do believe that the Census Bureau provides a public good that would be hard to fulfill by the private sector.  That being said, who knows how technological change will change this equation in the future?  The Economist magazine this week has an excellent series called “It’s a Smart World” about the evolving ability to monitor the physical world virtually.  Perhaps the U.S. Census Bureau will one day become obsolete.

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