And It Came To Pass

…in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. — Luke 2, KJV

I guess the connection between taxation and the census is as old as the human race. But for roughly 150 years in this country (before we had an income tax), the only real purpose for the census was apportionment of representation in the House of Representatives, and, in that context, the only data necessary to the task are the raw numbers of population in each state. This is a legitimate function of the government, I suppose, to the extent that the Constitution itself is legitimate (which is certainly open to debate). But I object to what the census has become. It is now much closer to what we had when Cyrenius was governor of Syria than what the Framers had in mind when these words were ratified in the Constitution:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed… The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand…

Clearly the reason for the census was in support of this numbers game prescribed by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, but look at what it has turned into: a competition between the states, each jockeying for the best position at the federal trough. And the first notice sent out by the US Census Bureau last week made no attempt to hide this perversity. Instead it celebrated it, pointing out that billions of dollars in federal funds were at stake, and that not participating would put your state at risk of not getting its fair share. Sorry, for people like me, that is not the proper incentive. It makes me want to drop the thing in the shredder rather than cover it with personal information about myself and my family and then mail it off to some faceless bureaucrat.

The census form I received states that “Federal law protects your privacy and keeps your answers confidential,” although there are numerous exceptions and exemptions outlined in Title 13, Sec 9 of the USC that governs the census. It goes on to say that “The answers you give on the census form cannot be obtained by law enforcement or tax collection agencies. Your answers cannot be used in court. They cannot be obtained with a FOIA request.” Despite these claims, the form fails to include a simple Privacy Act statement, mandated by USC Title 5, Sec 552e, which requires that “Each agency that maintains a system of records shall … inform each individual whom it asks to supply information, on the form which it uses to collect the information … the authority (whether granted by statute, or by executive order of the President) which authorizes the solicitation of the information and whether disclosure of such information is mandatory or voluntary.” This has been the practice since 1974 when the Privacy Act was passed, three censuses ago, so how can an agency that is already hypersensitive to the privacy concerns of American citizens ignore this requirement?

The form also says that anyone who does not provide the requested information is liable for a $100 fine. You know what? My personal information is worth more than that to me, so go ahead and fine me.

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