Choosing Ignorance is Stupid

Todd Litman's picture
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People love statistics. They let us understanding the world beyond our own senses. USA Today publishes a daily Snapshot which presents a graph of random statistics. Sports talk and business analysis are dominated by statistics. We measure our progress, or lack thereof, and compare ourselves with others, based on statistics about our size, activities and accomplishments.

Comprehensive and accurate statistics are essential for planning. For example, predictions of the number of students local schools must accommodate, and the amount of parking supply required at a particular location, and research concerning how demographic and geographic factors affect travel demands, all require detailed demographic, geographic and economic statistics. Much of this information can only be collected feasibly by governments.

Unfortunately, many people take such statistics for granted – they want the information but fail to support the collection process. In a shocking act of ignorance, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 - 190 yesterday to eliminate all funding for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), which replaced the U.S. Census long form, and approved an amendment to prohibit enforcement of the U.S. Census law. Similarly, the Canadian federal government is making the next long census form voluntary, and therefore useless.

These actions are apparently motivated by the belief that government is ineffective, but this argument is backward, and pardon my bluntness, stupid. As any business manager will attest, good decision-making requires good data. Investing in data collection improves government efficiency and service quality. Eliminating data collection promotes ignorance and waste.

For example, regional governments use travel models to predict how particular transport system changes will affect transport system performance. These models require data collected through travel surveys. Many regions now collect this information efficiently through American Community Survey add-ons, which is cheaper and facilitates comparisons with outer regions. Eliminating the ACS will force regional governments to spend more or use less accurate data. Similarly, detailed information on household size, age, employment, income, house size, vehicle ownership and physical ability allows local communities to adjust zoning code minimum parking requirements to reflect actual demands, which tends to reduce development costs. Much of this information comes from long-form Census data. Without this information, planning decisions become less responsive to residents' needs.

The U.S. was once a world leader in collecting planning statistics. The USDOT's Highway Statistics Series, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistic's Transportation Statistics Annual Report, provide decades of data on roadway supply and finance, vehicle ownership and use, traffic accidents, fuel consumption, and other useful data, for each state and many cities, in a consistent and easy to access format. Such data sets are invaluable for research and planning analysis - they are beautiful!

Now, other countries and international organizations are taking the lead. For example, the Australian Transportation Data Action Network coordinates a national effort to improve the accessibility and quality of Australian transportation data. The UK has a National Travel Survey and EuroStat provides standardized statistics for numerous countries. The Global Transport Intelligence Initiative is an international program to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of transport-related data. Neither the U.S. nor Canada have comparable programs or are formally involved in these international efforts.

This trend toward ignorance is a fundamental threat to good planning. It is up to us, practitioners who use statistics in our daily work, to communicate to decision-makers and the general public the critical importance of quality data. Our professional organizations, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Transportation Research Board, the American Planning Association, AASHTO, and academic organizations must provide leadership on this essential issue. Please act now!

 

For More Information

Where Has All the Data Gone?, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Australian Transportation Data Action Network coordinates a national effort to improve the accessibility and quality of Australian transportation data.

National Transportation Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

City Data is an easily accessible database of information about U.S. cities, including maps and photos, real estate prices and sales, resident statistics, and much more, at the neighborhood and zipcode scale.

City Forward is a free website that provides comprehensive demographic, economic and geographic information on more than 100 international cities in a format that facilitates comparisons and analysis.

Todd Litman (2007), "Developing Indicators For Comprehensive And Sustainable Transport Planning," Transportation Research Record 2017, pp. 10-15.

Todd Litman (2011), Well Measured: Developing Indicators for Comprehensive and Sustainable Transport Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Anthony May, Susan Grant-Muller, Greg Marsden and Sotirios Thanos (2008), Improving The Collection And Monitoring Of Urban Travel Data: An International Review, TRB Annual Meeting (www.trb.org).

National Household Travel Survey, Federal Highway Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Provides information on U.S. travel activity from a series of travel surveys performed in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2009.

Ongoing Travel Survey, New Zealand Ministry of Transport.

OECD Factbook, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Hans Rosling (2010), 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes, BBC (www.bbc.co.uk).

A. Santos, et al. (2011), Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 National Household Travel Survey, U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

Nancy McGuckin (2011), Summary of Travel Trends 1969 to 2009, Travel Behavior Associates (www.travelbehavior.us).

STI (2008), Sustainable Transportation Indicators: A Recommended Program To Define A Standard Set of Indicators For Sustainable Transportation Planning, Sustainable Transportation Indicators Subcommittee (ADD40 [1]), Transportation Research Board.

TRB (2011), How We Travel: A Sustainable National Program for Travel Data, Special Report 304, Transportation Research Board.

UNECU (2008), Annual Bulletin Of Transport Statistics For Europe And North America, Economic Commission For Europe (www.unece.org).

Matthew Yglesias (2012), Conservatives for Ignorance: The House GOP's principled-and destructive-war on the long-form census, Slate; at www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/05/american_community_survey_why_republican_hate_it_.html

 

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Comments

Comments

Unbelievable

I couldn't agree more with everything you've said. Unfortunately, some of the backers of this bill probably do not share your concern about government effectiveness, if only because they don't believe government should exist. But the private sector is also heavily reliant on the ACS for their own decision-making, which is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly supports continued funding for it.

I also found it interesting that, as reported by Businessweek, "economists at conservative think tanks Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation all expressed support for the data-gathering agencies."

I can't imagine that many of the members of the House really understood what they were doing when they cast their vote to eliminate the ACS. It just shows how much power has been handed over to a few very, very zealous members of Congress.

Todd Litman's picture
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Yes, Difficult To Believe

Thanks Daniel for your comments.

Yes, it is difficult to believe that so many public officials would choose ignorance. This indicates the unfortunate results that can occur when people are motivated by blind ideology.

However, we bear some blame. Apparently, we have not communicated the value of good planning and quality data. We must do a better. As individuals and through out professional organizations we need to explain to decision-makers and the general public the problems that result from poor planning and inadequate information, and develop organized networks that can mobilize people to respond to emergencies such as this.

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
www.vtpi.org
facebook.com/todd.litman
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

What end of the political spectrum REALLY loves data?

Very good point, Daniel.

".....I also found it interesting that, as reported by Businessweek, "economists at conservative think tanks Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation all expressed support for the data-gathering agencies."......."

I was going to say something on this point and you have already provided the backing anecdote.

I find it highly ironic if any "liberals" and "smart growthers" (smart growth is generally one of many articles of faith among "liberals") claim to revere DATA.

It is CATO, AEI, and Heritage who actually use data all the time, and "liberals" and "smart growthers" who are forever in denial about real life as represented by the data.

For all the good that the data has done, for the "urban planners" (and numerous other agencies responsible for delivering "liberal" policy prescriptions, we might as well not have the data at all. Take the real cost of commuter rail transit per passenger mile, for just one example. Or the median multiple price of houses everywhere that there are fringe urban growth constraints.

What about the cost of roads per passenger mile?

"For all the good that the data has done, for the "urban planners" (and numerous other agencies responsible for delivering "liberal" policy prescriptions, we might as well not have the data at all. Take the real cost of commuter rail transit per passenger mile, for just one example."
- Wodehouse

What about the cost of roads per mile, Wodehouse? And extending taxpayer-funded curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street lights, sewers and emergency personnel out to never-ending suburbs? And fighting a $100 billion a year oil war?

Your silence is deafening and your hypocrisy reeks.

Choosing other things too.

What about the cost of roads per mile? And extending taxpayer-funded curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street lights, sewers and emergency personnel out to never-ending suburbs? And fighting a $100 billion a year oil war?

Don't forget the cost to public health of auto-dependence too. Couple not walking with HFCS consumption and less time to exercise, and the costs are ten, eleven figures easy.

Best,

D

And your point IS.....?

The costs of automobility that ARE covered by drivers include the purchase, depreciation, insurance, fuel, repairs, maintenance and licensing of their own vehicle. Drivers also pay petrol taxes that contribute to the cost of roads.

Seeing drivers and their families are an overwhelming majority of members of society, there is quite a good "fit" between the externalities they impose, and those who suffer from those externalities.

But the costs of those externalities even when compiled by the most anti-automobile of analysts, are never much more than 15% of the costs explicitly covered by drivers. But what proportion of the total costs of transit, do riders cover? Even the benighted Weyrich and Lind admitted in their "myth busting" papers that many transit systems cover only 10% of their cost in fare revenue.

This is a "level playing field"? In what fantasy land?

Transit has externalities too, such as community severence and accidents. Why are railway lines so strictly fenced? Ans: because rail is b-----y dangerous. And why should the costs of grade separation and level crossings be allocated to something other than rail as they frequently are?

Transit's energy use is mostly now so inefficient per passenger mile, that the argument about military protection of resource availability is hardly an argument in favour of transit. It is also noticeable that the extraction and utilisation of the evidently more and more abundant energy resources in North America itself mysteriously seems to be opposed by the very same people as oppose automobiles, freedom, and American exceptionalism.

But I am the first to agree that the US bears far too much of the cost of policing the world, and that the ingrate Europeans, for a start, should be left to look after themselves and stop their bludging on US Defence efforts. Ron Paul for President.....!!!!!!!

"Time to exercise" is what any individual wants to make it. The freer the urban economy, the lower the cost of urban land, the more dispersed employment is, and the more affordably any individual can choose his location relative to work and amenities.

point is?

Aint no economy, urban or otherwise, fully "free."

I do agree that we need to bear less of the cost of policing the world.

But if you hadn't thrown in the shameless plug for Ron Paul, your comments would be much better taken. I would venture to say that if Mr Paul's idelogy had ruled since the 1950's, there would be No Interstate Highway system as such, just a few routes here and there, like in the Northeast Bos-Wash Corridor, to Florida, and in California.
Look on the Bright Side. We would still have a functioning passenger rail system. LMAO. And Japan would be the world's strongest Economic Power.
Get your a** out of ideolog-based reality, into actuality, and you might actually be capable of sustaining an argument about some point.

I do not support Ron Paul

I only threw in the comment about Ron Paul, over the subject of US military isolationism. I don't support him in that, and I don't support any libertarian notion that fully-private road systems would work. I won't go into the theoretical basis for this here, but you probably understand this exactly the same as I do.

I think that governments at all levels in the past, had it RIGHT to get on with building roads and highways. The arguments on this thread, concern my justification of "subsidies to drivers". I regard subsidies to "automobility" as justified, but I would also argue that "automobility" is most likely not subsidised overall, when one takes into account taxes on cars, accessories, tyres, the automotive repair industry, etc.

I am certainly arguing that public transport is far too HEAVILY subsidised; this is only because of extremely poor understanding that prevails re the actual level of "externalities" for automobility, and the actual cost of public transport. The public is displaying good intuition by rebelling against the transfer of their tax revenue away from roads and onto public transport, especially anything rail-based. The public's intuitions are also correct that there is every justification for much higher government spending on roads, without them having to be charged in any punitive way for it. I believe that if there is any one new source for the funding of roads that should be utilised, it would be land taxes.

Michael Lewyn's picture
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rebelling? seriously?

A couple of points:

1. I think the poll data is fairly overwhelming that the public wants more public transport. (See, e.g. http://t4america.org/blog/2010/03/30/new-t4-poll-shows-americans-strongl... ). Admittedly, they don't always want to pay more in taxes for it, but that's true of almost anything government does. Maybe things are different in Australia, but that's how we roll (pun intended) here in America.

2. I don't see any point in trying to beat you over the head with numbers about the whole subsidy issue, but i will make one point: the whole "public transit is subsidized" claim involves a certain degree of chutzpah.

Here's why: once upon a time public transit was private and made a profit. What changed? Basically, govt. ran it out of business by making it unprofitable, and then nationalized it (or maybe i should say localized it, since local govts. usually took over) after it became unprofitable, partially through policies Wodehouse favors (subsidized roads to places without preexisting transit service) and partially through policies he probably wouldn't (price controls on streetcar fares, density-phobic land use regulation, parking requirements and other street design rules, etc.).

So the political class (heavily subsidized itself by Big Roads and Big Real Estate) ruins public transit, nationalizes it, and then tries to reduced or eliminate it in the basis that it is "subsidized" - even though the whole reason it is subsidized is because of the political class's decisions in early- and midcentury.

Another Lesson In Elementary Economics

"there is quite a good "fit" between the externalities they impose, and those who suffer from those externalities."

Consider another example of a "good fit" between those who impose and suffer from the externalities. Continuing my earlier example, let's imagine that everyone buys cheaper products made by factories that dump their toxics in the river, and everyone is sick much of the time as a result of drinking polluted water. Those who impose the externalities are identical to those who suffer from the externalities, but all those people would obviously be better off if they controlled the water pollution.

Externalities reduce well-being, and we can increase well-being by controlling externalities - regardless of whether the people who cause the externalities are the same as the people who suffer from the externalities. The issue is that people generally do not consider externalities when they make decisions in the market about what to buy, so they have to deal with externalities by making political decisions.

The comparison of subsidies to the automobile and to transit is a common trick among right-wing ideologues, and it also ignores a basic principle of economics: if we spent less to subsidize transportation, people would consume less transportation of all sorts. Remove the subsidies to automobiles, and people would live in more compact cities, where they can walk or bicycle for many trips. We have to spend so much subsidizing transit because we live in sprawling, auto-dependent cities.

Charles Siegel

This is ideological trickery? I call it "observation".

I was talking about the externalities from "automobility" as having a good fit with those who use, and benefit from, automobiles.

I am not playing ideological tricks. Todd Litman's figures show externalities to be only around 15% of the total cost of automobility - the other 85% is all cost items borne by drivers. Parry, Walls and Harrington (2006) do not calculate as much value to externalities as Litman. CE Delft find the private motor vehicle, at least in Europe, is by a huge margin the least subsidized, and mass transit is very heavily subsidized:

http://www.cedelft.eu/publicatie/the_price_of_transport/181

(Click on “Download report UK” for the English language edition).

Pricing automobility to cover the missing 15%, if this is justified, isn't going to do a lot. Germany and Britain and some other European countries charge drivers far more than necessary, several times more, and they still manage to get car use down only 20% or so compared to countries that do not "price out" the bottom quartile of society from driving. Refer Joyce Dargay, Dermot Gately and Martin Sommer (2010) Vehicle Ownership and Income Growth, Worldwide: 1960-2030

Most countries, including Italy and France, are tracking US vehicle growth, to saturation at approximately the same point. Germany and Britain are "outliers". This is because they "price out" part of society from driving at all.

Besides this, the more constrained an urban area is, in space per person, the greater the power of the rentier class. Karl Marx and Frank Lloyd Wright both pointed out the correlation between the "rentier" class capturing the major share of increases in the fruits of labour, and the restriction of ownership of land to small "urban footprints". Marx's "solution" was of course the nationalisation of land. Good luck with that. Frank Lloyd Wright's solution was automobile based, low density, development on rural land, the supply of which was so abundant as to guarantee genuine competition between land vendors and maximum democratisation of land ownership. To this day, his genius on this point has not been recognised.

Gibbons, Overman and Resende (2011) "Real Income Disparities in Britain" find this adverse effect to be especially true in Britain after 6 decades of urban growth constraint. The lowest income earners are forced to spend higher and higher proportions of their incomes on less and less space, while incumbent "rentier" land owners get wealthier and wealthier.

The effect of punitive taxation and fees on driving, and enforced higher urban densities, does indeed have a link with lower energy use. However, this link is via heavy constraints on discretionary incomes due to inflated "housing plus transport" costs for everyone. Everyone simple has a lot less money to spend on having children, period (the most expensive aspect of contemporary human existence). Childbearing households with 2 working parents require more space; require more travel; cannot locate efficiently relative to both jobs, schools, shops, and other amenities; have heavy requirements for spending on health, education, hobbies, recreation, and so on - all of which is severely constrained by policies like Germany's. The old "eugenics" thing must die hard in Germany - they've managed to carry it on de facto via transport policy and urban policy - the lower classes simply can't afford to breed.

The "success" of "smart growth" regarding energy use, will always be found to be via the "restraint on procreation" factor. This is not an energy policy at all, it is social engineering and eugenics. There is a strong correlation in the USA, between the affordability of housing and the rate of childbirth. The affordable cities all happen to have much larger properties for significantly lower prices, than the unaffordable cities. Smart growth carries double penalties for childbearing households - the space offered per household is very much smaller, and the cost is several times higher than large amounts of space per household in affordable cities. Straight out median multiple comparisons reveal something like 100% differences between affordable and unaffordable cities; but when the vastly reduced amount of space that first home buyers actually get for the median price is taken into account, the smart growth city is simply obscene, a wealth transferring swindle of the young in favour of the rentier class. It is the smart growth set who have a case to answer regarding where the MONEY is in this. There is no "economic rent" being sought by advocates of free markets in urban development. The uplift over rural land rents in the FREE market, captured by incumbent land owners and/or developers, is minimal. "Planning gain" requires "planning".

The advocates of planned urban high density claim that the "efficiency" of their policies will result in the avoidance of undue hardship for any. This is a complete and utter falsehood. There is simply no growth-constrained market anywhere, where "trade off of space" compensates for the inflated price of land. Nor is there any model transport-oriented planned city in MATURE economies where those priced out of automobility are compensated by way of public transport services. Public transport routes NEVER evolve in the direction of the optimum for low income earners residential and job locations as inner cities "gentrify"; low income earners are always under-represented in public transport ridership, especially so with fixed rail routes. There is a much better match in the USA, between bus riders and low income earners, than there is in Germany. This is in addition to low income Germans being totally priced out of any form of "automobility", in contrast to the many low income earners in the USA running affordable older cars. No wonder bicycle riding is "popular" with low income people in Germany.

Of course the German economy is efficient, with all the higher income earners getting to use all the infrastructure unimpeded by the proles and the offspring the proles can't afford to have. The same goes for "walkable" communities. How many of these have low income earners living in them? The ones that do, are called "slums", and their existence means that the economy concerned has not "developed" as far as the desirable level as yet (In Britain, the urban planning system actually ensures the perpetuation of slums, entrenched welfarism, and a "social housing" constituency). "Renewal" merely removes low income earners opportunity of existence in the modern economy, period.

The opportunities are high in rapid-growth low-land-cost US cities, for everybody to obtain their own home with reasonable space, raise a family, enjoy a healthy "discretionary income", save money, start a business at reasonable cost in land rent and regulatory burden; this is real "democracy" in action; Frank Lloyd Wright's essay "Building Democracy" had this exactly right; there is no democracy like the democratization of land ownership. Millions of Americans voted with their feet 2000-2010:

http://www.newgeography.com/content/002769-the-urban-us-growth-and-decline

Would you like references to the data on the connection between housing affordability and the rates of child-bearing too? The correlation with Republican-voting is remarkable too. No wonder it is mostly those who are politically "liberals" who are pushing "smart growth". There is also an interesting obvious correlation now emerging between urban land affordability and economic performance and job growth:

http://news.investors.com/article/611952/201205181223/job-growth-continu...

http://www.newgeography.com/content/002709-foreign-industrial-investment...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230437150457740614251538855...

"The Future Is More Than Facebook. Social media is already passé in Silicon Valley. America's innovation engine is now focused on transportation, energy and manufacturing".

This stuff is all pretty much going how I am expecting it to. You won't be admitting this here and now, I can tell; but remember this as your policies bear fruit - Britain's cities OUTSIDE of London are the likely models for outcomes. And a "Tobin tax" would mean "game over" for London too - and for NYC.

Todd Litman's picture
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Comprehensive Transportation Costs

Thank you Wodehouse for your comments.

However, if you want to quote me, please do so accurately. My analysis, summarized in my report "Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis" (www.vtpi.org/tca ) indicates that, considering all costs, including non-market costs such as vehicle users' travel time and accident risk, about a third of all costs are external. External costs include the portion of roadway expenses not paid by use fees, parking subsidies, and the congestion, accident risk and pollution emissions that vehicle travel imposes on other people. Efficient pricing that internalizes these costs would significantly increase the costs of driving: it would double or triple vehicle operating costs, particularly in urban and suburban areas. Analysis discussed in my report "Socially Optimal Transport Prices and Markets" (www.vtpi.org/sotpm.pdf ) suggests that such price increases would reduce automobile travel by 25-50%, which means that a quarter to half of all motor vehicle travel is economically inefficient, that is, it does not stand up to user willingness-to-pay and so only occurs because of underpricing.

Some of your statements indicate a misunderstanding about basic economic principles. Cost-based-pricing is justified for two reasons: efficiency and equity. You argue that since on average, motorists both impose and bear the external costs of driving, they are not a significant problem, but this misrepresents the point of efficient pricing. Underpricing is economically inefficient: it results in economically excessive automobile travel which increases other costs such as roadway costs, congestion, accidents and parking demands. It also forces consumers who drive less than average to subsidize the costs of those who drive more than average. It is therefore unfair, even if most households own a vehicle and drive.

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
www.vtpi.org
facebook.com/todd.litman
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

The point IS, where to begin?

This comment is so poorly argued - by dint of most important points of externalities and factual bases of energy use - that it is impossible to know where to begin to address it.

I guess that is a good enough point right there.

Best,

D

Ideologically correct sources and data.

I find it highly ironic if any "liberals" and "smart growthers" (smart growth is generally one of many articles of faith among "liberals") claim to revere DATA....It is CATO, AEI, and Heritage who actually use data all the time, and "liberals" and "smart growthers" who are forever in denial about real life as represented by the data.

Uh-huh. Comical and liberal use of scare quotes notwithstanding, arguments from ignorance are rarely, if ever, compelling.

Best,

D

Data Collection

I think its time for cities themselves to take over all census data gathering. I shake my head in disbelief when cities here in Alberta (the worst province for data collection of any sort) send people to your door for census each year and they only ask you the minimal 4 question, who lives in your house and what is their age, are they male or female, etc....thats pretty much it. What do they think they can derive from that other than to keep the city sprawl machine greased up and running when its time to ask the provincial government for more money. Its time for city planners to stop being land use bylaw administrators and at least try and be "planners". Without proper data how can you plan anything?

Todd Litman's picture
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Collecting Good Data

Thanks for your comments, Badmojo.

However, I cannot agree. The key to producing useful data is to establish consistency in all areas, which requires high level coordination between each jurisdiction. This is a job for federal governments, based on data collection practices established by international professional organizations so results can be compared between different times and locations. For example, it would be very useful if all countries collected the same data set of road supply, and transit service, vehicle ownership, fuel consumption, etc., using the same definitions and collection methods so the results can be compared. It may be appropriate for local governments to collect some additional, special data, but the basic census is a federal responsibility.

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
www.vtpi.org
facebook.com/todd.litman
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

Stupid: the new front in the culture wars?

To paraphrase Steven Colbert, reality these days has been showing something of a problematic bias--at least if you're a conservative. If your worldview includes a faith in a 1950s model of living, demographic and transportation preference data is a scary interloper.

Sometimes, kneecapping reason is all you need to maintain a conservative status-quo.

Dumb and Dumber: Today's GOP

Defunding the American Community Survey and prohibiting enforcement of the U.S. Census law are just symptomatic of the ignorance on which today's Republican Party is based. Today's GOP rejects anything factual that conflicts with its rigid political ideology, which, frankly, is reminiscent of those charming folks in brown shirts in 1920s-1940s Germany. The GOP has become like the Communists -- they think the world must function according to their political theory even though there is no evidence that it ever has or ever could. They are divorced from reality and want to make sure that government cannot function. By denying government the essential and fundamental tool of demographic data collection, they can undermine the ability of government to operate. And from talking with a lot of today's "modern" consesrvatives, that is their ultimate goal.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
Planner/Attorney
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986
http://www.planningcommunications.com

Todd Litman's picture
Blogger

Ideology Can Lead To Irrational Decisions

Thanks for your comments, Dan.

Yes, I share your frustration. I agree that ideology can lead to irrational decisions. However, I think it is unreasonable to criticize the entire Republican party, and citing "brown shirts in 1920s-1940s Germany" appears to invoke Godwin's Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law ).

I see little value in letting this debate continue to be framed ideologically - that just encourages people to take more rigid positions. Rather, I believe that our best response as planning professionals is to explain the value of good data for all sorts of decisions, including local planning and economic development. For example, more accurate demographic data helps businesses, developers and communities respond to changing market demands and better serve future residents. The economic saving and benefits are huge, many times greater than the costs of collecting this information.

Many conservative organizations oppose the House of Representative's position:

Here is a New York Times article: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/annual-census-at-risk-in-h...

Here is a link to a WSJ column criticizing the idea of a "voluntary" census: http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/imagining-a-census-survey-without-a-mand...

Here is a link to the American Enterprise Institute's testimony on this issue: http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/3-6-12-Census-Bigg...

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
www.vtpi.org
facebook.com/todd.litman
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

Sad But True

Todd,
Thanks for running your story and for your insightful comments. I don't pretend to know exactly what's going on in Canadian politics, but I've got a really good handle on U.S. politics. While some of the more responsible conservative organizations in the U.S. may also oppose ending the ACS, today's Republican leadership and so many GOP Congresspeople have gone off the deep end. I have no hesitation in suggesting that they are the new N*z*s because of all the close parallels between their behavior and positions with those of those folks in Germany following World War I.

The reality is that today's GOP pretty much wants to disable government in the U.S. They're nothing like Goldwater or Reagan Republicans -- who are pretty much appalled by today's GOP leadership and today's Tea Party. While I don't suggest making this point while lobbying Congress restore the ACS and continue to enforce the Census law, there is no reason to put our heads in the sand. This is how it starts -- and if we don't learn from history we're bound to repeat it (as the lousy cliche goes). Check out the film shown at the beginning of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC and you'll see why I am so concerned about the direction of today's GOP.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
Planner/Attorney
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986
http://www.planningcommunications.com

Todd Litman's picture
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Planners Can Contribute To More Thoughtful Analysis

Unfortunately, political debate often becomes comparable to sport teams: citizens are expected to root for one side or another: Right/conservative/Republican or left/liberal/Democrat. These labels are often meaningless: political conservatives do not necessarily promote conservation, and many liberal concepts, such as economic freedom and independence, are claimed by both parties. Much political debate focuses on symbolic issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, while overlooking many issues that directly affect far more people, such as transport system and land use development.

I think that planners can play an important role in helping citizens better understand these issues. For example, critics argue that the American Community Survey is intrusive and unnecessary (see quotes and comments in the New York Times article cited above), citing a question concerning commute travel time, and demographic questions are justified as ways to help allocate billions worth of federal dollars, which implies that they are mainly used to justify expanding special federal programs and subsidies. As planners we can point out that commute travel time data is critical for transport planning, and would otherwise require more costly travel surveys in each region (in other words, the ACS makes government more cost efficient), and the demographic data are used in countless ways to improve local planning.

I think that most citizens want rational, responsive government and are skeptical of partisan political claims. We will gain more support for programs such as the ACS by explaining their value to our communities than by attacking a political party or ideology. Planners are most effective when we communicate with, and build partnerships with, all members of our community, even those with whom we may disagree on some issues.

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
www.vtpi.org
facebook.com/todd.litman
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

Category defiers

I cite Weyrich and Lind as examples of political category-defiers. But it is actually quite a rational career-advancing move to place yourself as the token "conservative" among the transit advocates.

I would also love to ask the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd if they support mass transit, and what they think might happen to the economic viability of NYC's mass transit system if Manhattan ceased to be a centre of global "capital" as they wish, perhaps unwittingly.

The biggest hoodwink in modern political discourse

I do admire Todd here for his suggestion that these "Nazi" comparisons are unhelpful.

It is simply a moral inversion of the lessons of history to liken a political movement in favour of the REDUCTION of the power of government, to "Nazi-ism". The Nazis were "small government" people? I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or throw up.

There is little difference and much in common between Adolf and Uncle Joe. Fascists pretend to let people own property; however the "property owner" has to kow-tow to increasingly onerous State directives as to his use of that property, to the eventual extent that he might as well not own it at all. The threat of expropriation is a certainty in the event of defiance, if not quite inevitable even in the event of continued slavish co-operation.

The "Right Wing" label applied both to Fascist "Big government" AND "small government" economic libertarianism (of which there has been little in modern economic history - perhaps Singapore is a lonely example); in alleged contrast to "big government" Communism, is simply the biggest hoodwink in modern political discourse.

elimination of ACS and other Census-related data.

KISS keep It Simple, Silly.
I've worked with Census info since the first Enumeration District data cane out in 1971. Just as Census Data was becoming much more widely available and usable, the band of practicing moronics grew and ganged up on Census and Census-derived data. What do they want? What do they care?

Used to be, the big city and other politicians (Republican and Democrat alike) in areas where the Census didnt report the politicians population growth expectations as actuality were the main opponents of good Census & related work. Always, shortly after the Decennial Census. Yup. They just wanted to kill that messenger, that day. The messenger's data didnt agree with them. But they did not try to throw out all the babies with the bathwater.

As Jimmy Buffet would say "Things have changed."
The bottom line on radicals seeking to eliminate the most essential data collection and analysis is that to them, IGNORANCE is BLISS. Almost the entire wing of the Radical Republican Party want to not only kill the messenger, but to have no message to clutter up their discombubulated thinking patterns. No poor, no elderly, no housing changes, No Problem.

They are clueless at the Capitol. Alll these private services that buy, analyze, sell and otherwise ingest, digest and regurgitate general data about the US have to start somewhere. Even the Census stats for the high end populations whose money and votes they covet. Many in Congress are even more clueless that billions of dollars of real estate investment and refinancing decisions that are sound will depend on good information on highly segmented markets made up of actual people. You know, the kind of smart decisions that will help pull us out of this 10-year economic hole Not reality, Actuality!

Next time a politician, a big middle market client, or even a hard core rugged individualist entrepreuner, asks for some good data, tell him/her the last stuff with any detail was collected 12 years ago. Yea. Get''em good and mad when you tell them it will cost them $100,000 to do a little survey to update their metro area for just a few pieces of info with no warranties of a reliable rate of response.

As for those hard core that want to throttle enforcement of US Census laws, many probably subscribe to the theory that all statisticians (except theirs, of course) are liars, and all numbers (except theirs, of course), lie.

Find out which way your Congressman voted. Call or get a face to face conversation with him/her. Be sure to have a friend standing over you, twisting your arm in case you try to go ballistic. Ask politely to reconsider over the next couple weeks, or the summer. Tell them that if they are depending on the private sector to pull us out of this hole, and prosper in the long run, they need to support where so much private sector data starts out-- reliable Census data!
Yeah!

Forgive me for blasting

Forgive me for blasting professions, but in my experience with the scientific-engineering world, many of your professionals are so enamored with details like communicating with each other, that they fail to grasp that they have miserably failed at communicating with others--including citizens, but mainly, elected officials, whose span of attention averages about 1 1/2 pages of typed words for making a decision, beyond which they become lost sheep.
?
I do agree that there is lots of stupid out there, way too much.

But keep in mind, especially when referring to planning, there's lot's of
stupid out there that has no clue about any kind of planning, much less spending money for good data for it.

The only decent functional definition I have ever heard for a 'planner' goes something like: "One whose main responsibility is allocating scarce resources for both now and the future. "

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