In Defense of the American Community Survey

Recently Congress voted in favor of a GOP measure to scrap the American Community Survey, on the basis of its alleged intrusiveness. Now a backlash is growing in defense of the survey, even among some conservatives, reports Matthew Yglesias.
May 29, 2012, 5am PDT | Michael Dudley
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The American Community Survey is a supplement to the Censis and gathers data on such aspects of society as commuting habits and water consumption. However, just as is the case in Canada, where the Conservative government switched to a voluntary census, arguing that it was intrusive and punitive, House Republicans successfully fought to kill the ACS. However, across the ideological spectrum, supporters of the survey are rising to its defense:

"The [American Community Survey] is an invaluable source of data for policy analysts of all ideological stripes, for state and local governments, and for private businesses. The very conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page noted the ACS's importance for both business and public policy and accused the GOP of trying to 'kill data that helps economic growth' in a move they said 'does something that feeds the otherwise false narrative of political extremism.' Target made a video in partnership with the Census Bureau lauding the ACS, and Andrew Biggs of the conservative American Enterprise Institute explained in congressional testimony that the fine-grained data in the ACS let him 'better control for the different skills of public and private sector employees' in some of his reports arguing that government workers should be paid less.

These conservative defenders of the ACS are quite right. Accurate information, posted on the Internet in conveniently accessible form, is the ultimate 'public good': hugely valuable to society, but underproduced by the private sector. Private firms produce information, of course, but are incentivized to do so on a proprietary basis-restricting access in pursuit of maximum profits. The public interest is well-served when information circulates as widely as possible, which makes it an ideal service to be performed by the state."

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Published on Monday, May 28, 2012 in
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