Counting for Dollars: The Perversion of the Census
In case you didn’t notice the barrage of taxpayer funded radio, TV, newspaper and internet ads, it’s census time again.
Yes, census time, that time that comes once every ten years when the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars telling us how important it is that we return that all important, overly nosey questionnaire.
In fact, it’s so important that the government sent me a letter telling me it was going to send me the census form a full week before it actually sent the form. Then it sent a post card a few days after the form arrived reminding me that it had sent the form – which makes one wonder whether this was actually some sort of stimulus plan for the Postal Service.
Like almost everything our Founding Fathers created, the census was unique. Up until their time in world history, national head counts had been used almost exclusively for purposes of taxation or conscription for military service. They turned it into a tool to reallocate congressional districts and ensure that all Americans had equal representation in the House of Representatives.
But as anyone who has seen or heard any of the advertising for the census knows, the original purpose of the count is no where to be found. Instead, the ads tell us that the census is “how we get our funding for the things we need”, which is partially true. And that’s the problem.
The sad fact is that the federal government uses population numbers as part of various funding formulas to determine how much of each state’s tax money to send back in order to fund the various state and local services we enjoy (or deplore). It’s sad because the money we receive is money we sent to Washington in the first place. If we weren’t sending it there due to excessive federal taxation to begin with we wouldn’t have to worry about a census count in order to get it back.
As with most things in our government, it wasn’t intended to be this way.
Can you imagine George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et al, discussing the importance of adding the census requirement to the Constitution so the new federal government would know how much of the money it confiscated from the states to give back? Hardly.
They would have been horrified at the notion of state governments and the people being so complacent as to allow the federal government to take so much of their wealth to begin with.
These were men who understood all too well that money is power. They knew that the power to take money from anyone and to spend it on anything needs to be controlled by the people. They understood it so well that they started a revolution against the largest economic and military power of their day over being taxed without representation.
As the states have stood by, the federal government has not only grown larger and more wasteful, but more politically powerful at the expense of the state and local governments – which just happens to be the levels of government that individual citizens have the greatest potential influence over. This is not a coincidence. Since money is power, politicians have worked to remove its control as far from the people as possible.
And hasn’t it occurred to anyone that the federal government creates a tremendous incentive for fraud when it makes population counts the determining factor in how many tax dollars it will send back to state and local governments? Of course it has, which is why many state and local governments work so hard to boost their count.
Further, it’s interesting that the census takes such an interest in the racial background of those who fill out the forms. There are no less than two dozen racial classifications on the form, eight that could be applied to anyone of Hispanic origin, and three that could apply to anyone of African extraction. Those having other ancestries must be content with having only one category.
And why would the government want to know my race anyway? In fact, what does my race, age, sex or type of home have to do with “counting” how many people live in my state? Don’t we aspire to be a color blind society? The answer is because there are federal government programs that allocate (or “give back”) our tax dollars on the basis of those numbers.
In other words we’re back to money again – and power for the bureaucrats charged with passing it out.
In the end, the census has become less about its original purpose and more about money, power and racial politics. All of which makes the current census another in a long list of perversions of our Constitution.
Mr. Madison would not be proud.