Monday, December 16, 2019

A Libertarian Take on Answering Census Taker Questions

C emails:
If you believe it is appropriate would you please give a libertarian
take on the census. Their "swarms of officers" are bound and
determined to count everyone out here in flyover country. I have
successfully run them off twice now but they do not appear to be ready
to leave me alone yet. The quote that comes to mind is this: "Don't
believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them." (by either
Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Dmitry Orlov) and  I would add, "Don't give
anything to them."
RW response:

Of course, the census is a statist operation that should be objected to on libertarian grounds. However, when the state is actually conducting a census, the objection to answering the questions is a totally different story.

According to United States Code, Title 13 (Census), Chapter 7 (Offenses and Penalties), SubChapter II, if you're over 18 and refuse to answer all or part of the census, you can be fined up to $100.

So you are going to end up giving the government something, either census answers or $100.

I prefer to give census takers the answers and a bonus discussion.

When a census taker came around to my place, I started with:

"Do you realize that Nazi census takers were just one notch under Nazi concentration camp guards?"

I then filled her in about the book, The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich by Gotz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth.

From the blurb:
The Nazi Census documents the origins of the census in modern Germany, along with the parallel development of IBM machines that helped first collect data on Germans, then specifically on Jews and other minorities. Gotz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth begin by examining the history of statistical technology in Germany, from the Hollerith machine in the 1890s through the development and licensing of IBM punch-card technology. Aly and Roth explain that census data was collected on non-Germans in order to satisfy the state's desire to track racial groups for alleged security reasons. Later this information led to disastrous results for those groups and others that were tracked in similar ways. Ultimately, as Gotz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth point out in this short, rigorously researched book, the techniques the Nazis employed to track, gather information, and control populations initiated the modern system of citizen registration. Aly and Roth argue that what led to the devastating effects of the Nazi census was the ends to which they used their data, not their means. It is the employment of methods of collection that the authors examine historically as it applies to the Nazi regime, and also the way contemporary methods of classification and control still affect the modern world. With a riveting Introduction and translation from Edwin Black, NYT bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust.
Then when she started asking the race questions, I asked:

"Why do you need the race of people?"

and then:

"So you don't think what happened in Germany could ever happen here?"

"Do you know if this data has ever been used against Americans?"

She said, "No," that it hadn't.

So I told her, in the United States, the Selective Service System, which administered the draft, once went to the Census Bureau to get information about who might be eligible for the draft.

The US government also used census data to round up and intern Japanese Americans during World War 2.

I told her, "You just never know what is going to happen in the future and how this data will be used. Think about it."

I closed with urging her to buy the Aly-Roth book (I printed out the Amazon page and gave it to her)
and told her she should read up on the consequences in Germany as a result of those doing the kind of work she was doing.

Will my dicussion with her make a difference? Probably not.

But on a personal basis, when an opportunity comes along where there is no risk to me, and I have the time, I will almost always attempt to plant the dangers of central planning in the minds of others.

Becasue, once and awhile, it will make a difference--and I love the battle.


  1. I'm with C on this one. Although its impossible to avoid the millions of government intrusions into your life, when there is an opportunity to say "no thanks", grab it. Of course there is a cost to asserting your rights and each of us has to decide whether its worth it. But participating makes one an enabler and I prefer to avoid that when possible.

  2. From what I have read where I live the feds have a difficult time getting people to cooperate with the census workers. They mostly will get how many people live in the home and that’s it, and the questions go way beyond that these days. I like to let them stand outside and freeze as it’s usually a good -20 or more when it’s census time. I refuse to tell them anything, although I did have one person tell me once that they had the constitutional authority to demand I answer the questions, which led to a fun discussion on the constitution. Another time they told me how important it was so Fairbanks got our “fair share” of federal tax dollars, so I had fun telling them what I thought of that too. I always tell them not to come back, so they just call. Two times ago I did tell them how many people were in the home so they would leave me alone.
    I don’t know if it’s nation wide but the census takers here are paid $28 an hour plus overtime and travel expenses, so it’s a pretty good job pay wise.
    But, I don’t really like the feds. It’s not like they don’t know everything about us anyway. I feel like it’s just a opportunity for them to let everyone know who’s in charge. Like the goons from the borough who come to the door to take pictures and ask questions for property tax reasons, but that’s another topic.

    1. I'd actually like to hear about these picture takers. Sounds pretty obnoxious to me.

      As for the census, I only answer how many people live in the house. When they come around for the other questions, I tell them to pound sand.

    2. Great minds think alike when it comes to "pound sand."

    3. Micheal, the Fairbanks North Star borough tax ass-essors come to your property/home and if you aren’t on your toes they start taking pictures of your place to compare with the previous years pics to see if you have added value to your home. They usually come to your door first and ask if they can come in and look around and whatnot. If you tell them to pound sand they walk away then start roaming and taking pictures. We have pretty good private property laws here, so I have a nice “state approved” signs up posting our property. You can legally run most of them off, but there’s one assessor that supposedly has the right to come on your property. They and I know that I hate their laws and taxes so they don’t even come here anymore, as we have had a few conversations that were close to confrontations. So they assess us every year without coming to the property now. I call them and raise some hell, then they say “well if we could come look at your home we could re-calculate your property”. So, they don’t come out and I pay the higher tax. While I hate knowing I could lower the tax, some, I don’t care. I hate them. I’d rather they steal from me with as little cooperation from me as possible, so we understand our relationship with each other.

    4. That's nuts! Obviously we have property taxes here in Utah, but I've never heard of assessors taking pictures or asking to come look INSIDE your house.

      Have you ever told them to "get a warrant"? Haha!

  3. I concur with Brian and Joshua. In 2010, I was living with a friend and I think I avoided it completely. In 2000, I told the guy the number of people living in the house and to pound sand on the rest. Since I don't answer my door unless I'm expecting someone, I hope to avoid the whole sordid affair again this decade.