Freeman

ARTICLE

Are Government Statistics Necessary?

Why Are Tax Dollars Funding Bureaucratic Data Collection?

APRIL 01, 1994 by ROBERT YOUNGBLOOD

Filed Under : Entrepreneurship

Mr. Youngblood is a manufacturer’s representative living in North Carolina and producer of the radio talk show The Free Market in Columbia, South Carolina.

I recently received an eye-catching advertisement from the Government Printing Office for The Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1993, “The Essential Reference and Research Resource for people like you!” According to some of my think-tank friends, next to national defense, data collection is the best thing the federal government does.

This year’s edition features information “keyed to Congressional district,” along with “new material on health practices, education attainment, child abuse and neglect, book purchasing, federal debt, military installations, occupational tenure, use of automated teller machines, high tech exports, . . . details on racial and Hispanic groups and more.”

My first thought was: How much does the annual Abstract cost taxpayers? I’m sure the $32 price per copy merely covers the printing costs, not the expense of hiring bureaucrats to collect and collate raw data and having firms spend man-hours to fill out copious forms under penalty of law for non-compliance. Consumers also pay—through the loss of goods and services that could have been, but were not, produced because companies diverted resources from output to regulation compliance.

As an entrepreneur I gather much data on my customers. It has been a discovery process for me to learn what information is important to me. My research has helped me to answer such questions as:

• What mix of equipment does a customer now own?

• How often and how much does he order?

• How do seasonal factors affect the ordering process?

• What is the interest rate on leasing new equipment?

• What are the new technology trends?

This information does not come without a cost both in money and time, but it allows me to tailor my marketing and advertising and to better serve my customers.

Many industries and special interest groups lobby Congress to have information gathered at taxpayer expense. But they should finance the collection of pertinent data themselves rather than use the power of government. For example, the banking industry should pay for its own survey of automated teller machines.

The ultimate cost of the Statistical Abstract to all of us, however, is some loss of freedom when government uses statistics to manage our lives.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

April 1994

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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