Monday, March 17, 2008

Heroic Me

I'm still so thrilled about our making a stand to the visitor from the Census Bureau! We refused to be complicit in this terrible attempt to nose into our personal business for no good reason--remember, it's not even a census year! Of course we'll participate in the head count in 2010. That, at least, has a direct bearing on me, making sure we all have an adequate amount of representation in the House (the quality of that representation is another matter, of course).

But this American Community Survey will not help protect my freedom. It will necessarily entangle me more into the welfare state that our country has unfortunately become. From their website:

What is it?

America is changing, and so is the census. The American Community Survey lets communities see how they are changing - filling in the gaps between each 10-year census.

The ACS:

  • is sent to a small percentage of our population on a rotating basis;
  • helps determine how more than $300 billion per year is distributed;
  • informs decisions on policies, programs, and services for communities;
  • is also conducted in Puerto Rico, where it is called the Puerto Rico Community Survey.

America is changing, alright. We unwittingly exchange our freedom for security all the time. Yep, that'll bring about some changes, and it does. If you haven't been following my journey with the ACS, you may be wondering just which "policies, programs, and services" they are talking about. From the ACS website (emphasis added):

The American Community Survey can identify changes in an area's population and give an up-to-date statistical picture when data users need it, every year, not just once in ten years. Communities can use the data, to track the well-being of children, families, and the elderly; determine where to locate new highways, schools, and hospitals; show a large corporation that a town has the workforce the company needs; evaluate programs such as welfare and workforce diversification; and monitor and publicize the results of their programs.

The ACS "helps determine how more than $300 BILLION PER YEAR is distributed" to our "communities" (not you), to "inform decisions on policies, programs, and services." In other words, a big old chunk of the money that the government takes out of its citizens' hands each year will be redistributed as the government sees fit, ostensibly to help our communities. You see, we are not to be entrusted to handle this task ourselves, to fund our own hospitals or fire departments, to educate our own children (in or out of schools), to fix our own traffic problems, to choose our own charitable contributions based on our values.

The implication is obvious--if those in the government didn't make these kinds of decisions and fund them, then left to our own devices (in possession of our own money and decision-making skills) rational, free people would certainly never manage to build a hospital or fix a road or build a factory. Nope. We'd just sit at home on top of piles of money that could be used for such things. Naturally, the solution is to shrink those piles of money and "provide" these things for us, since we're too dumb to realize that these things are in our rational self-interest. Unfortunately, too many Americans agree with this erroneous thinking.

If a man proposes to redistribute wealth, he means explicitly and necessarily that the wealth is his to distribute. If he proposes it in the name of the government, then the wealth belongs to the government; if in the name of society, then it belongs to society. No one, to my knowledge, did or could define a difference between that proposal and the basic principle of communism.

-- Ayn Rand, "The Dead End," The Ayn Rand Letter, I, 20, 2.

In truth, the government does not actually need all 28 pages of my family's information, or even a carefully selected randomized sample of families like mine, in order to determine where new schools and highways should go. They really could just make these decisions based on other kinds of information that is easily compiled--population statistics, for example. (If they bothered to use this information at all--there really is nothing stopping the bureaucrats from deciding such things for completely arbitrary reasons.)

So why even bother with such a survey at all? The real reason is that they need me. They need me to fill out this "survey" in order to help them continue the charade that this is something I want, something I agree with, and something I am looking to them to handle for me. In other words, they need my sanction--the sanction of the victim, as Ayn Rand called it.

If they don't get my assistance, my sanction, then the bureaucrats will necessarily have to admit to themselves that they are in the business of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" (see the communism remark above). They don't want to admit the truth of that, probably because once the idea is named and out there, at least some people will wake up and want to fight it. (Don't believe me? Note how the proponents of "universal health care" shy away from the phrase "socialized medicine.")

Another way you can tell that this whole American Community Survey thing is a charade is that if it weren't, participation would be entirely voluntary. It is not. It is, in fact, illegal for us to refuse to complete it. It is illegal for us to lie on the survey (emphasis added).

The American Community Survey is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code, Sections 141 and 193, and response is mandatory. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than $100 to not more than $5,000.

The Census Bureau holds this threat out to me and the other recipients of the American Community Survey: Give us your personal information in excruciating detail so that the US government can redistribute over $300 billion, or we will take up to $5,000 of your money. Help us help you, or you will pay.

Since the government has the power to extort something from us, we decided that we'd rather have them extort money than our private information. It's a cleaner kind of poison. They will spend any money we pay as a fine either on themselves or "for our own good." But if they had our information, including data on our two little children, I would feel less safe, more disgusted than I already feel. (They haven't fined anyone to date, to my knowledge, so this is a worst-case-scenario situation.)

It's a terrible choice and it angers me that I even have to make it, in 2008, in The United States of America. As with my opposition to the proposed homeschooling tax credit, I'd rather let them have (or keep) my money than infringe more upon my freedom. Yes, indeed, America is changing.

Actually, the purpose of this post was not to rehash all of the reasons that the American Community Survey is tyrannical and antithetical to the purpose of our free country, satisfying as that was to write. Rather, it was to tell the world how incredible I feel that we stood up to them. Like most people (I hope!), I have often been inspired by reading stories of courageous men and women who stood up and did the right thing. And I have imagined myself in those situations--would I have chickened out?

Now I know. I know from experience, because even though the Signing of the Declaration of Independence this is not, I now understand how acting with moral certainty can make a person feel courageous. We did the right thing, for the right reasons. As long as they come back (and they may not), we will continue to do the right thing. And it was so easy, because we know we're right. Nerve-wracking, sure, because face-to-face confrontation has never been something I've enjoyed (try detest and avoid). And of course knowing that the person at the door was really unlikely to wave a gun in our faces or haul us off to jail lent a certain reassurance that the most that could happen would be a shouting match--which did not happen.

But still. We did it, and I think this experience has really made me a braver, better person, and much less likely to shy away from a battle simply because confrontation is uncomfortable for me. I never knew how awesome it could feel. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog and supported us through this--it sure is wonderful to know that others are doing the right thing, too.

By the way, while I was working on this post, I got two hits from the domain "" in Washington, DC. Both hits were on my most recent ACS post, where I talked about our visitor last week. So thanks for stopping by, and if you or the Senator you work for needs help mounting a principled opposition to the American Community Survey and the too-expansive powers of the Census Bureau, well, you know where to find me!

I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was "No."

John Galt's Speech, Atlas Shrugged, p. 973 (35th Anniversary Edition)


Mrs. C said...

God forbid it comes down to it, but perhaps when the time comes you can set up a Rational Jenn Census Fund to pay your fine. Maybe someday we could pay into it like an insurance thing each year and thousands of people can join and tell the Census Bureau that it can go


or something. I know you don't have a "Christian" blog but I'm editing myself anyway. You're welcome. ;]

And senators from Missouri reading this blog, FYI, I'm with Jenn on this one.

LB said...

Wow! You certainly are feeling better. Good for you and good for all of us!

It's amazing what we sanction with little attention to the details. Thanks for taking a stand.

I'd throw in a couple of bucks toward your fine. :)

cathy said...

Well done and well said! The Census Bureau needs to stop invading our privacy to provide a fix for its data junkies.

Anonymous said...

Did you happen to see the article in the AJC Sunday about how unsuccessul the Census Bureau has been? They're calling it a "high risk" section of the government. HA!
Good work Jenn!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

You go girl!

It is good when you finally say "No." But I submit that this is not your first "No."

I believe homeschoolers are better able to say "No" to these outrages because we have learned to go against the tide.

And I do think that if anyone is fined, the rest of us "refusniks" could help by setting up a fund to pay it.

rville9755 said...

Great post. I would even bet, that the government is also selling the data collected (or giving it) to corporations that want to know where to put the next fast food restaurant. So it may be even worse than you suggest; they are colluding with the recipients of government welfare and helping them earn millions... they are making businesses dependent on government too.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks, all! Seriously.

Mrs. C--you cracked me up!

Hopefully, we won't need to take up a collection, but if we do, I'll be sure to let everyone know. Brendan and I have discussed that they make want to try to make an example of someone--if they pick us, well, look out! As LB said, I AM feeling better. And I AM pregnant, so the hormones are going crazy right now.

Cathy--welcome and thanks for your support!

Jen--I love that the Census Bureau is "at risk!" Would that more government departments were, too! Honestly, I can't imagine why it would need to be a permanent department. Crank it up about 18 months before the decennial census and for about 18 months after, to compile the data. Shut it down, save our money for next time.

And Elisheva, I guess I do say "no" a lot--your comment made me consider that point. But this is probably the first time I've ever said "no" and it was actually illegal and I said "no" to someone who could enforce that. I've always been such a rules-follower (think Hermione Granger) that it's quite out of character!

And rville--the survey explicitly states that it will provide (can't remember if they sell it or not) the information compiled to private businesses, so they can do workforce studies and find out where they could/should open new branches.

John from Aloha land said...

I'm pleased and proud that there's some of that Boston Tea Party courage in some of us. I've had a Google alert for "American Community Survey" in order to watch for others reactions and actions when they receive the curse. There are many who whine about it, then fill it out and send it. There's not much "Spirit of 1776" out there, but then they were a minority too.

Methinks the ACS hasn't been prosecuting because it would blow their relatively low profile and the Supreme Court would shut um down.

It's been about a year since our refusal and so far alls quiet.

I'm experiencing tears of joy and pride that there are some Rational Jens' in our USA.

Rational Jenn said...

Aloha, John! And thank you so much for those kind words. I'm glad to know someone else who has refused--and I'm glad to know that you haven't been harassed any further.

Spread the word! Just say NO! :o)