Posts tagged ‘Census Bureau’

Government Obsession Over Race

This morning I received yet another mandatory survey from the US Census Bureau.  I have written about these before.  We have to fill out the Census lodging survey (a long and tedious detailed financial report) as well as a myriad of other Department of Labor and Commerce surveys.  Where I can legally, I throw them away.  If I risk prison not filling it out, I do so reluctantly.**

So this morning I got the Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons (SBO).  Apparently the SBO comes out every five years.  It's got a big MANDATORY stamped on it so with a sigh I started it up online to get it over with.

The survey was mercifully short, but it was bizarre.  After asking me my address, it asked how many owners there were, and then for each owned asked his or her race and gender.  And that was it.  Suddenly the survey was over, particularly quickly for me because I always refuse to answer race questions on surveys.

But that is the sum total of what the government wants to know about business owners - race and gender and nothing else matters I guess.

 

** I know I always engender outraged comments over this.  I refuse to supply the government with data that they will use to pass new laws to make my life harder or take more of my money.  As for economists and academics, they are welcome to pay me for the effort of filling this out but I should not be obligated to labor for their benefit.

Wherein I Tell The Census Bureau to Take a Leap

Every year I am required by law to fill out what is called the "Accommodation Report" by the Census Bureau.  As a lodging company (we run campgrounds) I must reveal my revenues and some of my expenses.  They ask for numbers aggregated differently from how we collect them for GAAP, so it is not a simple exercise.  But I do it under protest, even though several of my competitors do not seem to be similarly punished with this requirement.

Well, I don't actually fully comply.  We run over 150 small locations, and technically I am supposed to fill out an 8-page accommodation survey for every one of them.  This would take a week of my time.  So I pretend I have only one campground and report my summary revenue numbers for all our campgrounds as if they were for one location.   Also, a year ago the Census folks began demanding the data quarterly, and I told them to pound sand, that I was on the verge of not doing the annual report and so I definitely was not going to do all that work quarterly.

Well, this year it got worse.  For some reason, the survey this year had 3 extra pages asking me to break down my expenses in detail, in many categories that do not match those that I use in my bookkeeping.  Here is an example page:

 

First, not only do I not have time to figure this out (who tracks software purchases as its own item in the accounting system?), but it is not the government's business, particularly given that I am a private company.  Even the IRS is not this intrusive.

Further, at best the data I report will be used for nothing.  More likely, it will be used to justify new taxes on me, new regulations on me, or new subsidies for my competitors.  I have no desire to aid any of these activities.

Postscript:  And you know what I have zero patience with? -- otherwise free market academic economists who support this kind of data gathering because it is critical.  Yes, I am sure they much prefer to get free statistics for their work gathered via government coercion  rather than have to pay for it, as one would have to do if we relied on private companies to gather this data rather than the government.  There is absolutely no difference between an economist supporting government statistics gathering and any other company or individual asking that the government subsidize their inputs.  But, but, we are critical to the country!  Yeah, the sugar industry says the same thing.

Congressional Ethics

I am sick and tired of politicians impugning the ethics of private individuals engaged in commerce.   There are certainly a small minority of fraudsters in the world of business, but there is a supermajority of unethical people in Congress, arguably approaching 100%.

My latest evidence for such is this article in the Washington Post about the ethical bankruptcy of the Federal budgeting process.  It is impossible to excerpt, but here is a representative example:

At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.

By law, the next census is not until 2020.  There was never, ever going to be a census in 2011.  But Congress claimed $6 billion in savings for not having one none-the-less.  Here is more:

In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist....

Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee.

You can impugn business ethics all you want, and I can add a few stories to yours, but I have worked at fairly senior positions in two Fortune 50 companies and as a worker bee in a third, and in all three it would be a firing offense to engage in this kind of Charlatanism.

More in my Forbes article from 2 years ago.

Geometrically Proliferating License Requirements Are Driving Me Nuts

I frequently write here that almost never does a month go by, even in a state where I have operated for over 10 years, that I don't discover yet another tax I owe or license I must obtain.

Today, I got a note from the state of Arizona that we must license our two septic pumping trucks with the state.  Already, these are licensed each year with the County in which they operate, a process that includes a fee (of course) and an inspection by the County.  Now I have to fill out a bunch of forms to send the exact same information to the state, with yet another fee (of course) and the need for another inspection each year by the County.  I asked if my current County license would suffice to cover the inspection, and I was told no.  So, to operate this truck in Arizona I must

  • Fill out forms and send fee to County
  • Get inspected by County
  • Fill out forms with the same information as already sent to County and send fee to State
  • Get inspected yet again by County, but this time on the state form
  • Repeat every year

It is interesting to note that the state does nothing except file my form and bank the fee.  This is just another money and power grab -- more cash for the bureaucracy and yet another useless task (filing these forms and sending out compliance letters, etc) to justify their headcount.  Then the next time someone suggests "brutal cuts" to state budgets, everyone can scream that the rivers will run brown with sewage because the state won't have the people to collect all the paperwork that duplicates what the County already collects.

Just after wasting an hour or two of my time with this (and sending it to my managers to waste days of their time), I got a happy note from the US Census Bureau that I had been selected to file quarterly reports about my business (they have a special survey of the lodging business -- I presume they do this for other industries as well).  I wrote back:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am not sure what we have done wrong to be punished with this extra workload, but unless I hear back from you that this report is required of us by law under threat of some sort of dire consequence, we will not be filling it out.

We are a small company and only I, the President, am equipped to fill out this form.  We already fill out your annual survey and it is incredibly time-consuming for us, for it asks for data in ways we do not normally track it.  Further, it asks for our P&L in a form that does not match GAAP accounting, which causes all sorts of difficulties in completing it.  And we don’t normally compile results on a quarterly basis, only annual, so this report would be particularly onerous.  We actually have to run a business here.

Finally, I might add, I am loathe to send the government yet more data since this data will likely just be used as a justification to raise my taxes or increase our regulatory burden.

So no thanks.

PS- let's just assume the "you have a crappy job" jokes have already been made and move forward from there in the comments.

Information and the Government

The Department of Labor called this morning, asking me to reconsider my refusal to participate in their monthly survey of employers.  One issue I had with the survey, of course, was that it was a time-consuming mess.  They called today to ask if I would respond monthly with just my employee counts.  I said no.  I gave them some variation of my answer that if I were a deer, I would not voluntarily provide my location and movement data to hunters.  So I suppose I can expect an audit sometime soon.

This is a long-time debate on this site, as I have argued against more intrusive government economic data gathering while the technocratic response has been to argue that if government is going to do certain functions, wouldn't it be better if its data were good.

I am happy to see that others feel the same way as me about government data gathering, as apparently there is a push back among Republicans in Congress on the Census Bureau gathering data beyond the Constitutional minimum.  I know on my Census response I filled in only my name, address, and number of family members at that residence and left everything else blank.

Are We Getting Anything Out of Transit Spending?

In the 2012 budget, the DOT will spend about $59.4 billion on highways and $30.2 billion on transit and rail (source).   Highways are getting a smaller and smaller portion of what we think of as the Federal highway budget, with transit and rail spending almost 50% the size of highway spending.  For what results?

Despite huge efforts to get people out of single-occupancy vehicles, nearly 8 million more people drove alone to work in 2010 than in 2000, according to data released by the Census Bureau. Wendell Cox’s review of the data show that the other big gainer was “worked at home,” which grew by nearly 2 million over the decade.

Transit gained less than a million, but transit numbers were so small in 2000 that its share grew from 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent of total workers. While drive alone grew from 75.6 percent to 76.5 percent, the big loser was carpooling, which declined by more than 2 million workers. As a result, driving’s share as a whole declined from 87.9 percent to 86.2 percent.

Though they get less money in absolute dollars, transit and rail have for years gotten wildly disproportionate amounts of money compared to their ridership.  This is not an accident of timing -- rail and mass transit costs per passenger mile are simply way higher than for cars in all but a few very specific high-density urban areas.

Much of this Federal spending is a huge waste of money, made worse by the fact that local authorities who get this money have little incentive to use it wisely.  Its time for the Feds to get out of the transit funding business.  If LA wants more subways, let them pay for it.

Why I Really Hate Census Forms

A while ago, I ranted a bit about a stupid census for our business had to fill out.  We get a lot of government data requests that go beyond the numbers required for things like taxes, that are generally being collected by the Census Bureau or the Depart of Labor or some such agency.  I throw out unanswered all but the ones that say my response is required by law, but that still leaves quite a few. 

A commenter on this post asked why I get so worked up  -- wouldn't you rather the government have good data than bad?  And I finally figured out what really irritates me about these forms.  It is this thought, that is always in the back of my head, and which if there was any justice would be put on the forms themselves:

"Information on these forms will be used by the government to justify taking more tax money from you and/or to justify further restricting your freedoms."

More Useless Government Information Gathering

Apparently I am required by law to fill out an "annual accommodation report" from the US Census.  Just what I needed.  The IRS, state sales tax authorities, and the Department of Commerce all gather this same information, but for some reason the Census Bureau needs me to repackage it for them  ("estimate time only 34 minutes -- thanks alot").  In fact, they need the data so bad that I am required by law to respond to their request. 

Here is the weird part.  First they ask for revenues including both lodging revenues and sales of merchandise, all as one single number.  Then, they ask for "operating expenses" in which they want me to exclude the cost of any merchandise sold.  What is the point of gathering a revenue number that includes merchandise sales but a cost number that excludes the cost of goods purchased for resale?  Bizarre.  My only guess is that this is so they can stack industries up without double counting, but that makes no sense either.  If this were the case, they would ask me to eliminate all product purchases (e.g. toilet paper for the bathrooms, cleaning supplies).  Also, wouldn't they in that case also ask me to leave out services purchased from other companies?

Postscript: The form has this notice:  "Your report to the Census Bureau is confidential by law.  It may be seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes.  The law also provides that copies retained in your files are immune from legal process."

Does anyone above the age of eight really believe this?  Ask major league baseball players what they think about promises of confidentiality and immunity from legal process.  (emphasis added)

With Barry Bonds still in their sights,
federal investigators probing steroids in sports can now use the
names and urine samples of about 100 Major League Baseball players
who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, following a
ruling Wednesday from a federal appeals court.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned three lower court decisions and could help authorities
pinpoint the source of steroids in baseball. It could also bolster
the perjury case against the star outfielder, who is under
investigation for telling a grand jury he never knowingly used
performance-enhancing drugs.

Investigators seized computer files containing the test results
in 2004 during raids of labs involved in MLB's testing program. The
samples were collected at baseball's direction the previous year as
part of a survey to gauge the prevalence of steroid use. Players
and owners agreed in their labor contract that the results would be
confidential, and each player was assigned a code number to be
matched with his nam
e.

Uhaul Indicator of California Health

In today's Opinion Journal, the WSJ editorializes against the proposal to even further raise marginal income tax rates in California, to the highest in the country save in New York City.  The Journal argues that this is chasing productive, high income people out of California:

The
latest Census Bureau data indicate that, in 2005, 239,416 more
native-born Americans left the state than moved in. California is also
on pace to lose domestic population (not counting immigrants) this
year. The outmigration is such that the cost to rent a U-Haul trailer
to move from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, is $2,090--or some eight
times more than the cost of moving in the opposite direction.

I had seen this Uhaul metric before.  The logic is that Uhaul has to keep its fleet of trucks and trailers balanced.  If everyone is going one way with them, say from California to Utah, then they are going to end up with an enormous yard full of vehicles in Utah unless they 1)  pay to backhaul the trucks to CA empty, which is really expensive, or 2) increase the price of the route to Utah and decrease the price of the route back until they are in balance or until the price of the preferred direction covers the backhaul costs.

I had never tried this myself.  I always wondered if the examples people use in articles like this are hand-selected or representative.  So I tried, at random, LA to Salt Lake City  (I have Utah on the brain, I guess, because we are going skiing up there next week, woohoo!)  and chose a date far enough in the future I didn't run into any random demand peaks.  A one-way 26-foot truck rental from LA to SLC on May 15 was quoted at $1888.  The same truck from SLC to LA was quoted at $299!  Try it yourself.

Frequent readers of my blog know I am a big supporter of open immigration, but it cannot be a good thing to send a quarter of a million of your best educated and most productive people out every year and backfill them with lower-skilled, under-educated immigrants. 

Fascinating Data on Earnings by Race (maybe)

Michelle Malkin pointed out this AP story:

Census Bureau findings show black and Asian women with bachelor's
degrees earn slightly more than similarly educated white women, and
white men with four-year degrees make more than anyone else.

According to the data, a white woman with a bachelor's degree typically
earned nearly $38,000 in 2003, compared with nearly $44,000 for a
college-educated Asian woman and $41,000 for a college-educated black
woman.

If true, this is really good news.  Unfortunately, as I have said in the past, if journalists had been any good at math and science in school, they probably wouldn't have been journalism majors.  Never, ever trust stats at first blush in the newspaper.  My guess is that the pool of people in these stats is "all women" as opposed to "women currently in the workforce".  This would mean that stay-at-home moms would average in as "0", distorting any conclusions one might draw about actual salaries since the prevalence of stay at home moms may vary from race to race.   However, this is still good news, especially given the increase in black women going to college.