The census – UK and USA

5 Apr

Unless you have been living in a deep hole for the last 6 weeks you may have noticed a purple Census booklet through your letterbox. The US have already completed their federally mandated census requirements in terms of dispatching and collecting census data for this decade. Turn to our cousins in the UK who are now also going through the same affair. However, I would like to question the utility of this exercise given our current fiscal and structural deficits in both countries. It seems almost peculiar that the US and UK would invest billions in employing people to count how many other people there are.  Of course the census itself has a lot of utility in ensuring that local services are better positioned to represent their citizens, and in terms of monitoring trends and identifying any imbalances and deficiencies in local counties/states which may direct better investment decisions etc.

However, purely on a cost-benefit basis this exercise is highly questionable and dicey. Can we really justify this exercise in the current economic climate? Have we been awfully disadvantaged by not having access to this data since the last exercise?  This is not an issue of information asymmetry in the context of one party having more information than the other party.    This is an issue of collecting semi-useful data (which is already being collected by local authorities in one form or another) borrowing billions to pay for this activity against investing in productivity that has more utility. In a nutshell this exercise should be delayed indefinitely until the economic outlook becomes less blurry.

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