Is it time to get rid of mandatory government surveys?
The Census Bureau does more than count all Americans every 10 years. It also runs hundreds of other surveys in between. But Americans are only obligated by federal law to participate in the once-a-decade headcount and a massive, continuous data-collection effort known as the American Community Survey. The ACS will reach 3.5 million households this year, using dozens of detailed questions—including asking about a household's use of flush toilets, wood fuel and carpools—to determine the need for various government programs. The survey's mandatory status, along with telephone and in-person follow-ups to initial mailings, helps keep response rates near 100%. . . . The Census Bureau says the very specific questions—which are approved by Congress—are part of what makes the survey useful in helping the government dole out more than $400 billion annually. Tests by the agency indicate a voluntary survey would get fewer responses, particularly by mail, which would make collecting the data more expensive—in-person interviews cost about six times as much as mail per completed survey. . . .
This reminds me of something that Milton Friedman once said. When he visited Hong Kong in the earlier 1960s he wanted to know about lots of things such as per capita income and poverty rate. But the Governor of Hong Kong told him that he didn't compile that information because it would be used to generate support for more government action.