Count, Dracula

It’s March and the year ends with a zero, so if you’re an American, watch your mailbox. You’ll be getting an envelope from Uncle Sam some time soon.

In that envelope you’ll find a form demanding answers to ten questions, on pain of a $100 fine for refusal to answer or $500 for answering falsely.

Or maybe it’s $5,000 for refusing to answer “any of the questions” — the Census Bureau would like you to think so, anyway.

If you believe that government can do anything without a) screwing it up, or b) screwing you over, the census is proof positive that you’re mistaken. Government can’t even count..

The purpose of the census, as originally authorized in the US Constitution, is simple: To count heads for the purpose of apportioning congressional districts based on how many people live where. That’s it. That’s all.

By that standard, eight of the ten questions on the 2010 census form are irrelevant and there’s no constitutional authority for the government to ask — or legal obligation for you to answer — them.

The first two questions are: “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?” and “Were there any additional people staying here on April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?” In other words, “how many people” and “are you sure about that?”

Everything after those first two questions is just nosy bureaucratic poking around to determine “how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services …”

In other words, it’s a sort of dating service questionnaire — it hooks vampires up with victims. Sometimes those vampires are the wards of the welfare state and the victims are the taxpayers; sometimes it’s worse than that (data from the 1940 census was used by the forces of Count FDRacula to round up Americans of Japanese ancestry and herd them into concentration camps).

They want names. They want phone numbers. They want to know whether you rent or own. They want to know your gender, your race, whether or not you’re a Latino, and where else you might happen to occasionally stay besides home.

And people in hell, I’m told, want icewater.

This is how the state works: The politicians throw out an idea that sounds fairly sensible and harmless at the time. Once they’ve got their hooks into us, though, they run wild and that benign little idea quickly grows like Topsy and turns in sinister directions. If they sense revolt brewing, they’ll back off just a little (the 2000 census featured five times as many questions on everything from household income to what kind of heating setup the house had) … but don’t worry, they’ll be back at it as soon as we let our guard down.

It’s not just the census. It’s everything. Take drivers’ licenses (please!). The original stated intent of those things was to ensure that drivers had proven their competence by passing standardized tests. They weren’t supposed to be “general identification” papers. But try boarding an airplane, buying a gun, or even picking up a six-pack of beer without one now. And trying getting one without documenting in triplicate everything but your driving competency.

But the mutation of the census — a simple head count, for the love of Pete — into a word that no newspaper is going to publish (it starts with “cluster”) must be, hands down, the purest illustration of how these guys work: Give’em an inch, they’ll take a mile.

I’m not going to try to talk you out of responding to the census. Everyone has his own line in the sand, and filling out this “simple 10-question form” may not cross yours. My own past practice — which I intend to stick to this year — has consisted of verifying the number of people in the household and answering all other questions with a curt “none of your business.” That keeps me in compliance with Title 13. Hey, I answered all the questions, and the answers weren’t false! To slightly modify Whitman’s admonition, “Resist much. Obey (just a) little.”

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