Approximately 70 years ago, Republicans hit upon a winning formula: if the data disagree with your worldview, kill the data. Then, with no problematic data, claim that there is no definitive proof of reality and, in the words of Karl Rove, create your own reality.
- In the 1940s, faced with a highly effective group of economists at the young National Labor Relations Board, Republicans passed a bill banning the agency from hiring economists.
- In the 1990s, faced with high-quality research on gun violence, Republican Congressman Jay Dickey pushed through an amendment that effectively stopped federal funding for gun research.
- In February of this year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for an end to federal funding of social science research.
Now, Republicans are trying to kill high quality data on poverty, unemployment, violent crime, access to education and health care, and a variety of other key economic indicators.
The Census Reform Act, introduced by GOP Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, would bar the U.S. Census Bureau from conducting all of its mandatory surveys except for the decennial population count. Among a variety of areas, that means that there would be no economic census of industries, no census of state and local governments, no census of incarcerated populations, and no census of housing.
If the benign-sounding Census Reform Act passes, the fundamental statistics upon which most others are built will simply disappear. Former director of the U.S. Census, Ken Prewitt, told the Huffington Post that without the Census, “we won’t have an unemployment rate.” Not only will we not be able to accurately address problems, we won’t even know the existence or extent of problems.
Though it’s unlikely that such a bill would pass (in part because businesses need the data collected by the Census), these sorts of attempts to push political programs by killing the data and misinforming the public should be recognized as anti-democratic. People can only make choices if they have access to accurate information concerning society, and the government has a special duty to collect and disseminate this information.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.
Republicans put democracy at risk with bills such as the Census Reform Act.