Information as a public good

How can we have knowledge without accurate information?

Yesterday's New York Times recounts the US House of Representatives' recent vote to eliminate the American Community Survey, pointing out some of the critical ways that accurate, large-scale data serves the public good:

“Knowing what’s happening in our economy is so desperately important to keeping our economy functioning smoothly,” said Maurine Haver, the chief executive and founder of Haver Analytics, a data analysis company. “The reason the Great Recession did not become another Great Depression is because of the more current economic data we have today that we didn’t have in the 1930s.”

The Times goes on to point out that unlikely partners, such as business, also needs accurate information:

"Other private companies and industry groups — including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Home Builders — are up in arms.

"Target recently released a video explaining how it used these census data to determine where to locate new stores. Economic development organizations and other business groups say they use the numbers to figure out where potential workers are.

"Mr. Webster says that businesses should instead be thanking House Republicans for reducing the government’s reach.

" 'What really promotes business in this country is liberty,'  he said, 'not demand for information.' "

"Although the measure is not expected to succeed in the Senate, it's a little frightening it's gotten that much consideration."

Makes me think of another famous Census. Where would Jesus have been born if his parents hadn't been mandated to travel to be counted? Our holidays stories would be a lot different!

get updates