(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
L: Hi Doug, what’s on your mind?
Doug: Government bean counters. Last week we spoke of the government treating citizens like cattle – well, it’s now the season for the U.S. government cowboys to count up the herd. I want to encourage a little civil disobedience.
L: Ah. The census. What did you do when they came a-knockin’?
Doug: Fortunately, since they started sending out the forms, I’ve been in countries that are a little freer in that regard – Argentina and Uruguay. To my knowledge, neither has a census, actually.
But I should start with an apology to readers of The Casey Report, because much of what I want to say is the substance of an article we just published in the current issue of that newsletter. I feel a significant reluctance to diminish the exclusivity paying subscribers to The Casey Report should enjoy, but I think this may be more important than most people realize, and if I don’t say anything now, it’ll be too late for another ten years. And there really aren’t any hot stock picks related to this topic, so I won’t be giving away any investments that TCR subscribers have paid to take advantage of.
So, I hope TCR subscribers will grace this with a little indulgence, and we can chalk this one up to good karma.
L: No harm, no foul.
Doug: That’s how I generally prefer to play the game... Anyway, most everyone has a decision to make in the next little while. Namely, whether they’re going to cooperate with the census. So I hope subscribers will let me skate on this one, for the greater common good.
L: Okay then. But before we get into the why and how of non-cooperation with the census, do you happen to know what the penalty for non-compliance is?
Doug: I did look that up, but I have to say that I’m not a lawyer – thank God – and am not giving anyone any legal advice. That said, it’s my understanding that up until the last census in 2000, there was a $100 fine for refusing to comply. And I read that the last time the government prosecuted anyone was in 1960, and then only two people were fined. But this time around, they’ve upped the ante and you’re theoretically subject to a fine of up to $5,000.
L: Maybe they are hoping people will refuse to comply in droves so they can fine them – it could be a back-handed way to try to make up for the budget shortfall.
Doug: [Chuckles] Well, in the immortal words of Baby Bush, “Bring it on.” But yes, as with any form of civil disobedience, there is always some risk involved. For all I know, census takers have been asked to record their opinions of the attitudes they encounter. If you seem particularly uncooperative, maybe they put you on a list. But at this point, I really don’t give a damn. The NSA, among other agencies, is well known to have giant buildings full of computers tapping and recording all sorts of electronic communications; they probably already monitor your emails and telephone calls with an eye to whether you have an attitude problem.
It’s probably not even possible to count all the lists you might be on, similar to, but less obvious than, the TSA’s infamous “no-fly” list. Everyone is probably on a bunch of lists already, so one more likely won’t matter.
L: It occurs to me, Doug, that there’s actually a valuable service you provide to our readers that they may not be aware of: you’re our coal mine canary. As outspoken as you are, if you can keep flying in and out of the country interacting with officialdom as you go, and not be arrested, I figure the rest of us lower-profile troublemakers are pretty safe. Once they arrest you at the border for making a joke or resisting a grope, we’d better all watch out.
Doug: That thought has crossed my mind, but if it’s so, it only underlines how incompetent these people are. I’m happy, but more than a little shocked, to say that I’ve never had any trouble with any of these agencies.
L: [Laughs] I’m not superstitious, my friend, but you’d better knock on wood.
Doug: [Laughs] Yes, speak of the devil… and he might appear. But when you reach a certain stage in life, you should basically imitate Admiral Dewey: “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead.” It’s just not worth the damage to my ego to be intimidated by these bastards. Gotta go for the gusto. On the other hand, spending most of my time out of the U.S. as I do, perhaps it’s just a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
L: Perhaps so, but you’d think that if they’re actually doing anything with all these lists they’re building, these conversations would get you on them.
Doug: Well, just the other night I was talking with a friend of mine who used to work for one of the most nefarious of these agencies, and he was telling me about the truly gargantuan piles of data the U.S. government is accumulating on… everybody. And actually this problem could be its own solution, because the more they bury themselves in information, the less they know what to do with it. A thimble of information is something they can digest, an ocean drowns them.
L: That makes sense, for now, but I wonder if it’s a bit naïve, in the face of the accelerating pace of technological change. Moore’s Law. They may not be able to crunch all that data now, but as computers get ever faster and more sophisticated, there will come a day when every single bit of information the U.S. government has in all its files today will be a triviality to sort through in seconds. If that.
Doug: You may be right. But if so, that only highlights the importance of dragging your feet when it comes to ever-increasing demands for information from the state.
L: Okay then, but what about the Constitution? As an anarchist, I know you don’t necessarily consider yourself bound by it, but does it matter to you at all that the census actually is one of the things the Constitution gives the U.S. government the legal authority to do?
Doug: Well, first, legal authority is not moral authority. Second, the part of the Constitution that’s important to me is the Bill of Rights, which actually protects the citizens against the government. The rest of it is pretty much minutiae about who gets to be president of the senate, how electoral districts should be gerrymandered, etc.
L: Hm. I rather like the bit in Article One, Section 8, that states that all powers not specifically given to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states and the people. That’s the part that says that the federal government has no authority to require people to buy medical insurance, or any of the host of other things they do in blatant disregard of the Constitution.
Doug: Well, they overlook absolutely anything that’s inconvenient – like the part that says only gold and silver are to be used as money, or only the Congress can declare a war, and a dozen other important things. And the Bill of Rights is a dead letter. We’ll have to do one of these conversations deconstructing the document some day. In any event, they only observe the trivia, basically Robert’s Rules of Order stuff, about how they run Congress. The census falls in that category. It’s now as if the Constitution was about nothing other than how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – as meaningless as it is useless.
L: In a way, this gets back to what we were saying last week about supposedly necessary evils. There’s no moral argument for compliance, but simply a practical need on the part of the government. The writers of the Constitution figured the government would need to know how many people there were, in order to know how many representatives they should have in Congress, etc.
Doug: Yes. And – not to go along with any necessary evils – but if all they did was come to my door and ask me how many people lived in my house, so they could follow their silly rules about how many representatives can dance on the head of a voter, I could live with that. But that’s not all there is to it – it’s gone far beyond that, and participation can be to your detriment.
In the 2000 census, about one in six households were asked to fill out the “long form,” which asked all sorts of intrusive questions about your education, the number of bathrooms you had, your income, etc. None of that’s in the Constitution. This time they’ve limited it to a simpler set of questions, but with no more justification and no less danger to the respondee.
Only a fool voluntarily gives any government any more information than it can extract on its own. They talk about how this information will help your community, and it’s your duty, etc., but you should never confuse the state with a friend. Remember your Miranda rights; any information you give can and will be used against you.
My suggestion is that people, at most, tell them how many people live in the house, and then politely, but firmly, shut the door.
L: I wonder how many lists that would get you on: “Three.” SLAM!!
Doug: Or you could do what Christopher Walken did in that YouTube skit that’s going ‘round.
L: That looks fun, if you have the time. But why bother? Some people may ask why you’re making such a fuss over such a small thing. So, they ask you your income or ethnicity – other forms ask for that same sort of information all the time, so the government has it already. What’s the big deal?
Doug: The big deal is that that data can be abused by those in power. Under the law, the census bureau is not supposed to share any individual’s data with any other part of the government. But as far as those in government are usually concerned, laws are for the little people, not them.
The most infamous example of an egregious violation of this law and the principle of privacy it stood for was when, in the 1940s, Roosevelt had the Census Bureau turn over data on where people of Japanese descent lived. That, of course, was used to round them up and send them to concentration camps, without even so much as accusing any of them of crimes, let alone finding any of them guilty of stealing lunch money, let alone treason.
That was 70 years ago, and now the government is much less ethically constrained than it was back then. Remember Guantanamo Bay. And the fact that, after 9/11, the government used census data to locate Arab-Americans. It’s hard to say how they’ll use the data in the future, but it pays to remember that Big Brother is not your friend.
And while it may seem that the census is less onerous, with the abandonment of the “long form,” it’s actually worse, since it now has been expanded to include an annual “community survey.” A supposedly randomly selected percentage of the population is going to get these things every year, and they are going to be asked extremely detailed questions. So don’t be put at your ease by the appearance of only being asked name, rank, and serial number this time. It’s getting worse, not better.
And given the abuses we’ve already seen of this supposedly confidential data, from your point of view as an individual citizen, it serves no useful purpose to comply.
L: So, you’re not just being an ornery curmudgeon, you’re looking out for readers.
Doug: Sure. You know, if we lived in a different type of culture, one in which individual rights and the rule of law were actually respected, I’d probably go along with it. Sure, why not, if it’s helpful to a more smoothly functioning society? My natural inclination is to be as agreeable as I can. But we don’t live in such a society. We live in a culture that regards me and everyone who produces above-average income as being a beast of burden. So, no, I don’t feel like cooperating at all – why should I help them to drain my own blood?
L: I’m reminded of a story Heinlein told in one of his books. A man and a horse are having trouble with a wolf. So the man tells the horse: “Look, you’re faster than me, but I have a spear. Let me ride you, and together we’ll catch and kill the wolf.” The horse agrees to the temporary arrangement and the wolf is dispatched. The horse says to the man, “You can get off now.” The man replies: “Hah! Giddyup!!”
Doug: [Chuckles] Or the one about the scorpion and the bullfrog. If you put your head willingly in the information noose, and it draws tight, the mirror is the first place to look when you ask who’s to blame.
L: Okay, got it. You said there were no specific investment implications of this, but is this part of the broader social trends you’re following that inform your decision-making as an investor?
Doug: Well, the government is apparently spending some $14 billion on the census this time around. That’s not even a rounding error on all that they’re spending this year, but it is a lot of money. It’s about $40 per person in the country, or $140 per family. I’m sure most families would rather have $140 than have to waste time answering a bunch of nosy questions. But that’s neither here nor there – the point is that this extravagance is yet more evidence of the government being completely on tilt.
L: I recall reading that the government has hired something like three times as many census takers as they did last time – but the population hasn’t increased three-fold. Looks to me like a blatant attempt to bribe unskilled labor with easy, unnecessary jobs for the sake of more votes.
Doug: I heard that too, and I wondered where they found all these people. Must be the chronically unemployed – the same sort of lowlifes they populated the TSA with. I also read that the census jobs cut the unemployment rate by about a half a percent – not that I trust the government’s employment figures in the least.
This sort of desperate, pathetic attempt to hide the elephant in the room is strong evidence in favor of the kind of trends we’ve been betting on in The Casey Report. The U.S. government is still bent on “stimulating” people back into patterns of consumption that are simply unsustainable. That’s because they still think that the economy is driven by confidence, not production of value. This pretend confidence they are instigating can blow away like a pile of leaves in a hurricane – and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
We’ll be ready for that – both in terms of protecting our assets and benefiting from the predictable consequences of the collapse of confidence.
L: Very well then. A public service announcement from Doug “Thoreau” Casey. Thank you very much.
Doug: My pleasure. Till next week.
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