Today we received our questionarrie from the U.S. Census Bureau. On the cover are these four sentences:

Your answers are important. Census results are used to decide the number of representatives in the U.S. Congress. The amount of government money your neighborhood receives also depends on these answers. That money is used for services for children and the elderly, roads, and many other local services.

The first two are unobjectionable. It’s the last two that really gall me. The message: fill out this form so you can get your fair share of the largess. It simply assumes that all Americans are standing with outstreched hands waiting for the “just” dispersal of goods and services from our caregivers in Washington. I’m tempted to throw the thing in the trash as a simple (though no doubt ineffectual) protest.

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Mark T. Mitchell is the co-founder of Front Porch Republic. He is the Dean of Academic Affairs at Patrick Henry College and the author of several books including Power and Purity, The Limits of Liberalism, The Politics of Gratitude, and Localism in Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto (co-editor).


  1. Mark, thank you for this. You have spoken the truth! Sadly, Dear Leader does not tolerate criticism……!

  2. Back in 2000, I worked for the Census as one of five jobs I held in the course of one summer. I enjoyed meeting the militia types, with whom I would sometimes sit down to drink a beer as they explained why they wouldn’t fill out the form.

    You’re right, Mark. The closing sentences presume just what you suggest. We are a clientelist society, after all.

  3. David sinned by conducting a census (1 Chron 27), but the scripture doesn’t tell us why it was a sin. Perhaps because it is always a sign of empire, or the desire to control everything. But it is written into the very heart of our Republic from the beginning.

  4. Gee, I wonder if the guy in the bathrobe in the Census Commercial Caleb cited is dressed like a lump in a bathrobe because he is unemployed.

  5. Well, it is a legitimate Constitutional power (Art I, sec 2) that was intended to form a basis for deciding representation. That is, it was to be a strict count which would help decide the apportionment of seats. That it has become a mechanism for resource control as well as partisan advantage is yet another lamentable sign of how far we have drifted.

  6. The history of the US census is incredibly interesting.

    In 1790, it included questions about the name of the head of the household, number of persons living in household, number of young men eligible for the draft, and the age and sex of everyone else in the house.

    The census first change in 1820 (the decennial census), which included questions on every person’s name, information about schools, taxes, crime, and wages, information on the condition of one’s housing, and data on mortality. Questions are now asked about race as well.

    Then, in the wake of the 2000 census, Congress authorized the US Census Bureau to undertake the pilot project “American Community Survey.” Allegedly, this would establish a “snapshot of America” (just wait for one of the artsy commercials to flash across your TV!) and to allocate $400 billion to communities around the country for infrastructure and hospitals, schools, bridges, tunnels, and emergency services.

    Obviously the census is authorized under Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. Under Title 13 of the US code, the census has constantly evolved to contain more information. Now, for anyone refusing to fill out the census, a $1,000 fine will be exacted.

    This of course begs the question: was this really written in the heart of our republic, as John suggests? Or was this an initially harmless measure that has become distended with time?

  7. John,

    In both Exodus 30 and Numbers 1 Moses is commanded to take a census, so it doesn’t seem the act of census-taking is itself a sin. Rather, David’s sin in I Chronicles appears to derive from his motives for doing so, be it pride or lack of trust, it’s not clear to me which. I have no objection to taking a census. Quite the contrary. That it can be used to advance imperial ambitions, which it clearly can, is not an argument against the thing itself, and I see no evidence to support the claim that the use outlined in Art I, sec. 2 is “a sign of empire,” or that census-taking itself necessarily is.

  8. Okay, so what was that creepy laugh near the end of the video Caleb linked to about? It came out of nowhere. It kind of reminded me of the Laughing Policeman video Scruton wrote about.

  9. Rachel,
    Excellent observations.

    One thought I might add is that the Census has grown to reflect the growth of the corporate American servile state. Big business retail must have a lot of aggregate data for making decisions about store locations, product lines, and store sizes. They have been lobbying the Department of Commerce since at least the 70’s to get subsidized marketing demographics. As a result, questions about age, income, population change, homeownership,and drive times to work are all used to decide whether to open a new Petco, or whether to add more Viagra ads to a local cable station.

    A local business does not need such data because they actually know their customers.

  10. Really guys, don’t you think you’re over reacting a bit? Without the census you simply won’t get your fair share of the money. We are the provider, love us. We are the mother bitch, and you pups will suckle until the aging process has stripped you of value……… We promise, we are not trying to brainwash you all into subservience…………

    Also, will all the runts please be certain to fill out the census, if you don’t we will not know who you are and won’t be able to tie you up inside a plastic bag, tie a rock to said bag and throw the bag off a convenient river bridge.

    I already filled mine out, and it was really fun! So remember, you will be assimilated, resistance is futile (except for runts, you will be dispatched)……….


    The Borg.

  11. Now would be the perfect time to read Russell Kirk’s ghost story “Behind the Stumps.” In this tale a haughty census worker refuses to listen to the townspeople’s tales concerning the reclusive Gholson family,and so is unpleasantly surprised for his troubles. The last page is especially creepy. The moral is: if you are a census worker and are told that someone is a witch, don’t go to the trouble of counting them. You’ll thank me later.

  12. Correction to Rachel’s information regarding the penalty; it appears there is only a $100 dollar fine for refusing to fill the form out, $1000 is for providing false information. Personally I’m vacillating between not filling it out at all and only filling out the constitutionally justifiable portions (basically, number of people).

    221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers
    * (a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.
    * (b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.
    * (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.
    Sec. 222. Giving suggestions or information with intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of population
    Whoever, either directly or indirectly, offers or renders to any officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof engaged in making an enumeration of population under subchapter II, IV, or V of chapter 5 of this title, any suggestion, advice, information or assistance of any kind, with the intent or purpose of causing an inaccurate enumeration of population to be made, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

  13. How about answering the basics, who lives in the home, gender, age and a “am I required by the Constitution to answer this question” response to the rest?

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