Krugman points to this plea from Robert Samuelson to save the U.S. Statistical Abstract. Under pressure from Congress to "save money", the Census Bureau will disband the small team that assembles publications on the statistics of the United States. Apparently, this move cuts 24 jobs and saves $2.9 million annually.
This development is disturbing in many ways:
- The Abstract will simply vanish. They are not killing just the paper version. There will be no online version either.
- Samuelson claims someone at the Bureau made this statement: "[The Bureau] has to choose between its basic job of devising surveys and collecting statistics about economic, social and governmental conditions and the less-important task of publicizing the results." I hope this is a mis-quotation. Presenting and publicizing data is "less important" than collecting data? The priority is totally backwards.
- Terminating this statistical publication is an assault on our democracy. By not publicizing these statistics, the effect is to ring-fence this data so that only specialists will access it. By not organizing them into a publishable state, only specialists will have the time and the expertise to sift through the data and make sense of it.
- Statistics is an annoying profession to those who find themselves being measured by the numbers. When things are not measured, they will be "guesstimated" with any number of assumptions. Policies will be put in place, and their effects will also be "guesstimated". Accountability becomes a vague concept, infinitely debatable. This does not bode well for effective governance.