Census Patriotism

In recent months, mayors in several large cities have lead widely publicized campaigns to increase the number of their citizens counted by the census, in the hope of increasing their share of federal aid and congressional representation. Such campaigns routinely appeal to ideals of civic duty, social responsibility, and the like.

The odd thing is the degree to which local and national media play along with this nonsense, treating each such campaign as a noble and public-spirited cause. I have not yet seen a single article pointing out that the mayors are engaged in a large and expensive game of beggar-your-neighbor. Every extra head counted in Chicago does indeed mean extra money for Chicago--but it is money that would otherwise go to New York, or Boston, or Mississippi, or ... . Every extra head counted in New York means less money for Chicago. If all of the politicians succeeded, by herculean efforts, in increasing their official populations by ten percent, the net effect would be zero, since the relative populations would be unchanged.

It is tempting to put the media attitude down to cowardice and corruption, on the theory that no Chicago newspaper is eager to stick pins in Mayor Daley. But that does not explain the failure of New York newspapers--better yet, newspapers in some city that is not campaigning to swell its official population--to prick the balloon. Perhaps I just do not read enough papers. It is hard to believe that our reporters have actually reached the point where it does not occur to them that new Federal dollars--and congressional seats--do not fall like manna from heaven.

Published in Liberty Magazine, reprinted by permission