Wherein I Tell The Census Bureau to Take a Leap

Every year I am required by law to fill out what is called the "Accommodation Report" by the Census Bureau.  As a lodging company (we run campgrounds) I must reveal my revenues and some of my expenses.  They ask for numbers aggregated differently from how we collect them for GAAP, so it is not a simple exercise.  But I do it under protest, even though several of my competitors do not seem to be similarly punished with this requirement.

Well, I don't actually fully comply.  We run over 150 small locations, and technically I am supposed to fill out an 8-page accommodation survey for every one of them.  This would take a week of my time.  So I pretend I have only one campground and report my summary revenue numbers for all our campgrounds as if they were for one location.   Also, a year ago the Census folks began demanding the data quarterly, and I told them to pound sand, that I was on the verge of not doing the annual report and so I definitely was not going to do all that work quarterly.

Well, this year it got worse.  For some reason, the survey this year had 3 extra pages asking me to break down my expenses in detail, in many categories that do not match those that I use in my bookkeeping.  Here is an example page:


First, not only do I not have time to figure this out (who tracks software purchases as its own item in the accounting system?), but it is not the government's business, particularly given that I am a private company.  Even the IRS is not this intrusive.

Further, at best the data I report will be used for nothing.  More likely, it will be used to justify new taxes on me, new regulations on me, or new subsidies for my competitors.  I have no desire to aid any of these activities.

Postscript:  And you know what I have zero patience with? -- otherwise free market academic economists who support this kind of data gathering because it is critical.  Yes, I am sure they much prefer to get free statistics for their work gathered via government coercion  rather than have to pay for it, as one would have to do if we relied on private companies to gather this data rather than the government.  There is absolutely no difference between an economist supporting government statistics gathering and any other company or individual asking that the government subsidize their inputs.  But, but, we are critical to the country!  Yeah, the sugar industry says the same thing.


  1. Kurt:

    I always refuse to answer the question regarding race by citing the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment

  2. Chris Kahrhoff:

    What is the potential penalty?

  3. AnObserver:

    My business seems to get hit about once every five years by an economic census. I ignored 2 cycles and nothing resulted. The third time they did the usual hounding letters but instead of dropping it, escalated to specific threats of legal action for non-compliance. Since they switched to pistol whipping, I complied immediately. And yes, their data requests would have required a total manual recompilation of thousands of source records and receipts making my accounting software totally useless for the task. So I pulled out total figures from the accounting software and 'estimated' [snort, snort] their answers to dovetail with the totals. That went relatively fast and must have satisfied the beast's checkbox....

  4. John O.:

    I'm curious to know what the OMB numbers are so I can take a look at the forms in their entirety.

  5. HenryBowman419:

    On census questions regarding race, I check "OTHER" and write in "human". But, I know some who write in "Klingon".

  6. HenryBowman419:

    Do you actually know a free-market economist who support such data-gathering?

    Also, I wonder if the Census Bureau is actually authorized to request such an odious amount of information from a business. Perhaps one could get someone n Congress to actually specify what the Census Bureau is permitted to ask, instead of leaving such to the Census Bureau.

  7. Chris Kahrhoff:

    While I appreciate your sentiment the "race" question on most government forms asks what you self identify as. I would suggest checking all that apply. I mean ALL.

  8. Dan Sherman:

    I have sent this survey to the round file, every time it arrives.

  9. Greg Swann:

    > And you know what I have zero patience with?

    I like this blog, but isn't it a little arch for you to bitch about the outrageous burdens imposed upon you by your rent-seeking income? I'll appreciate your commentary more when you have become a former apparatchik.

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    I would have suggested "Martian". Does anyone know the proper species name for the aliens from the "Aliens" movies? Another idea would be to pick one of the stranger races from the MIB movies.

  11. perlhaqr:

    Are you a "the government should not own parks" libertarian / anarchist?

  12. perlhaqr:

    "Aliens" aliens are sometimes referred to as "Xenomorphs".

  13. NJConservative:

    I am a Pacific islander, as far as the census bureau knows. The kids are Hispanic and....I've forgotten.

    What does the law say about the information you are bound to provide?

  14. perlhaqr:

    I ask because you are, to the best of my knowledge of Warren's business and business model, using that phrase incorrectly.

  15. NJConservative:

    Rent seeking? I far as I understand his business, he privatizes government run parks. How is that rent seeking?

  16. Greg Swann:

    Am I mistaken? My impression was that our host is a concessionaire in coercive-monopoly "businesses" run by the government in government-run parks. Is this incorrect? If not, the business model is a precise and perfect example of rent-seeking.

    My take is that claiming to be a libertarian and voluntarily taking money extracted by force from innocent people are incompatible. None of us can escape having "free" in-kind "benefits" thrust upon us. But we have a choice about whether or not to receive stolen funds.

  17. MingoV:

    You seem hostile. Why do you read this blog?

    By the way, bidding on a contract, even with a government, is not rent-seeking. You apparently do not understand the term.

  18. NJConservative:

    Yes, you are mistaken. Rent seeking is an attempt to seek profit through manipulation of the political structure, most commonly through advantageous regulation.

  19. skhpcola:

    It is not my understanding that Warren gets paid by government(s) to run these parks. I believe that *he* must pay the government(s). Attending a park is in no way coercive and providing a recreational service that would otherwise be much more expensive (or nonexistent) if it was the responsibility of the government isn't at odds with libertarian principles. Unless, from an practical perspective, you believe that government would divest these properties if Warren's company wasn't operating them. I can assure you that isn't the case.

  20. Ted Rado:

    I am astonished that anyone stays in business in this country with all the red tape. A lot of the problem (in addition to the USG!) is the MBA degree. About 40 years ago, our technology department had an overhead rate of 27%. Then the MBA craze hit. All sorts of reports, forms, etc. were then required. The overhead rate soared to 83%. I got a monthly computer printout about an inch thick that had all sorts of data in it re expenses by project, by each person, with all sorts of detail. It went straight in the circular file.
    Among other things, every supervisor cheated on the cost reports, moving hours from over-running projects to under-projects. In fact, I was asked to report hours from an entirely different unit on one of my projects. All the systems instituted by the MBA's resulted in magnificent works of fiction at great expense. I am sure that MBA's do some good, but they seem to revel in administration for its own sake. The best organizations I ever worked for had a minimum of admin. Give a group or an individual a clear assignment and then get the f--- out of the way. If you think the guy will not do the job correctly without burying him in supervision, give the job to someone who can and then leave him alone! The government should be there to facilitate business, not to impede it, for God's sake!

  21. Greg Swann:

    > *he* must pay the government(s)

    Concessionaires pay to have all other potential market entrants -- all potential competition -- excluded. Plausibly, this is a comprehensive definition: A concessionaire is a market entity who pays rents to a super-vening authority in exchange for exclusive access to to the concessed market. Coercion is not of the essence; you could offer to pay to operate the valet parking concession at a hotel, for example.

    But a concession is rent-seeking in se, since the strategy is to pay a premium price in order to gain access to consumers who will have no choice but to pay above-market "rents" themselves if they want the values the concessionaire offers in trade. Bidding for a concession is making a bet on the fortunes you expect to extract from a captive audience. The added increment in price is accounted for not by your having produced added value but solely by your manipulating the market to your advantage. That's a very useful practical definition of rent-seeking -- claiming added profit without producing added value.

    And where coercion is present, a concession is rent-seeking by definition, and "crony capitalism" as well, since the favored concessionaire uses the power of the state to exclude all possible competition.

    As before, I may be wrong about the business under discussion. But if the business is working state and national park concessions, we are talking about rent-seeking.

  22. skhpcola:

    Mneh. Not so much. What you are describing happens tens of thousands of times (or more) a day as people offer to rent buildings for retail/commercial ventures. No regulatory capture is intended there, either, although you elide and conflate the purpose of Warren's business with one that does seek that advantage...say, a defense contractor that has lobbyists in D.C.

    I assure you that neither Warren, nor any other entrepreneurial (anarcho-)capitalist seeks to pay a "premium price." That assertion is inane. It is and would be contrary to fiduciary and common-sense principles to declare that as a "strategy."

    Your last paragraph is monumentally retarded. Are you positing that government is more efficient and capable of running "state and national park concessions" than a private business that must produce a profit to pay the bills...unlike the associated governments?

  23. Greg Swann:

    All government concessions are rent-seeking and crony capitalism as such: The concessionaire seeks above-market rents by deploying the force of the state to forbid market alternatives.

    So far, y'all have proved to be real good buddies to the host, but you haven't said anything to dispute this point.

  24. skhpcola:

    You didn't answer my question, Greg. But you did reveal a bit more about your binary and atrophied ideology.

    People pay taxes. People expect to get something from paying taxes. Am I personally happy with government owning the majority of land in western states? No, I'm not. However, the federal government *does* own the majority of lands in western states. People want parks. That's provably true, since people (without the coercive force of jackbooted goobermint thugs) visit parks. Millions of citizens visit parks. Warren and his company provide access and services at these parks much more efficiently and effectively than government. Indeed, these visits are subsidized by taxpayers...no private entity could afford to own thousands upon thousands of prime acres and charge a reasonable price to visit. But Warren is--let me type this in all caps, so your Ron Paultard brain stem can absorb it--PROVIDING THE SERVICES AT MUCH LESS COST TO THE TAXPAYER THAN THE GOVERNMENT COULD EVER PROVIDE. Sheesh. You Libertarian assclowns are fucking ridiculous.

    I believe that a certain amount of public parks is a public good. But that level should be determined at a local level and be paid for by locals. The graft paid to any federal bureaucracy to manage such a thing is ridiculous and should be avoided. But your goddamned laughable position on the matter marks you as a 'tard.

    P.S.: Look through my history of comments here on Coyote Blog. I'd guarantee that I've cussed out Warren more than I've sent kudos. But right is right and wrong is just Greg. Apparently. You confer powers to others that they neither seek nor possess, which is a great marker for you being a Ron Paultard faithful.

  25. Greg Swann:

    Tu quoque, two wrongs make a right, ad hominem. This is how Obama "debates."

  26. skhpcola:

    Actually, this is how neo-leftard Libertarians debate, with idiotic premises and wild expansions of the truth. I'm surprised that you don't know the Latin phrase for that. It's formally termed "Ephtardum explorium extremis." It seems to be a favorite among neo-progressives that fancy themselves smarter than they actually are. You should Bing that shit and put yourself some knowledge.

  27. Fred_Z:

    He gets to bid on the concession. Lucky him.

    Why don't you bid against him? Oh wait, you're a feather merchant.

  28. Fred_Z:

    The government lies to me, I lie to them. My local municipality requires an annual financial statement for each one of my rental properties. I just plain make sh*t up. Screw them. In 20 years I have not received so much as a phone call questioning the crazy stuff I put on the forms.

    If I get caught, I'll fight them for as long as I can, go to jail if I must.

  29. NJConservative:

    Anyone who bids on potential business has the goal of excluding competitors. That's the whole point.

    Your understanding of "rent-seeking" is fundamentally flawed, as is your understanding how businesses function.

  30. Gil:

    Gee, did you ignore the post where Warren denounces "social justice" whereby any good is deemed "necessary" and should be a public good at taxpayers' expense? It's a similar problem whereby Libertarians such as Walter Block and Don Boudreaux are employed by public universities but that's okay because "we're using taxpayers' money to spread Libertarian views". Simple Libertarian reckoning is that all government-owned land should be auctioned off and the new owners can decide what they will use the land for.

  31. Greg Swann:

    Check. Likewise, state and national parks are a SWPL wealth transfer, welfare for the rich.

    My favorite Rotarian Socialist "libertarian" is David Friedman. At least the Republicans can fall back on the rent-seeking 1789 constitution. But an anarcho-capitalist taking a government paycheck...

  32. Greg Swann:

    > Anyone who bids on potential business

    is a concessionaire. You can only bid on concessions. Business people take actual risks against actual competitors. Concessionaires pursue sinecures. Note that the concessor takes less than he might obtain through free competition. Both parties to the trade are discounting future potential earnings to secure current performance, kind of a Special Olympics of capitalism. If there is no coercion involved, it's just two doofuses agreeing to do less-than-optimal business for each other's benefit. But when the state enters the picture, what is being created is an actual sinecure, funds stolen from innocents and funneled to fortune's friend.

    > Your understanding of "rent-seeking" is fundamentally flawed

    One might to think to complain about all the ad hominems around here, but since none of them are any good, I'll let it slide. Meanwhile, my discussion of rent-seeking above is the most complete explanation of the phenomenon in this thread.

    Moreover, this schoolyard bullying is a silly waste of time. Your boy is either in the wrong or he is not, and you will not alter facts by yelling at me. But the mob behavior combined with the absence of a response to my question from our host is not heartening.

  33. skhpcola:

    Your normative wishes don't trump pragmatism. I think that all basketball goals should be raised to 13', but that doesn't mean that I don't score baskets when I play basketball. But, in two-dimensional and delusional Libertariantard Land, basketball games would devolve into soccer matches. Or something. This topic is another exposition of why Libertarians don't have anything near a chance of ever securing power at the national level, outside of better cheating, as the Ronulan Paultards engaged in to get him on the ballot. And I say that as a person that describes his ideology as "classically liberal, with a hefty amount of conservative, tempered by small "l" libertarianism." Big "L" Libertarians are effin' lunatics and better described as neo-leftists. Logic doesn't work very well with them, since they are closely related to progtards and D-ooshbags.

  34. a_random_guy:

    From the census bureau FAQ: "penalties of up to $5,000 for failure to report". Sound like a deal, since completing the form properly, with correct information, would take Warren days, plus the time of his accounting department. Moreover, the penalties for providing false information are higher, so he is better off just not responding.

    I would love to see someone take this to court. Can the Census Bureau require arbitrary amounts of work of (according to the same FAQ) 4 million businesses, without any sort of compensation? It doesn't seem just, and there seems to be no oversight - i.e., they can just make the form more and more complicated, for no reason whatsoever, and rake in $5000 per business. Four million times five thousand, and we are slowing talking about real money...

  35. dc:

    "reveling in administration for its own sake" - GOLD!!!

    man, the amount of red tape at my job...I once told my director it was almost as if the mathematical derivatives of red tape policies were decreed to forever be positive, and he looked at me like I had 3 heads, didnt have a clue what I was saying.

    awesome, pal - and you're one of the ones making decisions that affect MY job? *facepalm*

  36. dc:

    lol, so you just ignore all of the efforts of the veritably captured core of the GOP to exclude him as much as possible from the process?

    say what you want about what he says of iran, et al...but RP was the ONLY one that made ANY sense on economics and realized just how deep we're in it.

  37. skhpcola:

    LuapNor is imminently ignorable. He's a slobbering, giggling old retard. Couple that with his rancid views on race and foreign policy, and it doesn't matter what the hell he says about fiscal issues. We're supposed to elect a guy as the titular head of the most powerful nation on earth that is a Troother and an isolationist ("non-interventionist" is bullshit...the man is an isolationist and an anti-Semite)? Yeah...no. Enough Americans saw through his facade of doddering assclownery and recognized the dangerous moron lurking beneath.

  38. skhpcola:

    If you are waiting for a reply from Warren in the comment section, you'll get dusty and old. If he even reads the comments, he's never acknowledged that. He certainly never comments here. Try sending him an email.

  39. dc:

    lol, yeah, who cares about fiscal issues, its not like we've got any problems there, I mean, that's so far down the list of issues the country has....

  40. Greg Swann:

    @coyoteblog: Settle a dispute among your readers: Wouldn't you agree that your business model is rent-seeking? disq.us/8d16pe— Greg Swann (@gswann) May 7, 2013

  41. Mark:

    I did the same this year. In the comments section on these reports on capital expenditures I asked them why in the "heck" they are wasting time on our tiny little company. The form has room for billions, millions, and then thousands. We are a service company with little or no capital expenditures. Ridiculous.

  42. Greg Swann:

    Cum taces, clamas.

  43. Robert:

    If I understand the law a business can be fined no more than $500 for non-compliance and no more than $10,000 for willfully providing false information. It also seems they can only hit you with the refusal to answer fine if they have proof via registered or certified mail that you have been requested to perform the survey.