Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why would you take a survey, anyway?


WSJ Realtime Economics - US inflation data is built around a survey people are refusing to take. Quote:

The Consumer Expenditures Survey is the only federal survey that documents the full range of consumers’ expenditures and incomes, and is used to determine the weights in the CPI. The survey’s data is built around an interview survey where workers from the U.S. Census Bureau ask households about their expenditures on big-ticket items, and a diary survey in which people are asked to track all their purchases over the course of two weeks.

In recent years, the response rate has gone from slow deterioration to free fall. In 2011, more than 70% of people responded to both surveys, but as of 2013 the response has dropped to 66.7% for the interview survey and 60.8% for the diary survey, both the lowest on record.

Non-response to surveys has been a growing problem in social sciences — in 2004, the Office of Management and Budget said government surveys with response rates below 80% needed to study if the lack of response was biasing the survey — and the collapsing response rate to the expenditures survey has gone far below that threshold.

Y'know, I think I see the problem here.

The Census Bureau is expecting serfs to give them a pile of information for free. That information is being used to guide economic policy, which is worth several trillion dollars a year.

It might just be that the serf class has decided that, since they haven't seen a raise in real income in a generation, and they don't get a damn penny from participating in this survey, that they have nothing to gain by providing the Census Bureau with free information.

Sure, it's probably not really as much of a Marxist class civil disobedience thing as I've made out: it's probably just that people are sick and tired of giving information over the phone and getting nothing in return.

So in any case, if this information is so damn important to the government, why not pay each respondent $500 to participate in the survey? It's not a massive sample size, so $500 per person won't be expensive. And hey, since it's the corporations that ultimately benefit from the government policy driven by inflation data, how's about maybe adding 0.01% to their tax bill, and distributing that money directly to the serfs who respond to the survey?

Non-response to surveys is not a social science problem; it's an economic problem. Either the information is worth nothing, or it's worth a lot. Why expect the masses to subsidize the collection of this information with free labour? Ain't it the capitalist plutocrats themselves who are lecturing us that nobody should get anything for free?


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