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Ryan Noonan

Ryan Noonan is an economist with a small federal agency. Fields in which he considers himself reasonably well-informed: literature, college athletics, video games, food and beverage, the Supreme Court. Fields in which he considers himself an expert: none. He can be found on the Twitter or reached by email.

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67 Responses

  1. Avatar Will H. says:

    Oh, I don’t know….
    I’m kind of glad these days when I hear any politician talking about a right to privacy.
    Hope swells within me that it might be a great time to point out several other laws.
    Strike while the iron is hot, and all.

    But more likely, that’s not the swelling of hope, but the puffiness of wishful thinking.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Will H. says:

      The ACS is one of the most valuable sources of information we have. It has absolutely nothing to do with violating privacy and just about everything to do with making good policy.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        If it’s really all that valuable, then someone will come up with a way to get it without the government being involved.
        Batman #1 is valuable too, but I don’t think it’s the business of government to go out and collect them all (with the exception of the Library of Congress).Report

        • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Will H. says:

          Okay…

          A) What kind of private company is going to collect detailed demographic data about the US population and make it available to everyone rather than keeping it as proprietary? Where is the incentive?

          B) The Library of Congress is an odd thing to insert there, in that this is basically the same kind of public good. The LOC keeps copies of things because there is public value in knowledge of the country. How is the ACS not doing the same thing?Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            A) None of my business. I’m not looking to invest in it, and I’m not looking to purchase the product. But Nielsen, Pew, and Gallup all seem to be doing well.

            B) The Library of Congress maintains that stuff because of all the copies submitted for copyright registration. It’s a deed office.

            B II) I believe the first Batman comics were named “Detective.”Report

            • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Will H. says:

              Nielsen, Pew, and Gallup aren’t even in the same neighborhood of detail or value. How would we study small ethnic groups? Or other small populations? How do we assess American competitiveness? How do we assist policymakers at the state level with determinations of things like broadband access? I guess it’s possible that I can’t convince you because you honestly don’t care if this knowledge is generally available, but it would be a massive change in the way we understand our country not to have it.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                Supply and demand works.
                That simple.

                But by now I’m thinking that, if what you say is true: it would be a massive change in the way we understand our country not to have it, then we’d be better off without it, because there are actually people out there looking at this crap and coming to the conclusion, “Well, now I really understand this country!” when they could just go outside and take a walk around.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

                yeah. talk to shadowstats.
                it works, if you’ve got the money.
                or hell, talk to Roubini.
                you gotta get past the paywall, don’tcha?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                Nielsen, Pew, and Gallup aren’t even in the same neighborhood of detail or value.
                No, but GSS and NES are more in that direction. And why would anyone bother to be in that neighborhood if everyone can just get the info from the government? You seem to be assuming that if nobody provides X when the government provides it at no (direct) cost, that nobody would provide it if the government didn’t. That doesn’t follow.

                How would we study small ethnic groups? Or other small populations?
                Umm, the same way social scientists do now? By getting NSF, NEH, and NIH grants to go study them? We academics are happy to make use of the government accumulated data, but as a group we’ve never relied solely on that, you know. It’s convenient, it’s not necessarily critical or irreplaceable.

                How do we assess American competitiveness?
                Well, as Paul Krugman and a plethora of other top economists say, there’s no point in doing so because the whole competitiveness thing is meaningless.

                How do we assist policymakers at the state level with determinations of things like broadband access?
                Are you telling me state and local level policymakers can’t do their own surveys? Really? I don’t understand the implication that they have a particular need for the federal government’s help on this. They have competent bureaucrats, too, and there’s not a state in the union that doesn’t have access to folks at their state-sponsored universities who could gather the data they want.

                I guess it’s possible that I can’t convince you because you honestly don’t care if this knowledge is generally available
                I think you’re confusing, “free” with “generally available.” The Hunger Games movie wasn’t free, but it’s generally available. I mean this as a very serious point. Making information proprietary does not necessarily make it generally unavailable, because the data collecting company gets its profit from making it available, at a price. The only real difference is who pays the price–those who specifically want the information, or everyone?

                This is one of those classic cases where someone saying, “X doesn’t necessarily need to be done by gov’t,” gets improperly transmuted into, “that person doesn’t believe in X.” That’s not logical in general, and it’s not correct in the specific case.

                All that said, I’ve long believed that one of the things government is well-suited for is gathering and making available information. So I’m not actually opposed to the ACS. But while I think you’ve made the argument that the ACS or something like it is a good thing, and that the federal gov’t can do it, I don’t think you’ve made the argument that it must be the federal gov’t that does it.Report

              • Okay, well, to be fair, I didn’t really write this post in an attempt to have a deep conversation about the ACS. Maybe I should have put it in Off the Cuff. The ACS is just near and dear to my heart, and this pissed me off, so I tossed off a somewhat tongue-in-cheek declaration of war.

                I do think it would be a serious mistake to eliminate the ACS, and I think it’s for the reasons you say in the last paragraph. You and some of the others are right that sections of the ACS could be duplicated by private firms, and they probably would be. States could do some of their own surveys (although their budgets are a disaster). My position on this is that the federal government is really, really good at it and already has the infrastructure from the Census to make it relatively inexpensive. This is data that benefits a lot of people in a lot of ways, so using tax money to fund it and provide it to others makes sense as something pretty valuable.

                In some sense, there is going to be a fundamental disconnect between my position (this is useful and good for a lot of things, from policy to business to social science research, the federal government has a pretty good comparative advantage for collecting it all at once and in great detail, and it’s just basically really cool to have all this data about our country) and the general libertarian one (of either the “Show me where the Constitution says this!!” or “Meh, the market will take care of it” variety). I’m okay with that, I guess, but there are way better hills to die on than killing the ACS. Leave the data geeks their cool toy, man.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

                The National Election Survey you refer to is a joint project of the University of Michigan (a state university) and Stanford (a private university heavily subsidized by tax-deductible donations and govt grants). GSS is heavily supported by the National Science Foundation, according to their webpage. So the argument that private efforts can replace the ACS are on shaky ground at best–they haven’t done so thus far, and even if they do, it will necessarily entail a loss of data continuity and ease of access.

                Replacing the ACS would be a disruptive move, disastrous for any number of projects that are currently relying on its data (gathering this data piecemeal would make cross-jurisdictional comparisons tough to do at best, meaningless at worst, so blithely saying that the states will do it simply doesn’t fly–it’s much more worthwhile to have all the data in one place and one format). This would be a significant change that we should only undertake if we have compelling reason to do so. None has been provided, so we should unite to beat back this threat to a valuable government function.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Will H. says:

          Will, it really /is/ that valuable and now the political parties will have to pick up the tab instead of foisting it on the gov’t. The “valuable” source of information is universally used to <a href="http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~snunnari/gerrymandering_cattolica.pdf&quot; gerrymander the hell out of districts.
          A fun site to waste five minutes is mapping America, you can see how your neighborhood looks to the statistics.Report

          • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to wardsmith says:

            If the political parties will freely share the data with universities and businesses, I’d be fine with that. Something tells me they won’t. Also, of course, they have nothing like the infrastructure necessary to conduct the survey.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

              The data isn’t exactly shared for free now, most folks buy it from companies like this. Looking around their site a bit we find out some more about the current methodology that didn’t make it into the OP.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

              freely share the data with universities and businesses

              Why free? If it’s so valuable, isn’t it worth paying for?

              And isn’t it a bit of a misnomer to suggest it’s actually free, rather than to be upfront about it actually having a cost, and that cost just being widely distributed so that we taxpayers are subsidizing this data for the businesses and universities?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                oh, I don’t know. Something tells me that a crimemap of a city would be very valuable for all its citizens. But it’s in “everyone”‘s best interest to bury it. government included.

                Do you really think that most people are competent enough to hire a statistics company before moving? Hell, most people don’t hire a lawyer for a quarter of a million dollar transaction.Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to wardsmith says:

            Thanks, wardsmith.
            That was kind of fun for awhile.
            Then it got really depressing.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Will H. says:

      Aren’t these the same politicians who just voted (by partyline vote more or less) to approve CISPA, which would be a massive new intrusion into privacy….Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I suppose that according to one fair reading of the Constitution, Reps. King and Webster are right — all the government is required to do is count heads. They may save us literally millions of dollars by only doing the minimum.

    On the other hand, the government isn’t required to build and maintain interstate highways or interstate aviation safety standards. Doing so has proven to be a remarkably effective way to facilitate interstate commerce, however, and thus a means of increasing our collective wealth as a society.

    So too has been gathering demographic and economic information about American citizens through the pre-existing infrastructure of the Census.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Which is a good place to make note of the fact that almost all of what the govt does is intended- and does- benefit private enterprise either as direct subsidies or indirect benefits of facilitating commerce or more abstractly like education by creating better employees and consumers.

      I think it needs to be pointed out often because these debates always seem to have as an underlying premise “Hey! Somebody’s getting some free stuff AT MY EXPENSE!!”

      There is nothing to prevent us as a nation from deciding that we want a truly “limited government” as it is imagined by conservatives.

      Nothing, that is, except the entire corporate and banking world which, however much they give lip service to it, wants nothing to do with any such animal as “limited government”.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I don’t mind the survey, but why do they survey 250k households? From all I know that’s quite a bit of overkill. The GSS was two orders of magnitude less than that.Report

    • It’s so we (*ahem* they) can get good sample sizes for fine-grained analysis at the region/state/MSA level.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        Unless you’re going for a sample for each substrate region, it’s still overkill. And do we really need that? Maybe, I’m open to persuasion. But here we again see the fundamental difference between us. You assume the gov’t program is surely worthwhile win it’s current form, while I assume it’s probably overkill.Report

        • The GOP isn’t attempting to scale it back; they’re attempting to kill it.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            And you’re not willing to scale it back; you want to keep it unchanged?

            I don’t know what your point is here. I didn’t argue for killing it. I’m simply willing to question it, and ask whether we’re sure it’s necessary as is.Report

            • I’m wiling to listen to ideas about scaling it back. I don’t believe it would be cost effective or all that valuable, but I will listen to the arguments. Declaring it unconstitutional and killing it strikes me as a pretty horrific way to kneecap policy, business, and social science research.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                So is it constitutional or not? You keep arguing that the survey does so much good but that doesn’t make it constitutional. If not, why not change the constitution?Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Scott says:

                The GOP saying it’s unconstitutional doesn’t make it so. Do you suppose there is a reason that its constitutionality has not actually been challenged in the courts?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill says:

                I’m dubious about the legitimacy of requiring people to answer the survey (it’s unethical, even if not unconstitutional), but I don’t think there’s a very plausible argument that distributing the survey and asking people to respond is unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Trumwill says:

                Trumwill:

                I have no idea why it hasn’t been challenged. Ryan is free to make an argument but just yammering that is does lots of good and therefore should be kept is hardly convincing.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Scott says:

                Sorry, constitutional fetishism ain’t my bag. Feel free to make an argument that it’s unconstitutional if you like, I guess.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Trumwill says:

                It’s not up to Ryan to make an argument that long-standing policy is constitutional. It’s up to the people who are trying to say that we’ve been doing it unconstitutionally for decades (the ACS, long-form census, etc.).Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Trumwill says:

                Trumwell:

                I’m not the one making the spittle flecked rant here about those bad Repubs.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Trumwill says:

                He’s responding to an unsupported assertion by said Republicans about the unconstitutionality of the ACS. It goes back to who made the initial declaration of constitutionality without supporting it. That would not be Ryan.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Trumwill says:

                Trumwell:

                Ryan’s only response so far is that the ACS does so much good. That is hardly a cogent response to the charge that something is unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Trumwill says:

                Mr. Trum, nice to see you. I think the unconstitutionality is manifest: all spending must originate in Congress, specifically the House. This is a weird slip-through-the-cracks thing that’s fun symbolically to question.

                I’d also think whatever nominal libertarians we have left here would be tickled, nuking both the unauthorized spending and Big Brother’s nosiness.

                Scott, I’m not detecting the “spittle flecked rant” aspect here. I do not read “war” literally, and I think the tweak on the GOP is rather mild and sporting. Surely we can hold our water over such minor provocations. After all, gentlemen, we are not Communists.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill says:

                all spending must originate in Congress, specifically the House. This is a weird slip-through-the-cracks thing that’s fun symbolically to question.

                Do you have some information showing that funding for the ACS didn’t originate in Congress? I don’t see any indication of that in the linked article. Since all spending comes out of budgets originating in Congress, I don’t see how the ACS could be federally funded without Congress approving it.

                As to originating in the House, that’s become merely a procedural, not a substantive requirement. The House passes a budget, the Senate passes its own budget, then they do a reconciliation budget and the House votes first–that procedurally satisfies the requirement, even though it has no substantive effect on the appropriations process.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile in reply to Trumwill says:

                It is a cogent response. To the argument that it’s a waste of money, which Republicans are making here. The Constitutionality of the ACS isn’t worth debating when its critics don’t bother to make an argument as to why it *is* unconstitutional despite being a part of longstanding policy, unchallenged for decades. I don’t mind discussing the constitutionality of it, but it has to be a discussion rather than “You make an assertion and I have to disprove it.” Hell, there could be questions in there I could be convinced are unconstitutional, but an actual argument needs to be made. They didn’t bother.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Noonan in reply to Trumwill says:

                Scott, I’m not detecting the “spittle flecked rant” aspect here. I do not read “war” literally, and I think the tweak on the GOP is rather mild and sporting. Surely we can hold our water over such minor provocations. After all, gentlemen, we are not Communists.

                Tom, you and I may just get through this. Thanks for the generosity.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill says:

                @Trumwill,
                It is a cogent response. To the argument that it’s a waste of money,

                Sure, but TVD was explicitly linking the origin of the funding with its constitutionality.

                I think the unconstitutionality is manifest: all spending must originate in Congress,

                Nothing cogent there.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Trumwill says:

                Cheers, Mr. Noonan, and congrats on the nupts while we’re at it.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Trumwill says:

                The ACS is a product of the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau is funded by Congress, both directly, through its budget, and indirectly, through inter-agency transfers (it does research for DOL, DOT, etc.). So the ACS is funded by Congress. This is not difficult to suss out.

                I would be interested in hearing the Constitutional argument against the ACS, but I guarantee you that any that begin with “not funded by Congress” are dead in the water.

                I agree with James, by the way, that the ACS’ methodology is inefficient, both from the standpoint of resources and research methodology. I’m not sure private enterprises are likely to produce more efficient ones long term, but I’d bet that with some government funding, a bunch of university faculty and grad students would be happy to do much of the work, and I’d also bed that they’d do it better (connecting this with an earlier thread, it seems like a great way for a bunch of grad students to do productive dissertation research).Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Trumwill says:

                Do you suppose there is a reason that its constitutionality has not actually been challenged in the courts?

                Right off the top of my head, I would say: Standing. Who has standing to bring the case?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will H. says:

                Any of those Tea Party Caucus Congressmen.

                And at a guess, I’d say anyone who receives one of the surveys and is required by law to fill it out.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                I’m not interested in killing it, and I don’t even know if I think we should scale it back. I just think the post was a bit reactionary. The ACS is a topic worth discussing, but I can’t see it as a sacred cow of any sort.

                If it was the price of closing Guantanamo Prison Camp, would you take the deal?Report

              • It’s one of my sacred cows, to be fair. I use the ACS almost literally every day for my job. So I have a lot of skin in the game.

                I’d probably take it in return for closing Gitmo. Human rights violations are a BFD.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                It’s one of my sacred cows, to be fair. I use the ACS almost literally every day for my job. So I have a lot of skin in the game.

                Fair enough. I’m not doubting its utility. Is it right that I have to subsidize your job? (To be fair, you subsidize mine, via federal student loans; I have mixed feelings about that.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                By the way, out of curiosity may I ask what your job is? (Don’t feel compelled to tell me if you’d rather not.)Report

              • We all subsidize each other in lots of ways. Call me a utilitarian, but I think it would even be fair for all of us to pay increased subsidies to help everyone find a job they really love. My job is awesome, and I’m pretty super grateful that your taxes pay for it. I’ll send you a Christmas card if you like.Report

              • Check your emails. It’s not like I’m a secret agent, but I don’t love posting it publicly.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Call me a utilitarian,
                Oh, I’d never insult you like that!

                but I think it would even be fair for all of us to pay increased subsidies to help everyone find a job they really love.
                Ah, now you’re just trying to rile me up. Must be a quiet night at the Noonan house. 😉

                My job is awesome, and I’m pretty super grateful that your taxes pay for it. I’ll send you a Christmas card if you like.
                A bottle of bourbon would be more welcome (hint, hint).Report

              • A) It’s actually not quiet. I’m about to finish cooking a pot roast with root vegetables in our new wedding-issued roasting pan, so this will likely be my last comment.

                B) Bourbon: done. Are you still in the Mitten? There’s a distillery in Traverse City (Grand Traverse Distillery) that does some absolutely kick-ass rye. They have bourbon now too, but I haven’t been able to get there and try it yet.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yes, in the mitten, down near the wrist. But, rye…lots of my friends drink rye, but apparently I was given the wrong set of tastebuds. But their bourbon, well that may be just the incentive I need to take a trip up to the tip o’ the mitt. (Actually, given our current presidential candidates, I may have to lay off that term for a while.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

      How many households are there? What percentage of the population gets the survey?Report

  4. Avatar Erik Kain says:

    You need to change your gravatar to Bugs Bunny, dude.Report

  5. Avatar Trumwill says:

    Isn’t the ACS what Heritage uses to demonstrate how good poor people have it?

    I’m with Ryan on this, at least on everything except the language. It makes me want to take my head and introduce it to the nearest wall.Report

  6. Avatar smarx says:

    On the issue of the ACS and private companies doing the same job my opinion is: if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

    While it’s true that private companies can do what the ACS does, isn’t the inverse also true? It’s possible that the can do the job, if not better. It’s also possible that they can do the job worse. I could get behind private companies doing the job if they will do the job as well as the ACS or better.

    At the moment the ACS is an awesome tool for academics, think tanks, and businesses. It also helps the economy by giving people more information about the choices they make. By getting rid of the ACS you run the risk of businesses making less informed decisions about where to set up operations and think tanks giving poor policy advice. As a result economic growth is impeded.

    Maybe I’m too cynical about the abilities of the free market, but I don’t see the point of getting rid of something that works and replace it with something unproven.Report

  7. Avatar Michelle says:

    Historians would weep if this thing gets passed.Report

  8. Avatar Pyre says:

    *Shrug* The thing that stood out to me most from the article (apart from partisan hackery) was:

    “Democrats were perplexed by the move, which would deprive policymakers and businesses of vast, vital troves of data that they use to make decisions,”

    Right. Because, if I were running a business, I would rely on a report that is done once every ten years rather than Google Analytics and/or my own info tricks.

    EX: Dirt Showdown has a gimmick where, if you sign up on Codemaster’s website after playing their demo, you get $20 K in-game money to use when the game comes out. There is also a “Drain The Tanker” event which is keeping track of how much people are playing the game. This seems to be done through XBL rather than through the sign-ups.

    That’s just one. Just about every business that you’re doing business with is sending your data to various databases.

    As for the Federal Government…… I imagine that, if I walked into the Department of Homeland Security’s head office or the Internal Revenue Service’s head office, I would come away with a far more comprehensive picture than I would with the ACS.

    At this point, between the DHS and Google Analytics, the census strikes me as the horse and buggy on the information superhighway. I, by and large, don’t care whether it is kept due to 2.4 billion being a drop in the bucket but I just don’t see it as something that both the federal government and businesses couldn’t replace.Report

  9. Avatar damon says:

    Dear god let this thing die. It’s massively invasive, and given some of the uses of this data that I’ve seen, it and most of the census data, shouldn’t exist. Just be a counting heads.Report

  10. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Businesspeople Screaming about This one:
    http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2012/05/comment-we-need-more-and-better-data.html
    well, the SANE ones, anyhow.
    Pass it on!Report

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