Counting Matters

ACORN ACORN International
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New Orleans      In yet another concern, with the US election looming ever closer, is a new report that Commerce Department officials and others around the White House are trying to speed up the already troubled census count in order to have it finish early.  This is a surprise obviously since the Census was hampered by a late start already with inadequate funding and preparation and then blocked from its door-to-door work for months due to the pandemic.  There would seem to be no way to finish early and also finish well with a complete and adequate count.

Why the sudden rush?  A bad count would favor Republicans because the undercount traditionally is worse in minority and lower income areas, which tend not to be enthusiastic conservative voters.  An undercount also plays into redistricting requirements in the state, playing into the strength of a majority of states under control of Republican legislators.  Think North Carolina and other states where there are outsized Republican majorities in the legislature that do not reflect total vote counts and party registrations whatsoever.  An undercount also would distort the funding allocations to states based on the census numbers for 2020.

All of these subjects and more arose recently while talking to Alex Cobham, the executive director of the United Kingdom-based nonprofit the Tax Justice Network about his recently published book, The Uncounted, and his wide experience with the importance of counting on Wade’s World.  Cobham’s time in international development with various organizations intensified his concerns with the census or lack of it or deliberate avoidance of full counting in some countries that makes the problems in the USA pale by comparison.  He argues that counting matters and the numbers are failing us in lots of places.

Looking at international development, he finds double counts, mystery numbers, and “creative” accounting to be more the norm than real data collection and analysis, making it hard to see where and how to make the best development investments from such assessments.  Perhaps that’s a concern too much in the weeds for many, though often the bane of ACORN International’s work and existence, so it struck a chord with me.

Perhaps an area where he can get a bigger rallying crowd has to do with how counting revenue for taxes, country to country, is vital.  In common parlance, we would call this tax dodging, as companies seek to transplant profits and income in countries and jurisdictions that are tax havens.  Cobham dissects the semantic dance of tax avoiding companies in a discussion of the difference between “illicit” practices versus “illegal” practices forbidden by law.  Companies argue to maintain the former, while claiming that they eschew the latter.  Candidate Joe Biden has indicated that, if elected, he would push for a minimum tax on corporate profits, regardless of the loopholes they claim, which might be the only way to finally fix this problem.

Cobham is right, and we all know it, whether we like it or not:  counting is important, and it really matters in so many ways, especially now.

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Please enjoy Walk on the Wild Side from Suzanne Vega.

Thanks to WAMF.