Higher education is all about knowledge, ideas, and creative endeavors and their creation and dissemination. The key to those things are facts—what is happening in the world. The single volume of facts that has been most indispensable to me for over a half century is the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
Despite a storied existence of some 130 years, the Obama Administration—which thinks nothing of blowing a half billion dollars on untried solar-power companies or hundreds of billions bailing out politically well-connected firms like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae—cannot find the dollars to fund an extraordinary valuable research tool. Where is the American Council of Education on this—Terry Hartle, where are you when we need you? Do other researchers feel the same way I do?
Need to know quickly the growth in natural-gas production, trends in violent crime, the number of bank failures, or the number of days the sun shines in New York relative to Miami? Go to the Statistical Abstract. It is my Bible, my Talmud, my Quran. It is everything. When I asked a friend (Katy Roberts) at the New York Times about this, she said they wrote a story earlier in the year when the possibility of this happening was discussed. But where are the reporters now? Where are the learned societies?
As an economist, I am aware of the principle of scarcity, and that resources are finite. I am aware some things lose their utility or usefulness. I am aware that some things have close substitute products or services available to take over after one product or service dies. America survived the loss of the Plymouth, the Mercury, and the Oldsmobile—easily. But there is only one Statistical Abstract, and its elimination is a major death blow.
To be sure, necessity is the mother of invention, and no doubt some commercial publishers will in time pick up this function. But when, to what degree, and how authoritatively, only time will tell. I would be less incensed about this if the Obama Administration showed any meaningful concern about fiscal prudence, the deficit, the growing burden we are foisting on our children and grandchildren, etc., etc. But they do not. The amounts involved here are measured in millions, rounding errors relative to subsidies on harebrained train projects through the Mojave Desert, uneconomic windmills, ethanol scams, and other such politically correct absurdities.
The cynic/conspiracy theorist in me (fortunately only a modest portion of my persona) could argue this is all deliberate. The facts on America don’t look too good these days—output is growing slowly, other nations are surpassing us and Americans feel we are going in the wrong direction. To protect itself, the Obama Administration wants to make it harder to get the true facts. That is probably overly cynical, but this is a real tragedy.
Scholars of America unite!! By fighting this inanity, you face nothing to gain but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—as told in the Statistical Abstract of the United States.