Page:The Economic Journal Volume 1.djvu/63

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THE ELEVENTH CENSUS OF THE UNITED STATES


The new census of the United States is as ambitious as the census of 1880, and in some directions attempts to do even more than that stupendous undertaking did. Investigating industrial and social phenomena from all sides, it seeks to give, as it were, a complete picture of the national resources and the national life. No other country in the world attempts under the name of census to do one-tenth part of the work which the bureau at Washington, improvised at a few months' notice, cheerfully and confidently undertakes; and the census returns of no other nation make such an array of volumes. Seven and a half million dollars have already been voted for the expense of enumeration and tabulation (this being exclusive of printing and binding the reports), and the indications are that the published volumes of the present census will be as numerous and as large as those of its predecessor. All this, however, to the mind of the impartial observer, rather militates against the credibility of American statistics than in their favour. The amount of money spent seems needlessly extravagant, while it is even more extravagant to hope that all this variety of information can be obtained with any degree of accuracy and trustworthiness. To many, therefore, the United States census is a 'monument,' but one provoking a sense of weariness and scepticism.

To a certain extent, now, this judgment is true. From the purely statistical point of view the American census errs on the side of attempting too much, as perhaps the English inclines towards undertaking too little. But, inasmuch as all our census-gathering is in a certain sense experimental, a little over-confidence may in the long run be as fruitful of results as a timidity which only ventures where the path is perfectly plain. This is said not in condemnation of the English but in extenuation of the American