Should we continue to collect national data, or should we buy it instead?

The British Sociological Association’s blog raises an topical issue today, about what might happen if we ditch our national census as a ‘neutral’ data collection process, and rely on the vagaries of the marketised information economy instead. Speaking as someone who quite frequently is put in the position of having to abandon research into higher education in particular, as there doesn’t even seem to be free access to some of the raw data I need that was collected publicly, I read the arguments with considerable interest. I belong to the camp that doesn’t see a huge gulf between public and private ownership of anything in modern society (or even historically, for that matter). For example, I may own my house, but if for some reason it is felt to be necessary to run a road through my land for the greater good, I am required by law to hand it over in return for fairly parsimonious recompense. A company might consider itself to be private and profit-orientated, but if it is limited by guarantee or if it has large shareholders (for example pension funds), then the risk is amortised by society whilst the profits may not always be. An upmarket selective school may deem itself independent, but if it is churning out tomorrow’s professionals and entrepreneurs, then it has a responsibility to make sure then don’t run roughshod through the community, engaging in self-interest at all costs, at the expense of social engagement and stability (and we all know from the credit crisis what happens if these qualities are out of balance with more socially aware ones). Therefore I like grey areas, fuzziness, and mutual co-operation as far as ownership is concerned. It leads to more equitable and fruitful outcomes for the many, rather than polarising society in arbitrary and harmful ways. In my darker moments I get a sense of social solidarity slipping away from everyday life in the UK, but perhaps this just represents a time of change rather than a decline of life as we know it.  You can see the British Sociological Association’s blog here:

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