The vital role of government statistics: Strengthening research, governance, and innovation - AEI

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Event Summary

On March 2, AEI and the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution unveiled their new joint report, “In Order That They Might Rest Their Arguments on Facts: The Vital Role of Government-Collected Data.” AEI’s Arthur Brooks started the event, outlining the importance of federal statistics. Robert Rubin then spoke about what he learned about government data from his time as Treasury secretary, remarking, “If we lose the absolute integrity of our facts . . . then we don’t have any more reliable moorings.” Following introductory remarks, the Brooking Institution’s Diane Schanzenbach discussed the importance of government statistics to policymakers and the negligible financial cost of the numbers.

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt then moderated the panel discussion. University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Rebecca Blank said these statistics drive federal and state expenditures, and Ellen Davis from the National Retail Federation Foundation noted that, from the perspective of the retail industry, there is an important lack of bias and longevity to these numbers. Torsten Slok from Deutsche Bank suggested that, for investors, trusting the data is of paramount importance, and Harvard University’s Martin Feldstein spoke about how frequently he used official statistics during his time as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
–Kaavya Ramesh

Event Description

The modern economy is more reliant on data than ever before. Without reliable information about the economic and social environment, making sensible choices that produce positive outcomes in commerce, research, and governance is impossible. Although the federal government’s statistical agencies play a vital role in generating this information, their value is often overlooked.

On March 2, the Hamilton Project at Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute will convene a policy luncheon discussion, highlighting the important role of government statistics. The forum will begin with remarks from Arthur Brooks and Robert E. Rubin. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach will present on the value of government statistical agencies, followed by a roundtable discussion with Rebecca Blank, Martin S. Feldstein, Ellen Davis, Torsten Slok, and David Leonhardt. In conjunction with this event, the Hamilton Project and AEI will release a set of economic facts on the importance of government-collected statistical data.

For updates on the event, follow @AEIecon and @hamiltonproj and join the conversation using #GovData.


12:15 PM
Registration and lunch

12:30 PM
Introductory remarks:
Arthur C. Brooks, President, AEI
Robert Rubin, Co-Chair, Council on Foreign Relations; former US Treasury Secretary

12:40 PM
Presentation of research:
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Director, The Hamilton Project; Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

12:55 PM
Panel discussion

Rebecca Blank, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Ellen Davis, Executive Director, National Retail Federation Foundation
Martin Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University; President Emeritus, National Bureau of Economic Research
Torsten Slok, Chief International Economist, Deutsche Bank

David Leonhardt, Associate Editorial Page Editor, The New York Times

1:40 PM

2:00 PM

Event host:
Michael R. Strain, AEI

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Kaavya Ramesh at [email protected], 202.862.7193.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Rebecca Blank became chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in July 2013, bringing with her a deep commitment to educational excellence and innovation. She is an internationally respected economist who has spent time in Washington, DC, working in three different administrations. Most recently, she served as deputy secretary and acting secretary of the US Department of Commerce under President Obama. She was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. From 1999 to 2008, she was dean and professor of public policy and economics in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, where she launched innovations including interdisciplinary graduate programs and an undergraduate public policy major. Dr. Blank also has served on the faculty at Northwestern and Princeton Universities and was a fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is a frequent speaker on the importance of public research universities. Her deep contributions to academic and policy worlds have been recognized with numerous national and international awards, as well as honorary doctoral degrees. Most recently, the American Academy of Political and Social Science honored her with its Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize. Dr. Blank earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Minnesota and a doctoral degree in economics from MIT.

Arthur C. Brooks is president of AEI. He has served as president since January 1, 2009. He is also the Beth and Ravenel Curry Scholar in Free Enterprise. Before joining AEI, Dr. Brooks was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, where he taught economics and social entrepreneurship. Before his work in academia and public policy, he spent 12 years as a classical musician in the United States and Spain. Dr. Brooks is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and the bestselling author of 11 books on topics including the role of government, fairness, economic opportunity, happiness, and the morality of free enterprise. His latest book is the New York Times bestseller “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America” (Broadside Books, 2015). He has also published dozens of academic journal articles and the textbook “Social Entrepreneurship” (Prentice Hall, 2008). Dr. Brooks has a Ph.D. and an M.Phil. in policy analysis from the Pardee Rand Graduate School. He also holds an M.A. in economics from Florida Atlantic University and a B.A. in economics from Thomas Edison State College.

Ellen Davis is senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives at the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the executive director of the NRF Foundation. A well-respected retail thought leader, Ms. Davis has more than a decade of experience in strategic communications, research, talent acquisition and development, and organizational change management. She is one of the people widely credited with coining the phrase “Cyber Monday,” now considered the official kickoff of the online holiday shopping season, and has appeared on dozens of broadcast news programs including “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” and “Good Morning America.” In her role as executive director of the NRF Foundation, Ms. Davis oversees a team charged with shaping retail’s future through awareness building, training and education, and scholarship programs. As senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives, Ms. Davis leads the Retail Research and Analysis Center, created in the spring of 2015. Ms. Davis joined NRF in 2002 as manager of media relations and rose quickly through the organization on the Communications and Public Affairs team before assuming her current roles. She holds a B.A. in communications from Millikin University and holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Martin Feldstein is the George F. Baker Professor of Economics at Harvard University and president emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). He served as president and CEO of the NBER from 1977 to 1982 and 1984 to 2008. He continues as a research associate of the NBER. From 1982 through 1984, Dr. Feldstein was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and President Reagan’s chief economic adviser. He served as president of the American Economic Association in 2004. In 2006, President Bush appointed him to be a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 2009, President Obama appointed him to be a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, a fellow of the Econometric Society, and a fellow of the National Association of Business Economists. He is a trustee of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Trilateral Commission, the Group of 30, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council of Academic Advisors of AEI. Dr. Feldstein has received honorary doctorates from several universities and is an honorary fellow of Nuffield College (Oxford) and Brasenose College (Oxford). In 1977, he received the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association. He is the author of more than 300 research articles in economics and a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and other publications. He has been a director of several public corporations and an economic adviser to several businesses and government organizations in the United States and abroad. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Oxford University.

David Leonhardt is a writer and editor for The New York Times. An op-ed columnist beginning in 2016, he is helping lead a strategic review of the Times newsroom as it continues to make the transition to digital. Mr. Leonhardt was previously founding editor of The Upshot, which covers politics, policy, and other subjects. He joined the New York Times in 1999 and has also been its Washington bureau chief, an economics columnist, a staff writer for its magazine, and a business reporter. In 2011, he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his columns on the economic crisis. He has also worked for Business Week and The Washington Post.

Robert Rubin began his career in finance at Goldman, Sachs & Company in New York City in 1966. He served as vice chairman and co-chief operating officer from 1987 to 1990 and as co-senior partner and co-chairman from 1990 to 1992. Before joining Goldman, he was an attorney at the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York City from 1964 to 1966. Long active in public affairs, Mr. Rubin joined the Clinton administration in 1993 as assistant to the president for economic policy and as director of the newly created National Economic Council. In January 1995, he was appointed as our nation’s 70th secretary of the treasury. He served until July 1999 and was involved in balancing the federal budget; opening trade policy to further globalization; acting to stem financial crises in Mexico, Asia, and Russia; helping to resolve the impasse over the public debt limit; and guiding sensible reforms at the IRS. From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Rubin served as a member of the board of directors at Citigroup and as a senior adviser to the company. He is one of the founders of The Hamilton Project, an economic policy project housed at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of “In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington” (Random House, 2003, with Jacob Weisberg), which was a New York Times bestseller and one of Business Week’s 10 best business books of the year. He is co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the Boards of Trustees at the Mount Sinai Health System, and chairman of the board of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. He recently completed a 12-year term as a member of the Harvard Corporation. Mr. Rubin joined Centerview Partners in 2010 as a counselor of the firm. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1960 with an A.B. in economics. He received a L.L.B. from Yale Law School in 1964, attended the London School of Economics, and has received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and other universities.

Torsten Slok joined Deutsche Bank Securities in the fall of 2005. His economics team has been top-ranked by Institutional Investor in fixed income and equities for the past five years. He currently serves as a member of the Economic Club of New York. Before joining the firm, he worked at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris in the Money and Finance Division and the Structural Policy Analysis Division. Before joining the OECD, he worked for four years at the International Monetary Fund in the division responsible for writing the World Economic Outlook and the division responsible for China, Hong Kong, and Mongolia. He studied at University of Copenhagen and Princeton University. He has published numerous journal articles and reviews on economics and policy analysis, including in the Journal of International Economics, Journal of International Money and Finance, and The Econometric Journal.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is the director of The Hamilton Project and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is currently on leave from her position as a professor in the School of Education and Social Policy and the Department of Economics at Northwestern University. She is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a research affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty. Dr. Schanzenbach studies issues related to child poverty, including education policy, child health, and food consumption. She graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and religion, and she received a doctorate in economics in 2002 from Princeton University. Much of her research investigates the longer-run impacts of early life experiences, such as receiving SNAP benefits during childhood, kindergarten classroom quality, and early childhood education. She recently served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Examination of the Adequacy of Food Resources and SNAP Allotments.


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