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tv   Discussion Focuses on Government Statistics  CSPAN  March 2, 2017 12:48pm-2:04pm EST

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people, so from that standpoint i think you're going to have common sense application, nothing different, or further. >> let's go to democrats line, good morning. >> good morning. i have some concerns. i watched yesterday and what is with this scrub act? it seems that this scrub bill that you're putting through is going to just allow this panel that is unelected, the panel picked by the president with a very minute majority of democrats in it to oversee from osha to the banking industry, to wall street to be able to pick and choose and get rid of oversight rules. this scares me. it seems like you are just gathering all the powers that be
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right into the presidency in knocking out any and all things that the democrats did. any amendment i saw that the democrats tried to put forth. >> "washington journal," every day 7:00 a.m. eastern live on c-span, we leave this to take you back to the american enterprise institute where economists and financial industry executives are discussing the significance of federal government statistics to the economy. >> let's face it, in a time when the phrase alternative facts has entered the american lexicon is anything more important than what we're going to talk about today? at aei we are dedicated to the proposition that rigorous data are successful in evaluating the failures or policies, and to
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help more people live a better life. we are delighted partnering with our neighbors to examine this critical subject and co-releasing a the topic. this is the kickoff event for that co issued paper. i want to introduce our panel today and after that our key note speaker or my co-introducer. our panel today starts with martin fell stein of harvard. rebecca blank, chancellor of university of wisconsin. ellen davis from national retail federation. director of the hamilton project and senior fellow at brookings. finally, let me introduce robert reuben. robert is a founder of hamilton project and leading voice on many economic issues. he is also the co chairman on
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council of foreign relations and member of board of trustees of a lot of institutions, mount sinai health system and many others. he set aside private sector career to serve our country during clinton administration as first ever director of national economic council and then as 70th secretary of the treasury. please join me in welcoming robert reuben. >> i ham going to make a few comments. let me make three comments. ai and hamilton project most
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likely have different views on a lot of subjects. but this collaboration recognizes what i think is an absolute imperative which is that across political divides there must be a commitment to the integrity around facts, data, projections and the like and there must be a commitment to rejecting political, ideal augical and tactical influence. another point with respect to ai and hamilton project working together is collaboration of two organizations with different perspectives on a lot of issues. i think it makes a larger point which is the only way our political system could work is the people on different sides of these divides work together. i think it is a nice model, all be it rather small example of what it will take to make our political system work again. this event reminded me of the
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meeting we had with president-elect clinton before the first term. and what he said to all of us as we sat there was that he was willing to fight all day long with whoever wanted to fight with him about policy but he never wanted to be in a position with the validity of his facts could be challenged. he lived by this through his entire eight years. while there were monumental policy struggles and you will remember them, the fact is that there was never a serious attack on the validity or intellectual integrity of its facts. that was important not only with respect to decisions we made but also because the markets and business community recognized that we were grounded in facts that were themselves approached with intellectual integrity.
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finally, if we lose the absolute integrity of our facts, projections or analysis or whatever it may be, then we don't have anymore reliable warriors for policy, business or investment. i have been involved in decision making for long decades first in the private sector and later in the public sector. and i think the absolute fundamental of all decision making i had the opportunity to participate in was to make sure you had your facts right. then you can argue about them, as i said a moment ago. you can argue about your policies and about whatever else but make sure you have your facts right. if your facts are influenced by politics, tactics, then your
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decisions will be commensurately faulty. senator daniel moynihan almost said this best when he famously said everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. that seems to me is the basis in which all of us should be involved in everything we do when it comes to decision making. let me end by saying and arthur referred to this briefly, we unfortunately are in an environment today, i'd say dangerously, where there is a serious risk that factors will influence data. by data, raw data, projections and the like. and it seems to me that it is the obligation of appointed officials and elected officials to protect the intellectual integrity of our data whatever
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views on policy and the like might be. i think it is the responsibility of the media, of the financial analysts and policy organizations to hold our political system accountable for maintaining the intellectual integrity of our data. that is the point of the event we have today. with that i will turn the podium over to diane. [ applause ] >> thanks for coming. the modern economy is heavily reliant on data. business, families must navigate complexities. it's vital to have reliable information about economic and social environment to make informed choices. government statistical agencies
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provide an important source of this information. america's desire to collect data for the common good dates back to our founding fathers when james madison argued that reliable data on agriculture, commercial and manufacturing interests would allow congress to represent the interests of citizens more effectively. hard numbers would be useful to congressional debaters. as you can read in order that they might rest their arguments on facts. it is perhaps not as well understood by the public as it should be but care and rigor with which government data are collected. staff overwhelmingly by dedicated career civil servants spent less than one-fith of one percent of the federal budget. their data collection is rigorous. operations of the statistical agencies are conducted in accord with rigorous and binding procedures. they operate in a transparent
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public fashion. mistakes are promptly corrected and revisions are made to ensure the highest quality data are available. agencies frequently consult with outside subject matter experts to refine and improve the measures. the statistical agencies are politically independent. political appointees at the agencies are few in number and have very limited access to the data before publication. the entire culture of the statistical agencies is organized around protecting the security and confidentiality of data. data are only handled by staff on a need to know basis with criminal penalties in place for misuse of data. statistical agencies prompts confidentiality. our joint document that we are releasing today highlights a portion of the importance of government statistics to the economy and public policy. the public good provided by the statistical agencies is useful
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to businesses, policy makers and families. first to the business community. in this era of big data businesses collect and analyze vast qualities of internal data to forecast sales, predict staffing and inventory needs and weigh decisions. a firm's own data are often not enough to paint a comprehensive picture of the market. there is great value when data is complicated with a wide range of data collected by the government. federal data are comprehensive and as a result are useful for benchmarking and supplementing. they are consistent with many spanning decades. in particular data for the large american community survey provides fine grained local information about a range of issues from demographic economic activity and housing information. retailers and merchants make use of the data when deciding when and where to open stores and distribution centers.
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target and kroger in particular report they use the data to tailor product mixes and advertising appropriately across locations. acs data can be useful to understand where particular workers can be found. this map shows the number of engineers. i will run through the highlights quickly. we also see the share of the population that is elderly in a local area. one more example of the many ways that data can be cut to provide detailed information across local areas. data collected on distribution of visas and data from the bureau of economic analysis demonstrating the increase in total imports and exports over time. we can break this down by sector. here we show the u.s. energy imports and exports over time including future projections. until recently demand was such that the u.s. relied on large net imports of energy. domestic production of energy
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shot up as new technology allowed extraction of previously unavailable deposits. exports rose sharply during the 2000s. the energy information administration projects exports will exceed imports. our highly efficient agriculture sector has seen sharp increases from grains to livestock since the year 2000. policy makers will benefit from a clear understanding of the economic impact of trade by sector. timely collection of data allows us to track important trends and evaluate public policy. uh oh. uh oh. is there a backup way to move this? so when it moves to the next -- it will be a lovely picture of the unemployment rate. there are a variety of -- you
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can follow along in your books. there are a variety of measures of labor market health directed including payroll jobs count and labor force participation rate. the unemployment rate -- there we go. the unemployment rate, the number of people without jobs who are seeking work divided by number of people in the labor force rises during recessions. it also produces a number of alternative measures that provide more comprehensive picture on the labor market. one of these measures is the u 6 rate which adds discouraged workers as well as those who have part time work. this more comprehensive measure is substantially higher than traditional unemployment rate. data are used to track the vitally important recent decline in labor force participation rate which was not the next slide. also, the increasing share of
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children living in households without married parents. researchers have used the data to understand the impact of pro work policies such as expansion of earned income tax credit and welfare reform. they have also used it to understand the increase in participation in the social security disability insurance program. these sparked conversations about ways to strengthen and reform the program. families gain insight from the data, too, especially around major life events such as choosing a college and choosing a major field of study. so information on expected earnings by college major here or kacross occupations can be useful when making decisions. to be sure, there are important shortcomings. we should absolutely strengthen the data collection by addressing limitations. a major limitation is we do not collect systematic evidence.
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we do a poor job of collecting information on the economy. also of great concern is declining participation in surveys and increasing rates of refusal to answer questions and under reporting of certain behaviors. proposals to augment with appropriate confidentiality safe guards would likely improve quality. increasing data sink roinsulinization would improve quality. continuing to invest in federal data collection is important to business, to policy makers and all americans. americans across the political and philosophic spectrum should recognize the importance of protecting the integrity of the data collected by the federal government. please feel free to join the conversation on twitter with our #govdata. join us for our twitter chat at 4:00 this afternoon. should be a lot of fun. i would like to invite our
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extremely distinguished panel to the stage for a discussion about the vital role of government's data. >> good afternoon, everybody. this is a topic that is a favorite of mine. i was a math major in college. like the old joke i raised the statistical abilities for mathematicians and journalist whzs when i switched. thank you to michael and congratulations on this gorgeous new building. we are going to talk a little bit about this topic. we have a really nice mix of folks up here to talk to you about it. then we want to invite you all to participate. my understanding is at some point we will have cards
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circulating around. please write your questions down including your name if you are willing. and we will also then involve you. i want to ask each panelist to give short opening remarks. what's nice about this panel is becky and marty we have two people who come both from academic background and have been deeply involved in government and we have people to talk to us about the importance of the data for private businesses and how it is used out there. for your opening remarks i guess what i would love to hear each of you talk about is some combination of why is this data good? why should we have faith in it? and also how it is used. >> thank you. there are very few things i would rather talk about than the value of statistics in the country. i am delighted to be part of the panel and i am delighted with aei and brookings for putting
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this together. the united states has been the gold standard for government data. we can't take that for granted. there are reasons why that is true. let me mention four things that we have really worked hard on in this country. the first is accuracy of the data. accuracy is not about figuring out how to do it right. it is about keeping your meth methodology up to date and revising and doing research. one of the things that people often don't appreciate about the data agencies is the extent to which they are constantly involved in that type of research beyond the actual collection and putting together the data. data has to be credible. credible includes political independence but credible also includes not appearing to benefit any particular group. so for instance when we released things like gdp data that moves markets. certain sectors would love to
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get that data. making sure that that data isn't released is a major undertaking and i can tell you having been at the department of commerce the work that goes into making sure that reporters get this and can write stories ahead of time but not a single person can file the story a second before everyone else is a difficult project and a highly important one and one that people focussed on every month when the data came out. in addition to accuracy public availability, this is part of credibility but more than that. having people be able to get their hands on the data. you can look at the census data in a very real way and do different tabulations with it. it is a way to cross-check it. people regularly come back and say something looks funny in this data. we go back and look in the government agencies and figure out maybe there was a mistake and maybe something was released wrong and maybe a question i ask better. that type of public availability
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matters. lastly, timing matters. if the data is useful it has to be useful in some sort of real time. timeliness fights against accuracy and one reason we do three of gdp. the first one we say is less accurate because it comes out faster but gives indicators we need in a quicker time period. the u.s. statistics are far from perfect. we spent decades putting this together. one of the questions i would love this audience to answer for me is how to do a better job of communicating to the public about the value of these statistics and the extent to which we work for accuracy and availability. let me say one last thing. everyone knows how you use these statistics to track the economy, guide policy and plan. diane talked about that. i want to make one other comment about how the statistics are
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used that many people don't fully appreciate and that is the extent to which the statistics drive federal and state expenditures and dollars. for instance, the unemployment rate is a trigger for unemployment insurance. the cpi is what determines whether your mom or grand mother's social security check are going to go up this career and by how much. the state per capita income dollars drive medicaid to states. and i promise you people don't want that to change only once every ten years. if states are seeing changes in the population they want that updated and that requires acs data. similarly, housing information is driven by section 8. there are tens of billions of dollars driven by the data. people understand planning ways in which data are used but used in very real time to distribute dollars. that is one thing that makes
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keeping the data to a gold standard so important. >> talking about stats. only to give you context about retail and the reason why our industry and association uses it so much. retail is the largest private sector employer in the country. consumers represent 70% of gdp. consumer spending is critical for our industry and larger economy. 96% of retailers have only one location and that is important because you might have a retailer with tons of access to their own data or their own metric allowing parity for small businesses who are trying to understand many things the same way a large business would. and the final statistic is 32% of people in the country got their first job from a retailer. for us as a large employer and as a first employer understanding what is happening with employment. i was at a meeting about teen
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unemployment and looking at the difference in rates and why and what to do to get people into the jobs and give you the platform to find another job in the future whether in retail or another industry. from our perspective really understanding the scope of government data and applying it to many different parts of the business is truly important not only for the retailers we represent but as an association as we make a lot of decisions not only on policy but also to try to better understand and analyze what is happening from the economic perspective. really the two different agencies that we end up going to the most are department of commerce data and labor of bureau statistics. the industry broadly looks at many different types of data sets to determine things like benchmarking, employee wages and benefits, consumer expenditure patterns, understanding local
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demographics from consumers and trends and then understanding national and regional economic factors that impact investment and product selection. we have been working on a number of initiatives over the last few years where we have used government data to help us better articulate a narrative or better understand what could be happening. so for example our chief economist calls a number of different pieces of government data to forecast holiday spending and annual retail sales. that is critical because there is a certain amount of -- there is a lack of bias in government data and longevity that adds credibility and helps members and others understand. it helps us establish the role and the value of retail to the economy as employers which is an important strategic initiative for us. and it also helps us, again,
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examine consumer spending behavior, understand what is happening, help our industry determine how to make changes, how shifts might be occurring. there are a number of different ways that we look at this and then again to the earlier point a number of ways that large and small retailers are using government data in order to make better business decisions. >> thank you. so i am chief economist at deutsche bank. one useful way of thinking about it is if you are an investor and want to invest in a country or if you don't want to it becomes very important. i used to work at imf down the road here. one of my colleagues went to emerging market -- it tells you
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that if we were a hedgefund and we had a thousand dollars to invest in something we would ask the question which country do we want to invest in? do we want to invest in emerging markets? you still had a number of issues with getting data together. you can argue that those countries that are most challenged in getting data together are paying a premium in borrowing costs in everything in financial markets in stock market or exchange rate and interest rates. they are paying a price for having uncertainty about what is actually going on in this country. that illustrates well as an example that the u.s. has always been the gold stand skprd we have known for a long time that
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we had tremendous data. and we should be very proud of that. we have a lot of issues with that data collection when we start to discuss what is the importance of this. we have had debate about this in a number of emerging markets. we have debates about what is the data showing. use that as an example. when you take your 401 k and decide do i want to invest in emerging markets. there are political problems and problems with policy making and policy uncertainty. there is the issue about what is going on exactly and this is a very real problem for investors in a very certain way where this has very significant impact on returns that you get. you can say i trust policy making. at the end of the day this is absolutely critical. not only in domestic u.s. context but also when you think about all of those who are not doing it right. this is not only for the rest of the world. we say we are already so good in
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the u.s. so what do we need to worry about? it becomes extremely important thinking about your own investment decision and 401 ks and whatever you invest in. this is very important about narratives and stories about what is going on. is this company investing in good product? is this company having the right product? we have seen this sector grow if you buy an etf in health care and transportation. all of those things become very much driven by what is the data showing and the bottom line becomes for investors it is absolutely critical that you trust the data and the u.s. has probably the lowest if any premium at all because we believe everything is right. we are opening the door to having a conference such as this one from an investor perspective, this is not just wall street. this is also real -- it is quite worrisome that we are having this debate at all
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unfortunately. i'm a data guy. i am not a producer of data but i am a consumer of data. i look every day at the beginning of the day once it gets past 8:30 in the morning and releases are out there and available i look at the releases that come from the blse fed or others. this morning when we got the unemployment insurance claims for the last week, a big drop, the lowest level during the period since the economy turned up. in fact, according to some estimates it has been two decades since we have seen numbers as low as this. so i look at these to get a better sense of where the economy is going. it is a habit that i developed when i was chairman of the council of economic advisers and needed to have an ongoing up to
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date sense of the data to talk about not just with the president but with other senior members of the administration. but i continue to feel the need for this kind of data to feel the pulse of the economy. i need it because i write about economics, because i talk to clients about it and because i teach about it. and i couldn't do it without the kind of timely data that we get from the government agencies. i was president of the national bureau of economic research for 30 plus years. and i think one of the most useful things that i did was to get our staff to create online access to these daily data. anybody in the world can sign up for this data release. we don't make the data. we simply take the data from bls or the fed and make it available
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as soon as it becomes available to the public each morning. and also in addition to that an ongoing inventory of previous data releases. so you can not only see the current number but you can go back and see other numbers that have been coming out. i think that makes for a much better informed group of researchers, of people in the business world who for nothing for free can draw upon those data. i also teach a course at harvard called american economic policy. and i say to this large group of under graduates that should understand these data. so when numbers come out i take a minute or two at the beginning of the class to say something about the number that has come out that day and to encourage
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them to go to this website where they can find these same kind of data. but i also remind them that they have to be very careful about interpreting the data, that the data don't always mean what they seem to mean. one of the areas of the data that i have been thinking about in detail in recent years is the way we measure real growth rates, real growth of gdp, real growth of personal income, productivity. the agencies that are involved in this do, as becky said, they do an amazing job of collecting data from vast number of sources following the very strict protocol that i think when they go from nominal gdp, nominal output to real output i think
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there are serious problems which cause an under estimation of that. i will come back to that later in the discussion. >> let's talk about some of the issues and the shortcomings and weaknesses and flaws with data that cut across multiple different data series, the sort of challenges. i make -- i list a couple of things that i see. i would be interested in whether you all agree with this list and if you do what do you think is the most important. diane mentioned nonresponse. if you look at americans willingness to respond to polls it has plummeted. easiest way to think about this is if you see a 1-888 number on your cell phone do you answer it? no you don't. it is not just technology, also the general level of trust. even if you control for researching people, people's willingness to answer a question from the census and private pollster is declined.
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another is that it seems that a lot of data we're now collecting is being collected by the private sector rather than public sector which has some advantages. that means that the private sector isn't going to release it. facebook has enormous amounts of data that would be very useful for society to have but would be damaging to facebook and google's business interests so they don't release them. a third thing i would say is a sort of strain of anti-intellectualism. it is quite clear right now. there has always been conspiracies on the right and left that the data is made up. i think they move from the fringes more into the mainstream. we have jack welch claiming that the bls just makes up its employment data. he was making this argument seriously. it is clearly false. and now obviously we have a president who on a relatively
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regular basis makes statements about data that are simply false whether about voting, elections, murder rate, unemployment rate. it seems a general strain if you hear the president saying something about the murder rate which is false how can you trust anything? fourth thing is money. we have really squeezed despite how little money we are protecting everyone over the age of 65 from anything that has to do with budget cuts. we are now protecting the military. that leaves a rel tchbly small portion of the government that does all of this work. that would be my list of four. i invite any of you to disagree with the four, say one is most important or add an item that i didn't put on there. >> so one of the stories in the weather bureau and i think this probably did happen was the head of the weather bureau testifying in front of congress. someone said i don't understand
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why you need to keep collecting weather data from the u.s. government this is a waste of money you can get this on the weather channel. of course, the weather channel uses the weather data -- i did hear somewhat similar comments about census data. i can get this online and google. why do i need anyone collecting this. there is a huge lack of understanding out there about how this data permeates our lives in enormous numbers of ways. i completely agree with your list. i think the advent of big data and big data not just in the private sector but certain areas of public sector, as well. and very high frequency data. second by second if you are talking about stock whether stock exchanges or weather data. our ability to integrate that and to figure out how we make that quite as publically
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accessible and use it in the less frequent statistics is an interesting question, as well. >> how much do you worry about funding? is it so small that it's going to be -- it's not so much like scientific research that you think it will be safe or do you actually worry about whether we are going to have the funds to collect this? >> i think there will be a tendency to think across the board. i think every part of every receiver of government funds thinks that they ought to be an exception whether it's the national endowment of arts or the nih, how can you cut those? and all of these tend to be what economists call public goods, things where we can all benefit from it, where my benefitting
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from it doesn't reduce your ability to benefit from it. there will be a tendency to lump them all together. >> i would make one particular plea about one data source which is absolutely essential to every wup else because it creates the frame that everyone else uses which is the census. the problem with the census is it is not flat funded over time. it has an enormous cycle in it. we are at a point right now where the census has to be ramping up if we want torun a serious 2020 census. we are hitting that at exactly the point we are talking about freezes in personnel and budget cuts. there has to be an understanding. it has to have exceptions to that. >> also big data is a big deal because it gives you information about what is going on. in some sense some problems with big data as great as it is is that it is private information. if someone knows something, that is okay, people are good at
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knowing something, if it is not inside information. one good example is a lot of people in hedge funds spending time looking at satellite images of china and of the u.s. to figure out is the manufacturing industry in china as strong as they say? they are moving trucks and containers around and use this as an indicator. this is proprietary information you couldn't buy from a private provider. you can say that is a good idea or bad idea but becomes more pronounced that this is private the risk that this is no longer a public good. it is not inside information but just to say that that just comes with a whole host of problems if it is something that those who can afford it can get more information. >> do you worry with the rise of big data about there being a separation between your larger members and smaller members? >> yes. i think this also goes back to the point about accuracy. if you look at large retailers
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especially if you look at what is happening with the evolution of consumer spending on the web, retailers can tell you by the second how things are doing. so from yes there is disparity between what the large retailer and infrastructure can understand and also disparity between how quickly they can understand it versus how quickly we receive government data to either compliment or to negate what we are understanding and also give a scale. so if home depot is seeing a huge increase in something about the larger housing sector isn't that is an interesting trend to recognize. when there is a gap in understanding information. i think for small businesses there is a real -- this isn't to say that large businesses don't value government data, they do and they use it probably differently than the small businesses. from our perspective a lot of small retailers can really have access to data that for them is
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not something they need to go pay a solution provider a bunch of money to find and can instead leverage data that exists that is credible and will help them level the playing field between them and potentially different competitors. from our perspective there is huge value and we are concerned. if you look at one of our big concerns it is funding and funding for a lot of different agencies and sectors is critical if we are going to see us as a country continue to value the data. >> let's spend two minutes on nonresponse. it seems it is a really big deal right now. there is a chance -- we don't know for sure but there is a chance that it explains the polling misses in israel and britain. in the united states was not huge but it was significant in pennsylvania and elsewhere. the national polling -- so it's a really big deal right now for census and politics.
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in the long term i am pretty optimistic. it seems we are in a transition in which polling is having to move from your phone ringing at home but that we are all carrying around these things now. it seems in the long term someone is going to figure out and the government is going to be able to use ways to survey people that i think will be at least as good. am i being a fuzzy headed optimist about that? >> i will add in quickly. we are concerned about nonresponse, as well. i also think there is a challenge of needing to evolve the way that the population is evolving. they need to collect information differently than we have in the past about different things. and i think to your point about of course we have how many american families don't have a home phone and how do you look at cell phones and e-mail and texting? that is something our industry is going through. as we look at data and how to collect it we have to think differently. i think sometimes that lends
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itself to more difficult decisions of we have never done it this way or how are we going to make sure we have the accuracy. from our standpoint understanding tackling that nonresponse issue is critical. >> it is also true that we have to move away from thinking that the survey is the only way you do this because surveys are difficult and the merging of survey data with administrative data and much greater use of administrative data is deeply important. the main problem is knowing what your total sample looks like and why do we use houses in the census because houses don't move. if you have a response from every house but phones come and go and so you really have difficulty when you try to think creatively about having to think about knowing what your sample looked like. and that is where administrative data can be quite useful because you have relatively complete samples so you know who is in
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and who is out. >> one of the problems with nonresponse is that we want to know what the nonrespondents would have said had they said something. what the statistical agencies have to do is repute and answer to them otherwise we don't get a picture for the whole. but it is hard -- i don't know enough about it to know how much amputation is going on, how accurate is the amputation, what the problems are with the amputation. i imagine most users of data don't realize that when there is a missing answer, when the respondent doesn't want to say how many weeks they worked last year because they can't remember, they are not trying to hide anything or what their income was in the previous year, something gets impudted to it. that may introduce error, bias,
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confusion. i think it is important for that to get more attention. >> one of the hardest things for the polling industry is there is no more randomization. for a long time polling said we have to use phone numbers because you can randomize phone numbers. you can randomize phone numbers it is not that meaningful because you can't randomize who responds. there is no more perfect answer. it has to be a mix of things just as you were saying. >> in polling what we hear is we reweight it. >> my colleague had a delightful piece where he dug into microdata and realized one african-american trump supporter was moving the numbers because that was weighted so heavily. so before we open it up to everyone here i want to invite
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each of you to pound the table a little bit. what is a specific statistic -- jump in if you want. what is a specific statistic that you have concerns about its accuracy? i know you have thoughts here. >> there are several things. you can think about gdp and productivity and national accounts. there is already a lot of concerns that go into this. when we discussed the slow down some of this, when revisions go away -- the way we thought about it was for the economy can change when revisions come around. that is not an easy task to change but it is just to say that often you walk around with a certain story and say this is the story and this is what is going on. growth is weak.
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maybe we have just been measuring this the wrong way. you have a lot of issues with how gdp is measured and all kinds of things that go into thoughts around what is the right way to measure. we already have issues beyond this conference how you do these things and how these things are calculated. if there is one thing that has more attention is how you calculate the trade deficit. if we need to say that exports are something else that needs to be calculated and subtract it then you get a much bigger account deficit and trade deficit. then you are opening up the door to if we can do that then we can discuss any statistic. it is possible not only on election bias but it is possible that many of these to get some different calculations if you say that part of the sample was a little bit different. it can be somewhat dramatic. at the end of the day we are somewhat worried about the
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recent noises and what does the trade show and how the changes might come through. >> would you be okay if there was a change but it was possible to the old series remain or do you think any big change is dangerous? >> the global context is the united nations has clear standards. very clear standards for how you do everything on trade statistics. we can't just say they don't have a standard. we can do it much better. you get back to the emerging markets saying if the u.s. doesn't have to follow those standards why do i have as a president follow those? >> thank you. >> i have concern as i said in my first remarks about what happens when we go from nominal gdp to real gdp. it is not about the recent numb numbers. i'm not concerned about the problem of why we had a slow down in productivity in the last
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few years. it is a deep problem and i don't have a solution to it. what i am concerned about is that over the long run the way in which the government as a technical matter goes from nominal gdp from nominal output and real incomes to real incomes and real gdp i think needs to serious underestimates. i think that has the significant effect on how people view the way the economy is going and what the future holds. it has political as well as just economic effects. so what do i mean by that? when you look at the surveys that ask people how has your family done for the last five years or over the last decade? the general answer is pretty well. of course, not everybody but most people would say they are better off than they were five or ten years ago.
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but when you look at the official statistics they don't say that. the official statistics say that we have had no increase in real incomes for the middle quin tile or last two decades. so when people are asked not how did your family do but how is the country doing their general answer is terribly. of course, they know how well their family is doing. they don't have a clue about how well the country as a whole is doing. all they know is what they read in the press or hear from politicians and that reflects the official statistics. and the official statistics say we have had less than 1 1/2 percent growth of per capita income per year over the last 20 years and if there has been a shift on some of that income towards the higher part of the income distribution then as the
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economic repore of the president said the middle quin tile didn't see any improvement at all in his real incomes. i don't believe that and so i have been studying what the bls and bea do to estimate that. i think they try to do the best job they can but they have a very faulty methodology for doing it. and two ways. one is what do they do about quality change? when a product changes, how do they decide how much better the product is, how much more real value there is in it and they don't have a good way of doing it. what they end up doing is looking at the cost of product change from one year to the next. the cost, but not the value to the consumer or the user. and the basic rule is not 100% of all products but in general the basic rule is if it doesn't
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cost more it isn't a better product. we all know that is not right. when it comes to new products, new drugs, new technology, they don't even try to capture the benefits to the public, to users of the new products. so i think we are under assassinating that number that roughly 1.5% per capita income growth over the last couple of decades, that number could be twice as large or three times as large. we don't have a good fix on that. that is not just a u.s. problem but a problem for every industrial country. if you look at the imf suggested statistical methods they are what basically the bls do in the united states. so we are all in this same situation of understating how well we are actually doing.
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i think that contributes to antiglobalization. i think it contributes to a kind of antibusiness. i think it is unfortunate thing. i don't know how to fix the problem but i think we have to change the perception about what we are seeing in those reports. >> i agree that is a vital issue. >> i have a specific example that relates to something i think is important from a retail perspective and larger economy perspective. i talked about consumer spending. when the department of commerce reports monthly retail sales you see a lot of conversation about what is happening in the industry and with the consumer, where is the consumer spending, how is that happening? anybody who shops -- one of the
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challeng challenges we have is they have always categorized retail sales by where the sale occurs and not the type of retailer selling the product. wal-mart, the largest retailer in the world. when wal-mart reports sales they report sales by store and report sales in the e commerce channel. when department of commerce releases the monthly sales the store sales go into the discount category. the e commerce sales go into e commerce there is a narrative of our store is dying and going away or are retailers going to overtake the traditional brick and mortar stores. if you look at what is happening in retail eight of the ten top have traditional stores, wal-mart, macy's home depot. you see retailers investing in e commerce business. if you look at department of
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commerce data what you are going to see is an inaccurate reflection of how the consumer is shopping because what they are doing is taking macy's store sales and putting it in department store and taking e com sales and putting it in the e commerce category. that is a real problem because if you look at department store sales without understanding the context of the industry what you would say is the department store sector is struggling. look at e commerce. that is where we all need to invest. go to amazon. what is really happening is macy's is saying i don't care where you shop at macy's as long as you shop with us. from our perspective we understand why it was done this way in 1995 before the internet but we need to better understand and think about how to reflect the changing consumer spending behavior with what is happening today to better understand what is happening with the economy and better understand what is
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happening with the consumer and a better plan for the future. >> that is fascinating. there are huge gaps in data about higher education. i think it is remarkable what we don't know about higher education. taxpayer funds to a great degree and if you have a kid going to college and you want to look at what is learned at any given college, good luck. if you want to know what the graduation rate is even that is difficult because the way we calculate brown.
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and that's data that we couldn't have had before. so one thing that is i think really important in this era of big data is that the government continues to allow researchers access to data like that because it leads to enormously important findings. most of the big things we have learned about inequality have come from private researchers getting access to public data. >> which, of course, for that to happen does mean that people have to trust your ability to match data and then keep the individuals private, to lose the match. so nobody can track individuals. that is one of the things that stops a lot of data improvements because people simply don't trust that. it goes back to how do we communicate about this and the extent to which we can be careful and are careful.
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>> privacy concerns are obviously real. we don't want to go so far with them. i will try tago through a bunch of questions. there are great questions. here is one which is i apologize. derek baker from the jp morgan chase institute. how will you improve delivery of government data spread across many websites which i think is absolutely dead on. should we have centralized thing? how can we make it easier for people to get data from different websites? >> at the moment the solution to that is that there are various private companies have basically said it is confuser but you can get everything here. they are saying nothing else but government data. >> for a lot of money. >> and they do it very well. if you have a problem call them to fix whatever is going on. it's absolutely right that it is
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confusing. you can't just respond just google it because this is not an easy answer to many of these problems. >> maybe that's anticompetitive but for nothing is a good price. so anybody who wants it goes to and looks for data releases and signs up. and then every day they get the daily releases and then they also have access to this list of all of the data. if you want to go back and see what had happened a week ago or a month ago to some statistic it is all there and easily searchable. >> i see a number of people from omb in the room. i would say this is one of the responsibilities of the statistical office to try to get more of the agencies to release the data in similar formats with similar searchable tools. it's not something that people focussed on. >> i would add that to me of all
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agencies bls is the best at putting it online the way it is easy to search. if anyone from bls is here, thank you. if you can look at the wage data it is easy and you can graph it. two related questions. please expand on challenges facing data? what are ramifications of plitization of data not of the data itself but of the concept of reliable data? how can we protect the integrity of data? the assault on data isn't new but perhaps ferosity of it is. how much the federal stat community reconfigure approach of being successful in keeping data analysis in tact and thriving. >> i don't think this is anything unique to data. we are at a moment in time where public institutions and concept of public goods is under very
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strong attack and not just that people are suspicious of data and no longer want to think about data as a common good. you see the same thing happening in my area of public institutions where i have been told you of times, you're an public good. a group of individuals should pay full freight and they get their returns. and this level of suspicious of what used to be quite val i'd public institutions is, you know, i don't think you solve the data problem without in some sense changing the larger dynamic in general. i wish you had an answer but i have to say we need more people in leadership positions talking about the value of public institutions and of common good type products. you just don't hear that from almost any leaders right now. >> i'm guessing your answer then to this question would be no. should private sector users of government data be asked to pay for the data? >> almost impossible to do that.
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if you want to make the data publicly available it is hard to segment those markets. almost impossible. >> are there particular sta cystic you were worried could be affected by funding cuts? i guess that -- >> consensus is -- >> and acs which diane mentioned which has been under attack for quite a while and is our only source of small area detailed demographic data and indumbcata. if we lose the acs i don't know how local governments make decisions but people don't seem to understand that. >> as long as we're on the census, what should be changed about the 2020 census? that's another question. what do people think we should be adding to the census that we don't have there now? i find it remarkable we don't ask about religion. >> i don't find that remarkable at all. it is a very strong opposition to having an inventory of who are the muslims and the baptists
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and jus in the population. so i don't -- >> you think it is good? >> i think it is better that we don't. >> core separation of church and state. yes. >> i would go further than that. but -- >> yeah. no, no, i -- i see that argument more strongly today than i did six months ago. >> there was talk about doing it and i think it was in the current population survey but not the census. at a certain point. i was on an advisory panel and i didn't like it then, the cps is a voluntary participation unlike the census. so it was argued well you could ask about religion and that but you couldn't ask about it and you shouldn't ask about it in the census. but i think they dropped it from the cps as well. >> and pew does phenomenal work on religion and it is publicly available. >> there is a question we do ask on the census which is almost as controversial as religious which is race and ethnicity questions.
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those categories are incredibly gross. they don't characterize the way a lot of people think about themselves very well. and i will also tell that you taking on the question of what should the category about is one of the hottest topics. it is easy to just use the old questions. but they have changed over time so people can mark multiple categories. but that continues to be a poor indication for many people about how they themselves identify race or ethnicity. >> then we publish volumes. broken down. by ethnicity which strikes me as waste of money. especially in a world where you can get all this on-line anyway. but for some reason we take that as a reasoning to do everything by hispanic and nonhispanic. >> is there a future to see better into the past? once i was reporting a story in salt lake city, i went to the
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family research center, kept by the church of latter day saints. which is a phenomenal resource. i know a lot of it is now on-line. i looked up old censuses about my wife's family and mine. they are chilling. because they used to be taken by hand. i'm looking at handwriting of someone who sat there speaking to my wife's great grandfather. my children's great great grandfather. it is remarkable. becky, you think there is some prospect that in the future much of that will be on-line but could you imagine a time where it would be linked from parents to children to allow a much richer study of the history of american -- >> that has already happened. there are a number of researchers. we dinl advertised -- i don't know what the last year is, someone in the audience well, old census that you don't release that data until 70 years afterward. someone who knows that should nod. but we digitize the data until we hit that point. but researchers have gone in and
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looked in 1880 what are the names of the children and link them to the 1900s and link them to changes and location and migration as well as changes in economic status. there is great work on economic history on that. once it is digitized, it is not easy, but you can do it. >> that's a limitation people don't realize about data which is unavoidable. snap shots in time. right? and the studies we traditionally have following people over time have been pretty thin. just because they are -- >> yeah. >> last question. and i will make each of you answer this. it is a take-off of what marty does at the start of his class. what is your favorite public data set. so we will use a flexible description of favorite here. we're not going to hold you to this as being your all-time number one. but what is one that you like to look up, sort of an alan greenspan question. you like to check that would you like other people to check out. what is an underrated data? >> if i were alan greenspan i
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would have to say something like the weight of gdp. but that would not be my favorite. >> i would say the unemployment report. that's measured compared to other things, most importantly gdp and tells you everything about wages and how many people got a job and what unemployment rate is. and we can ayee or disagree on whether you agree or use different definitions and it has a wealth of information about what is actually the state of the business cycle and it is just incredibly insightful and for the moment, we have full employment? is this a time for the fed to raise rates? you can get so many answers andsome questions and this is an advertising pitch for looking at the unemployment report. so outstanding. >> first friday of every month
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except what is the exception? >> depends on when the 12th of the month is and in this month is the next week rather than on this coming friday. >> so question mine is annual statistics and i look at the data and those of you who know me know why. it gives you all detail by different demographics, different ethnics and you cut the levels on what is happening into the sense of the economic well-being in the country. makes for fascinating reading. comes out around the middle of september. >> it is the snapshot. >> you can start putting it together. >> no. no. you can only do that if you have price numbers to deflate by. and that's where we get in trouble. with gdp and real income and if we are not adequately adjusting
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the price statistics over time. for quality improvements and in goods. so i think over time we don't get the comparisons right. >> i agree with that but you care about relative changes. can you see if the income goes up more in one category whether or not you agree with -- >> that's right. >> i agree the most interesting part is the -- >> yes, i agree, the employment report. >> please thajoin me in thankin our panel. thank you all for coming. have a good afternoon. [ applause ]
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later on our companion network c-span, david fahrenthold at 7:00 p.m. on c-span. >> this weekend on american history tv, on c-span 3, saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. eastern, on the civil war -- >> grant will put his faith in sherman to break out of this
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trap. remember, they're still inside the city. con fed rates are still on the high ground but grant determined we are going to break out of this and i will use sherman to do it. >> at 8:55, harold holzer on the paintings and photographs of president lincoln on display in the u.s. capitol. >> the heroic images that presidents present in their lifetime and after inspire, motivate, caution future leaders. and the days when before twitter and instantaneous photography, which i see going on over here, or c-span, these images which look rudimentary and primitive today had enormous power, impact and influence. >> saturday, international spy museum historian vince houghton talks about the attempts of the u.s. government to take over or
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assassinate fidel castro. >> he certainly had a dog in the fight. he was somebody who had been kicked out by castro along with all of the casinos and mob people. they are the ones that really really want to get rid of castro. so the cia said, we have $150,000 on the line, whoever kills castro, the money is theirs. >> at 8 will okay, on the president okay, ben stein, former speechwriter for nixon and ford reflects on nixon's time in the white house, his energy policies, initiatives in israel. >> accused of being an anti-semmite, left in the way no other president had. >> for a complete american history tv schedule go to >> over the next few hours we will watch some of the political action conference held at national


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