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Brent Moulton Receives 2015 Julius Shiskin Award

1 July 2015 109 views No Comment
Robert P. Parker, Julius Shiskin Award Selection Committee Chair


Brent Moulton

Brent Moulton

Brent Moulton, associate director for national economic accounts of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), was selected recently to receive the 2015 Julius Shiskin Memorial Award for Economic Statistics. The award recognizes unusually original and important contributions to the development of economic statistics or the use of statistics in interpreting the economy.

Moulton is recognized for his leadership in implementing major innovations into the U.S. national accounts, international standards for national accounts, and expanded integration of U.S. statistical programs. He also is recognized for his work at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in developing innovations that improved the reliability of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Moulton, who is the 43rd recipient of the award, will be honored at events hosted by the three sponsors of the award: the Washington Statistical Society, National Association for Business Economics, and ASA Business and Economics Section.

At BEA, Moulton is responsible for incorporating innovations into the U.S. national accounts that keep them up to date with the changing U.S. economy. In these and other areas, policymakers, business economists, and academics have applauded Moulton for providing significantly more accurate and relevant information for monetary policy, tax policy and projections, fiscal policy, and business planning. The innovations incorporated into the accounts include the following:

  • Treating research and development (R&D) as an investment, rather than an expense, recognizing its increasingly important contribution to economic growth and productivity. This change added 3% to the official measure of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Expanding BEA’s efforts to extend the incorporation of “intangibles” into the national accounts by recognizing artistic originals as capital assets.
  • Providing new methods for measuring the implicit services provided by the banking and insurance industries, providing more comprehensive measurement of output for these industries.
  • Using quality-adjusted price measures for communications equipment and other high-tech equipment to better capture the rapid improvements in their performance and quality.

Moulton is recognized for his leadership in developing improved international standards for national accounts. He was one of the initiators of the 2008 update of the System of National Accounts (SNA), the handbook for GDP measurement prepared by the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, World Bank, and European Union. His 2004 paper published in Review of Income and Wealth made the case for updating the SNA, pointing to the many recent developments not captured by the 1993 standards, including the increasing importance of knowledge capital such as R&D and the recognition of capital services as an input into production.

Moulton played an important role in developing the revised standards as a founding member of the Advisory Expert Group, a collection of prominent national accountants who advised the editors of the new SNA on important methodological questions. Moulton served with other country experts on the Advisory Expert Group and helped persuade the countries and organizations to incorporate controversial, yet critically important, improvements in economic statistics into the 2008 SNA. Within this group, Moulton’s success reflected not only his knowledge of the accounts, but also his ability to compromise while maintaining high-quality standards and international comparability.

Moulton also contributed to the development of economic statistics programs by leading further integration of BEA programs and programs of other U.S. statistical organizations, thereby enhancing their usefulness to users. One of the programs that benefited from his leadership was a collaboration with the Federal Reserve Board to promote the integration of the Financial Accounts of the United States, bringing more consistency with the SNA to both sets of accounts. This integration provided data users a better link between the real and financial economy.

Another collaboration improved the consistency of the BLS productivity statistics and the National Income and Product Accounts and provided data users with better information about the sources of U.S. economic growth. In a similar way, Moulton worked with the U.S. Census Bureau to integrate new data from the Quarterly Services Survey into BEA’s estimates of quarterly consumer spending, extending survey data coverage by more than 15%. These initiatives reflect his efforts to be a flexible and cooperative partner.

Moulton also made major contributions to the development of economic statistics during his service at BLS, when he developed innovations that improved the reliability of the CPI. As chief of the Price and Index Number Research Division, he directed research that led to a 1993 article about estimating basic components of the CPI, identified and presented evidence of a bias in the estimation methods then used for the CPI, and proposed an alternative method that was later adopted to alleviate the bias.

This was an era when considerable attention was being devoted to potential upward biases in the CPI, which, if true, had important fiscal policy implications because many government transfer payment provisions and income tax thresholds were indexed to the CPI. Moulton’s research contributed to the public discussion surrounding the publication of the Boskin Commission’s report by presenting an even-handed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses in the CPI. The importance of this work is evidenced by his article titled “Bias in the Consumer Price Index: What Is the Evidence?” that appeared in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 1996.

Finally, early in his career, Moulton’s research on methods for estimating and drawing inferences in models that combine disaggregated and aggregated data led to a series of original articles published in leading academic journals. He remains known in academic circles for identifying “best practices” in estimating standard errors for models estimated using data grouped into clusters, a problem that arises in a range of applications.

Moulton was honored with the BLS Distinguished Service Award in 1997, the Department of Commerce Gold Medals in 2001 and 2007, and the Presidential Rank Award in 2011. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics at Brigham Young University and a PhD in economics from The University of Chicago.

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