Gabriel Zuckman, a controversial John Bates Clark Medalist


SSince then The global financial crisis of 2007–09 has made the world more concerned about inequalities of wealth and income. This is in large part the result of work by a group of French economists, notably Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zuckmann, documenting the rise in inequality in many countries in recent decades. On May 2, the American Economic Association awarded Mr. Zuckman the John Bates Clark Medal for economists under the age of 40 for his efforts.

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Other economists usually greet the winner of the Clark Medal with a rapturous cheer. No one has had a bad word to say about last year’s winner, Oleg Itkhoki, who studies exchange rates and such. His reaction to the announcement was slightly different regarding Mr. Zuckman, who works at the University of California, Berkeley. He is more divisive person. Some were happy; Others, rather less.

On one side you have your enthusiastic cheerleaders. They reasonably point out that Mr. Zuckman has drawn on unique data sets, including the leaked “Panama Papers,” to tell new stories about inequality and tax evasion. Mr Zuckman is currently working on “real-time” measures of inequality, allowing economists to “estimate economic growth by income groups, race and gender”. “A lot of my work is about trying to improve our measurement tools,” he has explained. His research has also provided intellectual fodder for those who want higher taxes on the wealthy.

On the other hand, you have Mr. Zuckman’s detractors. Their main concern is a methodological concern: that Mr. Zuckman and his co-authors make important assumptions in their economic model that result in exaggerating the rise in inequality in recent decades. Cynics also suggest that such assumptions underestimate the behavioral response of individuals to higher rates of taxation, thus making significant levies seem like a better idea than reality.

Mr. Zuckman’s estimates of the increase in inequality are at the top end of the range found in the literature. At the other extreme, a paper by Gerald Auten of the US Treasury Department and David Splinter of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation finds that the share of after-tax income by the top 1% of Americans has increased substantially since the 1960s. has been stable. is growing rapidly as Mr. Zuckman and his co-authors concluded. Others point to inconsistencies between different pieces of published work. Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury Secretary, has said that he finds critics of Messrs. Saez and Zuckman’s work “to a large extent convincing”.

Mr. Zuckman doesn’t exactly try to defuse controversy. In person he is demure and charming. Online, however, he is fierce, often taking on those with whom he disagrees – including, on occasion, journalists economist-Work. The controversies surrounding his research mean that Mr. Zuckman will always stand slightly outside the economic mainstream, even with his new medal from the establishment. But he’s probably okay with it.

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