Emmanuel Saez

Wihuri International Prize 2023

Emmanuel Saez (born 1972 in Spain) is an economics professor and director of the Stone Center on Wealth and Income Inequality at University of California, Berkeley. An exceptional scholar in the field of public economics, Saez has made fundamental contributions concerning many issues integral to the financing, structures and development of the welfare state.

Saez’ research is focused on broad questions around taxation, economic inequality and wealth redistribution. A great deal of his work is also closely interrelated across these topics. He has combined theoretical and empirical research in a unique way, diminishing the gap between economic theory and practical policymaking. A driving force in Saez’s work is to make economics accessible and useful beyond academia, and his research has been widely discussed in public debate.

Saez grew up in France but moved to the United States as a young student, receiving his PhD in Economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1999. He was Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard University from 1999 to 2002, before joining the faculty at University of California in Berkeley in 2002.

A key question in public economics is how to design a taxation and social welfare system that evens out economic outcomes, but minimises economic inefficiency, and this question has also been at the heart of Saez’s research. In this field, he has continued and expanded the important work of the Nobel Prize laureate James Mirrlees. He explores both the overall level of taxation as well as the tax structure, the former providing answers around how extensive a welfare state is possible and appropriate, the latter focusing on how progressive the taxation system is and who is being taxed. With Saez’s research results, it is possible, for example, to take into account the impacts on employment rates when planning a system of taxation.

Another important focus point in Saez’s research is economic inequality. Together with his colleagues such as Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman, Saez has collected and analysed large volumes of data on the long evolution of income and wealth distribution across the world. This work has resulted in the open-access data resource World Inequality Database, which presents information on income and wealth inequality for over 200 countries and is regularly updated. Piketty and Saez produced the Top income share series that document the dramatic increase in income concentration in the United States since 1980 and have been widely used in the public debate. Saez’ recent work with Zucman has narrated the demise of US progressive taxation and how to reinvent it in the 21st century.

Saez has published research articles in all the most prestigious scientific journals of economics, and his work has been cited over 63,000 times (Google Scholar). He received the John Bates Clark Medal in 2009, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2010, and an honorary degree from Harvard University in 2019.

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