Professor Wins Prestigious Award

Photo: Economics professor Emmanuel Saez (center) received the John Bates Clark Medal for his work on taxation and income distribution.
Evan Walbridge/Photo
Economics professor Emmanuel Saez (center) received the John Bates Clark Medal for his work on taxation and income distribution.

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UC Berkeley economics professor Emmanuel Saez was announced last Friday as the recipient of the 2009 John Bates Clark Medal, an award that is considered to be a predictor of future Nobel Prize winners.

The medal, given to one economist in the nation under 40 years old for contributions to the field, has been awarded by the American Economic Association every two years since 1947.

Saez's work encompasses research on taxation and income distribution and also includes investigating ways to more evenly distribute wealth through federal policy.

"It's been a career-long preoccupation ... market economies distribute enormous disparities," he said. "I research what the government can do about it through taxes and transfer programs."

Gerard Roland, chair of the economics department, said Saez has also done research to predict consumer behavior in response to taxation policies, adding that Saez has been innovative and rigorous in his work.

"He has documented income inequality in the U.S. throughout the 20th century," Roland said. "He found, for example, that the (income for the) top 1 percent has increased very dramatically since the '80s."

According to Roland, four other UC Berkeley faculty members have received the medal: Dale Jorgenson in 1971, Daniel McFadden in 1975, David Card in 1995 and Matthew Rabin in 2001.

Rabin, the last campus recipient of the medal, said the award was a highlight of his career so far. Although he does not work in the same areas, Rabin said he admires Saez's research.

"I am a fan," he said.

Recipients of the medal are selected by two committees of economists, according to John Siegfried, secretary-treasurer of the association. The committees solicit nominations from doctoral programs while also conducting individual searches of research records.

Starting next year, the medal will be given annually, as there are more than twice the number of economists now than there were when the award was established.

"It attracts a lot of attention because of the maximum age limit, which means that it often identifies future Nobel Prize winners," Siegfried said in an e-mail.

Economist Paul Krugman, last year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, received the medal in 1991.

Saez said he did not anticipate winning the award.

"It was of course a great joy and a great surprise because I frankly wasn't expecting to get it this year," he said. "It wasn't on my mind at all."

He said the recognition will serve as incentive for the continuation of his work.

"It gives you a great opportunity to be heard because it naturally attracts attention," he said. "It motivates you to push further."


Leslie Toy covers academics and administration. Contact her at

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