New York Times, The Liberal Economists Behind the Wealth Tax Debate:
Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez have crashed the Democratic primary with their idea — and angered some economists.
One of the most liberal policy proposals animating the Democratic presidential primaries is the handiwork of two French economists who are not formally advising any campaign and have barely met the candidates running for the White House.
Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez are the driving force behind proposals for a wealth tax, an idea embraced by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as a way to reduce economic inequality by forcing the richest Americans to pay taxes on everything they own and diverting that money to public services like universal health care and free college tuition.
Their efforts documenting a sharp increase in the concentration of wealth at the very top and their outspokenness have vaulted the tax from a fringe idea in American politics to the center of a reinvigorated debate on taxing the rich.
They have also made Mr. Zucman and Mr. Saez the most visible, and polarizing, economists in the 2020 campaign.
Other economists, including some who held top jobs under past Democratic presidents, have attacked Mr. Zucman and Mr. Saez over their research methods, their policy conclusions and their data. Conservative economists say their proposals would cripple economic growth.
Last year, the faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government voted to offer Mr. Zucman, 33, a tenured position. But Harvard’s president and provost nixed the offer, partly over fears that Mr. Zucman’s research could not support the arguments he was making in the political arena, according to people involved in the process. He has since been awarded tenure alongside Mr. Saez, 47, at the University of California, Berkeley. ...
Some economists have long been critical of Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman’s work, including Wojciech Kopczuk, a Columbia University economist who published a rebuttal to the pair’s wealth data in 2015. But their rising public profile has brought more scrutiny. Mr. Kopczuk argues that, compared with their earlier work, the Berkeley economists’ recent book made more aggressive — and he believes incorrect — assumptions.
“That’s when you can say without any doubt they crossed from academic research to advocacy,” Mr. Kopczuk said. “It’s liberating when you don’t have to deal with reviewers.”