Who will win the 2043 Nobel Prize in Economics? Predictions of this kind should generally be restrained, but as of this week there is at least one candidate. Frenchman Gabriel Zucman has won the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association (AEA). The medal is considered by economists to be a kind of Junior Nobel Prize. Every year, the Association of Economists honors those in its circle who are under 40 years old, conduct research at an American university and have made "the most significant contribution to economic thinking and knowledge". Not always, but often, the honor was followed about two decades later by the Swedish Riksbank Prize. The list of honorees includes big names of the economists' guild such as Paul Samuelson (23 years between medal and Nobel Prize), Milton Friedman (25 years), Paul Krugman (17 years), Joseph Stiglitz (22 years) or David Card (26 years). Esther Duflo, one of the few women on the list, who received the Clark Medal in 2009 and the Nobel Prize in 2019, was particularly fast.

Alexander Wulfers

Editor in the economy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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Zucman is now receiving the medal for two important fields of research to which he has contributed. On the one hand, there are his investigations into tax evasion by large corporations and the super-rich with the help of tax havens. Zucman has shown that tax evasion is "more important than previously thought" and that larger sums are being hidden than previously thought, the AEA said.

On the other hand, Zucman belongs to the circle of economists around Thomas Piketty, who have caused a sensation in the past decade with studies on rising economic inequality. In Zucman's most cited research paper, he and his Berkeley colleague Emmanuel Saez (also Clark Medalist) used new data sources to estimate wealth inequality in the United States since 1913. The result: Since the end of the seventies, the proportion of the rich has risen sharply.

For all his academic merits, Zucman is also a more controversial laureate than many of his predecessors. He is a pugnacious mind who does not shy away from getting involved in political debates. His research results offer left-wing politicians in particular ample arguments for their reform plans. During the 2020 presidential campaign, the New York Times identified Zucman and Saez as "the driving force" behind proposals for a wealth tax, as called for by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others. Zucman's clear political positioning has earned him a lot of criticism from economists. This has often come loudest from former Harvard President Larry Summers, who once wrote that he "would never dream of," as Zucman does, making an "extrapolation" of his academic research the basis of a trillion-dollar campaign promise.