UC Berkeley economics professor Emi Nakamura awarded John Bates Clark Medal

Professor Emi Nakamura
Emi Nakamura/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley chancellor’s professor of economics Emi Nakamura received the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal on Wednesdaythe fourth woman to do so since the award’s inception in 1947.

The John Bates Clark Medal is considered by many in the profession as the “most important” award aside from the Nobel Prize, according to Alan Auerbach, chair of the campus’s department of economics. Each year in April, the American Economic Association, or AEA, awards the medal to an American economist under the age of 40 who has made the “most significant contribution to economics thought and knowledge,” according the AEA’s website.

Nakamura said she recalled feeling “a little bit blown away” when she heard that she had won the award. She said she has been recently focused on discovering new sources of data for studying monetary and fiscal policy. According to Nakamura, macroeconomists have historically drawn on traditional aggregated data sources such as the gross domestic product and the consumer price index, or CPI.

“That’s what’s distinctly innovative about the work — it’s helped broaden the set of data sources and set of empirical methods,” said Jón Steinsson, chancellor’s professor of economics and co-author on much of her work.

For example, when researching price changes, Nakamura said she discovered files at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that included data dating back to the 1970s — a period of relatively high inflation. According to Nakamura, looking at individual price data underlying the CPI has allowed her to test theories of inflation in ways that she could not using the aggregate data alone.

Nakamura is the third faculty member within the campus’s economics department to win this award. Auerbach noted that although Nakamura only became a faculty member last summer, she has already made important contributions in areas of macroeconomics through “careful, innovative” analysis of lower-level data rather than data from the national level.

“People in the profession already knew that she’s an exceptional economist,” Auerbach said. “(The award) is an important signal by the profession of the importance of her work.”

Vice Provost for the Faculty and economics professor Benjamin Hermalin cited the “great importance” of Nakamura’s work on price setting, monetary policy and fiscal policy, which he added has provided some of the “most convincing analysis to date” on how fiscal policy affects the economy.

According to Nakamura, she uses “natural experiments” to study fiscal policy, as it’s generally “not possible” for macroeconomists to carry out randomized controlled experiments. Nakamura and Steinsson used national military buildups and drawdowns as a natural experiment to study the effects of fiscal stimulus, as different states are exposed in different ways to national military spending.

“The Clark medal is given to someone who has made major and significant — field-changing — impacts on the field of economics,” Hermalin said in an email. “Emi has done that.”

Contact Sabina Mahavni at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.