UC Berkeley professors shape presidential candidates’ wealth tax policies

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Two UC Berkeley professors played key roles in shaping parts of the financial policies of presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.

Professor of economics Emmanuel Saez and assistant professor of economics Gabriel Zucman collaborated with both presidential candidates to refine their wealth tax policies. Saez and Zucman have both conducted extensive research on financial inequality and public policy in the past, specifically the effects of financial policy on tax evasion and the impacts of policies taxing the wealthy.

Zucman and Saez — who is also director of the Center for Equitable Growth at UC Berkeley — have also worked alongside other past presidential candidates on financial policy. According to Saez, the two met with campaign staff from the 2016 Clinton and Sanders campaigns in a similar capacity.

“We have been talking to candidates on wealth taxation for years,” Saez said in an email. “Back in 2016, both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns thought about wealth taxation and talked to us even though in the end the idea did not make it to the platforms then.”

According to Zucman’s website, the two have worked to address issues ranging from wealth inequality and wealth distribution in the United States, to proposals for progressive wealth taxation. The two have also worked with renowned French economist Thomas Piketty in the past, who has published articles focusing on economic inequality in capitalism.

Saez said different campaigns working with the same advisers is not something controversial or problematic. He added that working with more than one candidate makes sense, as campaigns consult experts in their field when designing policies.

“Campaigns, or at least good ones, constantly explore policy options and talk to many experts to gather the best evidence before launching proposals,” said Saez. “There is nothing surprising that we are talking to several campaigns. This is how it should be.”

Sanders’ current wealth tax proposal focuses on creating a progressive tax that, according to the campaign website, would affect approximately 180,000 of the nation’s wealthiest families. The proposal would begin at a rate of 1% for households making more than $32 million, and reach 8% of a family’s net worth at $8 billion.

On the other hand, Warren’s wealth tax proposal would establish a 2% tax on households with a net worth between $50 million and $1 billion, and raise the rate to 3% for families making over $1 billion. The campaign website, which references research from Saez and Zucman multiple times, claims the tax will accrue over $2.75 trillion over the course of ten years.

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.