Gabriel Zucman receives the 2023 John Bates Clark Medal at the ASSA 2024 Annual Meeting

This exceptional distinction is awarded to American economists or economists practicing in the United States under the age of forty, for their significant contribution to economic science.

In January 2024, Gabriel Zucman spoke at the ASSA 2024 Annual Meeting after being recognized as the winner of the 2023 John Bates Clark Clark Medal by the American Economic Association Honors and Awards Committee. Below is the transcription of his speech.

Speech at AEA meetings 2024 for Clark Medal

Thank you to the American Economic Association for this great honor.
Thank you to the many colleagues, co-authors, and friends who have been part of this adventure.

It’s an adventure that started 15 years ago at the time of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09.

It is, initially, a detective story. When you look at data on international capital flows, as I did at the time to try to make sense of the crisis that was unfolding, you see hundreds of billions of dollars flowing in out places like the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong or Luxembourg. 

I sought to understand what was the story behind those flows: what activity and reality they reflected, how these flows and the wealth held in tax havens might have contributed to financial instability, to government deficits, to rising inequality. 

This little project that I started during my PhD would not have gone very far if I had not been quickly joined by incredible colleagues, dramatically expanding the scope and the depth of this investigation: Niels Johannesen, Annette Alstadsæter, Ludvig Wier, Thomas Tørsløv to name just a few.

Fifteen years ago, relatively few academic economists worked on these dark corners of finance and globalization. Today it is a booming field. In October last year the EU Tax Observatory that I founded released its inaugural Global Tax Evasion report. We counted more than 100 researchers actively involved in this field of research and whose work contributed to the report. 

I feel so lucky to be part of this thriving community.

I feel also very lucky that this work was welcomed by our profession, even though it often does not fit the mold of the typical economic research paper. It often does not look at the world through the lens of a neoclassical model. It often does not seek to estimate causal effects.

Instead, it is primarily concerned with basic measurement — with creating more structured, consistent, and comprehensive measurement systems on issues that are relevant for policy making across the world.

"There is, in Berkeley, a unique combination of total intellectual freedom, the deep focus on mentorship and transmission, and an exceptional sense of community, and collegiality that makes people thrive."

This work follows and I hope advances a long intellectual tradition, pioneered in the 17th-18th century by British empiricists — Gregory King and William Petty — and then continued by people like Charles Booth in the 19th century, Richard

Stone, Simon Kuznets, Tony Atkinson in the 20th century, and Thomas Piketty in the 21st century. William Petty, one of the founders of national income accounting, called it political arithmetic.

In a sense what I’m trying to do is to make some contributions to an international political arithmetic: quantifying who has benefited the most from the form of globalization that we have had since the 1980s, with its unfettered tax competition and widespread financial opacity.

This work is only in its infancy.  Whatever progress we might have achieved so far is very limited. 

The good news is there is so much more that can be done, for one simple reason. There has been an explosion of data that is just beginning to become accessible: data on offshore wealth — thanks to the foreign account compliance act and similar laws abroad — and data on the country-by-country activities of multinational companies. 

Our EU tax Observatory, which will soon become a Global Tax Observatory, is at the vanguard of analyzing all this new information, in partnership with tax administrations in many countries. If that sounds exciting, come join us!

I want to close by saying that none of this would have been possible in any place other than Berkeley. 

There is in Berkeley a unique combination of total intellectual freedom, deep focus on mentorship and transmission, and exceptional sense of community and collegiality that makes people thrive. 

In addition to so many caring, generous, and supportive colleagues, I have been lucky to have the most extraordinary and kindest mentor, Emmanuel Saez. 

This award is first and foremost a prize for Berkeley economics.

Madam President thank you again for this great honor — and thank you all for your presence.