Politics & Polls #158: The Fight Against Income Inequality Featuring Emmanuel Saez

Oct 24 2019
By Brillian Bao
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Income inequality in the U.S. has reached a five-decade high, according to data from the Census Bureau. Debates over why this is happening and how to address it have taken center stage in the Democratic debates, with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren calling for a wealth tax while other candidates are pushing back.

Emmanuel Saez joins Julian Zelizer in this week’s episode to discuss the erosion of the progressive tax system, which Saez and co-author Gabriel Zucman detail in their new book, “The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay.” While the individual income tax is still progressive, Saez argues that other taxes, such as the sales tax and payroll taxes, make the tax system regressive as a whole.

Saez is a professor in the Department of Economics and the director of the Center of Economic Growth at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining the Berkeley faculty, he was an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University. His research focuses on taxation, redistribution, and inequality. Jointly with economist Thomas Piketty, Saez has constructed long-run historical series of income inequality in the U.S. that have been widely discussed in the public debate.


Zelizer has been among the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He has written more than 900 op-eds, including his popular weekly column for CNN.com and The Atlantic. This year, he is the distinguished senior fellow at the New York Historical Society, where he is writing a biography of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for Yale University's Jewish Lives Series. He is the author and editor of more than 19 books including, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society,” the winner of the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. In January 2019, Norton published his new book, co-authored with Kevin Kruse, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.” In spring 2020, Penguin Press will publish his other book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” He has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation and New America.