“We would have had a picture, a sense that something was wrong,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize winning economist who has sounded warnings about growing inequality since the early 2000s. “But they nailed down the numbers that showed 40 percent of the world’s wealth is controlled by 1 percent of the people.”
Mr. Zucman said he and Mr. Saez first started meeting with Ms. Warren and other potential presidential candidates in 2014. Last month, the two economists — both professors at the University of California, Berkeley — vetted her wealth-tax proposals and calculated the revenue estimates.
Beyond taxes, ideas out of academia have also shifted the political conversation around deficits. Notably, there’s modern monetary theory, pushed by a group of economists led by Stony Brook University professor Stephanie Kelton. She argues that societal needs should determine public spending, not deficits.
The call to end Washington’s obsession with red ink has attracted some other surprising advocates, who took a decidedly different route to get there.
Lawrence Summers, Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration and the director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, and Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, recently published an article in the journal Foreign Affairs declaring everyone should stop worrying so much about the debt. Government deficits matter, they said, just not as much as other things like investing in education, health care, persistent poverty or climate change.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the economic reality has changed in ways that should change policy choices,” Mr. Summers said in an interview. “And one should be more worried about issues of fairness and appropriate regulation, more worried about assuring adequate demand and social protection in the balance than would have been the case 20 or 25 years ago.”
Deficit hawks, naturally, are not about to concede without a fight. “The challenges facing the economy feel so big that big solutions seem to be the answer,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “But we just don’t have the fiscal environment to support that. When interest payments are the fastest-growing part of your budget, that is a warning.”