Economics Professor Emi Nakamura talks about monetary policy, hard work and passion for the profession

April 8, 2024

Focusing her research on the effects of monetary and fiscal policy on the economy, Chancellor's Professor of Economics Emi Nakamura brings her distinguished academic background to UC Berkeley’s Department of Economics.

Nakamura is the recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal; co-vice chair of the Economics Department; previous co-editor of the American Economic Review; a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and co-director of the Monetary Economics program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nakamura received her A.B. from Princeton University and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and taught economics at Columbia University before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2018.

She chatted recently with Berkeley Social Sciences about her academic background, accomplishments and mentoring her students. The interview is edited for clarity.

Please tell us about your background and path to UC Berkeley
Emi Nakamura: I spent 10 years at Columbia University before moving to UC Berkeley in 2018. One thing that drew me to Berkeley is its incredible tradition of data-driven empirical research. An example of this strength is the recent Nobel prize given to Berkeley Economics Professor David Card in 2021.

What do you like most about working at UC Berkeley?
Emi Nakamura: I love the excitement people have here about new ideas and discoveries. It was great fun to watch (the Oscar-winning film) Oppenheimer and marvel at all of the discoveries that have happened at Berkeley. I love the intellectual freedom and encouragement to work across field boundaries. Finally, I love the culture, and the strong relationships between faculty, staff and students.

Tell us more about your students
Emi Nakamura: I teach both Ph.D. students and undergraduate students. The undergraduate class I teach is called "Macroeconomic Policy from the Great Depression to the Present," and it attracts students from economics, data science, computer science and history. It's fun to see how students from different backgrounds approach the material.

How do you mentor them?
Emi Nakamura: I try to help students find what they are passionate about. In economics, we emphasize that the "labor input" is crucial in production – in other words, hard work! And it is so much easier to put in a lot of hard work when you are passionate about what you are doing.

Tell us more about your research
Emi Nakamura: My research focuses on understanding the effects of monetary and fiscal policy on the economy and the sources of business cycles. I have also done a lot of research on inflation. I have a particularly data-driven approach to these questions, and I spend a lot of time constructing and analyzing granular datasets that let us "look under the hood" of what is going on with macroeconomic statistics such as inflation and GDP. I'm excited about new empirical techniques and ways of approaching data that we can bring to bear on long-standing macroeconomic questions, and new ways to construct macroeconomic statistics.

What kind of impact has your research made?
Emi Nakamura: I frequently interact with policymakers in central banks, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and other U.S. government agencies – such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Congressional Budget Office – about issues relating to macroeconomic policy. Recently, inflation and monetary policy have been big topics, particularly as we think of how macroeconomic policy should normalize after the Covid crisis. Most of my research is connected with these kinds of policy questions.

What are your proudest accomplishments at UC Berkeley?
Emi Nakamura: I'm very excited about the research I've been able to do at UC Berkeley, and also the synergies I've felt between my research and my work with students and staff. As co-vice chair of the Economics Department, I've been able to add new classes that exploit the many intersections between economics and other fields that I've discussed above, including intersections with computer and data science, public policy and finance.