Alumnus Robert Burch Provides $2.76 Million Endowment
by Gretchen Kell
Alan Auerbach, professor of economics and law at Berkeley, is the first Robert D. Burch Professor of Tax Policy and Public Finance and director of the new Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance.
The new professorship and center were created through a $2.76 million endowment from Robert Dale Burch, a Berkeley alumnus and a member of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, the largest law firm in California.
Auerbach became a Berkeley faculty member last July following a nationwide search that began in November 1992 with the announcement of the Burch endowments. The chancellor asked the search committee to find a senior professor who "combined scholarly distinction, teaching ability, leadership, and dedication to public service" and who would develop a nationally prominent center for research into tax policies and government efficiency.
Auerbach said he plans to make the Burch Center a source of reliable and non-partisan research.
"One of the most important roles of academics is to anticipate the research needs of government and translate that research so that it will be accessible to policy makers," he said. "It seems that in Washington, there is rarely adequate time to initiate an independent study.
"With so much outside information flowing in from parties directly interested in legislative outcomes, policy makers find it difficult to differentiate the good from the bad or determine what the evidence really is.
"This is where research sponsored by the Burch Center can provide a real public service."
The center will involve faculty from the economics department andfrom the law school and other professional schools.
In his new professorship, Auerbach plans to develop a course sequence on tax policy open to graduate students from all departments and professional schools.
This cross-disciplinary seminar will challenge students to think about the more important issues in tax policy from a variety of perspectives.
"Economists and lawyers are often concerned with the same issues without fully appreciating or taking advantage of this shared interest," said Auerbach.
Although the analogy is not precise, he added, " economists tend to take a bird's eye view of problems, simplifying in order to draw general conclusions, while lawyers take a worm's eye view, to get closer to provisions and rulings and determine if result matches intent.
"Each group can gain by seeing things from the other's perspective."
Auerbach taught at both Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania before coming to Berkeley.
He received his PhD from Harvard in 1978.
In addition to teaching, he has worked as a consultant to the US Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Swedish Ministry of Finance, and the Joint Committee on Taxation of the US Congress.
Auerbach has written many publications including "Dynamic Fiscal Policy" with Laurence Kotlikoff, "Handbook of Public Economics" with Martin Feldstein, and "The Taxation of Capital Income."
John Quigley, chair of the Economics Department, said that Burch, the alumnus who provided the recent endowment, hopes to create the pre-eminent national center for the study of tax policy and public finance.
During his distinguished legal career, Burch has specialized in tax law and its implications.
He has also been the president of the Law Trust, Tax, and Insurance Council, and has been a lecturer at the University of Southern California Institute of Federal Taxation and the UCLA Law School.
Burch received his BS in business administration from Berkeley in 1950 and his JD from Boalt Hall in 1953.