Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor once referred to himself as an "ambulance chaser". It was his self-deprecating way of admitting that his work tends to focus on the big, urgent issues facing the modern economy. Autor is one of the leaders of the empirical revolution in economics. Along with others such as Stanford’s Raj Chetty and Harvard’s Lawrence Katz, Autor has been pioneering ways to make the economics discipline more credible and relevant. He has tackled subjects such as monopoly power and the polarisation of the job market. But perhaps his biggest bombshell has been his finding, along with co-authors David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, that opening the US economy to trade with China hurt US workers a lot more than had previously been thought. Although that finding has been challenged by other academics, it has already changed the way economists think and talk about the costs and benefits of free trade. Not too long ago, free trade was the one thing almost...

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