Karl Russo

Degree Date: PhD, 2008
Program: Business & Public Policy
Placement: Joint Committee on Taxation, U.S. Congress

Sometimes to get ahead in your career you have to take a short detour. As a junior-level economist focusing on tax policy at the Treasury Department, Karl Russo understood this. “I knew I had to ‘get some letters’ after my name if I wanted to continue in a career in policy,” he says. He also knew that Wharton was the ideal off-ramp that would ultimately propel him further in his career.

Business & Public Policy

Today, Russo is an economist with the Joint Committee on Taxation, a non-partisan, bicameral position that assists members of Congress in developing tax policy proposals. Russo credits his Wharton degree with getting him where he is today and preparing him for success in his position. “The public policy department at Wharton looks at the world in a way that’s helpful for thinking about how basic economics not only apply to the business world, but the public sector as well. That’s really important to the kinds of questions I deal with now because tax policy touches all kinds of private sector business decisions, as well as social benefit concerns,” he says. “The department and the applied economics program uniquely look at that intersection relative to other institutions.”

Access to Resources

Russo’s research looked at local public goods and the housing market in Philadelphia and how the value of different public services were capitalized by the housing market. He also explored subprime lending — a very timely subject matter. Being at Wharton specifically and the University of Pennsylvania in general, gave Russo access to data that was essential to complete his research. “I would not have been able to do it without having access to lots of different resources across disciplines,” he says, citing support from other schools in the university like Urban Planning and Engineering.

Faculty Support

A Wharton undergraduate alumnus, Russo was already familiar with the school and its faculty—Bob Inman in particular. “I was told that one of the most important things about pursuing a PhD was having someone who could shepherd you through the process,” he says. As a PhD candidate in the department of Business and Public Policy, Russo received a good balance of independence and support from faculty mentors like Inman. “I had the autonomy to pursue questions that I thought were interesting with guidance from the respective professors,” he says. “Bob was particularly good at channeling my energy where it would be best spent.” The crossover between departments, as well, proved useful in bolstering his research and gave him the chance to collaborate with a range of faculty members, including Susan Wachter in Real Estate.

Russo stresses the benefits of finding a doctoral program staffed by faculty whose interests match your own. “Find someone who is working in a subject area you are interested in and who can help refine your interest and point you in the direction where you’ll have a fruitful career,” he says. “One of the great things about Wharton is there are so many faculty, you are bound to find someone who is going to do that.”