Scholars in the fields of law, economics and taxation gathered in November 2021 for a virtual conference honoring the late USC Gould Professor Ed Kleinbard. The event was an exploration of the themes that motivated Kleinbard’s scholarship, and a tribute to his influence on both tax scholarship and tax policy.
Kleinbard, who passed away in June 2020, made fundamental scholarly contributions to tax scholarship on both international and domestic issues, to budget policy, and to the debate about the values that those policies should serve. As a member of the USC Gould faculty, his work in these diverse areas was unified by his ambition—which was both scholarly and practical—to put tax law and budget policy to work reducing the economic inequities of contemporary American life.
Speakers at the day-long conference included USC Gould Professors Gregory Keating and Ed McCaffery; leading tax scholars Daniel Shaviro of NYU School of Law, Rueven Avi-Yonah of Michigan, David Weisbach of Chicago and Joseph Bankman of Stanford; notable economists Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman and Alan Auerbach of UC Berkeley, Bill Gale of Brookings and Rosanne Altshuler of Rutgers University; leading figures in the tax bar, including Lee Les Samuels, former assistant treasury secretary for tax policy and a longtime partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton, where Kleinbard practiced tax law for 30 years; and government policymakers Kimberly Clausing, deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis at the U.S. Treasury and Erika Nijenhuis, senior counsel in the U.S. Treasury Office of Tax Policy.
In the leadoff panel, Shaviro discussed why Kleinbard, who left the private sector to for a stint as Chief of Staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation at the United States Congress before turning to teaching, chose academics.
“I think of it as like Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon.’ He has 85 minutes to save the town,” said Shaviro. “And in Ed’s case, to save the world. And he is …. determined to save the world.”
On a panel discussion covering Kleinbard’s second book, What’s Luck Got to Do With It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream, Keating, also a personal friend, mused on the philosophy that fueled Kleinbard’s scholarship focus.
“For Kleinbard … moral deservingness is a deeply undesirable principle of distributive justice,” he said. “I think at some psychic level, it’s this belief that animated almost all of Ed’s work. He wanted to get us ‘beyond desert’ to a world where people’s life chances weren’t determined by injustice and bad luck and where tax and fiscal policy would enable everyone to lead the best version of their own life.”
In the final panel, on what Kleinbard would have thought of recent fiscal policy and international tax decisions, Clausing called Kleinbard “absolutely irreplaceable.”
“I cannot tell you how much we miss his commentary,” she said. “Ed had a rare credibility. He inhabited all of the world, the academic world, the policy world, the practitioner world.”