Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 29, 2020

Death Of Ed Kleinbard (USC)

From Joe Bankman (Stanford):

Kleinbard (2015)I am sorry to report that my great friend (and co-author), Ed Kleinbard (USC), died last night.  The cause of death was cancer.

Ed was a towering presence in our field and is well known to members of this group.  He had every ability a tax lawyer and academic could want: an amazing knowledge of doctrine, great analytic skills, and great passion.  He was a wonderful writer: clear, folksy, funny, and rhetorically strong.  He was motivated by a strong belief in justice and equal opportunity. 

I am sure that there will be a festchrist in his honor and that we will have an opportunity to reflect on his contributions.  I didn't ask the family anything about memorial services. I am guessing it will be small, private and (like everything else these days) on-line.   I would guess that his wish for us would be to work for tax and fiscal reform and justice -- and to consult his many works for guidance.

I got to know Ed well after moving to Southern California. He graciously agreed to speak at Pepperdine three times:  at my tax policy workshop series in 2015 and 2017, and most poignantly at the Critical Tax Conference in 2019 in the midst of his long battle with cancer. As Joe says, Ed was a towering presence in every sense, but what I will remember most is his biting wit, self-deprecation, and abiding belief that "we are better then this." 

Dan Shaviro (NYU), In Memory of Ed Kleinbard:

I wanted to express my very great grief, both personally and professionally, regarding the death of Ed Kleinbard, who succumbed last night to a vicious cancer that he had been fiercely, bravely, and creatively battling for many years.

I'll start by repeating some words written by Joe Bankman. Then I'll switch to a personal note.

From Joe:  Ed spent the first 25 years of his career in practice, where he helped shape the tax treatment of derivatives and wrote academic and practical articles on tax reform.  He served as Chief of Staff to the Joint Committee on Taxation from 2007-2009, and then accepted a full-time appointment at USC in 2009.

In the next ten years, Ed wrote over a hundred pieces, ranging from books, to book chapters, long law review articles, and op-eds.    He was one of the two or three most widely-read, and influential, tax scholars in the country.

He is perhaps best known for his work on corporate tax avoidance.  He coined the phrase ‘stateless income’ to describe the ability of multinationals to site their worldwide income to tax-haven countries with zero rates of tax.  Most of his writing is on distributive justice.

Ed was a friend and co-author.  He was funny, loyal, passionate, and acerbic.

On my own personal note: I heard about Ed long before I first met him. He was a legend in the NYC and national tax bars – among people who don’t take easily to viewing others as legends. But in his case one had no choice - he stood out like a star among planets.

The first time I ever met him was at an NYU Tax Policy Colloquium. He arrived 5 minutes late, hence didn’t introduce himself at the start. As it happened, at that session, I kept praising what I called important work by a man named Ed Kleinbard. (It concerned a piece he had written on “tax cubbyholes” that did an extraordinary job of explaining how tax law converts the multidimensional continua of real world financial instruments into discrete, manipulable, discontinuously treated categories. This was a novel point when Ed first made it.)

Meanwhile, Ed had a lot to say at the session, and a couple of other NYC tax practitioners in the room kept calling him “Eddie” (a form of address that I don’t think he preferred). Finally I asked him who he was, he said “Ed Kleinbard,” and everyone laughed because of how I had been praising his work. Someone told me afterwards that, if I had known who he was all along & been playing dumb in this way, it would have proved I was a natural Dean candidate. (But of course no such bad luck.)

I soon became good friends with Ed, who by this point was close to his career change (Joint Committee of Taxation chief of staff, then law teaching & scholarship). Indeed, I wanted to recruit him to the NYU law faculty, although this did not end up happening. I always learned from him, and always found him delightful. A true polymath, among other things.

Because the academic world, like so many other realms, is at times a social club, some of his work did not receive as much respectful attention as it deserved. I have here particularly in mind his work on reforming the corporate tax (and capital income taxation more generally), such as through the business enterprise income tax (BEIT) and dual income taxation. Far worse ideas than his - which is a very good one - have gotten far more attention than the BEIT ever did.

Ed is the second great friend of mine in academics to die tragically before his time. The first was David Bradford. (I’d also count Walter Blum, but at least he got to live into his 70s before succumbing, also prematurely, to cancer.) Each one’s death leaves me feeling bereft – not that it is about me. I would so like have dinner with each of them again, and discuss things of mutual interest, both personal and professional.

The last time I saw Ed was at USC last December, where I flew out to give a talk. As it happened, the day before I flew out there, I had a terrifying health scare, which turned out NOT to materialize. (I.e., a preliminary test raised the possibility of something very bad, but a follow-up test that I had the next week showed that I was actually okay.)

With that potential bad news haunting me, I stepped into a restaurant in downtown LA to meet Ed for dinner, the night before my USC talk. Almost his first words upon seeing me were that I didn’t look so good. We talked it out, and he was incredibly encouraging, as well as empathetic and enlightening given his own health issues. He also offered great advice in the event that things should turn out badly, in the follow-up test, rather than well. I almost felt as if I had let him down by turning out to be okay.

I remember thinking afterwards that there wasn’t anyone in the world, leaving aside immediate family, who could have been so supportive and encouraging, as well as concretely helpful, as Ed was in that conversation. (Knock on wood re. my escape: and, for ALL of us, any such reprieves are only temporary.)

I am sure I am not the only one who wants to think about how best to honor Ed. One or more public events honoring both him and his work should certainly be a part of this, even if it has to be held via Zoom. Something ought also to be published as a part of this, with many people’s contributions. I hope to be able to hear &/or say more about this in the days to come.


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I have known Ed for decades from his earliest days at Cleary and while I was building my firm. I was with Ed the day he had just completed his confirmatory tax opinion with S&C for the Goldman Sachs IPO. I still have the registration statement, prospectus and, of course, his book- all signed. When Ed moved to LA, it was the same relationship (as I am bi-coastal) except on the other coast. I spent several hours one evening searching the list of Federal positions to determine whether he should be referred to as Honorable Ed Kleinbard. I studied Wikipedia’s listing and reviewed the formal listing of positions prepared by an etiquette specialist who has been tending to this list for decades.I could not find his position but it certainly deserved to be far higher than many on the list. I finally found a catch all position that I brought to Ed when he commented on a letter that I had written to him using Hon. Ed Kleinbard for which he corrected me until I showed the Professor that I had actually researched it and he had to acquiesce. First time I ever got an A from my professor. Ed thought that I would have made a great tax lawyer. We laughed a lot. He had a dry wit, a brilliant mind,he made really terrible puns. I loved Ed. This is a really terrible loss. He will be greatly missed.
Mark Ross
President & CEO
Fusion Initiative Financial, LLC

Posted by: Mark Ross | Jun 30, 2020 2:09:07 PM

He made a big difference; he'll be missed.

Posted by: Jeff Kadet | Jun 30, 2020 10:58:43 AM

Ed (never Eddie) was a classmate of mine at Yale Law who always made one proud to be a tax lawyer. His unique career path, with 30 years at Cleary followed by high non-partisan government service and only then entering academe, made his analyses especially trenchant and deserving of serious attention. We will not soon see his like again.

Posted by: Richard L. Kaplan | Jun 30, 2020 6:24:45 AM

Wow, that is a real loss, one of the few people with superior tax knowledge who tried to make things better. One of the greats.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jun 30, 2020 3:11:24 AM

So sad. Can’t imagine a tax world without Ed. Always enjoyed our conversations. A witty, acerbic, no-nonsense person with a big heart. I’ll miss him, both professionally & personally.

Posted by: Katherine Pratt | Jun 29, 2020 9:59:47 PM

Ed was undeniably a giant. What a loss to the tax policy community. I feel privileged to have heard him speak at length to a college audience several years ago:

Posted by: AMTbuff | Jun 29, 2020 6:56:10 PM

Very sad news. I enjoyed Prof. Kleinbard's writing a great deal.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jun 29, 2020 6:45:46 PM

Thanks for posting this Paul. Ed was truly one of the most creative and interesting thinkers I ever had the opportunity to come into contact with. He was also incredibly generous with his time, and always willing to give extensive, and insightful, feedback on any project I had, even if it was something outside his (vast) expertise. He will truly be missed.

Posted by: Eric Allen | Jun 29, 2020 1:16:51 PM

Ed was a good friend. I will miss him deeply.

Posted by: Ted Seto | Jun 29, 2020 1:11:36 PM

May his memory be a blessing.

Posted by: Sam Greenberg | Jun 29, 2020 11:39:58 AM