Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Kleinbard: What's Luck Got To Do With It?

Edward D. Kleinbard (USC) (1951-2020), What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream (Oxford University Press 2021):

WLGTDWIThe American dream of equal opportunity is in peril. America's economic inequality is shocking, poverty threatens to become a heritable condition, and our healthcare system is crumbling despite ever increasing costs.

In this thought-provoking book, Edward D. Kleinbard demonstrates how the failure to acknowledge the force of brute luck in our material lives exacerbates these crises — leading to warped policy choices that impede genuine equality of opportunity for many Americans. What's Luck Got to Do with It? combines insights from economics, philosophy, and social psychology to argue for government's proper role in addressing the inequity of brute luck. Kleinbard shows how well-designed public investment can blunt the worst effects of existential bad luck that private insurance cannot reach and mitigate inequality by sharing the costs across the entire risk pool, which is to say, all of us. The benefits, as Kleinbard shares in a wealth of data, are economic as well as social — a more inclusive economy, higher national income, and greater life satisfaction for millions of Americans.

Like it or not, our lives and opportunities are determined largely by luck. Kleinbard shows that while we can't undo every instance of misfortune, we can offer a path to not just a fairer America, but greater economic growth, more broadly shared.

With a relentless commitment to rigor and clarity, Edward Kleinbard has brought to light the unfairness of the U.S. economy and the unjustified risks that many Americans must bear. This provocative and entertaining book is a fresh look at how to complete America's social contract. Featuring Ed's legendary wit and ability to explain fiscal policy in plain English, this is a must read for anyone interested in greater economic justice.
Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, co-authors of The Triumph of Injustice

Is what we earn the just desserts of hard work and deferred gratification? Or is it, in large part, the result of existential luck — where, when, and to whom we are born? In this insightful and carefully-crafted book, Kleinbard argues that existential luck is enormously important for explaining the inequities of our society as well as the ideal policy response to such inequities. Policymakers would be wise to heed Kleinbard's clarion call for greater public investments in health care, education, and child care, and to acknowledge the essential importance of insuring Americans against systemic misfortune.
Lily Batchelder, NYU School of Law, Former National Economic Council Deputy Director

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