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.