By James R. Hagerty
Traveling through Europe as a boy in the 1960s, Edward Kleinbard
cultivated a precocious interest in medieval history and instructed
his parents on which "shabby abbeys" they should appreciate.
The young scholar later aspired to become a history professor.
His father, Martin Kleinbard, a partner at the law firm of Paul
Weiss, cautioned that academic pay might not allow him to indulge
expensive tastes in bicycles and travel. So Edward Kleinbard
enrolled in law school at Yale.
Those studies launched him into a 30-year career as a prominent
Wall Street tax lawyer at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb. Mr.
Kleinbard finally entered academia as a law professor at the
University of Southern California in 2009. The delay in launching
his academic career was "just long enough for me to have something
useful to say," he wrote.
Mr. Kleinbard, frequently quoted in The Wall Street Journal and
other publications, had spent his career understanding the
intricacies of the tax code and helping clients minimize their
liabilities. As an academic, he looked at the bigger picture and
concluded that the question of how the government spends money was
more important than how it raises taxes.
In a 2014 book, "We Are Better Than This," he wrote: "Our
greatest public finance policy mistake over the last few decades
has been to obsess over tax policy, while simultaneously failing to
have serious and rational debates over spending policy." His view
was that government spending on infrastructure, education and
social insurance was the best way to "make our country healthier,
wealthier, and happier."
Mr. Kleinbard died June 28 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was
68 years old and had been under treatment for cancer. Shortly
before his death, he completed another book -- "What's Luck Got to
Do With It?" -- due to be published in 2021.
Edward David Kleinbard, the oldest of three children, was born
Nov. 6, 1951, and grew up in Rye, N.Y. His mother wrote books and
magazine articles under her maiden name, Joan Gould.
Shortly before beginning studies at Brown University, he
attended the Woodstock music festival. At Brown, within four years,
he simultaneously earned a bachelor's degree in medieval and
Renaissance studies and a master's degree in history. He proceeded
to Yale, where his professors included one of the top U.S. tax
scholars, Boris Bittker. Mr. Kleinbard earned his law degree in
After a year at the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, he
joined Cleary Gottlieb in 1977 and became a partner in 1985. He
frequently published articles on legal issues and was known for his
expertise on the taxation of securities, derivatives and
He left in 2007 to become chief of staff at the Congressional
Joint Committee on Taxation, where he oversaw a team of about 65.
The committee staff provides nonpartisan advice to lawmakers on tax
legislation. He stepped down from that job to join USC as a
professor in 2009.
He frequently wrote about what he called "stateless income,"
shifted by global companies to tax havens through intracompany
loans and other maneuvers. U.S.-based firms excelled at such tax
engineering, he said.
In a 2016 lecture, he warned that an increasing gap between rich
and poor people in the U.S. was leading to tribalism and
"neo-feudalism." The cure, he argued, was government spending in
such areas as education and infrastructure, invigorating the
economy and providing solid middle-class jobs.
Congress had run into fiscal stalemates by focusing on the wrong
question, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2014: "We ask how much
pain we want to inflict on ourselves, and the answer is always 'not
very much.' The question should be what useful things can we do
together by way of investment and insurance to enhance our lives --
and how much of that can we afford?"
He was intense in his pursuit of hobbies. "He bought literally
60 books on trout fishing," his younger brother, David Kleinbard,
recalled. When his interest in fishing waned, he donated the books
to a library, giving it an instant world-class collection. He read
books on metallurgy to enhance his expertise on high-end bicycles,
Writing essays and scholarly articles at a prodigious rate, he
managed his time carefully. Friends said he sometimes walked out of
dinner parties to escape bores. A tough customer, he sometimes
insisted on inspecting several rooms in a hotel before settling on
one that met his standards. He once complained to a hotel employee
that a footstool was missing from his room and suggested that its
replacement should come with a coffee stain matching the one on the
Along with his brother, survivors include his wife, Norma
Cirincione, his mother, a son, a granddaughter, a sister, and his
companion, Suzanne Greenberg.
He was "on a self-proclaimed mission from God to achieve greater
social equity," his brother said. Rather than volunteering at a
soup kitchen, he sought to share his gift for salesmanship and
ability to explain fiscal policy in plain English. An obituary
prepared by his family described him as "witty, pithy and never far
separated from a microphone."
Write to James R. Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 04, 2020 09:14 ET (13:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.