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What’s Luck Got to Do with It?: How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream (2021)

“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.” — Professor Emmanuel Saez and Professor Gabriel Zucman, University of California, Berkeley, co-authors of The Triumph of Injustice

Edward D. Kleinbard served as the Robert C. Packard Trustee Chair in Law at the USC’s Gould School of Law, and a Fellow at The Century Foundation. Kleinbard was one of four individuals honored as 2016 International Tax Person of the Year by the nonpartisan policy organization Tax Analysts. He authored the books What’s Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream and We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money, published by Oxford U. Press.

Kleinbard joined USC Gould in 2009. Before joining USC Law, Kleinbard served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. The JCT Staff are the nonpartisan tax resource to Congress, helping legislators to formulate legislation, writing analyses of legislative proposals or tax issues of interest to the Congress, and estimating the revenue consequences of legislative proposals.

Kleinbard’s work focuses on the taxation of capital income, international tax issues, and the political economy of taxation. Kleinbard’s papers include Competitiveness Has Nothing to Do With It (Tax Notes), Stateless Income (Florida Tax Review), The Lessons of Stateless Income (Tax Law Review), Through a Latte Darkly: Starbucks’s Stateless Income Planning (Tax Notes), The Better Base Case (Tax Notes), Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan (Tax Notes), and Tax Expenditure Framework Legislation (National Tax Journal). Kleinbard testified before the Congress on tax policy matters, and had written opinion pieces for The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, the Huffington Post, and other media outlets.

Prior to his appointment to the Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, Kleinbard was for more than 20 years a partner in the New York office of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. Kleinbard received his JD from Yale Law School, and his MA in history and BA in Medieval and Renaissance studies from Brown University.

To watch Kleinbard discuss his first book and, more generally, fiscal policy, please go to


  • “From Tax Policy to Social Insurance” January 2020 This presentation was delivered to the Tax Section of the New York State Bar Association in January 2020. It first briefly reviews important current tax policy issues, and shows that the income tax has plenty of headroom to accommodate higher tax revenues: “Personal Income,” the government’s broadest measure of household income, is $6 trillion higher than aggregate Adjusted Gross Incomes. The presentation then pulls back its focus to poverty and middle class life. It argues that education is the engine of economic opportunity, but the United States dishonors the principle of equality of opportunity by its unique reliance on private (family) resources to fund education, particularly among the very young and post-secondary students. Doing more is feasible: the United States is a low-tax country to start, and investment in education yields “inclusive growth.” Efficiency concerns are systematically overstated in many instances, because those analyses do not consider the returns on government investment in education and other programs financed by taxes. Taxes may be carried in leaky buckets, but even a leaky bucket can put out a fire. Finally, the presentation pulls back still further to consider how one might reframe these issues around a unifying theme. It argues that existential bad luck — particularly, bad luck in the wealth of one’s parents — casts a disproportionately long shadow on American lives, and that insurance — understood as both product and metaphor — is the unifying theme that can tie together our responses. In this, the presentation hints at the agenda of my forthcoming book, What’s Luck Got To Do With It? – (SSRN)
  • “Critical Tax Thinking, ” April 2019   Critical tax papers too often fixate on taxes as both the problem and the solution. When progressivity is the aim, public spending often is the better policy lever. Further, taxation does not impose an inexorable tradeoff between efficiency and equity goals. This again understates the importance of the spending side of things. Taxes are a necessary cost of funding spending, and spending in turncan have efficiency payoffs greater than the deadweight loss of taxation. That is, even a leaky bucket can extinguish a fire. Finally, the presentation urges that more work be done on the rhetoric of public finance economics. Both the structure and the vocabulary of standard presentations contained unexamined biases that color the outcomes of policy debates.
    – (SSRN)
  • “What’s a Government Good for? Fiscal Policy in an Age of Inequality.”  Presented at University of Georgia 115th Sibley Lecture, February 5, 2018; ABA Section on Taxation 2018 Mid-Year Meeting, February 10, 2018. – (SSRN)
  • “Perversion of the Tax Policymaking Process,” January 29, 2018   The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can be criticized on many substantive grounds, and for its effect on deficits. But the legislative process also revealed important shortcomings beyond its haste. Traditional tax policy metrics — conventional revenue estimates, dynamic estimates and distributional analyses — yield misleading results in a tax framework that loses over one trillion dollars. The result is that the legislation has even more deleterious welfare implications than these standard metrics suggest. – (SSRN)
  • “Searching for our Fiscal Soul,” TEDX Livermore, August 2016    This presentation is a slightly expanded version of a talk presented at TEDx Livermore 2016, the theme of which was Empathy and the Economy – (PDF)
  • “Searching for our Fiscal Soul,” TEDX Livermore, August 2016    – (www)
  • “Corporate Tax Reform: A Dutch Uncle Speaks,” Presentation to Stanford Directors’ College, June 20, 2016 – (PDF)
  • “Fiscal Policy in an Age of Inequality,” March 2016 – (PDF)


  • What’s Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream (Oxford Univ. Press, 2021).
  • Federal Income Taxation, 18th ed. (Wolters Kluwer, 2019) (Coauthor with Joseph Bankman, Daniel Shaviro and Kirk Stark).
  • We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014).

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “The Impact of International Tax Reforms on Ireland,” (with T. Matheson), in Ireland: Selected Issues (International Monetary Fund’s Country Report 18/195, June 2018) at p. 18. – (www)
  • “What’s a Government Good for? Fiscal Policy in an Age of Inequality, ” USC CLASS Research Papers Series (February 5, 2018). – (SSRN)
  • “Perversion of the Tax Policymaking Process,” USC CLASS Research Papers Series (January 29, 2018). – (SSRN)
  • “The Right Tax at the Right Time,” 21 Florida Tax Review 208 (2017) – (SSRN) – (Hein)
  • “Business Taxes Reinvented: A Term Sheet,” 156 Tax Notes 999 (2017). – (SSRN) – (PDF)
  • “Capital Taxation in An Age of Inequality,” 90 Southern California Law Review 593 (2017). – (SSRN) – (PDF)
  • “The Trojan Horse of Corporate Integration,” 152 Tax Notes 957 (2016) – (SSRN)
  • “U.S. Corporate Income Tax Reform and its Spillovers” (with Kimberly Clausing and Thornton Matheson), IMF Working Paper No. 16/127 (July 2016) – (PDF)
  • “Stateless Income And Its Remedies,” in Global Tax Fairness (Thomas Pogge and Krishen Mehta, eds.). Oxford University Press (2016).
  • “Why Corporate Tax Reform Can Happen,” 146 Tax Notes 91 (2015). – (SSRN) – (PDF)
  • “Competitiveness Has Nothing to Do With It,” 144 Tax Notes 1055 (2014). – (SSRN)
  • “Corporate Tax Reform, Business Tax Reform, or Capital Income Tax Reform?” 18 Chapman Law Review 1 (Fall 2014). – (Hein)
  • In Praise of the Tax Policy Center’s Microsimulation Model: A Comment on “Curbing Tax Expenditures,” in Pathways to Fiscal Reform in the United States (John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow, eds., 273-282). MIT Press (2014).
  • “Through a Latte, Darkly: Starbucks’ Stateless Income Planning,” 139 Tax Notes 1515 (2013). – (SSRN)
  • “Corporate Capital and Labor Stuffing in the New Tax Rate Environment” (Mar. 26, 2013). – (SSRN)
  • “Why Tax Revenues Must Rise”  (Feb. 14, 2013). – (SSRN)
  • “3 Cheers for Dave Champ,” 138 Tax Notes 619 (2013).
  • “Stateless Income’s Challenge to Tax Policy, Part 2,” 136 Tax Notes 1431 (2012). – (SSRN)
  • “Paul Ryan’s Roadmap to Inequality,” 136 Tax Notes 1195 (2012). – (SSRN)
  • “The Better Base Case,” 135 Tax Notes 1237 (2012) (with Joseph Rosenberg). – (SSRN)
  • “The Lessons of Stateless Income,” 65 Tax Law Review 99 (2011). – (SSRN)
  • “Stateless Income,” 11 Florida Tax Review 699 (2011). – (SSRN)
  • “The Role of Tax Reform in Deficit Reduction,” 133 Tax Notes 1105 (2011). – (SSRN)
  • “Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan,” 133 Tax Notes 469 (2011). – (SSRN)
  • “Stateless Income’s Challenge to Tax Policy,” 132 Tax Notes 1021 (2011). – (SSRN)
  • “Constitutional Kreplach,” 128 Tax Notes 755 (2010). – (SSRN)
  • “Tax Expenditure Framework Legislation,” 63 National Tax Journal 353 (June 2010). – (PDF)
  • “An American Dual Income Tax: Nordic Precedents,” 5 Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy 41 (2010). – (SSRN)
  • “The Congress Within a Congress: How Tax Expenditures Distort Our Budget and Our Political Process,” 36 Ohio Northern University Law Review 1 (2010) (publication version of the Fourteenth Annual Woodworth Lecture, delivered in Washington, DC). – (SSRN)
  • “Where Can We Stand to Gain Perspective?, Toward Tax Reform: Recommendations for President Obama’s Task Force,” Tax Analysts (2009). – (PDF)
  • “Systematic Underinvestment in Straddle Rules,” 125 Tax Notes 1301 (December 21, 2009) (a compilation of invited essays, “Examining the Straddle Rules After 25 Years”).
  • “A Revenue Estimate Case Study: The Repatriation Holiday Revisited,” 120 Tax Notes 1191 (2008) (with Patrick Driessen).
  • “Rethinking Tax Expenditures,” an address to the Chicago-Kent College of Law Federal Tax Institute (2008). – (www)
  • “Rehabilitating the Business Income Tax,” The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution (2007). – (www)
  • “Designing an Income Tax on Capital,” a chapter in Taxing Capital Income, The Urban Institute Press (2007).
  • “Throw Territorial Taxation From the Train,” 114 Tax Notes 547 (2007).
  • “A Holistic Approach to Business Tax Reform,” 114 Tax Notes 90 (2007).
  • “Is It Time to Liquidate LIFO?” 113 Tax Notes 237 (2006) (with George A. Plesko and Corey M. Goodman).
  • “IRS Should Release Schedules M-3, Not Entire Corporate Tax Returns,” 106 Tax Notes 1485 (2006) (with Peter Canellos).
  • “The Business Enterprise Income Tax:  A Prospectus,” 106 Tax Notes 97 (2005). – (SSRN)
  • “Proposed Treasury Regulatiaons Offer Dealers and Traders Safe Harbor for Section 475 Mark-to-Market Valuations,” 19 Journal of Taxation and Regulation of Financial Institutions 5 (September/October 2005). – (SSRN)
  • “Taxing Convertible Debt: A Layman’s Perspective,” 56 S.M.U. Law Review 453 (2003). – (Hein)
  • “Competitive Convergence in the Financial Service Markets,” 81 Taxes 225 (2003). – (Hein)
  • “Disclosing Book-Tax Differences,” 96 Tax Notes 999 (2002) (with Peter C. Canellos).
  • “Contingent Interest Convertible Bonds and the Economic Accrual Regime,” 95 Tax Notes 1949 (2002) (with Erika W. Nijenhuis and William L. McRae).
  • “A Short Course in Valuing Derivatives,” 94 Tax Notes 380 (2002).
  • “Some Thoughts on Market Valuation of Derivatives,” 91 Tax Notes 1173 (2001).
  • “The U.S. Taxation of Equity Derivative Instruments,” Chapter 24 in The Handbook of Equity Derivatives. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.
  • “Everything I Know About New Financial Products I Learned From DECS, Practicing Law Institute,” Tax Law and Practice Course Handbook Series #457 (1999 and following years) (with Erika W. Nijenhuis).
  • “Corporate Tax Shelters and Corporate Tax Management,” 51 The Tax Executive 231 (1999). – (Hein)
  • “The Role of Mark-to-Market Accounting in a Realization-Based Tax System,” 75 Taxes 788 (1997) (with Thomas L. Evans). – (Hein)
  • “Final Tax Regulations Governing Contingent Payment Debt Obligations,” 72 Tax Notes 499 (1996).
  • “Short Sales and Short Sale Principles in Contemporary Applications,” Chapter 17 in N.Y.U. Fifty-Third Institute on Federal Taxation. New York: Matthew Bender, 1995 (with Erika W. Nijenhuis).
  • “Risky and Riskless Positions in Securities,” 71 Taxes 12 (1993).
  • “Equity Derivative Products: Financial Innovation’s Newest Challenge to the Tax System,” 69 Texas Law Review 6 (1991). – (Hein)
  • “Beyond Good and Evil Debt (And Debt Hedges): A Cost of Capital Allowance System,” 67 Taxes 12 (1989). – (Hein)
  • “Business Hedges After Arkansas Best,” 43 Tax Law Review 393 (1988) (with Suzanne F. Greenberg). – (Hein)
  • “The Miracle of Compound Interest: Interest Deferral and Discount After 1982,” 38 Tax Law Review 4 (1983) (with Peter C. Canellos). – (Hein)


  • U.S. Congress. House Committee on Ways and Means. International Tax Reform Begins at Home. Hearings, 114 Cong., 2d sess. February 24, 2016. – (PDF)
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