We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money

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Recent Media:

USC Gould Professor Ed Kleinbard Discusses We Are Better Than This
October 16th, 2015
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Edward Kleinbard discusses We Are Better Than This on C-SPAN Book TV
C-SPAN Book TV, April 20th, 2015
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C-SPAN Book Interview: Edward Kleinbard discusses We Are Better Than This with host Peter Slen
C-SPAN, January 23rd, 2015
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Michael McEvoy Interview With Edward Kleinbard
Dig Deep Grow, December 16th, 2014
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Interview With Sharyl Attkisson and Edward Kleinbard
Blog Talk Radio, December 16th, 2014
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We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money
USC Price Bedrosian Center, December 16th, 2014
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Invisible Man: Losing Sight of the Real Adam Smith
Commonweal Magazine, November 10th, 2014
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Can We Make Government Work?
Featuring Edward Kleinbard and Peter Schuck; Moderated by Richard Reeves
Brookings Institution, October 31st, 2014
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The Risks Of Income Inequality
The Diane Rehm Show, American University Radio, October 27th, 2014
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Recent Reviews:

A number of important recent books have brought broad public attention to rising high-end inequality. Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, while the best-known, is merely one entry in this genre. However, until the 2014 publication of Edward Kleinbard's We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money, there had been no comparably prominent and important recent contributions within the tax law or public economics realms addressing low-end inequality... Kleinbard's book is a tour de force, lucidly explaining a broad range of fiscal,economic, and moral issues in a way that both enriches and informs public discourse. It deserves to be both widely-read and influential.

We Are Better Than This... clearly makes a major contribution to public political discourse regarding inequality and the role of government.

National Tax Journal, September 2015
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We Are Better Than This was named one of "Our Favorite Books of 2014" by the staff of Newsweek Magazine: "This masterpiece on how we tax ourselves, and how Congress spends our money, explains why the mostly lightly taxed modern country feels so heavily burdened while offering workable solutions."

Newsweek, December 3rd, 2014
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We Are Better Than This offers a comprehensive view of the federal budget. ...Kleinbard's message about the relationship between spending and tax policies will reach a larger audience when viable candidates-and not just analysts-take responsibility for reminding voters that we should, indeed, be better than this.

Bill White, Washington Monthly, November/December, 2014
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Kleinbard's ability to make the complexities of fiscal policy comprehensible permeates 'We Are Better Than This.' So does his impatience, even anger, with the partisan sophistry that passes for much of fiscal and economic discussion in Washington.

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, October 18th, 2014
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Kleinbard's book is an epic attempt to rectify this [fixation on tax rates], with most of its 509 densely packed pages devoted to making the case for spending a bit more than the U.S. does now in order to invest in the future and provide adequate insurance against bad luck. The 'fundamental premise of this book,' Kleinbard writes at one point, is 'that material outcomes are determined by an undifferentiated porridge of personal efforts and brute luck.'

Justin Fox, Harvard Business Review, October 10th, 2014
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[Kleinbard's book] is packed with powerful data, fresh insights, unassailable analysis, and a set of recommendations that are both economically and politically viable... His lawyerly precision, thorough research and restrained conclusions provide the credible underpinnings for the moral passion discernible just below the surface.

Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, October 10th, 2014
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We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money, will not only help you separate the sense from the nonsense in America's fiscal debate. Far more importantly, it will remind you why we need a functional federal government and the extremely high costs in terms of our economic well-being, today and tomorrow, of its absence... Moreover, though Kleinbard is a technical analyst with long experience in both the private and public sector, his heart is as big as his brain. The book has a strong moral compass and even amidst the underbrush of the national revenue and outlays tables, he consistently summons his compass to point the way back to his theme.

Jared Bernstein, The Huffington Post, October 9th, 2014
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We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money by Edward D. Kleinbard is a comprehensive, thoughtful, and informed volume on taxation and government spending.

This masterpiece of tax, fiscal, and economic policy is richly endowed with philosophical insights from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and holds the potential to change our often dogmatic and sometimes toxic public debate over how we tax ourselves and spend our tax dollars into a conversation about how to raise more money with less pain and spend in ways that will produce a happier America.

David Cay Johnston, Tax Notes, September 22nd, 2014
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Kleinbard orchestrates an encyclopedic, and sometimes eye-opening, introduction to the American tax system's mysteries and secrets . . . and its relation to the budget process and the economy. The author, . . . formerly chief of staff to the Joint Committee on Taxation, delivers an unusually spirited defense of the U.S. government and its power to tax in opposition to the "hatred" expressed by taxation's detractors and the government's opponents, whom he calls "market triumphalists." He painstakingly documents how roughly $2.5 trillion of taxpayers' money is frittered away each year through subsidies in the form of deductions and credits, as well as through inefficiencies. Kleinbard believes fiscal policy is "applied moral philosophy," and he believes that a lack of education of children may be the federal government's most serious problem... Turning Adam Smith against the hypocrisy of free-marketeers is not the least of the strengths of this solid treatment of a potentially existential issue.

Kirkus Reviews, August 26th, 2014
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We Are Better Than This:
How Government Should Spend Our Money

We Are Better Than This fundamentally reframes budget debates in the United States, by demonstrating how government enhances what Adam Smith called "the happiness of society," and what economists today call "welfare," through investments that complement private enterprise, and through social insurance against the worst vicissitudes of life. The book thus is a principled and carefully argued call for the reinvigoration of government as a positive complement to private enterprise in contemporary America.

When we argue endlessly about tax policy, we put the cart before the horse. The purpose of government, beyond keeping order, is investing in and insuring its citizens; taxes are the means for financing government's actual business. Our preoccupation with the progressive income tax in particular is self-limiting and self-defeating: the right response to growing income inequality is to ensure that we enjoy a progressive fiscal system. Not particularly progressive tax systems can fund very progressive overall fiscal systems, once the distribution of the benefits of government spending are taken into account.

The book bursts two fundamentally narcissistic fiscal policy bubbles. First, it delivers "our dismal report card," to puncture the simplistic belief in American exceptionalism in all matters, all the time. The book employes cross country comparisons across a wide array of metrics to demonstrate that contemporary American society does not advance Americans' welfare as systematically as we pretend.

Second, it dismantles the ethos of "market triumphalism" - the worldview that perfect markets yield perfect happiness, and that government invariably stands between us and those perfect markets. It does so in part by contrasting the actual beliefs of Adam Smith, "moralist and mensch," with the cartoon cheerleader for laissez faire outcomes paraded by market triumphalists. We Are Better Than This emphasizes the contingent nature of many outcomes that we like to believe are the result solely of our inner merit, and demonstrates that social insurance in particular can encourage economically productive risk-taking.

We Are Better Than This relies extensively on recent research studies and objective data to support its arguments. It is sensitive to issues like the efficiency costs of taxation, but dispels the myth that low tax rates are the only ambrosia that can attract and nurture the Growth Fairy. It offers a specific tax plan to finance the government we need. And finally, the book explains in an accessible way important budget, political and economic concepts, so that readers for example learn how GDP does not measure our income, much less our welfare, or how different measures of income inequality are constructed.

When we choose how government should spend and tax, we open a window into our "fiscal soul," because those choices are the means by which we express the values we cherish and the regard in which we hold our fellow citizens. Our fiscal soul today is in peril; We Are Better Than This shows how we can reclaim it, to the greater material prosperity and happiness of all Americans.

More Reviews

We Are Better Than This is firmly grounded in a sound understanding of politics, Congressional process and fiscal policy, but transcends 'wonkery' to focus on the ends we are trying to achieve as a society. Ed Kleinbard calls on our better angels to consider the kind of world we want for our communities, for our nation, and for our future generations.

Senator Ron Wyden
Oregon, Chairman, Senate Finance Committee

The debate about the role of government is as old as the Republic itself. This is a debate we as a country should be having, and Kleinbard's book is a vigorous discussion of the issues involved. Ed Kleinbard is well-equipped for the task, and adds an eloquent voice to the discourse on these important issues.

Robert E. Rubin
Co-Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations, and Former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury

Ed Kleinbard has been a superstar tax practitioner, policy advisor and now, scholar. Anyone who cares about the future of federal government spending and taxing will have to carefully consider Kleinbard's arguments.

Larry Summers
University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University, and former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury

We are certainly better than this, but few people are better than Ed Kleinbard in explaining complicated, important topics in insightful and dare I say even entertaining ways. If you believe in a brighter future for our country, read this book.

Peter Orszag
Chairman, Public Sector and Financial Strategy and Solutions Groups, Citigroup, and Former Director, U.S. Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Budget Office

Kleinbard provides an insider's informed perspective to counter the artificial constraints of 'market triumphalism' and point the way forward.

Alan J. Auerbach
Robert D. Burch Professor of Economics and Law and Director, Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance, University of California, Berkeley