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The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind Hardcover – September 18, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“If you enjoy learning about the dirty little secrets behind the ways powerful businesses make their profits, you probably will like this book.”
—The Washington Post

About the Author

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who has been called the “de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States.” His most recent books, Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch, were New York Times bestsellers. He was a reporter for The New York Times for thirteen years and now writes a column for Reuters. He also teaches at Syracuse University College of Law and the Whitman School of Management, and he was recently elected board president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. He lives in Rochester, New York.

Visit www.davidcayjohnston.com


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591843588
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591843580
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Investigative reporter and Pulitzer-winner Johnston reports how American consumers are gouged by practices that go on in plain sight. For example, 19 states let companies pocket the state income taxes withheld from employees for up to 25 years, sometimes simply for moving existing jobs from one state to another. State and local governments spend at least $70 billion/year to subsidize factories, office-buildings, etc., per research by Kenneth Thomas. Research papers suggest that the cost of handling bounced checks could be less than a penny - banks charge eg. $35 fees for each one.

BNSF is often the only rail line farmers can use, and routinely charges 2.5 - 4X variable costs. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) regulates some railroad prices, allows them up to 1.8X. Farmers bear the shipping costs, but grain companies contract for most shipping. The result - farmers can't sue for being 'railroaded.' The railroads also sometimes provide poor service to both their coal and grain customers - car shortages.

One of the largest electric utilities is MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a monopoly owned by Berkshire Hathaway. MidAmerican benefits from profit-now, pay tax-later corporate tax laws. In 2009 it paid less than 17% tax on profits, while being allowed to charge customers the full 35% corporate tax rate. Similarly with Buffett's PacifiCorp utility.

In 1996 the STB ruled that if any portion of a trip is on a monopoly rail line the monopoly rail can charge monopoly rates all the way. Railroads are also allowed to require that contract terms be kept confidential, supposedly to promote competition.

Sine 1995, average cable prices have been rising 2.6X the cost of living. Glasgow, Ky. has provided Internet service since 1987 at less than commercial rates.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the years, I have wondered why my bills kept going up in spite of promises from various industries and companies describing how they were going to pass the savings on to me, and my bills would be going down. By all accounts, my phone bill should have gone down once I started buying my own phones and making fewer calls. My electric bill from Consolidated Edison should have shown a steady decline, as they promised it would when they were freed from regulation. My cable bill should have remained pretty steady at $30.00 a month like it was 15 years ago instead of appreciate to $130.00 a month, especially with a bundle.

Author David Cay Johnston was wondering the same thing, only he took it a number of steps further and began investigating how common such occurrences were across the land, and he found out plenty. Electric companies serving Louisiana and neighboring states were charging their customers for electricity from streetlamps that were not working, even from lamps that had never been installed, and they had been doing so for decades.

The bottom line is that many of these big companies have "market power," the ability to raise prices in spite of competition and weak economies. Instead of the competition keeping prices low companies collude to keep the prices high, even raising them. They may not have to pay the corporate taxes to the government but can charge you for them as if they had. They are allowed to charge you $35.00 for overdrafts even though it costs them less than a penny to make the adjustment. They can create their own oligopolies over municipalities, counties, states, even regions. Companies that offer enormous sums to buy the local power or water company will make it up in increased charges even if they cannot justify them.
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52 Comments 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Hi im one of the ignorant masses living out in a rural area getting super slow internet when apparently the rest of the world gets faster internet at a better price! They have been telling me for years that they will get faster speeds out here, but after reading this book i now know that is a big fat lie! The internet is part of our infrastructure like the highways. And if we dont keep up with the rest of the world we will get left behind! After reading this book I was flat out disgusted with the way various company's are taking advantage of us and ruining the economy. This book will probably tick you off once you read it. It certainly has motivated me to do something, im not sure what yet but something! This book is for the average person that is not paying attention to whats going on. If you are a news addict you probably know whats going on and this book is of little interest to you.( Though there are alot of things in here that I have not heard reported on the news.) If you are like me however and you are not a news addict or very aware of what these thieves are up to then this book has some very important info in it. ( My thanks to the writer. Im actually going to write my congressman for the first time in my life. ) So 5 stars for keying me in!
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David Cay Johnson does it again. He won a Pulitzer when writing about taxes for the New York Times. Now he has put much of what he learned in a very readable book about why the middle class is struggling and the rich are getting richer. He covers a wide range of "complicated" government policies designed to hide the subsidies that the very rich get which are taken out of the pockets of the middle class. He writes with such fluidity and shows how these governmental policies affect each of us that you can't read it without getting mad. While I have some doubts about some of the solutions he offers, he is dead right that we are heading back to the 1890s when the plutocrats ran the country to the detriment of the free enterprise system that they publicly espouse but privately set up monopolies or oligopolies that guarantee they don't have to face price competition. A must read.
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