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Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) Hardcover – December 27, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 202 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Johnston, a New York Times investigative reporter, has spent his 40-year career exposing collusion between government officials and private sector entities as they enrich the rich and ignore consequences for middle-class laborers and the poor. In Perfectly Legal, he focused on hidden inequities in the tax system. This volume is a broader examination of collusion and unfairness, ranging from subsidies for professional sports stadiums to secret payouts to multinational corporate chief executives. At the base of Johnston's journalistic indictment are the highly paid lobbyists working Congress, state legislatures, county commissions, city councils and government regulatory agencies. Johnston also cites the culpability of George W. Bush in his roles as professional baseball team owner, Texas governor and U.S. president, and targets well-known tycoons such as Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and George Steinbrenner as well as lesser-recognized beneficiaries who own golf courses and insurance companies and energy consortiums. Heroes appear occasionally, such as Remy Welling, an Internal Revenue Service investigator who blew the whistle on improper tax breaks for the wealthy and lost her job. Johnston writes compellingly to show how government-private sector collusion affects the middle class and the poor. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“If you’re concerned about congressional earmarks, stock options (especially backdated options), hedge fund tax breaks, abuse of eminent domain, subsidies to sports teams, K Street lobbyists, the state of our health-care system, to say nothing of the cavernous gap between rich and poor, you’ll read this fine book—as I did—with a growing sense of outrage. Free Lunch makes it clear that it’s high time for ‘We the People’ to stand up and be counted.”
—John C. Bogle, founder and former chairman, The Vanguard Group

“With clarity, conciseness, and cool, fact-saturated analysis, Mr. Johnston, the premier investigative reporter on how industry and commerce shift risks and costs to taxpayers, sends the ultimate message to all Americans—either we demand to have a say or we will continue to pay, pay, and pay.”
—Ralph Nader --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; 1 edition (December 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591841917
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591841913
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (202 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on January 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author has written a well documented and detailed account of how less than 1% of Americans are getting rich of the backs of the other 99%. And, it isn't just individuals who are reaping millions of dollars from taxpayers...it's also corporations.

Some of the items presented in detail in the book include how one of the largest baseball teams in the country destroyed a public park for a new stadium, had it paid for by the citizens, and then gave payback to politicians who helped.

Or the two major hunting and fishing chains that got millions and millions in tax subsidies to build stores based on false and unsustainable promises, and continue to try to rape the treasuries of communities across the country with more false promises.

Or the company who built a call center in Buffalo using tax subsidies and sold it to the public through a newspaper owned by the same company.

These are just several examples of the material detailed in the book. In addition to showing who is taking, and how, the author details who is fighting back and how they are trying to in an era when the courts and politicians are held by corporate interests.

The book is well written, and well documented. In addition, the author took what can be a very dry subject and made extremely readable. This book should be read by every American, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential elections. Some familiar names will pop out at you as individuals who made their fortunes off our backs.
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Format: Hardcover
One thing you can expect when you open a book by David Cay Johnston is narrative that reads like a drama unfolding except that the plot is present-day America and the story is how the wealthy are getting richer at the expense of the middle class. Hence the title "Free Lunch," where the wealthy steal it with government approval, are paid to take it or get it free, courtesy of the same who hands the bill over to us.

At the very beginning, Johnston explains what the invisible hand of Adam Smith means, for the benefit of those who know it and for those who only think they do--of which there are more than enough of the latter. Smith postulated that a free market economy creates competition that serves the common good but, (and here's the kicker), does not work if government provides them bounty (subsidies), or allows them to collude to keep prices high. He also stated that there would be enterprises that would operate to seek bounties only, the equivalent of modern corporate welfare.

Johnston provides chapter after fascinating chapter of how government at all levels offers break after break which is consistently picked up by Average Joe Taxpayer. Such "bounties" include:

· Misuse of eminent domain, which is supposed to mean appropriating land for the common good such as a new highway or airport. Now it is used to support developers who wish to profit at the expense of the homeowner.

· Tax breaks. Not only do companies such as Wal-Mart, Cabela, or Bass Pro insist on property tax breaks that decimate the local economy rather than improve it, but they might even insist on keeping the sales tax. Communities may not see a return on their investment for decades.
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Format: Hardcover
How can our government be so expensive, yet so ineffective?

Showing it's no accident that our political institutions too often serve the interests of the rich and powerful, Mr. Johnston "follows the money" -- the money that buys special favors, and the money that's siphoned out of our pockets to pay for them.

This is an eminently readable and informative book, that deserves a large audience. But be warned -- being informed can produce outrage!

Eric Alan Isaacson
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Format: Hardcover
David Cay Johnston has been writing about this topic for years.
Question to all: How come no Dateline or 60 Minutes investigation hasn't exposed this ongoing scam?
How come newspapers just won't harp mercilessly on the politicians about that?

THAT is the real tragedy that shall cost this country its very preeminence. A non-informed citizenry is prime material for being robbed of their money and freedoms.
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Format: Hardcover
I wanted to lose my lunch on the shoes of any politician or executive named in this book after reading what David Cay Johnston had to say. Unless you want to be cheated forever (and for more money), read this book and let your "elected" and "appointed" representatives know that you won't stand for it any more.

George Washington, as usual, got it right: If we allow political parties to exist rather than looking out for everyone's interests in a non-partisan way, the parties will sell out the public interest for pennies to get money to run election campaigns and conduct party politics.

It's popular now to say we need a change in Washington, a change that involves changing political parties in charge of governing. Wrong! Really, how foolish can we get? Can't anyone remember what Washington said?

In the meantime, you can read the excellent exposes in David Cay Johnston's book to help you realize that your Federal, state, and local legislators in the United States are selling out your and your children's interests to curry favor with those who will give them large campaign contributions. Yes, there's some corruption but mostly it seems to be related to wanting power and more power . . . and not understanding what the costs will be.

Once again, we see tales of how the fig leaf of "free markets" is invoked to put in changes that cause "rigged markets" with vastly increased profits.
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