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Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill) Paperback – Bargain Price, December 30, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A journalistic missile launched against the myth that those who mooch off the government are mostly on the lower rungs
This is a provocative, highly readable and well-documented work.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
As an investigative reporter, Johnston is a big-game hunter. He skewers popular plutocrats like Buffett, digs up the dirt on unsavory sources of Paris Hiltons fortune and details Apple executive Steve Jobss backdated stock options thievery.
If youre concerned about congressional earmarks, hedge fund tax breaks, 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, youll read this fine bookas I didwith a growing sense of outrage.
John C. Bogle, founder and former chairman, The Vanguard Group
Johnston is an indefatigable reporter whose work recalls the muckraking epics of the Progressive era.
An engaging look at how the superrich consistently and outrageouslyrely on public handouts while preaching about free markets and wasteful entitlement programs all the way to the bank.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
· Government intervention in the form of legislation that may even benefit large companies at the expense of the citizen such as "free-market" energy as espoused by Ken Lay that eventually cost Californians exorbitant charges for no additional electricity generated.
· Kids who take student loans are finding out that what they thought was a loan at six percent suddenly became eighteen percent guaranteeing that they will pay far more than they borrowed for years to come, and the lender is guaranteed no risk.
· Our government is also lavishing subsidies onto for-profit health care companies that consistently look for ways to deny claims. No subsidies go to nonprofit health systems even though studies show they offer superior care. (Adam Smith also said: "What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole").
· The grand prize, which is our current administration in the form of George W. Bush who sponsored a drug plan for seniors that was worked on (behind closed doors) by Billy Tauzin (R), Max Baucus (D), and John Breaux (D). These "representatives of the people" guaranteed that Adam Smith's dictum of seeking the lowest possible price would be ignored. Their bill guaranteed that our government would not be allowed to negotiate the price of drugs for its citizens even though it would make purchases in bulk.
In each of the above, there has not only been collusion by companies and industries, but also a feckless government that has given its blessing with collusion of its own, subsidies, and bluster of threats to investigate wrong-doing, with investigations that never quite materialize.
Having read his previous work "Perfectly Legal" I was eager to get my hands on this book, and I was not disappointed. In twenty-seven chapters that span the length of less than 300 pages, you will discover how industry and government have actually worked to first deceive, then gouge the average hard-working taxpayer. Any one of these chapters is a revelation that made me open this book at every opportunity.
This is the kind of book you can be sorry that it comes to an end, and also be glad that it does (because it is too painful).
If this book cannot stir the most politically apathetic into action, nothing will.
Maybe they'll just have to see the bill first.
"Perfectly Legal" by David Cay Johnston
"The Conscience of a Liberal" by Paul Krugman
"Sicko" (DVD) by Michael Moore
"The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)"
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
Claims likely to raise eyebrows can be thinly referenced, but the handful I checked were readily verified. Details on Walmart required paying for information, but after paying up, the facts on file verified the author's reportage. My thinking is this is an accurate (read, 'high quality') reference on the state of the nation's political and economic degeneration.
Not really sure what to say except that even well-informed readers who value America's tradition of economic opportunity for unexceptional Americans are likely to be sickened reading detailed accounts of the purposeful degradation of America's private sector middle class at the hands of local, state, and federal officials under the influence of corporations seeking cash or protection (or both) from ordinary taxpayers.
There are any number of similar books which are in essence follows of the 1980s-1990s "America" trilogy by Barlett and Steele. They wrote about it when the snake's head was just coming out from under the rock. Now the snake has ordinary Americans in its mouth.
Whether America's character can be restored to the level of the nation that once flew the "Don't Tread On Me" flag remains to be seen.