Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill)

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Free Lunch answers the great mystery of our time: How did our strong and growing economy give way to job uncertainty, debt, bankruptcy, and fear for millions of Americans? Acclaimed reporter David Cay Johnston reveals how government policies and spending have reached deep into the wallets of the many to benefit the top 1% of the wealthiest.

He shows exactly who has been getting free lunches from the government!from $100 million to Warren Buffett, to $1.3 billion to the owners of the Yankees and Mets. But of course there¨s really no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayer always picks up the bill. With his in depth reporting, vivid stories, and sharp analysis, Johnston reveals the forces that shape our everyday economic lives!and shows us how we can finally make things better.

Customer Reviews:

  • Einstein Once Said...
    "You cannot fix a problem with the tools that created it."

    Free Lunch tells stories about how certain businesses make hay using their peerage in the "aristocracy of pull". In so doing, it attempts to unmask what some might describe as capitalism as something closer to socialism or even nihilism.

    Overall, the book presents many examples of government favoritism, written in a style designed to provoke reaction. One can hope that readers will act decisively and wisely to perhaps stop or even undo some of the outrages presented. As a tool of persuasion, however, the book could stand some criticism.

    One cannot easily determine the book's intended audience. Quoting Adam Smith may attract the "laissez-faire" capitalists, but then one finds a reference to Karl Marx. Marx is to political books what equations are to pop-science books - the equivalent of throwing a brimming chamber-pot right in the reader's face.

    I have never found quoting the Bible to have a persuasive effect. For one, Mr. Johnston is a white male who lacks a shellacked coif AND has a beard. The medium is the message, dude, and Johnston is neither Joseph Lowery nor Joel Osteen. So that makes the author either an "accuser of the brethren" or worse, a member of one of the decadent Protestant sects, e.g. a Methodist. Trust me -- I grew up a Baptist. Bible-quoting pissing contests were what we called "debate".

    Some of the asides seem to exist merely for their shock value - for instance, comparing golf courses to royal pleasure palaces. Some seem to contradict the intent of the author - such as defending public golf courses. Parks for poor kids are one thing, but those who can afford a set of clubs can probably afford to play on a private course. I have never seen a golfer ride the city bus to get to the links. Then again, it's hard to condemn public courses when we subsidize private ones.

    The book seems to hit the title insurance problem dead-on -- as a homeowner, I find the notion of needing insurance to protect against land claims supposedly protected by well-established documentation in THE GREATEST AND MOST INFALLIBLE COUNTRY EVER TO EXIST to resemble the ol' "auto undercoating" scam. The author errs in assuming that transferring the insurance burden to the lenders would save homebuyers money. Take a look at the interest your bank accounts earn against the interest you pay in loans and tell me if the lenders would return to you one dollar of any savings their sophistication could extract. Yeah, I thought so...

    These faults are minor compared to the glaring weakness that runs through the entire work, and which culminates in the final chapter. It is the assumption that fixing ourselves, and with it the government, will fix the problem. Besides the numerous examples presented by history where rapacious men ruled over the humble, the book's modest proposal in the final chapter has problems. What good would it do to move all of Congress' expenses to the public ledger when there is ZERO chance of removing someone for abusing the privilege? With re-election rates near 98%, and knowing the role played by the states in determining political outcomes (such as setting barriers to entry and drawing congressional districts), not even the most twisted political or economic analysis can call the current system competitive. I would hypothesize that nearly all changes in office have four causes - death, arrest, sex scandal, and gerrymandering. Nixon and Clinton act as the exceptional people who prove the rule.

    Ponder again for a moment the 98% re-election rate - which puts the lie to the claims of some that Congress continually runs for re-election, and therefore needs the money that buys them, doesn't it?

    The lack of true political competition poses the greatest threat to American freedom and prosperity - the kleptocracy, as egregious as it is, is only a symptom.

    While we wait for THAT to happen, we might want to develop a framework by which Joe and Jane Six-Pack can reward those who play fair, and punish those who don't. Maybe Mr. Johnston's skills in research and story telling can help us find, join, and emulate those who have the skills and imagination to retrieve fairness from the dung heap of history.

    Then again, maybe we should just rise up and line the Beltway with crucifixes......more info
  • Entertaining
    I'll keep it short:

    I was anticipating more nuts and bolts details
    re. how the system aids the wealthy. I got less
    of those than I wanted...but instead Cay offers
    up some telling anecdotes
    (with Econ 101 just out of view)
    that demonstrate the system's dysfunction.
    The stories are well written and compelling,
    so I found the book more entertaining than I expected....more info
  • Investigative, detailed journalism
    I've read numerous authors to learn what ails our system: Lou Dobbs, Dick Morris, Susan Eisenreich, David Cay Johnston's "Perfectly Legal," and nothing draws it all together as factually and dispassionately as "Free Lunch." It's the perfect primer for how our system really works. Though copyrighted in 2007, it provided a premonition of the '08 financial collapse and present turmoil. It explains why the cheats don't get caught, the pressures that come to bear, how our legal/political/economic system has been hijacked, and why the wealthy always seem to get more. It was surprisingly non-partisan. His final chapter--on what we can do in response--is remarkably tame for such a provocative book. One criticism: lack of footnotes for re-verification of claims, examples, and quotes. It'd be nice to read a rebuttal, and find out what a supporter of our present system would have to say. In some cases, Johnston has been able to head off opposing arguments. This is not a partisan book or angry rant but a straightforward analysis of why things aren't right....more info
  • Alan Binder states, in the next decade or two, as many as 40 million US job will be at risk of moving overseas
    1. The stock market has replaced the local bank as the place where people keep their savings.
    2. In 2007, seventy percent of Americans own their homes with a mortgage payment with a potential collective worth $20 trillion.
    3. In 2005, the 300,000 individuals comprise the top 1 percent had nearly as much income as the 150 million lower income individuals.
    4. Bandon Dunes golf course, historically, benefited from subsidized air travel from the Department of Transportation. Bandon Dunes is the Hampton, of the West Coast.
    5. Where ever, the world has civilized rules based on some moral or practical principle one can see prosperity and freedom, though not always together.
    6. For more than a quarter century the government has been adopting rules that tilt the playing field in favor of the rich, the powerful, and the politically connected.
    7. In 2001, Steve Jobs was alleged too have received 7.5 million share options at a board of directors meeting that never took place. "7.5 million-option grant to him in 2001 had been backdated by two months--and that company records were falsified to create the impression that a special board meeting had taken place to approve the grant when no such meeting had ever actually occurred." The back dating is illegal and implies falsified documentation and causing government governance to raise red flags. Backdating is picking a date in the past, when a stock's value was lower, and assign an exercise price of the option. Backdating affects the reportable amounts in terms of earnings to the investors.
    8. Wal-mart and target and a host of lesser-known retailers receive city taxpayer subsidies when they open new stores
    9. Buffett's firm has a two-thirds-billion-dollar, interest-free loan from our government
    10. Shanghai is expected to have 5,000 skyscrappers twice the number built in New York city. China is a magnetic pull. Magnequench, a pioneer in Neodymium iron boron magnets. "In 1995, Beijing San Huan New Material High-Tech Inc. and China National Non-Ferrous Metals Import & Export Corporation partnered with investment firm the Sextant Group Inc. to acquire Magnequench." The result is that China now possesses the largest production capacity for Neodymium iron Boron powder. The technology is being used in military smart weapons and brushless magnetic motors used by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. Complaints on the sale of Magnequench were made in the US because of the military application for the magnets.
    11. 85 percent of the planet's known stores of neodymium are in China.
    12. Chinese Corporate income tax trends towards taxes owed to US will going down. The first reason is that American business profits earned overseas are not taxed so long as the money stays offshore. Second, the US allows American companies to reduce taxes on profits by the amount they pay to foreign governments, a dollar for dollar credit. US tax credit originated with the oil industry. Corporate income taxes paid in China are often used to benefit the company that pays. Taxes may finance a new road or railroad spur or police presence and other services the company requires.
    13. A company with operations in the US and another country can borrow money at home, deduct the interest and lower it taxes.
    14. Company that moves its factory to China will not have worry about unions and union rules. China ignores rules it finds inconvenient. Pirated movies and music are openly sold on the streets of China; forced labor abounds; government controlled unions are allowed; toxins pour into Chinese rivers; toxic ingredients have been found in food, toys, and toothpaste imported from China. In 2006, the trade balance with China reached $232 billion.
    15. In 2006, the US imported $136 billion more from Canada and Mexico than we sold to them and imported a third of our oil. China, Japan, Canada, and Mexico accounted for 60 percent of our worldwide trade deficit of $764 billion.
    16. Moving a 1,000 jobs to China adds $72 million to the company's annual profits. A company can not raise prices enough for the same volume of production to increase profits by $72 million if it stays in America.
    17. Alan Binder states, in the next decade or two, as many as 40 million US job will be at risk of moving overseas. In 2007, there were 147 million civilian jobs with fewer than 7 million unemployed and another 4 million, no longer drawing unemployment. The loss of 40 million jobs would be an economic catastrophe. Binder says, "the balance is shifting against us." Services in medical, legal, information, and accounting are moving overseas. X-Rays being read offshore by technicians, remote robot surgeries, and remote tele operation. Binder suggest spending more money on job retraining, make health care available to all, and improving protection of pensions. In a future where tens of millions of job migrate offshore, who will pay for the economic band-aids?
    18. Warren Buffet calculates, America is selling close to 2 percent of its wealth each year to sustain our appetite for imported oil and cheap manufactured goods.
    19. Mattera has discovered Wal-Mart subsidies total $1 billion. Subsidies give Wal-Mart against other competitive retailers that do not receive a subsidy and not politically connected. In the past decade, Wal-Mart has collect $52 billion in sales tax from customers and paid a small fee for processing the money. Over the last decade, Wal-Mart paid $4 billion in local property taxes, 25 cents for every 100 dollars revenue. Walmarts revenue for ten years totaled more than $1.6 trillion. The company paid $192 million in income and unemployment taxes to local governments. Income and jobless taxes amount to a penny for each $100 revenue. In 2006, Wal-Mart tool in $348 billion in sales.
    ...more info
  • Find Out About Corporate Welfare for the Rich
    Get this book: it will make you wonder why the middle class receives so little individual welfare with no apologies to the rich....more info
  • review of the book FREE LUNCH etc, etc.
    excellent book. should be read by all conservative Republicans. ha ha. I was somewhat familiar with some of the subjects covered, but the author filled in a number of blanks in my previous level of understanding.The book's complete title provides an accurate description of the contents....more info
  • Free Lunch exposes who's been dining on the taxpayers' tab.
    If you've had a vague feeling of hunger while big corporations and big banks feed at the taxpayer buffet like hogs at a trough, this book is for you. Andrew Cay Johnson lays out scenario after scenario where big business/big banks rip us off and leave taxpayers footing the bill. Many of the corporate ripoffs will surprise you. No weird ranting or bizarre conspiracy theories here ... only well-researched journalism and credible facts....more info
  • Very good reporting on a serious situation, but a very odd proposed solution
    David Cay Johnston does some very interesting reporting on the ways in which the quite wealthy use their connections and power to not only protect their wealth, property, and interests, but to shift the costs of even their luxurious lifestyles onto the regular taxpayer - that means you and me. He shows how the rich have gotten fantastically richer since the Reagan years while the people below the top few percent have stagnated or retreated in their financial well-being. Some debate the kind of analysis he does here, but the overall trend he cites is unmistakable. Of course, you should never ever assume that the wealthy are Republican, capitalists, free marketers, or conservative. More often than not they are the kinds of people Adam Smith talked about as dangerous to the general public because they seek to use the power of government to protect their special interests and collect what economists call "economic rents". You and I would call them subsidies or other protected cash flows from government at far above competitive market rates.

    As you read this interesting book I think you will start with exasperation, work up to sputtering indignation, and end up quite angry. Of course, impotent anger doesn't change things. Unfortunately, the author doesn't offer a particularly strong solution because he wants the government to do MORE and have MORE power. He wants to give them an unlimited budget to do the "right things" for us, but give them no ability to take money, gifts, or anything else from lobbyists. Personally, I do not think making the 435 members of Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judges our complete masters is a good idea or what America is about. Frankly, I think the solution is obvious, but one we don't seem to have the stomach for. We must all swear off our addiction to getting things from the government. We need to demand that government shrink. The reason so much wealth and power flows to Washington is because they control so much of the economy. If they were involved less in our lives we wouldn't have to spend so much of our time kowtowing to them.

    One other thing that this massive growth in government power necessitates is that more and more organizations and individuals seek favors from government just to function. This is a very bad state of affairs and one that the author misses. He seems to treat all people feeding at the government teat as the same greedy so-and-sos. That is not the case. My point is that we need to get government back to being civil servants and fewer of them (a lot fewer) rather than our masters who dole out our money to us as if it were theirs in the first place.

    Good information, but I really think the author's proposed solution is way out there.

    Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI.
    ...more info
  • free lunch
    excellent book, our elected reps arent reps for us, confirmed for me that bill clinton is worse than george bush. they used to call em traitors....more info
  • Heated report on how the rich get richer on your dime
    Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston exposes how the wealthy have used the U.S. government to distort markets, eliminate competition, support lavish lifestyles and appropriate tax dollars. He explains how developers get resorts subsidized, and how big businesses extract huge concessions from cities based on promised benefits that rarely materialize. He details how big sports teams get taxpayers to build palatial stadiums where team owners reap big profits. Johnston also explains that when your local cops investigate false burglar alarm calls - running to investigate when something triggers a system installed by a private alarm company - you pay the cops for making the visit and dilute your own police protection. If you are a U.S. taxpayer, expect to feel frustrated or infuriated as he reveals how politicos route your money to the wealthy. However, his recommendation on how to free Congress from lobbyists' influence may be somewhat impractical. getAbstract thinks this report will continue to be intriguing as long as the issue of government spending matters. Sounds like a long time. ...more info
  • Truly a Must Read
    David Johnston's book should be required reading for every American, especially before they vote. Forget the "welfare cheats". Corporate welfare puts them to shame. In Free Lunch, Johnston tells you in great detail who and what corporations are ripping off the American taxpayer--to the tune of billions of dollars--and who in the government are helping them do it.

    This book will make you angry, and it should. Our hard-earned tax dollars (and our children's and grandchildrens' to come) are being wasted on the wealthy and powerful who know what buttons to push, and who to wine and dine, in Washington. It's the story rarely told by the mainstream media, who are too afraid of offending the wrong advertisers. David Johnston isn't--and America is better for it....more info
  • Hopeless
    After reading this book, you'll realize just how hopeless our condition is. Johnston's final chapter, "What To Do," offers nothing more than a "we better go get 'em before it's too late" recommendation. Well, it's already too late....more info
  • so that's where all my money is going....
    And you thought old Sam Walton built his empire mostly through good honest American hard work and cunning...think again! Subsidies given to corporations, by the government, equate to what David Cay Johnston says is "Corporate socialism". It is also called "Corporate welfare". And it happens all the time.

    He talks about how other business entities steal property from people, and other businesses, through mis-use of eminent domain. One example he gives is the Bush/Texas Ranger stadium that ruined people's lives by stealing their property...houses and businesses...where the stadium was built.

    The "wealthy elite" propaganda machine keeps right-wing minds spinning with the specter of sleazy poor women, with 10 kids, getting welfare checks every month.....doesn't even come close to what it costs the taxpayer to support "corporate socialism". Socialism is a bad word that has been pounded into our fears...left over from the bad old "Duck and Cover" days of the cold war. Talk about Psy-Ops....and they are still at it.

    Our government gives tax incentives to corporations to send our jobs overseas. Then the profits from these overseas entities get stuck into off-shore accounts which "hides", and avoids, US taxation. The little guy gets stuck with all the taxes. And the IRS goes after the little guy because he is relatively defenseless because he can't afford the lawyers like the big boys can. Besides, they're all in on it...the banks, the corporations, the politicians.

    Now that our economy is in shambles, so many people have lost their jobs to offshore, etc., who is going to pay the taxes? Not those without a job. Who is going to buy all of the goods or services....not those without a job. I wonder what new trick for screwing the people the wealthy have in store for us now that there is no one left to pay the taxes...except them? Oh yes, there is always "Soylent Green"! ...more info
  • Lots of Anger But Few Solutions
    I enjoyed this book but I found it to be an exercise in venting and anger more than a practical and useful exercise. What would be of greater purpose is if the author suggested some real term solutions but he does not. In fact the book looks at the abuses in the system and suggests they are the norm all the while excluding any cases to the contrary. Yes George Steinbrenner is building a new stadium using city funds but isn't that an issue for the voters of New York City to decide is worth their tax dollars? If they feel it is not they vote the bums out of office. Buffalo, another city cited in the article, has repeatedly voted against a new stadium for the Bills and has a very positive record of securing strong deals with new businesses. The book does not mention Warren Buffet contributing $30 million to Buffalo's libraries and public schools.

    All in all this is entertaining but very biased. Of course we all think government spending is wasteful unless of course we are the ones who benefit from it. Being from Boston I know that the Big Dig is a huge waste of tax payer money but I will happily drive on it anytime day or night compared to its predecessor. So while you read this book remember that you are benefiting in some way, shape or form from a government abuse. ...more info
  • Blood Pressure Rouser

    What a great book! I can only read a few pages at a time before having to put it down to let my blood pressure settle. Are we in the lower echelons getting screwed or what? Thanks Mr. Johnston for this real eye opener. It's as good, if not better, than your 'Perfectly Legal". When are the wealthy ever satisfied?...more info
  • Excellent investigative reporting by one of the best
    The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. His facts are solid and his conclusions are justified. The corruption he uncovers are no small matter and even sheds light on why our economy is failing.

    Deregulation sounded nice - Let's allow the market to determine for itself what is best... All well and good until you realize that capitalism run amok without regulation leads to corruption and the elimination of competition. Entrepreneurial spirit is now being snuffed out along with innovation and efficiency.

    Everything from Enron to the title insurance industry, he gets it all. When large corporations have high paying jobs waiting for regulators and legislators, should it be any surprise that the decision making processes of our government has become tainted? When our regulators are the victims of extortion (see the Chapter on title insurance), should it be any surprise that enforcement actions are light handed? When huge government subsidies are given to large corporations and not given to the local businesses, should it be any surprise that the subsidized corporations have an unfair business advantage and put the local companies out of business?

    This author tells it how it is and backs it up with a compilation of New York Times investigative reporting and more...

    I only wish he had a solution to what appears to be an unresolvable problem.

    Excellent read.

    Doug Miller...more info
  • Should be required reading
    I stumbled upon an anti-David Cay Johnston blog called "David Cay Johnston Watch". On it the author attempts and fails at a smear campaign on Mr. Johnston. Instead of attacking the authenticity of the data in the book, the blogger chose to attack Mr. Johnston himself. Why not attack the data? the facts? or at least the arguments made in "Free Lunch""? I still haven't found a credible attack on the facts, real life examples, and cold hard data that Johnston collected. Johnston points out over and over and over again that our system has been given over the super wealthy and powerful to take from the many to give to the few. Social welfare is not our problem, it is corporate welfare that hurts our markets, hurts our economy and only benefits a few. READ THIS BOOK! ...more info
  • Startling facts about where our money goes.
    It is quite shocking to understand how some wealthy businessmen can make so much money taking advantage of various government programs at all levels of government. And ultimately, it is the average person that ends up paying.

    There is a lot of detail in the book which makes it difficult to read and understand at times. But, one still comes away with the essence of how shrewd businessmen (sometimes with the aid of politicians) operate to make millions of dollars that ultimately cost us more in taxes of all kinds.

    If you enjoy understanding how things work, this is an interesting read in seeing what happens that we seldom hear about or understand. ...more info
  • Why not 'privatize' your grandmother?
    When you finish this book you will want the word 'privatize' to added to the devil's dictionary....more info
  • They make money the old-fashioned way: They steal it
    People collecting government welfare really are driving Cadillacs, as journalist David Cay Johnston's book FREE LUNCH explains. But they're not the welfare queens of which politicians such as Ronald Reagan spoke to divide and conquer the electorate. Rather, since 1981 American taxpayer money has made the rich even richer while everyone else got poorer.

    Here is an overview of each FREE LUNCH chapter:

    The wealthy play golf but, talk about "green" fees, taxpayers finance it.

    The U.S. government is just as big today as it was when in 1980 Ronald Reagan purported to want to reduce it. It's just that it funnels money to those in the penthouses instead of those in the commons.

    The public takes the risks so private industry can make billions and billions of dollars, rather than have to settle for just billions.

    Nothing costs the American working class as much as free trade.

    George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees steal a lot more than bases.

    How another baseball owner named George - that is, George W. Bush - and his political buddies got the public to pay for his baseball team, making him wealthy.

    The 2000 presidential election wasn't the only thing the Supreme Court's politically-appointed judges were willing to help steal. They'll also help a huge corporation like DaimlerChrysler steal a small business owner's land.

    9. GOIN' FISHIN'
    Taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart.

    10. JUST SAY NO
    Taxpayers subsidize Warren Buffett.

    Taxpayers pick up the tab for executives' private jets.

    Years ago Public Enemy had a song, "9-1-1's A Joke." One big, expensive reason why the police take so long to respond to your emergency call is home security system false alarms, for which the public pays.

    Title insurance is something for which home buyers do need a burglar alarm.

    How Sallie Mae went from a government-sponsored entity serving college students to a for-profit, legal loan-sharking outfit.

    A wealthy corporate executive is likelier to get a homeowner tax break than someone who needs it.

    The Hiltons steal a large portion of their patriarch's estate from the impoverished.

    The great gift of a deregulated electricity market proves a shocker.

    The story of John Snow, one who's reaped the rewards of government and industry enriching the few at the expense of the many.

    22. LESS FOR MORE; and
    Only in the United States does someone go bankrupt because of medical bills. Today a congressman, tomorrow a health insurance or drug company lobbyist.

    Investment firms line their pockets with our money and leave us with the lint.

    The I.R.S. protects tax cheats, as long as it's millions they're stealing. Yet audits of those earning $25,000 are way up.

    The gap between wealthy and poor in America has not been this great since right before the Great Depression....more info
  • A Lousy Read
    The author drones on and on to support his assumptions. In most cases, nothing he says is anything that a person who keeps up on government and events already knows. He breaks no new ground. Each chapter could be summed up in three pages, saving the reader from hours of useless supporting information. Very hard to stay awake reading this dribble. Only the true leftist in the world would rate this book at better than average. A lousy read; don't waste your money....more info
  • What every American should know
    Mr. Johnston has done a terrific amount of work to amass a telling and damning story of what the free market system has become in the U.S.--a system designed from top to bottom not to deliver goods and services but to rob the taxpayers by diverting their monies from public good to private greed of unimagined proportions. This is a well documented tale of greed, corruption, theft, collusion and the self fulfilling prophecy of the old adage of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. With this tool we may begin to take back the country!...more info
  • You pay for their riches
    If you had any question about how rich people get SO rich... this book answers many of them. The playing field is NOT level. It's not a fair trade market and we need to get more involved in local politics to make our voices hear. We're only the little people if we decide to be....more info
  • Entertaining and Enlightening
    When I started reading Free Lunch I found it hard to put down. The book told of the dark deeds of the corporations and superrich while maintaining a clear, informational and exciting narrative. If you have ever wondered why:

    -CEO's get millions while their companies fail.
    -The wealthy pay less in taxes then their secretaries.
    -Why your taxes don't go towards improving schools, infrastructure or other vital services.
    -Americans have poor health care but pay the most for it.
    -The income gap between the rich and poor has grown over the past 25 years.
    -How Warren Buffet, George Stienbrenner, George Bush made money off your taxes.

    Then this is the book for you. David Johnson addresses these topics along with many others in this excellent book. He names names and details the disruptive economic practices that are slowly taking away the American dream. ...more info
  • a gem
    This book is a gem. It busts the myth of "free" markets wide open by showing, in case after case, that the markets for everything from professional sports entertainment to health-care are not free at all but fixed for the benefit of a tiny empowered minority at the expense of the rest of us. This book has the power to ignite a voter revolution if only enough people would read it....more info
  • Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)
    David Cay Johnston does a great job investigating the corporate welfare system. A must read for everyone....more info
  • Eye-opening and total depressing
    This superbly written 'State of the Union' makes for a shocking summary of where we are today. The material is fresh, unnerving, and makes your blood boil. "How the government systematically screws everyone over" would have been an accurate alternative title. I was so impressed with it that I shared my disillusion with all my friends and gave everyone a copy for Christmas!...more info
  • Excellent book
    This new book by the Pulitzer Prize winning author David Cay Johnston details the way that the wealthy of America use lobbyists and curry favors from our politicians in order to gain grants, giveaways, and tax breaks from our government. It's an excellent look at how government shifts resources away from the middle class and poor to the super rich - defined as the top 1% of Americans - and how those people offer little to nothing in return for your tax dollars. Well written and well documented, this book is a must read for those concerned about how government works, or doesn't work, allegedly in the name of those who elect our representatives....more info
  • war on the middle class
    out to lunch is a good book , see what the people that work for you really do with your money....more info
  • Presto Chango!
    A real shock is to see the hidden ways in which ordinary, unwealthy, citizens get robbed by the rich. Governments stumble over each other in the stampede to provide ever larger subsidies to corporations that promise lots of business to their state or city. In theory, the subsidies will be used to help build a profitable stadium or sporting goods store, or whatever. In practice, the subsidized enterprise actually makes less money, sometimes a lot less, than the subsidy obtained.

    Presto Chango! Money taken from taxpayers ends up in someone's private pocket, the new way for taking care of business as usual. Why it's so pervasive? Officials who play along get little perks. Oh, not cash of course. That would be illegal! But perhaps an all expense paid cruise on a luxury liner would show some appreciation.

    Read all about it. Get fumed. Write your elected representative and demand change. But don't hold your breath. The subsidy kickbacks are spewed out like little pellets of fertilizer from a rotary spreader as the lawn gets fed. ...more info
  • Free Lunch - Must Read
    David Cay Johnston's "Free Lunch" is a kind of smoking gun in that it ties together all the diverse reports you've heard and read about the rich getting richer, war on the middle class, fleecing of America, etc. After the first two chapters I was worried Johnston would not deliver the kind of detail I was hoping to find, but his chapter three reporting of John Snow's part in the Amtrak/CSX derailment and the free ride CSX got from our legislators at taxpayer's expense laid those fears to rest. Other highlights include George W. Bush's sweethart deal with the Texas Rangers, Richard Cheney's relationship to the California electric power Enron swindle and the engineering studies showing that free markets are not guaranteed to provide lowest costs. Johnston is not saying all this is due to a cabal involving special interests and government. He's saying these things are a result of a system that allows and enables wealth to gain access and then undue influence on those in government who can provide favors and benefit themselves in the process. By all means read this book....more info
  • Free Lunch well done
    Free Lunch is exceptionally well written. Johnston focuses on the subtler government subsidies to the very wealthy, and the ridiculous subsidies to commercial enterprises, as well as to the programs being starved of funds because these subsidies are given. He relies on his own investigative reporting and those of colleagues, often stories not well publicized before.The book is about the winners and the losers, but it is not a simple class based screed, as the losers are often other businesses who face subsidized competition. Not to give too much away, I found some of his examples particularly engaging, including who pays for accidents caused by freight trains and public subsidies that encourage lack of maintenance of railroad equipment. Another engaging example runs through several chapters, detailing massive subsidies for fishing and hunting chains that falsely promise booms to dying towns. His account of federal subsidies to businessmen to fly to fancy golf courses is especially aggravating as the public benefit is impossible to detect.

    This is a good read, well researched, with a satisfying focus on the underdog. The combined focus on the the winners and the losers suggests a structure, not a one time event. I for one would like a sequel on what to do about it. Perhaps the upcoming elections will help make a change....more info
  • Robin Hood is alive and well
    The fact is, the top 20% of income earners pay 70-80% of the taxes in this country. Meanwhile, the Economic Stimulus package that passed recently will end up giving $600-1200 to many families who have NEVER paid taxes. That's called welfare, my friends. If you think it's so shady for the top earners and corporations to attempt to recover some of the taxes they are forced to pay (28-35% federally - without constitutional authority, by the way), so be it! Call it something dirty! But, what really ails our nation and economy going forward is the growing sense of entitlement, nanny-state attitude, and the vilification of wealth that this book pushes on the masses. Don't forget - the United States was built on the concept of capitalism. ...more info
  • Great ...But your going to throw it against the wall
    If you don't want to throw this fine piece of investigative reporting against the wall when you read it then your prob one of the ones that's ripping us off. This book proves that the only way to correct this country is get the money out all political campaigns. The best investment in the world is a campaign contribution that will give you a million fold return. ...more info
  • The Other Things Adam Smith Said
    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.

    , 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.

    Also recommended:

    "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)"...more info
    Free Lunch is full of documentation and examples that show how the very wealthiest politicians, corporations,and other individuals have milked US tax payers by using and abusing US Law, using subsidies for great profit. Sam Walton, George W., Enron, and many others are cited for a great fleecing of America. Through intimidation and finagling, The wealthiest have enriched themselves.

    I ask: How long will American taxpayers put of with this abuse and misuse of our tax dollars? Does anyone in America even have a conscience? Who will stand up for what is right? Who will demand what is right and just?

    Like many jobless people: I don't want a bailout, I just need work. And even if I did get a bailout, I wouldn't party with it.
    What is wrong with people? How can they be so very selfish and ruin America with their greed and lack of principles?
    The wealthiest don't get it. How much do they even contribute to charities to help others? How do they sleep at night, knowing that their greed has contributed to the economic downturn? ...more info
  • Perfectly Legal
    This an excellent book. Some of the things that it brought out I suspected ,but for the most part I could not have amagined that the tax system was so badly rigged. This is a must read for anyone who want to understand why there is such a great gap in the wealth of the haves and the have nots....more info
  • Verbose, misleading, and not worth your time.
    When writing a book about problems in economic policy, the author of such a book should pick an objective. Some authors have an objective of educating the public by pointing out policies or unintended consequences of policies that the public might not be aware of. An educational piece should cite statutes and sources of information and statistics MUCH more thoroughly than this book. This book presented a terribly disorganized one-sided story of the facts.

    Usually, the second objective of a book of this type is to propose solutions. This book contained a chapter called "What to Do?" roughly 6 pages long, 4 of those pages were just more ranting to make people upset; the last 2 pages of "solutions" were no solutions at all. I was not impressed with the book.

    He had a good intent - to bring to light all the injustice involved with "welfare for billionaires." However, his message is lost with too many words, poorly cited research, and claims that are partially true, but deceiving in that they are presented out of context.
    ...more info
  • Change We Need
    If you want to understand what led to the financial catastrophe we are now experiencing there is no better place to start then David Cay Johnston's book, Free Lunch. Amazingly, it was written last year. A first class job of research by a former NY Times reporter who has a gift of narrative along with the facts to back it up. It is the perfect book to give to those good people we all know who doubt that the system is really corrupt....more info
  • Free Lunch
    Everyone should read this book.Find who is getting a free lunch and most are only getting table scraps!...more info
  • Read in small doses
    This book is probably best read in small portions, as the average person will become incensed at the greed that takes from the less and gives to the more. Fortunately, each chapter covers a specific rip off of the taxpayer, and is not too long. It might raise the blood pressure of the average person to read too many chapters at one time.

    Yes, the wealthy and connected have rigged the system to flow the riches to themselves.

    If there is one theme to the book, it is the Adam Smith's advice that government should not favor one endeavor over another is deaf to the people that continually use Adam Smith as the reason for government getting out of the way. It is not free enterprise when government takes one side, which is what the wealthy and well connected have the government do.

    A good companion is Hostile Takeover by David Sirota (available on Amazon Kindle).Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--And How We Take It Back

    His prior book, Perfectly Legal, is a good primer, although a bit dated as to how the wealthy avoid taxes. In Free Lunch, it is how the wealthy get subsidies. Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else

    ...more info
  • Greed Oligarchy Plutocracy
    An excellent, well-documented and readable investigation and analysis of how the whole system of American government, at Federal, State and Local levels, has been used for the past 30 years or so to tax the poor and the middle class in order to enrich the already wealthy. If you think this sounds like the system in France in 1788, you are absolutely right. If you are not angry already, you need to read this book. If you are angry already, you still need to read this book in order to confirm all your worst suspicions. There is something rotten in the States of America, and if the infection of our body politic is not dealt with soon, it will turn to gangrene and kill democracy completely. ...more info
  • Free Lunch
    A very informative and straight-ahead book revealing, anecdote by real-life anecdote, how, during the Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations, our public commons -- in other words, our tax dollars -- increasingly have been routinely commandeered by a tiny and superrich elite for their own exhorbitant profit. In the form of public subsidies for private developers and retailers, such as Cabelas and Wal-Mart, and through privatization of our utility companies starting with Enron's massive rip-off of our public commons, Johnston shows how the wolves (greedy privateers) have not only gained entrance into the henhouse of our national treasury but, through intensive lobbying efforts, are exercising too much control over our elected officials today, basically funding the rewriting of our national laws to ensure their own dominant position and ongoing aggregation of riches.

    The book makes sense of a lot of things that were not adding up to me when looking around our current landscape -- like why my electric bill has skyrocketed in the last couple of years (thank you, Kenny Lay), or what kind of business "sense" was behind that monstrous box store of Cabelas on Rte. 78 in Hamburg, PA. Or even why oil and gas prices are going through the roof right now. It's not supply and demand at all, it's sleight of hand and basic greed and power-grabbing. Johnston shows how the scales of supply and demand no longer balance the markets, as the PR mavens would like us to believe. When private companies are subsidized with public funds, Adam Smith-type free market competition proves but a chimera, a smokescreen behind which privateers hide, avidly sucking our economy dry and bankrupting our society. Read the book. ...more info
  • Great Book
    Very well written book. It's very sad, especially since you read it and don't have any power to do anything about it, but it's very well written....more info
  • Great book that consolidate alot of information
    This is a very informative and enlightening look at how the weathly go to great lengths to manipulate a number of various systems to essentially steal money from the American public. Prior to reading the book I had a general ideal that alot of these things were going on but to see it all in one place makes me have a very 'upset stomach'. Our founder fathers would be ashamed at what the rich have done to the legal, tax, political systems within in this great country. It use to be that great innovation, new technlogy, solid investment strategy or great marketing were the keys to building wealth,.. wow have things deteriorated. I am not looking forward to the next 10 years. Couple of areas that the author omits are the subsidies that are provided to the oil companies, as well as the financial bailout of the airlines. Overall a great book and written with a good flow. He could have spent a little more time on some potential remedies. ...more info
  • A Book that Will Engage and Enrage You
    Seven years into the governmental nightmare known as the Bush II Admininstration, and scant months before the near collapse of the American economy under the weight of a devalued dollar, massive trade imbalances, failed hedge funds, near-failed banks and investment firms, bursting real estate bubble, $4.00+ per gallon gasoline, and the prospect of dual bankruptcies by Ford and General Motors, David Cay Johnston's FREE LUNCH emerged in bookstores. Mr. Johnston's book was as much a warning against these trends as it was a jeremiad, a lengthy register of complaints about a governmental system that, at virtually every level, had been overtaken by lawyers and lobbyists in the name of their corporate clients. In Mr. Johnston's view, the American enterprise system had increasingly become rigged for the aggrandizement of the wealthy few at the expense of the vast many. History will likely show that, while this perversion of government "for the people" was not causative with respect to the Bush II late-term recession, they will be seen as part and parcel of the same neoconservative, trickle-down agenda.

    The strength of FREE LUNCH emerges in its lengthy anecdotes. Rather than lecture and philosophize, Mr. Johnston elects to illustrate with concrete examples that leave one outraged, cursing under one's breath at both the sheer audacity and the public's lack of awareness and powerlessness. His case histories begin with the "reward without risk" behavior of CSX, the railroad company whose negligence in maintaining tracks and switches allowed them to increase earnings while offloading the liability for accidents and deaths onto the American taxpayer via Amtrak. Next comes the seizure of the Mullaly and Macombs Dam Parks by New York City on behalf of George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees, followed by a fusillade targeted at the use of taxpayer funds and tax rebates for privately-owned professional sports teams around the U.S. (with special attention given to the Texas Rangers during George W. Bush's questionable involvement with that franchise).

    Next comes corporate subsidies given to companies like Wal-Mart and Cabela sport shops in the form of land seizures (eminent domain) and tax subsidies which virtually never earn back in other taxes what is lost in the subsidy. One egregious example: Warren Buffet's GEICO insurance company received $100 million in government subsidies to build a $40 million call center in Buffalo, NY. Another is that of Tyco, General Electric, Honeywell, and others in the home alarm system business who collect monthly fees in return for placing calls with local police departments without bearing one cent's worth of the enormous cost of false alarms. Perhaps the most outrageous of Mr. Johnston's stories concerns the five companies who control 92% of the title insurance business in the United States. Not only is the industry rampant with kickbacks to developers, lawyers, and real estate brokers, the insurance itself is wildly overpriced and virtually unnecessary. No such corporate businesses exist in Australia or Europe, nor in Iowa where Johnston claims the typical title insurance premium is just $500.

    FREE LUNCH progresses through, among others, the areas of health care and health insurance, pharmaceuticals, student loans, and electrical utilities (including, of course, Enron). In each case, the author illustrates how big business interests are sheltered from risk or given preference over those of the average citizen due primarily to the latter's lack of lobbyists or other voices in government that speaks on their behalf. Congress, the people's purported voice in Washington, has of course long since been purchased by corporate interests, and similar abandonment has routinely taken place at the state and local levels.

    One would hope after all the horror stories that Mr. Johnston would have some thoughts on how to change things. Sadly, his suggestions occupy a meager two pages and consist of two hopelessly romantic idealizations: recognizing that "we the people" are not powerless, and "restor[ing] the ethos that cheating is wrong." In addition, and perhaps a bit more concretely, he proposes that Congressional representatives be given unlimited personal budgets in return for full and open reporting on all their expenditures coupled with a total ban (and zero tolerance) on all gifts and contributions of services. As he correctly points out, "A free lunch always costs more than an honest one." Unfortunately, it continues to be "we the people" who end up paying for all those free lunches.
    ...more info
  • excellent book, highly recommended
    Well written, informative and each chapter is a separate story about the transfer of public wealth in to the hands of the very rich. A real eye opener that every citizen should read, it will change the way you look at government....more info
  • How "Special Interests" Pick Your Pocket to Create Billion-Dollar Fortunes

    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. My favorite example in the book is how President Bush and his pal, "Kenny Boy" Lay, from Enron rigged the electricity markets so that instead of consumers paying the lowest price anyone was willing to sell electricity for (a Dutch auction) the highest price bid is paid to all (which means they take turns putting in phony high-priced bids to rig prices way above where they would be in either a free or a regulated market).

    Here are some of the more interesting cases in the book:

    1. How famous Scottish golf courses were re-created through indirect and direct taxpayer subsidies in a remote part of Oregon that is easily accessible only by corporate jet.

    2. How public parks were gobbled up to build the new Yankee Stadium in New York City and parks in poor areas everywhere were left untended to favor richer areas.

    3. Ways that college and graduate school students are cheated on their interest rates for student loans.

    4. How burglar alarm monitoring companies are subsidized to earn big profits by free police services covering false alarms while response rates to real crimes decline.

    5. How John Snow stopped repairing the track at CSX causing deaths with no risk that any costs would be incurred by CSX. You, the taxpayer, paid instead for his willful neglect.

    6. How many "high profile" politicians including Rudy Giuliani have ignored anti-corruption laws and take huge gifts and trips from lobbyists.

    7. How two leading sporting goods chains persuade governments to subsidize their stores with tax breaks worth a multiple of the total construction cost of each store.

    8. How "good guy" Warren Buffett is out for all the tax breaks he can get, regardless of the public cost and harm to the local community in Buffalo.

    9. How "required" title insurance creates one of America's most profitable industries by bribing banks and lawyers with money you pay when you buy a home.

    10. How the California courts let Barron Hilton seize the assets of a charity that his father had established to help the poor. So if you like Paris Hilton's clothes, realize that she paid for them in part with money that was destined for those who need clothes . . . any kind of clothes.

    11. We've all read about the massive amounts of money made in Russia and elsewhere by politicians selling off government operations at bargain prices to their pals. Well the same thing has been going on here with selling off municipal utilities and non-profit foundations. It's like a banana republic.

    12. You'll also read about how creating "deregulated" utilities allows companies to shuffle around costs between their subsidiaries so that rate payers pay for the same construction costs twice.

    13. You will be reminded of President Bush's misstatements and keeping the lid on more accurate reports about what his drug benefit plan for seniors would cost. But what's a few hundred billion for a guy who spent a trillion dollars (so far) in Iraq?

    Most people would probably like this book better if it had a more partisan tone (how the Republicans stole from the poor and middle class to make the rich a lot richer). Instead, the book points at individuals (a more accurate way to assess the sources of corruption) including two-term president "the peoples' choice" George W. Bush and invokes spiritual rules for suggesting other ways of making choices.
    ...more info
  • Disapppointing follow up to "Perfectly Legal"
    David Cay Johnston's book "Perfectly Legal" was a masterpiece of muckraking which opened my eyes to the way the game is rigged in this country in favor of the rich. The book drew on his experience as a tax writer for the New York Times and presented, in tremendous detail and with great amounts of evidence, exact and precise ways in which the tax code has been rigged. It's layered and powerful - "Perfectly Legal" is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

    "Free Lunch" expands on this theme (rich people rigging this country's government to help them) feels like more of a polemic. The writing is shakier and the fact-based evidence is disguised behind a wall of obvious disgust and contempt for the people taking from the many to give to the wealthy and obscenely wealthy. I don't blame him, in fact I am disgusted by it as well, but it means that this book will not have the same impact as "Perfectly Legal". It is more "preaching to the choir" if you will.

    The book also seems to bounce around too much. Some topics are covered in depth quite a bit while some not as much. Important points, like the fact that roughly 100% of the increase of value of sports teams has come from taxpayer subsidized stadiums, or that increased funding of libraries, parks, etc. could provide a useful buttress against gang crime, are not given adequate depth in my opinion.

    Don't get me wrong - this is a valuable book and I do hope Johnston keeps up this important work. There is lots of good stuff in here, and it's critical more people know what politicians really mean when they talk about "free markets" and the like. But "Free Lunch" is not as convincing as "Perfectly Legal" and therein lies its greatest flaw. ...more info
  • Smiting the greedy
    David Cay Johnston is a crack reporter with a moralist's passion. In Free Lunch, he empties his notebook from a long and distinguished career, at the New York Times and other papers, exposing the how the rich and corporations use the power of government to line their pockets at the expense of the rest of us. The result is a loosely organized, but always compelling, compendium of some of the greatest heists of the last few decades, from taxpayer funding of sports arenas to electricity deregulation to the public subsidies Wal-Mart and other retail giants win to put their competitors out of business.

    Johnston is a throwback, a Republican of the Teddy Roosevelt, Bull Moose variety, who lives by the wisdom of Adam Smith and the Bible. He understands the force of greed and its power to undermine free markets, especially when it enlists government in its service. He is appalled by the misconduct of corporate executives who jigger stock options and expose the public to harm, and by a government that looks the other way. He is outraged that the rich use government to take from those with less. And when you finish reading Free Lunch, you will be too....more info
  • Well Done! A MUST READ! Bring a grain of salt....
    A fantastic condemnation of private and corporate greed. Well written and easy to follow. An easy to understand,well documented and well presented chapter on how the rich really are getting richer while the poor get poorer. I'm buying copies to pass around so people can see what is really happening in America.
    About that grain of salt... Yes the story about Alarm companies is NOW no longer completely valid. Municipalities (some) did see that they were being robbed and now charge response fees on alarm calls. I would hope the author amends the next printing and adds some updates to that issue.
    Still worth every penny as he names names and goes forward with plenty of facts and statistics to back it up. ...more info
  • Dissapointing book...
    There are a number of things wrong with this book starting with the quality of the printing/binding. I know this should not be important if the content is good. However,it was a good indicator of what was to come. While I learned a few new things about how we get screwed by our government, most of it was old news. Most dissapointing was the conclusion "What to do?". While the author offered lots of suggestions, none were concrete actions a citizen could take. Mostly they were how one should feel about all this. Very dissapointing book on a very important topic....more info
  • How our government spends our money.
    This book truly explains some of the reasons that our government is not serving their people very well with how our tax dollars are being spent You will be amazed and shocked. I highly recommend everyone read this one before the next Presidential election. ...more info
  • Come and See the Violence Inherent in the System!
    After making yet another unsuccessful attempt to slog through this book before it became due back at the public library, it dawned on me how many volumes of muckraking I've purchased but never seem to have finished. I own the Rev. Johnston's previous book, Perfectly Legal : The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and CheatEverybody Else, The Cheating of America: How Tax Avoidance and Evasion by the Super Rich Are Costing the Country Billions--and What You Can Do About It by Lewis & Allison, and (for some reason, three copies of) America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? by Bartlett & Steele. Why is it that I grab such books with alacrity, but never finish them? Is it some defect in my character? Did I then accept bribes from the oil industry to put them down?

    The topical books from conservative writers are no better. The muckrakers at least offer a few unimpeachable facts scattered among the pages of breast-beating, while the free-market cabal will only adduce that something is certainly wrong if it is in contradiction with the holy scripture of the Prophet Adam (Smith). But what these books all have in common is that they're preaching to you, and of course, preaching is just a polite term for trying to sell you on something.

    This is in contrast to the great social critics of the past, such as H. L. Mencken or I. F. Stone, who would state their facts and opinions succinctly and cogently, but you were left to make-up your own mind; that's why they're still a pleasure to read. Rev. Johnston (et al.) tries too hard to make the reader burst into tears over the egregious injustice of it all. In his pious exhortations, he quotes the I Have A Dream speech of the late Rev. Dr. King, the Sermon on the Mount, and if I ever finish the book, I'm certain I'll find dialogue from "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Charlotte's Web," as well.

    This desultory preaching and goiterous prose occasionally reaches comic proportions, as when the Rev. Johnston calls the proprietors of an Oregon golf course "fools" for proposing to transport golfers with helicopters, "ignoring . . . their reputation for suddenly falling out of the sky." And if you're not lying awake at night in fear of falling helicopters, you should be outraged and in a dither over the alarming (yuk) rate of false burglar alarms.

    But there is a certain type of person who is now snorting and huffing over this, the type of person for whom this book was written. The woman who handed me this book at the library called it "depressing," but ironically, some people (commonly caucasians of the distaff side), genuinely enjoy being outraged. They are happiest (if you can call it that) when they call attention to how persecuted and oppressed they are, and their favorite activity is to sing "We Shall Overcome" during a candlelight vigil in protest of something . . . anything. In his sermonizing, the Rev. Johnston is thus preaching to the choir, because I'd wager all the factories I own in China that not one person who purchased this book ever voted for Bush (any of them) or Tom DeLay or Ted Stevens or Boss Tweed or any such lackeys and agents of the robber barons. This book is not about the facts -- if all one wanted were facts, there is better and more timely information available in Gretchen Morgenson's column in the New Yawk Times. Instead, this book is something to make liberals feel even more righteous and noble as they hiss at the villainous vested-interests described herein -- all playing golf while drinking $10,000-a-bottle cognac purchased with the filthy lucre they made by throwing orphans into the street.

    Another reviewer here raised a very good question: if it's all so bad, what should be done to remedy the corruption endemic to our society? The Rt. Rev. Johnston has misleadingly titled a chapter "What to Do?" but it is of no worth, as it offers not one practical remedy but instead maddeningly resumes preaching -- this time quoting the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, the Prophet Jeremiah, and a poem by Lisa Simpson. I'll grant Rev. Johnston that the crimes he describes at excessive length are indeed deplorable, but just how are we supposed to respond? Are we to run down the street in our nightshirts, banging on doors? Write letters to some editor, any editor? Orate while standing on a soapbox in front of the Wachovia bank? Public self-immolation? Team-up with the geese on golf courses?

    Here I'll cut the Rev. Johnston some slack, because there may, in fact, be no solution. It is my suspicion that capitalism, an artificial scheme of the 18th century, may prove to be as unworkable as its rival scheme of the 19th century -- communism. It may well be that the natural state of society is feudalism, and I can imagine that soon, the wealthy nobility, the owners of everything, will be safely ensconced in their gated communities, protected by private armies and moats, while the rest of us labor in their behalf while living in squalor.

    Or has this already happened?...more info
  • Must Read
    Yes, as some of the reviewers have noticed, most of us knew already (in general) about existence of this perfectly 'legal' bribery system in our government. Still, the author provided many important details that help one see it in a new perspective, with much better understanding. Personally, I was shocked....more info