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

David Cay Johnston
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Book Description

Jan. 1 2008
The bestselling author of Perfectly Legal returns with a powerful new exposé

How does a strong and growing economy lend itself to job uncertainty, debt, bankruptcy, and economic fear for a vast number of Americans? Free Lunch provides answers to this great economic mystery of our time, revealing how today?s government policies and spending reach deep into the wallets of the many for the benefit of the wealthy few.

Johnston cuts through the official version of events and shows how, under the guise of deregulation, a whole new set of regulations quietly went into effect? regulations that thwart competition, depress wages, and reward misconduct. From how George W. Bush got rich off a tax increase to a $100 million taxpayer gift to Warren Buffett, Johnston puts a face on all of the dirty little tricks that business and government pull. A lot of people appear to be getting free lunches?but of course there?s no such thing as a free lunch, and someone (you, the taxpayer) is picking up the bill.

Johnston?s many revelations include:
? How we ended up with the most expensive yet inefficient health-care system in the world
? How homeowners? title insurance became a costly, deceitful, yet almost invisible oligopoly
? How our government gives hidden subsidies for posh golf courses
? How Paris Hilton?s grandfather schemed to retake the family fortune from a charity for poor children
? How the Yankees and Mets owners will collect more than $1.3 billion in public funds

In these instances and many more, Free Lunch shows how the lobbyists and lawyers representing the most powerful 0.1 percent of Americans manipulated our government at the expense of the other 99.9 percent.

With his extraordinary 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.


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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.

About the Author

In 1995 David Cay Johnston persuaded the editors of The New York Times to hire him to see if he could devise a new way to cover taxes, focusing on how the system operates rather than what politicians say about it. His work has resulted in shutting so many tax dodges, in pressing so many new laws and regulations and enforcement efforts that some tax policy officials now consider him, as one tax law professor put it, "the de facto chief tax enforcement officer of the United States."

He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his running investigation of our tax system and was a finalist for that award in 2000 and in 2003 for beat reporting and for national reporting.

In 1968 Mr. Johnston began his career when he talked his way, at age 19, into a job as a staff writer for the San Jose Mercury. When he left nearly five years later he was still its youngest reporter.

He was an investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press in its Lansing bureau 1973-76; a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in San Francisco and then Los Angeles from 1976 to 1988; a reporter and, briefly, editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988 until he joined The New York Times in February 1995.

He studied economics at the University of Chicago graduate school and at six other colleges, earning six years of college credits but no degree because he took upper level and graduate level courses almost exclusively.

Over the years Mr. Johnston's many investigations included hunting down a murderer the police had failed to catch, winning freedom for Tony Cooks, to whom a trial judge said "I believe you are innocent, but I sentence you to life in prison."

He was the first reporter to seriously investigate the Los Angeles Police Department, exposing mismanagement, inefficiency, brutality and a worldwide political spying operation. The LAPD now operates under the aegis of the federal government.

He helped save a third of a billion dollars from being snatched from poor children by Barron Hilton. He exposed misuse of charitable funds at the United Ways in Los Angeles in 1986 and Washington, D.C., in 2002 and exposed news manipulations at the most profitable television station in America, WJIM-TV, that ultimately forced the sale of that station and five others. He also broke the story that Donald Trump was no billionaire, but, according to his own documents, actually had a negative net worth in 1990.

His previous book, Temples of Chance, exposed the fraudulent way that New Jersey regulates casinos. It is under development in Hollywood as a motion picture about the characters he described in Temples of Chance.

Mr. Johnston lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife, Jennifer Leonard, and their two daughters. He has six grown children and four grandsons.


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First Sentence
AT BANDON DUNES, ON OREGON'S RUGGED AND REMOTE SOUTHERN coast, men at play pretend they're in the eighteenth-century Scotland of Adam Smith. Read the first page
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free Lunch on our tab July 9 2008
Format:Hardcover
The reviewer above eloquently sums it up as well as the excellent writing by the author.

Just remember, there are 35,000 corporate lobbyists in Washington influencing and stuffing dollars in many pockets and purses to curry favour to their companies and shareholders.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The rich get richer....and you get poorer. July 1 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Large American companies have taken over in Washington. Each chapter explains in detail how the rules have been rigged to benefit big companies at the expense of the ordinary citizen. The Fortune 500 are all now Corporate Welfare Bums!!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greedy wealthiest American Feb. 27 2009
Format:Paperback
Definitely, America is heading toward a total desaster unless there's a change of mentallity among the weathiest American, which I beleive will never happen. A major economic crisis is ahead and very soon, it will detroy the actual world money system. What will come next is slavery of the common American, probably the beast of Apocalypse.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  173 reviews
353 of 366 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How 1% of Americans Take From the Other 99% and Why We Tolerate It Jan. 3 2008
By Frederick S. Goethel - Published on Amazon.com
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.
143 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Other Things Adam Smith Said Feb. 7 2008
By Edwin C. Pauzer - Published on Amazon.com
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.

· 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)"
137 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars feeding at the public trough Jan. 3 2008
By Eric A. Isaacson - Published on Amazon.com
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
78 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deafening silence Jan. 4 2008
By Francois Theberge - Published on Amazon.com
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.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How "Special Interests" Pick Your Pocket to Create Billion-Dollar Fortunes May 14 2008
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
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