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THE FINE PRINT by David Cay Johnston Kirkus Star


How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind

by David Cay Johnston

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59184-358-0
Publisher: Portfolio

Veteran investigative reporter Johnston reveals how businesses, with the consent of government agencies, rip off consumers in plain sight.

This book completes a kind of trilogy, after 2003’s Perfectly Legal (about tax scams) and 2007’s Free Lunch (about government subsidies). The "fine print" refers to a variety of bills—telephone, electric, water, insurance, credit card, hospital—and other documents that technically disclose costs to the bill payers but are intended to obscure as many hidden costs as possible. Although Johnston's research is meant to shame the powerful for accumulating eye-popping wealth by exploiting the less fortunate, the book also serves to empower recipients of the bills so they can demand repayment and maybe even systemic reform. In a closing chapter, Johnston recommends self-education by consumers, and he provides a start by delineating, for example, how to analyze a utility bill in order to fully understand the many clever surcharges and fees. The author hopes to encourage organized campaigns aimed at all levels and branches of government. The influence of the ballot box can speak truth to power, Johnston believes—perhaps naively but with heartwarming passion. Minimum-wage laws once seemed hopeless to achieve, he writes, yet they are now prevalent because consumers banded together effectively.

Investigative journalism at its best, as Johnston seeks to comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.