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FREE LUNCH by David Cay Johnston

FREE LUNCH

How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)

By David Cay Johnston

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59184-191-3
Publisher: Portfolio

An exhaustive litany of federal, state and even local giveaways to the very wealthy, described in agonizing and depressing detail.

Beginning in the Reagan years, the U.S. government has placed a growing economic burden onto those least able to bear it, declares Johnston (Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else, 2003, etc.). It subsidizes the prosperous through tax breaks and other giveaways while stripping away protections for consumers, retirees, workers and investors. Starting with the sordid story of an exclusive Oregon golf course whose wealthy patrons enjoy recreation indirectly paid for by taxpayers, Johnston details dozens of giveaways, demonstrating beyond doubt that while government policies have made life much easier for those at the very top of the income pyramid, the great majority have it much worse than ever before. Examples range from the infamous—electricity deregulation, the collapse of Enron and the resulting astronomical spikes in the cost of power—to the obscure. In the latter category is Cabela’s, a sporting-goods behemoth that convinced the citizens of tiny Hamburg, Pa., to grant it an exemption from property and sales taxes in exchange for locating a new megastore in their community. The total subsidy: some $8,000 for each man, woman and child in the community. Stories like these are no longer shocking, and Johnston fails to reach beyond sensationalism to solutions. In a final chapter, he suggests that citizens embrace democratic principles, but is disappointingly vague on how that might manifest itself in policies that would right the sinking ship he so vividly describes.

Without solutions, this remains little more than a list of grievances.