Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston

I’ve just started reading Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston (click here to read Jonathan Chait’s New York Times review of this book titled “Other People’s Money” and published in February 2008).

Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New York Times whose best seller Perfectly Legal won the 2004 Investigative Book of the Year award (I’ve checked that out of the library as well but haven’t started it yet).

Free Lunch is really a fascinating book!

I didn’t know that the average income of the bottom 90% of Americans (what Johnston calls the “vast manjority”) was just $29,000 in 2005 (down from $33,000 in 1973). To be in the top 10% of Americans in 2005, you only had to make $100,000 per year and to be in the top 0.1% just $1.7 million per year. Johnston wrote about this and more about income inequality in Chapter 2, Mr. Reagan’s Question, named for Ronald Reagan’s famous campaign question from nearly 30 years ago “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” [Corrected May 27, 2008.]

I’m in the middle of Chapter 9, Goin’ Fishin, which describes the subsidies that Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Wal-Mart and other large national chains receive from local governments. I’d heard much about the sins of Wal-Mart and reading this book finally made those comments hit home.

Most distressing was Chapter 3, Trust and Consequences, in which I learned that Amtrak — while government owned — uses privately owned tracks and has signed contracts to be financially responsible for all claims arising from Amtrak passengers, even if CSX or other parties are at fault for negligence. Since Amtrak is owned by the government, that results in taxpayers paying for all such claims even if a private company is at fault.

I will write more when I finish this shocking book!

Click here to view the table of contents and read a few excerpts from the author’s website for this book.

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3 responses to “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston

  1. Glad that you are finding Free Lunch engaging.

    One nit in your post.

    The top one percent (in 2005) started at just under $365,000 — it is the top tenth of one percent that starts at around $1.7 million.

    To expand on that a little, the top one percent had almost $1.6 Trillion of adjusted gross income, while the bottom half earned less than a Trillion dollars of income. And keep in mind that the bottom half is 50 times the size of the top one percent.

    Go back to 1980 and the bottom half had more than twice as much income as the top one percent. In 2005, they had only 60 percent as much income as the top one percent — quite a reversal of fortune.

    Back in 1980 the top one percent earned 8.5 percent of all income, but now their share is more than 21 percent.

    The bottom half, meanwhile, have seen their share shrink from almost 18 percent of all income to less than 13 percent.

  2. Wow, boy am I embarrassed to be corrected by the author.

    I was wondering, are those numbers ($29,000, $100,000, $1.7 million) for individuals only (men, women or children) or in some cases are they families?

    Thank you for writing!

  3. Pingback: Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston « Adventures in Reading

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