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The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" To Rob You Blind

By David Cay Johnston

I wish every American would read The Fine Print by David Cay Johnston. For Americans with high blood pressure, I'd recommend keeping a bottle of aspirin handy. The book lays bare how the special interests and the super wealthy in America hose over the average American by buying political favoritism. As a result, you pay higher personal taxes and are harmed in many other ways.

Johnston shows how monopolies and oligopolies game the American system to assure we pay more for worse service. Every American reading this review can be justifiably outraged to know you're being hosed right now. You're paying through the nose for Internet service but receiving low-quality service by worldwide standards.

Huge American telecommunications companies avoid the free-market system and largely control the government agencies designed to regulate them. The result: Americans pay ten to forty times as much for their Internet access as do consumers in other modern countries. Worse, America ranks only 29th in Internet speed. So, if you're watching your life pass by waiting for an online video download, pop an aspirin. Thanks to the monopolies, your lifetime is being sacrificed for profit to the local telecom.

Johnston writes: "Since most Americans don't travel abroad, they have no idea that the quality of our nation's Internet services are slowly devolving toward the third world's standards. Even for those who do know how poorly our network compares to the rest of the modern world, there is little they can do to improve their own service. Most Americans have only two Internet choices—pay the local monopoly provider or go without. In places with two broadband providers—typically a telephone company and a cable television company—pricing and speeds are likely to be interchangeable. And now even the appearance of competition is disappearing with the cartelization of the industry."

When cities and municipal governments provide Internet access, the result is faster, cheaper, and more reliable. Further, the fees charged actually earn the city a profit, reducing your local tax burden. To top it off, superior Internet access attracts tech companies to a community, creating good-paying jobs.


Two questions come to mind: 1) Why don't the monopoly telecommunication companies at least upgrade services and overcharge us for decent speed? and 2) Why don't more municipalities improve their community by building their own systems?

The answer to the first question is that the executives at the telecom would rather pocket profits than improve service. As Johnston explains, American consumers were already promised high-speed Internet access throughout America, the so-called information superhighway. We already paid $360 billion for it or about $3,300 per American household. The telecom executives had a better idea: pocket the money and continue to use copper cables in most areas. Then, the telecoms argue they need to charge you even more to improve the service. They'll try to pocket that money, too. Time for another aspirin?

To answer the second question, we need to understand that the wealth of monopolies allows them to buy political influence. It lets them manipulate less-informed Americans with think tanks and front groups and "studies" designed to support their agenda. They file lawsuits against municipalities. They'll do anything they can to protect their "right" to extract unjustifiable profits from you.


The agenda of these monopolies is not to support the best interests of America. In many parts of the modern world, governments work to protect their citizens. In America, government protects the special interests and helps them extract money from Americans.

It might also surprise most Americans to know that throughout most of the modern world the average citizen doesn't have to file a tax return. About 70% of Americans shouldn't need to file a tax return, either.

For those using the standard deduction, the government already has all the information it needs to calculate the taxes you owe. This allows the government to give you the option of sending you a completed tax return, which you can examine. If corrections are necessary, you can make them. If you really like doing your own taxes, you still would have that option, too.

This concept of ReadyReturn not only saves many people time (make work), but costs the government less to process, saving tax dollars for everybody. Why aren't most Americans using ReadyReturn? Who doesn't like ReadyReturn?

As Johnston writes: "For Intuit [the company behind TurboTax], your [tax] aggravation is money in the bank." Intuit has lobbied against ReadyReturn, preferring most Americans waste their time and money to hire an unnecessary tax preparer. Johnston explains that in "classic Washington double speak" Intuit lobbying paid for the "Taxpayer Freedom To File Protection Act."

The tax preparation industry wants mandatory tax returns. It wants to deny citizens the option of ReadyReturn.

Johnston writes, "…the more sand Intuit throws into the gears of the economy, the more it profits…Policies that create profits by working against the national economy need to be replaced yesterday."

Johnston takes aim at energy companies, companies that shirk on paying their taxes, garbage collection companies, Hollywood welfare, and how companies are working to limit your access to basic justice by forcing you into binding arbitration with biased arbitrators.

Overall, if you're an American who cares about justice, you should read The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" To Rob You Blind. At the end of the book, Johnston offers some suggestions on how citizens can stand up for their rights and work to improve America.

The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use
The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" To Rob You Blind

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