David Cay Johnston has the ability to write books that are like watching a train wreck in slow motion; except the train wreck involves everyone you’ve ever known, so you keep watching out of a combination of morbid interest and the faint hope that maybe things will come out okay.
I have previously reviewed another of his books, Free Lunch, and expressed similar sentiments.
Make no mistake, he is a very skilled writer, weaves a very tight narrative, and the subject matter is of utmost importance, particularly in today’s charged dialogue concerning taxes, classism, and corporate personhood.
The books central drive is this:
- Most of us are not rich: There is an aggravated disparity in the distribution of wealth in this country, particularly in the top 1/10th of the top 1% (the top 0.001th overall), and this disparity has grown over the past 30 years.
- The rich know how to cheat at our expense: The wealthiest individuals in this country (which Johnston refers to as the “political donor class”) are have the time and financial resources to find and exploit various loopholes and legal-fu to further expand (or protect) their wealth, often at the expense of the the common taxpayers (since the money for governmental programs has to come from somewhere)
- This cheating is subsisted by you and I: While some of the wealthy do pay some of their taxes, and that sum is a significant amount of the total taxes paid (though not a proportional amount, given how much wealth they wield), the difference between what they should pay and what they do pay is comes from either the tax dollars of the average taxpayer or from additional debt — either way, we foot the bill.
- The rich can sustain and protect their cheating: The “political donor class” also uses their influence and wealth to sway legislation and judgements in favor of their existing exploitations, or to generate new exploits.
It makes me hopeful to see the Occupy Wallstreet protests, which are essentially all about these issues, happening as I am reading this book. It always catches me by surprise when I encounter someone who doesn’t understand how much wealth disparity there is, or who thinks that a six figure salary is “rich.”
There is so much injustice, so much complexity, that I would have to recap the entire book to cover it all, but for the sake of illustration, here are some examples of the premises mentioned above. Continue reading