David Cay Johnston:
“The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind”
In part two of our interview with David Cay Johnston, we discuss his new book,The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind.Johnston writes, “No other modern country gives corporations the unfettered power found in America to gouge customers, shortchange workers, and erect barriers to fair play. A big reason is that so little of the news … addresses the private, government-approved mechanisms by which price gouging is employed to redistribute income upward.”
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston. His book is called The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind.
David Cay Johnston, thank you so much for staying with us. So, talk about the reasons you started to investigate the fine print and what most surprised you as you did your research over these past four years, David.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Amy, this is the third book in a series of all original reporting that you wouldn’t know but for my work. I wrote a book seven years ago called—I’m sorry, eight years ago, called Perfectly Legal, about the tax system and how it really is a subsidy system for the super rich in America and how they’ve rigged the tax game on their behalf. Then I did a book called Free Lunch, and it’s about all the taxes you pay that do not go to the government but instead are diverted to various companies, and I show companies and industries that get all of their profits from the taxpayers through these hidden subsidies.
The Fine Print carries this a step further now to how big businesses have been trying to escape the rigors of competitive markets. They have gotten government to pass rules that raise prices, take away your rights as a consumer, literally put your life in danger, and allow them to, in various ways, insulate themselves from market forces, damaging the economy, making you worse off and explaining why, while wages have been flat for years, corporate profits have gone through the roof.
AMY GOODMAN: You start off with taxes—you know, they’re not for everyone. But explain how that happened, how that evolved, David.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, let me give you one example. Twenty years ago, we were told we were going to get something magical called “the information superhighway.” And we paid over a half-trillion dollars in rate increases to telephone companies and cable companies to get this high-speed internet with fiber-optic service, where all the books in the Library of Congress and all the images in them, 22 million volumes, in the blink of an eye could literally be moved around the world. Well, we paid for it, but we don’t have it. Verizon is only going to build it out for 16 million people in this country, of 300 million people. AT&T doesn’t actually have that kind of system. Their U-verse, at the end, still uses copper wire, and there are homes that have copper wire in them from the 1800s that people still speak on the telephone with. What they did was take that money, I believe, and use it to build a cellphone system. But they got these rate increases, and we now have gone from inventing the internet to 29th in the world. We’re way behind Moldavia, and it’s damaging our economy. But the more they retard the internet, the more profit Verizon and AT&T make. So their interests are contrary to the interests of the American people.