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Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else
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Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  562 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
Now updated with a new prologue!Since the mid-1970s, there has been a dramatic shift in America's socioeconomic system, one that has gone virtually unnoticed by the general public. Tax policies and their enforcement have become a disaster, and thanks to discreet lobbying by a segment of the top 1 percent, Washington is reluctant or unable to fix them. The corporate income ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 4th 2005 by Portfolio (first published 2003)
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Aug 24, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
After reading Johnston’s subsequent Free Lunch, I assumed I’d love this book. Here Johnston condenses his experience as an NYT tax journalist in order to pinpoint the big issues – circa 2003 – that enable the top percent to pay less tax than their minimum wage and middling counterparts. As startling as this story is, I found the authors investigations of the innumerable devices, shelters, and strategies granted by Congress, and the IRS, and exploited by clever lawyers to be, well, taxing. The br ...more
Apr 26, 2009 Marcus rated it really liked it
Recommended to Marcus by: Katerine Faddis
There is a quote by Ralph Reed, former director of The Christian Coalition, near the end of the book that sums up the contents pretty well: "In public policy, it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard - and by whom"

Perfectly Legal describes how our tax system has been metastasized over that years to minimize tax for the wealthy and simultaneouly provide them with a myriad of ways to cheat or simply avoid paying taxes altogether. The system is not about fairness, it about
Jan 13, 2009 Martin rated it it was amazing
Infuriating look at tax policy (I now that sounds dull to most people) but its really easy to understand. And you will not believe how the tax system is structured. How is so incredibly skewed to server the rich.

Just to give an example from the book to peak interest, we all MUST pay social security taxes (which is something like 5-7% somewhere in there I believe). Its all the same, pulled automatically at pay period. Well, that is only up to 100,000 (approx.) So for example Bill Gates who earns
Jun 06, 2010 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book but definitely not a light read. It's a bit wonkish and though there are several good examples of how the system benefits the rich, there are probably one or even two too many. There are also a few pages that come across as angry as opposed to explanatory, which is probably by design but sort of annoying to read. At certain points, it feels like I'm being lectured. That being said, if you can stand the minutia, this is an eye-opening book that shows there has been a r ...more
May 04, 2013 Drew rated it liked it
Honestly, I didn't even get close to finishing this, but I felt like I got the message. The problem with it isn't that it requires some background knowledge of how taxes work (of which I don't have much); it isn't that the writing is lackluster (although that contributes); it's that all the problems Johnston outlines in the book have only gotten worse. Maybe this is true of most socially conscious non-fiction--it gets dated really fast because the problems it discusses either go away or intensif ...more
Aug 23, 2008 Jason rated it liked it
Recommends it for: accountants, tax attorneys, tax cheats
Recommended to Jason by: a guy in a suit behind a dark ally
Shelves: non-fiction
More of a 3.5 but the limitations of the system have tied my hands. The book centers around tax avoidance methods in the United States by the super rich and how the taxation system is currently set up to benefit the rich. For example, the rich usually gain all their income from capital gains where wage saves earn their funds from their jobs,guess what? Capital gains have a lower tax rate that earned income. There's more to those statements but it's in the book. The book falters by being a little ...more
Dec 11, 2014 Harvey rated it really liked it
So, I react poorly to hyperbole and over-politicized words. And despite many forays into the land of poor arguments and logical flaws, there are a few pieces of this book that cohered into a sensible critique of the modern American tax system. Something like this:

Primarily spurred by the complexity of taxation, current law permits countless tax-centric structures that meaningfully change the tax implications of identical real world events (save for the use of particular magic words or systems, a
Mar 22, 2014 Muhammad rated it it was amazing
Perfectly legal adalah buku dari jurnalis investigatif. Buku yang bagus sekali membahas struktur dan karakter tak adil dari sistem perpajakan di Amerika Serikat. Tak heran, di era pemerintahan Bush Jr misalnya, kampanye tentang 'ownership society' digenjot mengemuka. Sederhana saja, Anda bukan Amerika sejati jika tidak mengakumulasi harta sebesar-besarnya walaupun Anda pekerja keras. Terang bukan? bahwa di bawah administrasi Bush, negara memihak pada kelas elit dalam perekonomian, yang mendapatk ...more
Nov 30, 2008 Wayne rated it did not like it
Overall I thought that the author made some good arguments against the tax system, but too many times he starting adding nonsensical data points to his arguments that I ended up diasgreeing with him on principle.
Brett Green
Nov 20, 2012 Brett Green rated it really liked it
Infuriating... Yeah, I'd agree with that. The ins and outs of the myriad of legal tax dodges employed by the country's wealthy class.
Sep 08, 2011 Adam rated it really liked it
David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer-Prize winning tax journalist who has spent his career exposing the methods, both legal and illegal, that the super-rich and mega-corporations have used to escape or reduce their contribution to social welfare. Perfectly Legal is essentially a series of vignettes about this topic. The book begins by examining the tax cuts and other perfectly intentional ways that the tax system has favored the wealthy and fostered the growing inequality of wealth and power we are ...more
Apr 28, 2012 Marshall rated it liked it
This book details many of the ways the ultra-rich cheat the tax system, reaping billions of dollars in unpaid taxes. This book never fails to explain this means that revenue must be made up by the lower- and middle-classes.

Some of these tricks are extremely clever, conceived by highly paid tax lawyers. I do mean HIGHLY paid--many of these tricks cost a million dollars just for the sales pitch! These aren't just loopholes and illegal maneuvers--although this book outlines plenty of those--this bo
Sep 01, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
Insightful and immediately relevant examination of taxation. On Social Security: Reagan's tax cuts for the rich led to huge deficits. Along comes the Greenspan Commission on SS saying it will run out of money for benefits in 31 years, according to some questionable forecasts. Payroll taxes go up to fund future benefits. The additional money is used to balance the budget. These payroll taxes impact working people greatly and the very rich not at all, so this chain of events was an income redistri ...more
Jun 24, 2011 Book rated it it was amazing
Perfectly Legal: The Secret Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else by David Cay Johnston

"Perfectly Legal" is a depressing, infuriating, eye-opening book that reveals how the super rich take advantage of the political system and the rest of us by rigging the tax code and other laws in their favor. Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston brings us this mind-boggling account of the America of the rich and powerful. This 352-page book is compose
Dec 26, 2010 Libby rated it really liked it
Shelves: policy
Really good.

"At the behest of Congress, the IRS was auditing the working poor at eight times the rate of partnerships and yet the losses from partnerships were at least four times as large."
P. 204
"Hardly any resources are devoted to looking for those who simply do not file. When the IRS tried to find such cheaters in the early nineties, it turned up hundreds of thousands of them without much effort- and five years later most of those it found had dropped back out of the system again, no l
Kressel Housman
Jan 17, 2011 Kressel Housman rated it really liked it
I first heard of this book in one of Dan Ariely's books, and he described it as explaining the tax code in plain English. Since I earn my living as a paralegal for an estate planning attorney, I figured this was necessary education for me. But I also guessed, based on the subtitle, that it would convince me that I'm in the wrong field. Not only was I correct about that, I was so persuaded by the author's cry for reform that I sent him my resume in case he knew anyone who could put my skills to w ...more
Feb 19, 2008 Tim rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any U.S citizen who makes less than $8,000,000 per year.
Recommended to Tim by: heard about Johnstons new book on NPR- bought that one and this
despite some minor repetitions from chapter to chapter--the book was probably composed out of a number of serialized columns-- this book is an encompassing, mostly comprehensive* view of our american tax system and what has happened to it in the last thirty years.
*(mostly comprehensive, though i'll admit there were a few moments where i was scratching me head at the dizzying explanations of tax shelters, and others where i wish Johnston had gone further into detail. but overall, good work.)

In t
Harold Norman
Apr 14, 2015 Harold Norman rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read on our flawed and manipulated tax system. Easy to read and understand. Johnston is a master at explaining how our taxes work and how
big money makes sure they get the benefit. Of special interest is his
explanation of the estate tax argument. I would recommend this book highly.
Especially now at tax time, while you're thinking about it.
Dec 31, 2009 Joe rated it it was amazing
Perfectly Legal covers many of the schemes used by the rich to avoid paying taxes. While it gets quite detailed, it's never incomprehensible. However it is very likely to fill you with rage. Johnston not only details tax dodges, but also takes on the validity of taxes (like the estate tax) and why they should be paid.

If you're like me, you'll be shocked to learn how tax audits are actually ordered, and how much information the government captures (or doesn't). Johnston paints a picture of a very
Apr 24, 2015 Ryan rated it it was amazing
"Perfectly Legal" provides shocking insights on how corrupted the tax code has become, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The book isn't partisan in any way. It simply lays outs the facts and shows that our current tax system is bull crap. It needs reform. Everyone should read this book - we are all being robbed.
Apr 25, 2015 Luci rated it it was amazing
I only read this on a friend's recommendation and was surprised it was so easy to read and interesting. He makes the secret world of tax law writing almost like a detective story. Really educational and hardly a dull passage in the book. If you want to get educated about our sorry tax system, this is the book.
C. Scott
Jul 24, 2015 C. Scott rated it really liked it
Fabulous as usual. This is the third book I've read by Johnston, he's just the man. Nobody can make taxes as interesting or understandable as this guy. This may be my favorite of the three I've read. This volume has such a clear sense of purpose - conveying how the tax burden is used and abused to redistribute wealth upward. I wish more people would read this and understand what's happening. I believe that if they did things might change.
Irene Allison
Mar 18, 2015 Irene Allison rated it really liked it
Shelves: xref
Extremely well-written eye-opener that shows how those who can least afford it, hold up more than half the sky. A stark reminder that in our wealthy world, poverty is by no means self-inflicted. Rather it is a socio-economic construct of those who profit the most.
Johnny Galt
Another first, reading a book about taxes. Although this book had some great anecdotal stories it was still about taxes. Many of the examples in this book covered the topics strangers drop over dinner conversations but in slightly more detail and only slightly more recountable. Still, it was only specific enough to connect in one's mind and not specific enough to become tax blabber. Even so, I really enjoyed the story of Jack Welch's divorce and dismemberment of the Stanley Works tool company. I ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Gina rated it it was amazing
This book is sickening. It is pretty well-written and accessible, but you will learn things that are just sickening. Still, it needs to be learned.

Do not be intimidated by the focus on the tax code. Information is clear and comprehensible. Also, don't worry that the book is overly politicized. There are good and bad moves by both sides. Sadly, it is mostly bad moves on either side, as politicians are beholden to political donors, and federal employees get beholden to the people who will give the
Jul 08, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it
whoa, i kept avoiding this book knowing it would make me crazy and frustrated. that it did. but at least now i understand the immense dirty world of tax shelters, tax evasion, corporate ultra perks... and how we the little people never get anywhere. so bottom line, the regular wage earner - me, you - is a sucker. we lose so the super rich can protect and have more of their millions tax free. safe in bermuda, the cayman islands, with goldman sachs. every lame paycheck of mine provides more subsid ...more
Greg Chabala
Nov 02, 2009 Greg Chabala rated it it was ok
I picked this up thinking that it might be instructive in avoiding taxes by legal methods. However, most of the issues discussed were questionable in nature, and much had to do with tax dodges used by large corporations.

The most unfortunate part of the book was the writing. The tone was whiny, and as chapters drew on there were not just repeating themes but repetitive statements. I felt insulted to be told the same statement about taxes benefiting the rich in multiple chapters without any rephra
Sep 06, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Americans
I admittedly did not read this book in its entirety. It was due to my own weaknesses, though, and not a reflection of the book. I am not much of a numbers person (all the accounting practices and taxation statistics forced me to re-read a lot of passages in order to understand). That aside, the book reveals a shocking system that should infuriate any tax paying American (or at least any non-mega-wealthy American). It is written clearly and gives examples of families who are benefitting from the ...more
Dec 27, 2007 Resposito rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Holy Cow! American citizens have fallen victim to a farce courtesy of the American Government. There is a common misconception that everyone has to pay their taxes and the rich pay the most. 'Perectly Legal' cracks the falsehoods by producing 100% hard facts pertaining to Congressional hearings, documents, and testimony. I truly don't understand how our presidents, senators, and representatives have the audacity to rig our tax system to benefit a chosen few. The top one percent of America as a m ...more
May 05, 2016 Kurtbg rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, fiction-non
In a democracy, those that can influence most get what they want.
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