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

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  435 ratings  ·  66 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 Trade (first published 2003)
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Michael
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
Marcus
Apr 26, 2009 Marcus rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Martin
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...more
Daniel
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
Drew
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
Jason
Aug 23, 2008 Jason rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Andi Kuncoro
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
Wayne
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
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.
Adam
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
Marshall
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...more
John
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
Book
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...more
Libby
Really good.


P.181
"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...more
Kressel Housman
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
Tim
Feb 19, 2008 Tim rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Joe
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...more
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
Gina
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...more
Nick
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
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...more
Sarah
Sep 06, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Resposito
Dec 27, 2007 Resposito rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Kip
Wow, I'm stunned. The US tax code is a convoluted and complex beast but the author does a good job deciphering the twists and turns. Then showing how the uber rich stay that way and everybody else pays for it. There's some opinion along the way, but it's well researched and full of amazing statistics.

* Couldn't finish
** I had nothing else to do
*** Passed the time, would be **** for genre / author fans
**** Everyone could enjoy this book
***** Everyone should read this book, I'll read it again
Lucas Aragon
This is an absolutely amazing book. A must read to every citizen in America that is not beyond wealthy because this applies directly to you. It's a real eye opener to one aspect of how our government can be lobbied and manipulated by the super rich to get what they want. I recommend reading this book with a pad and a pen, i didn't and now there's so many statistics and dates that I would love to recall when discussing this book with my peers.
Vicki
Jul 02, 2007 Vicki rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who distrusts the rich and the government
Shelves: policy, non-fiction
The tax system is complicated in order to hide the title's truth. If you like policy, intrigue, or just being righteously indignant, give it a read. I think he did a good job simplifying the Code to make his points and walking you through where simplicity would've been the wrong choice.
Also I think this book helped me pass Tax law w/o attending the classes, but that's probably not universally important.
Joe Faber
An awesome read by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Something everyone should read if you wish to have your eyes opened to the abuses of our tax system. This is an interesting read; not dry as you could imagine. The author studied tax systems all the way back to the time of the Pharaohs before he began working on this book and it shows. This book is very hard to put down.
Elyssa
Sep 23, 2007 Elyssa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
A book about taxes sounds really boring, but this writer does an excellent job of explaining how the US tax system works in layperson's terms. It's upsetting to learn that the system is not set up to favor the middle class and definitely not helping the working poor. As we approach another presidential election, it is especially important to be well-versed in this topic.
Jack
Feb 27, 2008 Jack rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jack by: Terry Gross, Charlie Rose
I agree with the thesis, that the tax system is designed to benefit those who can most afford them, but the structure of the book was a little disjointed for my tastes. There was no flow between chapters, and while the arguments and examples given were at the same time appalling and not at all surprising, they were not cohesive enough, and the work suffers for that.
Heidi
My brother loaned this to me and though I like math and accounting, I thought it was a bit boring. However, it opened my eyes to just how much we all pay when the rich decide not to pay their taxes. Makes me mad but I feel good in knowing that when I honestly pay my taxes, I'm not cheating everyone else out of their hard earned money! Huge eye opener!
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