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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  278 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
"No other modern country gives corporations the unfettered power found in America to gouge cus-tomers, 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." You are being systematically exploited by powerf ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 1st 2012 by Portfolio (first published November 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nancy Wagner
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just heard the author on Fresh Air. I am afraid if I read it, my head may explode:-(
Jessica Turner
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A excellent review of many areas of our economy where the average consumer and citizen is being gouged with invisible fees, 'taxes' that are directly funneled as corporate profits, along with the multiple webs of subsidies and tax breaks that only benefit the wealthy and the structure of monopolies and oligarchies. This book WILL MAKE YOU ANGRY. It is hard to read this, especially as I did, just before bed every night - because every chapter details the injustices that have become embedded in ou ...more
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-world
Sobering, enlightening, and an infuriating read. Our motto should be "In Greed We Trust." This book showcases the total breakdown and systematic dismantling of basic fundamentals in law and business which have served civilization and capitalism well. Our total way of life has been fundamentally changed by corporations which have bought our courts and legislators. Johnston gives examples of many industries from cable to railroads to utilities and income tax. Thanks to greed we are quickly becomin ...more
A Mulford
I enjoyed the book. Frankly, I've long known for a long time that big business (corporations) use gov't to get favorable legislation and rules to make it easier for them to do business and make money. After all, those lobbyist aren't getting paid just to create some kind of nebulous "better business climate." Those campaign contributions come with the expectation of specific favors in mind. So, I appreciate the specifics since most, but not all, of what was in the book, I was previously unaware. ...more
Eric Hanson
I try to balance my reading by including works of both freedom and liberty and also leftists.

Johnston is clearly no Ayn Rand and is about as pro-state as an otherwise functional fellow could be.

Whereas the author basically lays blame on "capitalism" for what is really statism in every example provided... I still enjoy the excellent research in calling out the criminals that rob us all blind at major monopoly utilities like PG&E (with the help of cozy relationships with the State). It was als
Andrew Skretvedt
This is not a true review, just some comments. I incorporate by reference, the review by Eric Hanson, whose opinion of this book I adopt as the more succinct expression of what follows here.

Here are some videos that help me make the case for opinions I give further into my comments, where I think the author is getting it wrong. They're long, so I set them out now in case you don't come back (you don't really need to come back, the videos speak for themselv
John Willis
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A must read if you have interest in how Big Business works and takes advantage of their power. One of my favorite quotes from Johnston is "Congress has turned the United States into a land of Corporate Socialism".
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is more than just how "big" companies are you, it's a virtual panoply of the con job that's happening all around you, most of which is hidden or obscured from your awareness.

I'm pro-business. I'm pro-free-market. I'm pro "capitalist" and anti-statist. Yet, I'm giving the book 4 stars because what's in this book is not mutually exclusive with freedom. Actually, the book outlines many ways in which corporatism is usurping liberty from you, economic and otherwise.

The author is certainly l
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone’s familiar with the ubiquitous “fine print”, the disclosure of the full terms and conditions of a contract or agreement. But does it really explain what the consumer is signing up for? David Cay Johnston’s The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” To Rob You Blind assesses many common agreements and contracts and discovers that the “fine print” is not always what it appears to be.

Johnston explains how the deceptively simple phone bill actually includes many hidden fees that
Charles Selden
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If our elected representatives need evidence of abuse of consumers by corporations, David Cay Johnston's latest work will supply them. Johnston has won a Pulitzer for his past reporting for The New York Times. (His earlier books are Free Lunch and Perfectly Legal.)

Each of the first 23 chapters detail how large industries--like railroads, pharmas, banks, insurers, utilities--have surreptitiously arranged laws, regulations and judicial outcomes to game the system to protect and reward corporations
This was the most informative book I’ve read in a long while. Johnston shows just how great the power of journalism can be when it is used to hold government and corporations accountable for their abuses. He manages to uncover the sorted backroom deals that allow large corporations to rip consumers off while at the same time paying no taxes or even receiving subsidies from the government in their pursuit of ever more money. His methodical approach of following the money and digging into all thos ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you ever want to work yourself into an angry frenzy, just read one of David Cay Johnston's books. This is the third book of his that I have read and it was just as interesting as the first two. In this book, he reveals more of the laws, tax loopholes and other "tricks" that major corporations and the uber-wealthy use to enhance their profits and wealth at the expense of the average citizen. In this book, the author takes aim at utility corporations, railroads and drug companies - just to name ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
As I read this book, a line from "The Music Man' kept popping into my mind: "Make your blood boil? Well, I should say..."
The author details the many ways big money corporations are legally favored and are able to stick it to the little guy in this country. He talks about railroad companies, cable and internet companies (and their monopolies), utility companies, oil and gas pipelines, water companies, banking, "retirement" plans (which he calls 'your 201K'), the perks a CEO receives, pharmaceutic
Marie Angell
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I generally feel that big companies are robbing me blind and have some notion of the many ways corporations have rigged the system against me. But David Cay Johnston presents powerful details of how its done.

Often I feel that we should complain more, but it's hard when you don't exactly know how you're being screwed, so the book is definitely handy for that (and really, how long does it take to send an email to Congress--not long and it gets faster the more you do it).

Johnston's prose may run a
Jon Allen
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: skepticism
A fine book, providing many well-researched examples of corporate profiteering. It sparks a strong response, but does not rely on sensationalistic claims or unsupported arguments. Very welcome relief in this age of demagogues and rhetoric.

My only complaint about the book was that while the author offered potential actions to address the situations he highlighted, they were only at the policy level. It's ends with a call to arms for the readers, but only provides general advice, i.e. vote and jo
Patrick Pilz
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Free markets are an ideal, seldom accomplished. Today, we do not have a lot of market choices, not really. We have only one cable provide, we have only one power company and live in one water district. But this does not stop there, our food supply is controlled along the supply chain by different monopolies or oligopolies. In addition, large corporations can influence legislations to their benefit, and we consumers pay the price.

This book illustrated corporate abuses in the United States, sponso
Jenny Lee
We are all well aware that the rich have been getting richer while the middle class has been continuously shrinking... The Fine Print illustrates exactly how this has happened through the use of policies that have essentially subsidized corporations at the expense of the masses. In fact, I sometimes felt so disillusioned and disgusted with the extent to which our government has failed to act in the interest of the public good in favor of corporate interest >:(! I'll admit, however, that the b ...more
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think the subtitle is inaccurate and misleading. The Fine Print is not about the fine print as we commonly think of it, it's about the partnership between government and big business to put more and more of the tax burden on the average tax payer, gouge the customer, put less and less of the burden on business, reward big business with greater profits which pays off in bigger campaign donations, and provide ever fewer and fewer government services for the taxpayer. It's a book all taxpayers s ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.3 very good. Lack of transparency and accountability have allowed large companies to use money and power in ways detrimental to the well-being of our country. The details and documenting reports are presented. The book is challenging but worth the struggle; I have been reading and reviewing off and on from the start Oct 31 to the finish of first reading January 2, 2013 and some continued review since.

One major positive factor is the recognition of the unfairness (and even criminal behavior) i
Sep 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting expose into the world of corporate welfare and how large companies exert political pressure to wrest $$$ from our pockets and develop unfair markets. I am a businessman, an economist a proponent of relatively free markers, but I hate un-free markets rigged to line corporate pockets.

Wile I appreciated the content, I found the writing loose and disappointing. Johnston wrote with too much passion, and written a little more evenly he would have made his point better. I also th
Bob Anderson
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It needs to be said up front that this book is less about contractual fine print than about market abuses, especially monopolies, laws that artificially increase corporate power, and non-transparency of companies. It is absolutely essential reading. Johnston’s quality of writing and research is impeccable, and he chooses his subjects so well. The way our monopolies, capitalists and government interact is absolutely awful in the US; many could tell you that but I haven’t seen any book succeed so ...more
Dec 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well researched book on how large corporations use perfectly legal ways to make huge profits at the expense of everyone else. I think it would be beneficial if lawmakers would engage in debate and discussion over more of this material. For anyone interested in policy and law, this will be a good read -- though what Mr. Johnston uncovers will certainly make you angry. For the individual consumer, the parts on binding arbitration and choice of court venue are important concepts to r ...more
Madhusudan Chokhra
Hats off for David Johnston for his arduous work. I cannot believe people (including me also) are so agnostic from the dirty tricks of big corporations in 21th century which is age of information.
Though this book contains example of only USA but the way corporations work we can definitely assume Indians corporations are no way different from their counterparts. This book surely is chef DE oeuvre of modus operandi of current economy. But still it is confusing, that there is no protest or whatsoev
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: financial
Everyone should read this book. If one does not understand why the Court decision rendering Corporations as Persons was so egregious, this book helps explain how significant the negative ramifications have been. Paying so much for cell phone plans and cable is one thing, but when one realizes how basic needs such as water, electricity and trash pickup have also been influenced is just infuriating.
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This was ok. lot of the practices he covers really are out of hand. Such as some companies being allowed to (semi-secretly) keep the tax withheld from their employees paychecks instead of having to turn it over to the government like most companies do.

Anyway, I read part of it. As a potential reader, you might be better off hearing what Johnston has to say by listening to interviews. You'll get similar information, but in a much more condensed and summarized format.
It was okay. I think that maybe I'm reading it too late after publishing--that would account for one star. But even so, this would only get a 3. the writing is just plain annoying. It is too conversational. In an attempt to gain the readability of Lewis or Bryson, the author is too flashy. Every chapter is the same formulaic teaching style of shock and wow and now I'll teach you about these ridiculous practices. And I know I'm supposed to be just floored, but I was more bored...
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Jaw dropping red rage inducing condemnation of our current "Profit at any cost" business models. the length and breath and depths to which these companies will stoop just to steal whatever money they can and their unrepentant attitude towards their ill gotten gains is simply beyond words. everyone needs to read this book although I cannot call it a pleasureable experience but a profoundly necessary one.
Further spelunking into the entangled reciprocity of business and government putting money, greed, and short term profits over democracy which keeps the greed (and collusion and what is ultimately embezzlement) in check by fair and just regulation which could create a thriving, stable, and sustainable economy. The dollar goes a long way, and it goes the longest for those with the most gold (remember the golden rule, he who has the gold, makes the rules)
Thomas Stevenson
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very informative book. Johnston offers plenty of details to support his points - enough to require close reading at times. In effect the situation of the non-privileged is much worse than most people know. Our political system is really against us but not in the way the tea party people think. Reading The Fine Print reveals that the only way some companies want to be in business is if they get handouts at customers' expense.
The book's tone sounds a bit like an infomercial ("Find out today how companies are gouging you of YOUR hard earned dollars"). But get past that, and this is a well-researched read on the obscure tactics companies use to increase prices and control costs. People talk often about how companies are becoming more and more short-sighted, focused on hitting their quarterly numbers at expense of the long term. This book details some of the ways that plays out in practice.
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“Corporations have grown so powerful that they have inverted the Roman equation: rather than corporations existing to serve the state, the state serves them.” 4 likes
“You will even read about an insurance company owned by one of America’s most admired billionaires that asked a paralyzed man to die because the cost of keeping him alive was cutting into the insurer’s profits.” 2 likes
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