Here at Good Jobs First we’re happy to see that a book dealing with business subsidy abuse is currently Number 8 on both the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list and the Amazon business list. David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch is a rollicking good read.
In one instance, Good Jobs First gets featured in the text: Johnston discusses our 2003 report Shopping for Subsidies, which documented more than $1 billion in subsidies Wal-Mart has extracted from state and local governments around the country. (The research is now updated and available on our Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch website).
Free Lunch covers some other topics we’ve written about, such as the shameful story of how the New York Yankees got public officials to turn over city parkland for the team’s new subsidized stadium—a tale that our affiliate Good Jobs New York detailed in its 2006 report Loot, Loot, Loot for the Home Team (which Johnston cites in his notes). Or the shameless way that the Cabela’s chain of outdoor gear stores has turned subsidy solicitation into an integral part of its business plan—as Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy discussed in a 2006 article in Multinational Monitor.
The book covers a lot more ground, including subsidies that never even occurred to some of us who study subsidies for a living. A fascinating example offered by Johnston is the burglar alarm business, in which for-profit companies rake in profits while local governments bear the cost of sending police cars to respond to what are often false alarms.
Strictly speaking, much of Free Lunch is not about direct subsidies. It covers a variety of ways in which government policies of all sorts—deregulation of electricity, privatization of infrastructure and student loan processing, eminent domain, etc.—contribute to what he calls “corporate socialism for the few.”
Although his proposals are modest—such as giving members of Congress unlimited expense accounts so they are less tempted to do the bidding of corporate interests in exchange for free trips and meals—Free Lunch is a powerful indictment of a political and economic system that has veered dangerously toward concentration of wealth at the top.