When you look at your phone bill, what do you see? David Cay Johnston thinks you’re seeing a little bit too much. As a journalist and an author, Johnston has made a career of writing about tax and economic policy. He’s worked for the New York Times and Reuters, written several best-selling books, and in 2001 he won a Pulitzer prize for beat reporting for stories exposing loopholes in tax policy.
His latest book is The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” To Rob You Blind. In it, Johnston says that big corporations intentionally fill their billing statements, insurance quotes and other paperwork with confusing language in order to prevent consumers from understanding exactly what they’re signing up for. More often than not, this legal language gives big corporations the upper hand.
“Some insurance companies have a policy where they’ll offer you 60 cents on the dollar for catastrophic claims and if you don’t like it, you have to sue,” says Johnston, giving one example of how the current economic system puts the consumer at a disadvantage.
Johnston also believes the tax code is part of the problem, citing recent conversations about corporations’ attempts to avoid paying taxes.
“What did Tim Cook say about Apple? ‘We have followed the law …’ and they have. They and other companies didn’t just walk into this. They have gotten the laws written the way that they want, maybe not Apple specifically, but then they go and say, ‘Well, we’re following the law.’ “