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There are more than five ways, of course. There are numerous product ripoffs, as described in a recent article by Lynn Stuart Parramore, who identified textbooks and bottled water and print cartridges as a few of the ways Americans are duped into paying a lot more than reason and regulation would dictate.
And there are many industry-specific ripoffs, most notably in health care. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, and yet we’re falling behind other developed countries in numerous health measures.
Here are five more industry-specific ripoffs of the American people:
1. The Retail Industry (Walmart): Building Owner Fortunes with Public Tax Money
A study in Wisconsin by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce determined that a typical Walmart store costs taxpayers over $1.7 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee. A 2004 study in California put the cost per employee at $2,103.
For the year 2012, Walmart’s pre-tax U.S. income was almost $18.7 billion. That’s over $14,000 per U.S. Walmart employee.
For the year 2012, the four Walton family members made over $20 billion from their investments. That’s over $15,000 per Walmart employee.
2. The Financial Industry: Printing Their Own Money
Thanks in good part to the derivatives market, the world’s wealth has doubled in ten years. Estimates of the speculative value of the financial derivatives market vary, from $708 trillion to $1.2 quadrillion. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange alone reported a 2011 trading volume of over $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts.
A quadrillion is a thousand trillion. A return to the financiers of just .1 percent (a tenth of a penny from every dollar) would generate $1 trillion, the total Adjusted Gross Income for half of Americans.
3. The Private Prison Industry: Billing Taxpayers for Empty Cells, then Selling Inmate Labor and Paying Them Sub-Minimum Wages
Almost two-thirds of the private prison contracts analyzed by In the Public Interest “included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a ‘low-crime tax’).”
Some private prisons, such as Corrections Corporation of America and G4S, sell inmate labor to corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM, and pay the prisoners less than a dollar an hour.
4. The Telecommunications Industry: Low Quality at High Prices
In the 1990s the FCC deregulated phone and cable and Internet companies, with the intention of promoting competition. But just a few companies — Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and Time Warner — have divided up the market, reducing competition as they remain poorly regulated.
So now South Korea has Internet access speeds 200 times faster than us at half the cost. Same thing in Hong Kong. And in Europe unlimited texting and voice from Verizon costs about a third of U.S. prices.
It gets worse, according to David Cay Johnston, who reports that regulations have been written that allow large corporations to add unsubstantiated charges to cell phones, cable TV, internet service providers and others that can cost American families over $2,000 per year.
5. The Drug Industry: Buy American…But Tax Us Like We’re Foreigners
Bernie Sanders notes that pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly and Pfizer have lobbied to keep Americans from buying cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and Europe, but then they their shift drug patents and profits to offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Higher drug prices cost an average American family over $1250 per year.
Drug companies also participate in “Pay-for-Delay” deals, through which brand-name firms pay generic makers to keep their cheaper drugs out of the market for a number of years.
That’s capitalism. Ripping a once-strong society into little pieces.