It’s the 10th Anniversary of Gotcha Capitalism, and what a wild ride it’s been. In honor of the occasion, I have re-written the book and it’s now available for sale. A lot has happened in 10 years — well, a lot has happened in the past 12 months — so the book has been updated to reflect all that. It’s been a fun project. Journalists rarely get to look backward and tell “the rest of the story.” I hope you’ll consider buying the book today. I tried to keep the price low: The e-book is only $4.99.
Ten years ago, when the book was first published, I had already spent many years writing about Gotchas and other dirty tricks companies were using to fool consumers into overpaying for things or otherwise rip them off. I chronicled these Gotchas at The Red Tape Chronicles, a popular blog on msnbc.com. Millions of readers emailed, commented, and otherwise shared their frustrations over repeated mistreatment, disrespect and occasional humiliation at the hands of heartless corporations. Some even joined the Red Tape Raiders group to fight back.
Then Random House gave me the chance to step back and take a broader look the system that enabled all this unfairness, and the concept of “Gotcha Capitalism” was born. This was late 2007, and the first water was trickling through the fragile dam that was propping up America’s fragile economy. Soon after, the dam would burst, Lehman Brothers collapsed and eventually the whole world’s economy was flooded with unpaid bills and foreclosed homes. It took a few years, but Congress eventually passed crucial new reforms that put an end to much economic treachery — like “double-cycle billing” on credit cards, or secret prepayment penalties on mortgages. A new regulator was invented to take consumers’ side in disputes with banks, acting as a balance against all the other regulators in Washington D.C. who are captured and nearly always do industry’s bidding. Slowly…very slowly…verrrryyyy slowwwlly…the economy recovered.
Then, 2016 happened. And in 10 short years, the cycle has begun again. Consumer protections are being dismantled. Poor people, rather than risk-taking banks, are being blamed for the global recession. The market is soaring, for now. Housing prices are rising in some cases even faster than they did during the housing bubble, and young families are being forced to pay those prices.
So, I decided to dust off Gotcha Capitalism and examine the past decade. In this new edition, you’ll find an examination of 15 different consumer products — banks, cell phones, pay television, home loans, even groceries — and how the market has changed since 2008. You’ll see good news and bad news. You’ll see old Gotchas that have been eliminated, and new ones that have replaced them. Crucially, you’ll learn to update your early-warning system for ripoffs. And when I put it all together, you’ll see why what seems to be an annoyance for you — an early termination fee of $480!! — is something much bigger. When you add up all these Gotchas, what you have is a threat to the American way of life.
So I invite you, once again, to revisit the land of Gotcha Capitalism, and more important, to fight against it. In many cases, it’s not a fair fight. Corporations have poked, prodded, studied, and hacked you. They have large computers with powerful data; they know your bad habits and your weaknesses, and they exploit them at every turn. But while it’s not a fair fight, you can still win. You can still assert your rights. You can still publicly humiliate companies and get fair treatment (in fact, that’s easier than ever!). And in doing so, you can be an essential foot soldier in the fight to change America from the land of the fee back to the Land of the Free.