This book describes how the vast majority of those in the U.S with income and wealth in the top 1%, the kings without thrones, have dramatically strengthened their control over the country in the last 40 years so that they could greatly increase their wealth at almost everyone else’s expense. Then, the book’s second half describes what we can each do to help restore balance to our own lives and to our country.
While there are many books that have recently been written to describe the 1%’s takeover, there are few that also describe solutions. In contrast, this book has taken a very wide view; and, in the process, has discovered an answer that is a convergence of the latest scientific findings with our ancient spiritual teachings.
While there have always been the very rich in our country, the current trend widens the gap between the wealthy elite and the rest of us. For example:
From 1980 to 2006 the income of the U.S.’s top 1% increased by 254%. At the same time, the bottom 80% just kept up with inflation.
In 1965, the average CEO made 20 times more than a worker in his factory. By 2013, this CEO took home 296 times as much as his average employee.
How Have the Kings Increased Their Power to Do This?
Let’s “Follow the Money”:
Not talked about much – our country’s rules were set up by rich, white males who wanted to justify slavery in the South in order to maintain their wealth.
The very rich have continued to gain influence in order to increase their wealth. Since World War I, the U.S. has had a very large military-industrial complex because of its extremely high profitability. For example, the annual profitability increases from before World War I to during the war were 950% for Dupont, 817% for Bethlehem Steel, 1,250% for Central Leather, and 300% for American Sugar Refining. With such financial incentives, by 2012, our military budget was greater than the total spends of all the other industrialized countries combined. This has contributed to the U.S. being the most warring nation in modern history.
From 1998 to 2010, business interests and trade groups spent almost $30 billion on lobbying while labor spent less than $1/2 billion, thus giving business nearly a 60-to-1 advantage. At the same time, the cost of the presidential race increased by a factor of 100 so that by 2012 this cost had reached a whopping $2 billion dollars. Thus, a politician running for office must get highly indebted to the rich in order to run; and this has been true for most of those in the Democratic Party, which has moved this party from the left to the middle. This increases the kings’ control of our government with few politicians in a position to protest.
Let’s Consider the Media
Another way that the upper class has gained greater leverage is via changes to the rules for public media political coverage. From 1949 until 1987, the FCC enforced the “Fairness Doctrine” that required the holders of broadcast licenses to serve the public by presenting controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was equitable and balanced by also airing contrasting views. In 1987, however, the Reagan administration deregulated this rule. This has allowed the rich media owners to more freely support the objectives of their wealthy cohorts by deciding which information to report on. And it has allowed them to appeal to separate factions by creating separate stations for each of them. This has raised our righteous anger at each other, which supports their divide-and-conquer strategy. And by having separate factions, advertising can be more persuasive so that higher rates can be charged.
Most of our media is owned and controlled by the 1%. They have been keeping us in the dark about what we really believe our country should be doing. For example, as of 2012, 8 in 10 Americans think we should lower the cost of student loans; nearly 8 in 10 Americans think the government should be responsible for ensuring that all have health care coverage; and close to 3 out of 4 Americans think the rich should pay more in taxes.
Well-funded think tanks have used advertising to convince us that we should be competitive in the capitalism game in order to achieve true happiness that only comes from money, status, and possessions. And with their think tanks influencing news coverage, they have been convincing us that we should be afraid of our world enemies and blame our problems on minority groups and the disenfranchised.
And Let’s Even Consider Our Religion
Another backing of the 1%’s control has been the fundamentalist subset of evangelism. Back during the Great Depression, major corporations from General Motors to Hilton Hotels were threatened by Roosevelt’s New Deal with its promotion of federal spending in order to help the depression’s downtrodden. The wealthy feared that this would increase the power of the unions, the government, and the appeal of socialism. When they tried to speak out on this from a corporate platform, they found little support. But when some spiritual leaders advocated a form of libertarianism, the wealthy saw that this was an opportunity to gain support for their cause. As a result, major corporations and their business lobbies such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been giving significant financial support to extremely conservative teachers that include Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell. These teachers have teamed up with conservative presidents such as Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Trump to introduce prayer breakfasts and phrases such as “One Nation Under God,” and “In God We Trust” into official U.S. documents to give their platform legitimacy. Their platform favors reduced government power, increased capitalism freedom, individual rights to salvation with prosperity, while social engagement and loving-your-neighbor-as-yourself are optional. As a result, personal salvation has higher priority than the public good; and it sometimes also includes white supremacy, anti-abortion, anti-GLBT, and in the South, the Ku Klux Klan.
As a Result, Their Control Over Us is Very Strong!
They have the money to control our politicians, to hire think tanks, and to indoctrinate us via their multimedia. Also, they have added the legitimacy of religion. We have been getting the message that striving after money and possession are the key to happiness ever since we have been kids. As a result, they have mostly succeeded. With all this against us, how can we possibly wake up and break free!?
First, Breaking Free from the Money Trap
So, what can we do? How can the rest of us have any power or influence when the kings have so much control? One thing we can do is take a look at our own lives to see how much we have bought into the kings’ messaging. Over and over, the kings’ system- has been telling us that money, wealth, and happiness are synonymous. And, for the most part, we’ve been acting like we believe it -- believing that just a little bit more money would do the trick; and when it didn’t, then, we’ve believed that we needed just a little bit more.
But Jesus and Buddha both taught that the excessive pursuit of money and possessions is not the path to happiness for both now and later. For example, Jesus instructed the rich, young man to abandon his attachment to wealth and to follow him in order to attain eternal life.
And, our latest sociological and health studies confirm these teachings. These recent studies show that yes, happiness, wellness and longevity all improve dramatically as one goes from deep poverty to having the ability to have food on the table and a roof over one’s head. But, once basic needs are met, despite what capitalism tells us, these scientific studies reveal that there is a leveling off into a land of diminishing returns where little further improvement in happiness happens as income and wealth increase further.
Scientific studies also tell us that:
A portion of our happiness depends on whether others also have the same good fortune;
We are happier with delayed gratification – this increases our savoring ability and our ability to experience the positive emotion of gratitude;
We are happier with money spent on experiences rather than on possessions;
Happiness is increased by giving and sharing with others.
And common sense tells us that less purchasing of possessions has the benefits of having:
Fewer things to take care of,
Less debt to worry about.
And with less pursuit of money, more free time to do other activities that actually make us happier such as those described in the next section.
Next, Realizing that Happiness Depends Instead on Widening and Deepening Our Personal Interconnections
The Golden Rule of loving your neighbor as yourself that emphasizes our taking care of each other and remembering our interconnections is a major part of our main stream religions. And Jesus widened this out beyond just the in-group with the story of the Good Samaritan who was a man from a despised group who nonetheless exhibited the behavior that Jesus was advocating. This is widened even further by the Buddha with his teaching of “No Self” meaning that our happiness is dependent on our many interconnections with other living beings, including plants, trees, and animals – not just with other human beings.
Recent science supports and amplifies on these teachings in many ways:
Positive Psychology – Using the same scientific methods that psychology has used to study when things go bad such as with depression, this new science of the 1990’s has been studying what makes things go well to create happiness. They have found happiness proportional to the intimacy of our relationships – both their quality and their depth, e.g. married over single, and how much we are surrounded by other happy people, and if and how often we cooperate in activities, and share our personal feelings, and help support our friends and relatives. This is as opposed to the 1%’s emphasis on Individualism.
Physiology –Recent studies have found that throughout our body are mirror neurons that allow us to have empathy for those in need, and they have discovered that the vagus nerve allows us to have compassion for others in distress. It appears that these developed from our successful 3 million-year evolution. Except for the last 10 to 30 thousand years (99.7% of our successful time on this earth) has been as hunter gatherers working in small groups that are cooperating with each other and working together not only for survival but also for happiness. So this in in our blood. This is as opposed to the 1%’s emphasis on Competition.
And this Change in Perspective Brings Us to Happily Living More Simply
But what does our money and personal interconnections emphasis have to do breaking free from the kings without thrones and their increasing control over our society? As it turns out, a lot. Once we have enough money to put food on the table and a roof over our head, we can change our emphasis away from following the 1%’s lead and, instead, greatly reduce our emphasis on pursuing large amounts of money, possessions, and the big house on the hill. This allows us to increase our happiness by spending more time strengthening and deepening our connections with each other. And this will naturally also bring us to living a simpler lifestyle and finding greater happiness there.
And Simplicity Frees Us from the King’s Control!
Our corporations and their kings need us to continue consuming the things they make. If we buy less, their sales are reduced, their profits are reduced, and their net worth is reduced. This is their weakness! There are two ways that a sales slowdown can occur. The one we think about the most is for the workers to leave and refuse to make product. Right now, that does not sound too likely to happen since the labor movement has been drastically weakened by worldwide outsourcing and U.S. legislation. However, there is also the other kind of slowdown where we consumers buy less of a company’s product. This not only reduces the company’s profits, but it also reduces the next quarter’s report on Wall Street, and this reduces the net worth of the company’s owners. If this is done long enough and deep enough by a simplifying movement, our greed-driven, kings-without-thrones system will be forced to
Reduce their control of the government so that capitalism can be brought back into balance.
Lessen their resistance to the abatement of climate change and nature’s destruction.
This doesn’t require selling all one’s possessions and moving to the woods. It can begin slowly by eliminating careless spending of money that doesn’t bring much longer-term happiness anyway. If this movement is taken up by even 10 to 15% of the population, the 1% will see its danger to them and take the necessary reform steps before it causes a major depression or recession, which would hurt them further. Their antennas are very sensitive.
The Mahatma Gandhi Example
But is it really possible to effect such a change through just buying less? Mahatma Gandhi led a movement against buying British-made goods. In this totally non-violent movement, he supported buying India-made goods and living simply. An important symbol for this movement was the wearing and purchasing of local, homespun clothing instead of the finely made and tailored British clothing. This overall boycott against British goods helped revitalize the local economy in India and hurt the English economy. The bottom line was that it made Britain’s colonization of India unprofitable and created local, profitable, Indian companies. This was a key factor behind Britain’s departure, which allowed India to regain its independence.
The Next Critical Step is to turn Simplicity into a Widespread Movement
To do this, we need to first do our own simplifying. As we go about simplifying, it is important to reflect on the effects this change is producing in our lives. Are we calmer, more grateful? Happier? Do we have more time for what really matters? If so, then we need to help others become aware of how well our efforts are benefiting ourselves. By doing so, we help our friends and family see and understand the benefits of buying less, and this will help widen the movement so as to bring the kings to a very real bargaining table like it did in India.
We really need to do this! Our capitalism is out of control. The 1% has bought our politicians, modified the system so that support for everyone else is cut back, and given themselves almost all the pay raises. With control of the media, they have greatly increased our distrust and hatred for each other while hiding our opinions that are not in their favor. To further fill their pocketbooks, they have gotten us believing that we are always in a just war and that pursuit of money and possessions is the key pathway to happiness.
By simplifying our life and helping to turn simplicity into a widespread movement, we help to restore our democracy so that capitalism is again healthily counterbalanced. And this helps to reduce the climate change that threatens the survival of our species!
In addition, let’s keep in mind that this simplification increases our own happiness! Here are some of the things that have really helped me. By getting the news from the newspaper, watching less TV and its accompanying advertising, and avoiding the stock market, I’ve reduced the underlying layer of anxiety that had been a permanent fact in my life. By eating a better diet with fewer preservatives, more vegetables, less alcohol, and less sugar and by maintaining a vigorous exercise program, I’ve improved my health. By foregoing a big house and expensive toys, I’ve been able to live on my social security in retirement while maintaining my savings for future emergencies. This increases my feelings of security. By committing to a spiritual practice, I’ve become better connected to life and better able to enjoy more of the present moment. And all of that has led to a tremendous sense of gratitude for my life, my family, my friends, all life that is sharing it with me, and all that, in the past, have made this possible. Now, for no apparent reason, I’ve begun to say “Thanks!” silently to myself on a random basis.