Our money system makes a government of, by, and for the people impossible. We are not now created equal in the eyes of the law. However, we still have our Constitutional authority to elect people to leadership who will restore our democratic republic.
For hundreds of years, when governments attempted to create new money, they have been attacked and manipulated into returning the power of money creation to an elite in the private sector. Early on in the history of fractional reserve money creation, the bankers were taking this power away from monarchs and despots. In the last two hundred years, they have been taking this power away from constitutional democratic republics (as well as some dictators). Our quality of life suffers.
Diminishing trust and kindness
Democratic decision-making requires a level of kindness, respect, and trust. Several sets of studies compiled by Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner have found increasing wealth makes one less ethical, less compassionate and concerned for the welfare of others, and more likely to lie. Lies, cheating, and fraud destroy trust. Unkindness follows. So, increasing income disparity and the concentration of power in the wealthy does not bode well for the general welfare and domestic tranquility of our democratic republic.220
When private bankers create our money, they can afford to buy Congress. And they do. A 2014 study by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton, and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, found,
the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy. …Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.221
Their study found when fairly large majorities of citizens disagree with economic elites and/or with the powerful money interests, they generally lose. They note “If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.” This is not a surprise. This study confirms what we experience.
Up until the last decade, we had election laws that limited how much any one citizen could spend on election campaigning. The laws were getting threadbare as wealthy individuals worked under the radar creating grassroots organizations, think tanks, non-profits, and engaged churches in political campaigning. Then, the floodgates were opened after the US Court of Appeals decision in Speechnow v. FEC in 2010.222 When money equals speech, those who have more money get to have a bigger say in our elections. And, they do.
We now have Super Political Action Committees (PACS) that spend unlimited money on federal election campaigns – running ads or sending mail or communicating messages specifically advocating for or against the election of a specific candidate – and there are no limits or restrictions on the sources of funds used. In 2016, according to Bloomberg, nearly half of all money spent on campaigns was spent by PACS – and that half was over $4 billion!223
The amount of spending on elections has increased 600 percent since 1980, and, like our exponential curve, began a steep climb off the chart in 2004. Up through 2000, from $100–300 million was spent on presidential elections. The 2000 election broke $1 billion, and by 2012 spending was up to $3 billion for the presidential election alone.224
In 1980, the top 25 percent of campaign donors contributed roughly 58 percent of all individual funds. By 2010 they gave 85 percent. By 2016 they gave 93 percent. By 2016, the top 5 percent of donors gave approximately 73 percent of all funds.225 No wonder there is a close correlation between the interests of the very rich and the policies Congress makes law. Politicians argue they are not swayed by their donors. But, when they are living and breathing the worldview of this wealthy elite, and they are indebted to them for their position, it becomes their worldview too. A very tiny number of extraordinarily wealthy donors are gatekeepers, choosing the candidates by bankrolling exorbitantly expensive elections. In 2016 we had two presidential candidates who well over half of American citizens did not like or respect. This is astonishing. It reflects an achingly diseased democracy.
Election campaign coverage is about the sensational instead of what an informed electorate needs to know. Investigative journalism and critical editing is often replaced by repeated ideological sound bites or “Oh my!” memes with entertainment value.
For example, in the 2015 primary season, the Trump campaign got 333 minutes of free coverage – worth an estimated $3 billion – from the mainstream media – more than double the 19 other candidates from both parties combined. Only 32 minutes were devoted to issue coverage, and the only issues covered were terrorism, LBGT, foreign policy, immigration, policing, and a few minutes for the Environmental Protection Agency (which the Republicans want to disband). There was almost no coverage of trade, energy, healthcare, climate change, ongoing wars, drugs, poverty, guns, infrastructure, or deficits. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who stuck to talking about issues and policy, got 10 minutes of coverage. Eight years ago, the network newscasts devoted 220 minutes to issues coverage.226 In 2016, CBS CEO Les Moonves said about their over-the-top coverage of Trump’s antics, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Trump was entertaining and good for ratings, and consequently ad purchases and profits.227
We made a consequential choice for a world leader on very little information and based on entertainment value. We will pay a steep price for this negligence.
Corrupt public policy
Back in the 1960s, the wealthy figured out that if they used their tax-avoidance family foundation revenue to fund think tanks, they could structure them to follow a prescribed point of view: theirs. These think tanks churn out policy papers justifying our current monetary system, our wealth-transfer economic policies, and write the laws that support their personal agendas and beliefs.
Just one organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), well-funded by big corporations and the extraordinarily rich, has an inordinate amount of power in crafting legislation. It pays legislators all over the country to come to forums to craft bills according to free market fundamentalism and limited government. Some bills passed are word-for-word bills this organization crafted to promote the interests of the money power.228
The bills ALEC promotes show by limited government it means: those with money should be free to make as much money as they possibly can, exploit the health of their employees, communities and the environment, without being encumbered by safety standards or rules that might hamper profits. Their policies are firmly entrenched in myths of free enterprise and the rational invisible hand of unfettered economic activity. There appears to be little understanding of interdependence, of a strong foundation of common wealth, or the simple responsibility to do no harm to others. Their power is a cancer on our legislative process.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United decision “ingratiation and access” were “not corruption.” So, if you can afford to make your Congressmen so grateful he gives you access any time you want, this is no longer considered corrupting the democratic process.229 Think back to Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, about that 40 percent of sitting judges, including several on the Supreme Court, who have attended re-education camp at a luxury resort paid for by very wealthy ideologues who want to make their ideology the law of the land.
We are rightfully discouraged. In the 2016 election 63 percent of the voting age population went to the polls, and 58 percent voted for president.230 231 Almost 40 percent of eligible voters stayed home. In midterm elections, less than 40 percent tend to vote. There is a widespread sense our votes do not matter, so why bother. It’s discouraging to know lobbyists and wealthy donors will override our voices.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance found that the US lags behind most of our peers when it comes to voter turnout. We rank 31st among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While Belgium leads with 89 percent turnout, the US has a long way to go at 63 percent. We clearly have something to learn from others.232
A group of diverse, informed and independent thinkers make the best decisions when they aggregate their points of view. This is why democratic decision-making, although far from perfect, is the best way to make decisions. A well-informed populace is the bedrock of democratic decision-making, so a good education and an effective press corps are crucial. Our money system is working against this bedrock of democracy.
Control by a few
A few extraordinarily wealthy people influence and sometimes control what is taught in our schools. In addition to the previously noted examples of altered curriculum in business law, economics, and monetary theory, Big Money works to control how we provide public education right down into kindergarten.
For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent more than $3 billion since 1999 on educational reforms, including the national roll-out of No Child Left Behind in 2002 and Common Core in 2009.233 This gave the Gates an unhealthy amount of power in setting US education policy. The Gates Foundation likes standardization, data and metrics. Transferring interoperability ideas from web development, Gates promoted the Common Core curriculum and testing, noting, “When you add textbooks, supplements, and assessments together, you’re talking about a $9 billion market that’s wide open for innovation.” 234 The underlying assumption is that innovative teaching happens when someone can make money developing curriculums.
Finland is way ahead of this thinking. They choose only the brightest as teachers and pay them well. They give them a lighter load and three to six years with the same children, so that they can individualize inspiring instruction. Good education focuses on developing abiding curiosity and the tools to satisfy it. Good teachers are well-trained guides. They relate well to children and can manage groups of them. They can assess individual children’s needs. They have full tool boxes of ideas to encourage children’s curiosity and passion for learning. Great teachers have time to follow their own curiosity as life-time learners, and to model this pursuit of learning. Great teaching requires human interaction; at its core, it’s not about standardized prescriptive curriculums and testing.
Asking teachers to focus on standardized skill sets so that their students will get high test scores crushes the joy out of teaching and learning. It breaks my heart when my grandchildren say they hate school because it’s boring. And it is breaking our democracy when less than 40 percent of our teachers are satisfied with their jobs. Between 40 and 50 percent of them quit within five years.235 As a lifetime educator I know this does not need to be the case.
And, returning to the monetizing of education mentioned in Chapter 6.60, by focusing on marketable skill sets, Common Core deprives children of the richness of our culture. David Coleman, one of the developers of the Common Core curriculum said, “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.” He’s explaining why Common Core de-emphasizes literature and relies on more informational texts – speeches, magazine articles, government reports. This thinking completely misses the role of great literature in developing our minds and hearts.236
I read through J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books every couple of years for the fun of it. They are a pleasant counterpoint to economic tomes. I enjoy the world she creates, the characters and the complex story. I was reading one of the larger volumes while waiting for my car to be serviced this past year. Making conversation, the young woman receptionist asked if I was really reading that big book. She went on to say that she didn’t think she’d ever read a book, well, maybe one when she was in elementary school. I was dumbfounded. Given her age, she grew up with No Child Left Behind and Common Core. No literature seems almost criminal.
These expensive, standardized, test-heavy, employment oriented educational programs are a mistake that would not have been made if the decision making was done by a diverse group of independent thinkers – and included all the stakeholders, not just those absorbed with money-making. I know many educators and every one of them says both these programs have been a disaster, sucking the life and joy out of teachers and students.
If we’re going to be smart about education policy, we want many different people making educational decisions for the nation – not a tiny group of elites.
Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says the Gates Foundation’s overall dominance in education policy has subtly muffled dissent. “Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” Greene said. This is profound. It is the reason why we do not want any part of our nation ruled by an elite few.237
The wealthiest Americans own the media, so they prescreen your choices and manufacture your consent based on their own worldviews.238 Our collective state of misinformation is destroying us.
Today, there is so much information out there it should be easy to have diverse, independent and quality information from journalists. And exceptional journalism is there if you look for it. But front and center on our publicly owned and leased airwaves, we have a media mostly parroting the same talking points of its few owners. And, they chase after a few titillating stories that bring in ad revenue. In addition we have a sludge of misinformed, poorly edited, fact-check- failing, illogical internet chatter, often generated by fake grassroots organizations funded by and presenting propaganda from the money power – or as we’re learning, from the Russians.239
The airwaves and communication networks are common wealth. They belong to all of us. Journalists and the media play such an important role in democracy, the First Amendment of our Constitution protects the freedom of the press. But, a free press is only possible when the press is diverse and independent. This common wealth is seriously degraded and woefully failing to serve us. When we are not well informed, we are easy to manipulate.
No longer public trustees
We once believed that those who lease the national airwaves owe the country a service. We required this media serve our democracy as well as make profits. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was founded in 1934, it viewed the stations to which it granted licenses as public trustees – and required they make every reasonable attempt to cover contrasting points of views. In 1949, this was established as a policy called the Fairness Doctrine.240
As public service, the Commission required stations report on crucial issues in their communities. For example, national media had to give equal time to all presidential candidates. Local stations had to do the same for local candidates. If we were discussing going to war, our national news media had to give both pro and con points of view. Local media had to be present and available to warn of danger or hazards.
However, under President Reagan, in 1981 the FCC deregulated the content of our broadcast media as well as ownership limits at the behest of wealthy media owners. The Fairness Doctrine was removed. The removal was justified on the basis of a growing number of media outlets, including privately owned cable networks; the challenge of identifying fairness; and, the right of broadcasters to free speech.241 They ignored the increasing monopolizing of ownership. In the name of free speech for those with power and money, Reagan removed citizens’ right to be adequately informed. Owners and advertisers got the freedom of speech, citizens got to be manipulated freely and irresponsibly by those who made making money their highest value.
Monopoly, monoculture & manipulation
In the interest of serving our nation, we once limited the ownership of our media; no owner could monopolize a market.242 In the 1970s no one could own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market, nor a radio station and a TV station. This gave us an independence and diversity of reporting and ideas that supported a more effective democracy. President Reagan began deregulating and making the monopoly we have today possible.
In 1981 Reagan doubled the number of TV stations a media company could own to forty. By 1983, still at the beginning of the Reagan administration, fifty media companies controlled 90 percent of our news and media.
In 1996, President Clinton and a Republican Congress put the nail in the coffin when he signed the Telecommunications Act (House & Senate-Republican majorities). This law allowed further consolidation and over the next fifteen years media ownership dropped to nine big media giants.
This law removed the 40-station ownership cap on radio stations, allowing Clear Channel Communications to balloon from owning 43 stations to owning 1200 stations in all 50 states, reaching more than 110 million listeners every week and dominating the audience in 100 out of 112 major markets. In some markets, Clear Channel owned as many as eight radio stations. To make more money, single owners create programming for their entire network at one time and in one place, dropping in audio clips of a local newscaster, making it appear the content is created and broadcast locally. It’s not. Someone is putting on a set of tapes and running them. This is good for efficiency and profits. But it is bad for the local communities, and bad for decision-making at all levels of government. Ten years ago, Clear Channel became fodder for predatory hedge fund capitalists, but the consolidation remains.243
By 2011, 90 percent of our media was controlled by just six companies. Today, just five Big Corporations control 90 percent of our media. Just 15 billionaires own America’s news media companies.244 According to the New York Times, testimony before the House Judiciary Committee reports that “In 1983, 50 companies owned 90 percent of the media consumed by Americans. By 2012, just six companies …controlled that 90 percent.”245
Even our public broadcasting of national news is strained through the perspective of a handful of people who are entrenched for decades in Washington groupthink. In 2016, the federal budget for nationwide public broadcasting was $445 million, roughly 0.02 percent of the federal operating budget – this in a democratic republic, in which informed citizens with diverse points of view are required for effective government. Even that puny sum is under threat. President Trump has removed their funding from his budget each year, but Congress has kept it in at the same level.246
Investment in a dispersed, nationwide network of public news- gathering and journalism that meets a high standard of accuracy would build our common wealth, instead of diminishing it. Facebook and blogs cannot be the foundation for an informed electorate.
Research says we are falling into silos of information that confirm our existing ideas and biases.247 This will not lead to wisdom or good choices.
MANIPULATION BY GASLIGHTING
While on the one hand we have our main stream media – the media that most people get their news from – tending toward limited ownership and monopoly, on the other hand, the internet presents an enormous variety of viewpoints, and no one is obliged to be a responsible journalist. Truth can be a rabbit hiding in a briar patch. This freedom on the internet was one of the reasons given for eliminating the standards and Fairness Doctrine for our broadcasters.
A venue with no standards presents a whole new set of problems. Media manipulation is on steroids. It is easy for lies to be spread. It’s easy for an agent with funds to buy the big internet players’ databases, and with a relatively small amount of advertising dollars to have a significant impact on our elections and public policy. Russia worked this in our 2016 election and claims it was to put their thumb on the scales for Trump. Our intelligence agencies concur.
Wired magazine reports the Trump campaign ran up to 175,000 variants of ads and social media stories per day to find which were most likely to hook viewers. They accessed vast data bases of behavior and buying information to target their most likely supporters with proven-manipulative stories and ads.248 There was zero effort to engage the electorate in thoughtful issue-based democratic decision- making. And, it worked. He won.
We’re struggling to figure out how to protect our democracy and our nation from a corrupt authoritarian, plutocratic rule over a manipulated citizenry.
MANIPULATION – NEWS
The Reagan administration removed any requirements for news programming. Back mid-century some of our main broadcast networks refused advertising during their hour of news because they did not want the news tainted – an era with a very different ethic!249 Today, the majority of our news programs cover an editorially limited selection of topics and often include editorial commentary.
The Reagan administration removed limitations on the amount of advertising. In 1958, you had to watch about 8 minutes of ads to see 52 minutes of programming. Today hour-long programs run 40–44 minutes. You must watch about 20 minutes of ads.
MANIPULATION – BUY MORE
Our media is overwhelmingly about getting you to shop! High levels of emotion anchor advertising and political messages. So programming is a steady rumble of threats to personal safety, keeping people anxious, fearful and xenophobic. Buy a drug. Buy a can of mace. Buy an alarm system. Dark-skinned people are “infesting” our cities. Buy a gun. Spend taxpayer money on a bigger military and lots of bombs. Build a wall! High emotion and fear serves the money power because it makes people easy to manipulate. The owners know this, because the networks charge higher prices for ads that are broadcast during moments of high emotion such as a football touchdown.250
MANIPULATION – PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Today the US is one of only two countries that allow direct to consumer prescription drug advertising – because it hooks more people on expensive drugs! Before 1985 we banned direct-to- consumer drug advertising. In the 1960s, more than 90 percent of the pharmaceutical companies’ advertising was aimed at doctors. By 1993 direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs was $166 million, but growing exponentially.251 In 2016 drug companies spent over $5.6 billion so we would see drugs as the answer to many ailments.252 And it works.
Spending on prescription medicines grows exponentially at a rate of 4 to 7 percent each year. It is expected to be a $600 billion market by 2021.253 There is no positive correlation between increases in spending on prescription drugs and good health.
The biopharmaceutical sector accounts for about 5 percent of our entire economy. The US may be the most drug dependent nation on the planet – and not the healthiest. Not including any institutionalized people, in the past 30 days, 47 percent of us took at least one prescription drug. Twenty-two percent took at least three or more prescription drugs, and 11 percent took five or more. That’s almost half of our population popping some kind of prescription pills this past month!254
Our CDC found that between 1999 and 2014 antidepressant use rose by 65 percent – almost double in five years! By 2014, one in eight of us over 12 were taking antidepressants – 16.5 percent of women and 9 percent of men.255 Recent research finds these drugs may do more harm than good.256 Pharmaceuticals are important, but is this the right proportion of our energy and wealth going toward prescription drugs? We should be paying attention to why one in eight of us are clinically depressed, instead of making it a profit center.
MANIPULATION – CHILDREN’S TV
Prior to the 1980s we kept our children’s TV mostly free of consumer advertising and brand loyalty building. Childhood was sacrosanct. No more. In 1984, the Reagan administration removed limits on advertising in children’s television. In the name of free speech for advertisers looking for lifetime brand attachments, Reagan removed the freedom of our children to watch TV without being manipulated by the money power. When Congress passed a bill to reinstate some limits in 1988, Reagan vetoed it.257
In 2014, the average child saw about 25,600 commercials every year.258 This is down from the 40,000 reported a few years earlier, as kids are spending more time on streaming services that do not include ads. Fast food, candy and cereal account for about half of all food ads seen by kids. In the 1970s, before we inundated children’s TV with junk advertising, 5 percent of US children were obese. Today, children are programmed by advertising to want junk food, leading to the one of the highest obesity rates in the world. By 2008, in just over 30 years, we have tripled the number of obese children to nearly 20 percent.259
We are conditioning and programming our children to be mindless consumers instead of healthy, informed citizens.
We are in a post-truth era, struggling with how to recreate the foundation of common facts that are essential to any real problem- solving.260 I would argue it is a product of a money system that requires a con at the foundation of society, creates a transfer of wealth to a tiny few, and idolizes money and those who have it.
A PositiveMoney.org survey found that only 3 percent of respondents knew how our money is created.261 Most people do not understand that when they deposit money in the bank, they hand over ownership of their money, and get an IOU. Most people do not understand that the value and stability of our money depends on the confidence of the world in our common wealth’s strength. Most people have been conned.
Our system demands consumer confidence. So, there can be no significant challenges to either the status quo or the money and financial systems. A challenge causes doubt. And, doubt causes a drop in confidence. The money con is so dependent on consumer confidence, the Consumer Confidence Index is one of the key measures of the health of our economy. This creates a culture of deceit.
When it’s necessary to listen to some bad news to make prudent decisions, our media ducks and runs. When our politicians and news media cannot tell us the truth, because the truth might cause a catastrophic collapse of our economy, something is seriously wrong. And, this culture of keeping the truth hidden has metastasized into a terminal cancer on our society.
Our current president is taking this societal characteristic to unprecedented heights. People are keeping online logs of the thousands of lies Trump tells, from silly ones about crowd size and his parents birthplaces, to serious ones about foreign policy and the economy. It’s daily. Watch the news today, and fact check his statements. Historical evidence says there will be at least several lies.262
We cannot have anything resembling rule by the people when the people are kept in the dark about what is going on, and manipulated with sugar-coated stories or slimed sound bites to do the bidding of those on Wall Street who profit most from the big con.