Fat Cat Manifest: Rev. Ike’s Thinkonomics

If you guaranteed most folks an income next year of one million bucks, but it came with a 70% tax rate, what percentage would sign on the bottom line? Do you suppose there would be a huge groundswell of tea baggers with five-figure incomes turning up their noses on principle over this outlandish top marginal tax rate (which still prevailed in Reagan’s first term)? I, for one, would sign up in a heartbeat then register Republican and rejoin the NRA, lest anyone try to get their mitts on my remaining $300,000.

“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” –Proverbs 23:7

If you guaranteed most folks an income next year of one million bucks, but it came with a 70% tax rate, what percentage would sign on the bottom line? Do you suppose there would be a huge groundswell of tea baggers with five-figure incomes turning up their noses, on principle, over such a top marginal tax rate (which still prevailed under Reagan)? I, for one, would sign up in a heartbeat then register Republican and rejoin the NRA, lest anyone try to get their mitts on my remaining $300,000.

The income gap between the top tier and everyone else continues its seismic expansion. Nonetheless, only one-third of Americans, when surveyed, see themselves as ‘have-nots.’ On the contrary, recent census data finds that “a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.”

Liberals shake their heads over how wage slaves continue to vote against their own economic interests in favor of Fat Cat bennies like terminating the estate, er, death tax. Like Huey Long’s fictional alter-ego, Willie Stark, kept saying to his minions: “You’re a hick. Nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself.” Average mokes being played for suckers resonated back in the Great Depression. Not in today’s Great Recession.

A captive (audience like the American Public) can become in thrall to their captor’s cause. So suggests the Stockholm Syndrome. It was invoked to defend media heiress Patty Hearst for her gun-toting, bank-robbing spree with the Symbionese Liberation Army after they had kidnapped her. The prosecution case portrayed a poor little rich girl acting out, posing all radical chic in her Ché beret and M-1 carbine. It is probably a symbiosis of both, as it is for the American consumer – conditioned to be who we wannabe.

Back when Patty and her SLA pals were liberating God knows who, I was a young man on the make, angling to become a millionaire before I turned 30. I started up a couple of promising ventures, raised a bunch of bucks, but, alas, came up short. Subsequently, I took to quipping that, “I have a negative net worth, but a wealth of self-esteem.” Though, truthfully, that may well have been a pre-existing attitude.

In college, I became intrigued with dynamic ‘visualizing’ through Maslow’s ‘self-actualization,’ particularly its commercial applications. I wrote a paper on Holiday Magic and other nominal purveyors of cosmetics which were really in the business of selling ‘distributorships’ via pyramid schemes. It was classic bait-and-switch, mesmerizing marks in revivalist-style marketing confabs featuring ‘Mind Dynamics.’

Then I went on a pilgrimage to the rococo Palace Cathedral in Northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights to catch the Prosperity Gospel of the Rev. Ike. While Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter’s mother was AfroAmerican, his paternal fore-bearers, like mine, came by way of the Dutch East Indies. Rev. Ike’s was a “do-it-yourself church” with a biracial congregation whose “only savior…is the God in you.” And he wasn’t talking about “that stingy, hard-hearted, hard-of-hearing God-in the-Sky… you learned about in Sunday School.”

A self-professed heretic, Rev. Ike stood four-square at odds with St Paul: “the best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them.” As one of the pioneering televangelists, the Rev. Ike reached an estimated congregation of 2.5 million. Critics brayed that he played his flock for suckers, a condescending, sanctimonious judgment that sold his flock short. Rev. Ike was almost always square with them. “Be proud of the way I look because you spend $1,000 a week to buy my clothes,” and “my garage runneth over.”

In one sermon he nailed the pious Focus on Family types who shill for special interests in the name of the Lord:

Oh the Games People Play now
Every night and every day now….
People walking up to you, now
Singing glory Halleluiah, now
As they try to sock it to you, now
In the name of the Lord.

Like Lady Gaga, Rev. Ike channeled the yearnings of followers who live vicariously through their icons. Devotees could Be Like Ike by Thinking Like Ike. Rev. Ike’s Thinkonomics teaches the Mastery of Mind and how that mastered mind can be a magnet for money: “If your mind can conceive it, then you can achieve it!” This mantra was lifted virtually verbatim from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic, ‘Think and Grow Rich’ which, in turn, draws on the ‘autosuggestion’ of Émile Coué’s “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” It all goes back, as Rev. Ike reminded his flock, to Proverbs 23:7.

My parents, in their diametric ways, bore out Milton’s observation in Paradise Lost that, “the mind is its own place and in itself in his life, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Rebounding from a career-ending stroke at 52, my father, Ernest, retained his comprehension even as his speech remained truncated. His pat phrases emerged mostly upbeat, like “Up & up!” “Always laughing!” and remained so “Till the end!”

As an advisor to captains of industry, Ernest liked to share a Sufi-style anecdote on Dale-Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Noting that his clientele, not unlike Rev. Ike, had done quite nicely by themselves, if not by others, he would refer you to Baudelaire: “Brigands are convinced – of what? That they must succeed. And so they do succeed.”

Author: Dorian Dale

Dorian Dale’s writing has appeared in journals ranging from Government Security News to Dads World. He is the 8th Distinguished Citi Fellow at the NYU’s Stern School of Business and a member of the Associations of Old Crows and Former Intelligence Officers. Submissions fielded at doriandale@aol.com

8 thoughts on “Fat Cat Manifest: Rev. Ike’s Thinkonomics”

  1. Jeff Sharlet’s “The Family” gives terrific insight into conservative religious groups like Focus and their belief that earthly reward is the hand of Jesus favoring his chosen. Obsequious women, oft-sinning men who are forgiven, and the gospel of wealth on earth are hallmarks of fundamentalism Ike style. Reference Doug Coe, the most influential man in American politics. Also, Al Franken’s “Supply Side Jesus” is worth the watch.

  2. I’d hold onto to that 330K too there Doc. Although not as eloquent in the writen word as you and Jed; I’ve met my fare share of Brigands.
    In the end the only fortune worth a dime is the life we share.
    And so thanks Doc and all the best for you and yours in the New Year.
    Your friend the Cretin

  3. Realizing your latest diatribe was not, on the surface, an attack on the wealthy, it was concerning that you conclude by connecting financial success with brigandage. Language like “top tier” and “wage slaves” belie your cover story of self-actualization for the populism you truly espouse. Why hold back? I suspect, as referenced in your blog above, your failed attempts for grand financial success resulted in your current political view and thus outright criticism of our capitalist system would leave you looking like a bit of a sore loser.

    But take comfort for you are not alone. In fact, you are a very prominent and vocal part of the “everyone else”. Like a modern Ché (sans carbine) but armed with the digital pen you clamor about the injustice and unfairness of our free enterprise system while a mere few intellects take notice, but most turn the channel in search of the latest reality TV (there’s an oxymoron for you) and the top tier devise ways in which to profit from them.

    While you and your wealth redistribution ilk go on pondering the stupidity of the American public a la Mencken you may consider that there really is no such thing as the top tier or, more accurately, the top tier are as diverse and disorganized as everyone else, except for the fact that they have money.

    Though tempted, I’ll refrain from responding with my own diatribe on the real world application of hard work and perseverance save to say that, like Rev. Ike, I do believe. And for those naysayers who think that every member of the top tier arrived there by way of an inadequate property transfer tax (read: death tax), I remind you that “eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

  4. You’ve got me dead to rights. I so totally wanted to be Tony Robbins…maybe in the next life.

    Hold on to your safety deposit key, and make sure your lock box is locked & loaded. You never when some sore loser is going to come for you and make you fork up the same effective tax rate as was levied back in the ’50s & ’60s, when more of America was far more prosperous. Though it doesn’t appear you have much to really worry about in that regard.

    Oh, and your 300 words belies that you did “refrain from responding with my own diatribe.”

  5. Tim… Though Mencken believed humankind, or at least the American persuasion of it, to be largely misinformed and stupid, he was an unabashed fan of Capitalism. He abhorred the concept of redistribution but also knew that “the plutocracy, in a democratic state, tends inevitably to take the place of the missing aristocracy.”

    Mencken knew, as most observers of political process do, that those members of society with means, ill-gotten or fairly acquired, would work tirelessly to maintain and further their status – even if it meant changing the rules to their favor. Such is the situation we currently find ourselves, where the few have tilted the playing field while inculcating the masses with the belief that plutocracy is divine right and wealth is better left to those who already possess it.

    In this you misinterpret the “ilk” you speak of as wanting to redistribute wealth; what they seek is the equitable access to wealth. In this, your profession of the 80% rule might perhaps ring more true. It’s a subtlety, however, that one might also miss while lazing about watching reality TV.

  6. Jed…I’ll concede your point on Mencken who did pen that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard”. Though I take issue with the idea that our society’s members with means have induced the masses with some form of pro-plutocracy brain washing. Yes, they do work to maintain their status, but so do recipients of welfare and members of labor unions – this is a distinctly human trait and not one limited to the extremely wealthy.

    It seems blatantly obvious to me that access to wealth is already nearly universal in our plutocracy, certainly more so now than even 100 years prior. But access is different from ability and drive, two things that will never be universal. My concern is that your ilk misinterpret this fact and that has already manifest itself in the dulling of our free market culture. Look no further than the “everybody is a winner” approach to children’s sports. Everyone is not a winner. Some are born with ability, others will have to work very hard to develop it, and the vast majority will have to find something else to do.

    Throughout history every revolution that has attempted to do away with the 80/20 rule has ultimately resulted in failure. It is the natural order of things that 20 percent of the population will control 80 percent of the wealth. And most people accept that fact. A few others work to change their status and succeed often through hard work and patience (and, admittedly luck, which does favor the prepared). Only the most despicable whine about the injustices of the system while refusing to work to change their own status within it, all under the guise of helping out the poor disenfranchised 80 percent who, as previously noted, really don’t give a damn and would prefer to set down on the couch with a six pack and tune us both out.

  7. You really like to milk our so-called “ilk” so I will point out that that the 80/20 is substantially skewed when it reaches 99/1.

    As per the blue ribbon for all raison d’etre, surely a self-made man like yourself must look askance at winners of the sperm lottery, like Donald Trump and Stephen Forbes, who think they hit a home run after being born on third base?

  8. Fair enough. I suspected as I wrote that last entry that this debate would turn to statistics, something I know a little bit about. I will say (write) that all points of the 80/20 argument, pro and con, can be backed up with “lies, damned lies and statistics”. Lest we have this fine column and fairly intelligent commentary devolve into the likes of a Wall Street Journal community rant between Republicrats and Democans I will stop here and save my data-intensive rebuttals for some future column that broaches this subject. I remain confident I will have the opportunity. Keep ‘em coming!

    Peace.

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