Winners Take All
The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldBook - 2018
Former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can--except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. We see how they rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; how they lavishly reward "thought leaders" who redefine "change" in winner-friendly ways; and how they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. We hear the limousine confessions of a celebrated foundation boss; witness an American president hem and haw about his plutocratic benefactors; and attend a cruise-ship conference where entrepreneurs celebrate their own self-interested magnanimity.
Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? He also points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world. A call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.
From the critics
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There is no denying that today’s elite may be among the more socially concerned elites in history. But it is also, by the cold logic of numbers, among the more predatory in history. By refusing to risk its way of life, by rejecting the idea that the powerful might have to sacrifice for the common good, it clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolize progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken — many of whom wouldn’t need the scraps if the society were working right.
But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are.
The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change, often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.
Trump is the reductio ad absurdum of a culture that tasks elites with reforming the very systems that have made them and left others in the dust.
The only thing better than controlling money and power is to control the efforts to question the distribution of money and power. The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over hens.
The best way to bring about meaningful reform was to apprentice in the bowels of the status quo.
Kinkaid School in Houston, a preparatory academy founded on a philosophy of educating the “whole child” and of “balanced growth — intellectual, physical, social, and ethical.” Her father dropped her there most mornings with a reminder to “learn something new.”
“The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion,” Aristotle says,“and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking ; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.”
MarketWorld is a network and community, but it is also a culture and state of mind. These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform.
Accountancy, medicine, education, espionage, and seafaring all have their own tools and modes of analysis, but none of those approaches was widely promoted as the solution to virtually everything else .
In 2009, the Economist had declared it “McKinsey’s turn to try to sort out Uncle Sam,” suggesting that “ Obama may favour McKinseyites in much the same way as his predecessor seemed addicted to hiring alumni of Goldman Sachs. ”
It goes without saying, for example, that if hedge funders hadn’t been enormously creative in dodging taxes, the income available for foreign aid would have been greater.
“Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”
Trickle-down economics. A rising tide lifts all boats. Entrepreneurs expand the pie. Smith tells the rich man to focus on running his business on the assumption that positive social consequences will occur automatically, as a happy by-product of his selfishness. Through the magic of the “free market” — an oxymoron ever since the first regulation was imposed on it — he unwittingly arranges for the common good.
In Silicon Valley, “people interpret social justice different ways,” often as win-lose thinking. “Some people say social justice is taking from the rich and giving to the poor,” Carson said. “Some people say social justice is giving to people who didn’t earn something.” And so Carson started using the word “fairness.”
Perhaps they had a feeling “that I’m being targeted because I’ve been successful, I’ve worked hard, I made it; and because I made it, I am now the target, that you think you deserve some of my success that you haven’t earned.”
Even’s attempt to address a massive social problem: the growing volatility of millions of working-class Americans’ income, thanks to the spreading practice of employing people erratically, the rise in part-time jobs and gigs, and the new on-demand economy that left many eternally chasing work instead of building livelihoods .
It is no fun if half of your high school friends are on the other social network, so Facebook becomes a de facto monopoly.
Gentlemen investors decide what ideas are worth pursuing, and the people pitching to them tailor their proposals accordingly. The companies that come out of this are no longer pursuing profit, or even revenue. Instead, the measure of their success is valuation — how much money they’ve convinced people to tell them they’re worth.
These rich and powerful men engage in what the writer Kevin Roose has called “anarchist cheerleading,” in keeping with their carefully crafted image as rebels against the authorities .
A famous statement of that finding came from the feminist writer Jo Freeman, who in her 1972 essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” observed that when groups operate on vague or anarchic terms, structurelessness “becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others.”
Someone always rules; the question is who. In a world without a Leviathan, which is to say a strong state capable of making and enforcing universal rules, people will be ruled by thousands of miniature Leviathans closer to home — by the feudal lords on whose soil they work and against whom they have few defenses ; by powerful, whimsical, unaccountable princes .
history was not a line but a wheel; that sometimes astonishing new tools were used in ways that worsened the world; that places of darkness often persisted even under new light; that people had a long habit of exploiting one another, no matter how selfless they and their ideas seem; that the powerful are your equals as citizens, not your representatives.
Revolution after revolution over the ages had called for the cancellation of debts and the redistribution of land. “We might change that now to cancel the debts and redistribute the platform,” Martin said.
An essay he wrote to promote his book on resilience argued that the world should focus less on rooting out its biggest problems, including poverty and climate change, and more on living with them. The message had reassuring implications for those who were perfectly content with the status quo and preferred the kinds of changes that essentially preserved it.
“Shifting your attention to the victim makes you more empathetic, increasing the chances that you’ll channel your anger in a constructive direction. Instead of trying to punish the people who caused harm, you’ll be more likely to help the people who were harmed. ”
“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. ”
ARSONISTS MAKE THE BEST FIREFIGHTERS No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. — DONALD J. TRUMP
How could they foster fast-growing economies that also promoted justice, governance, empowerment, social cohesion, and equality? How could traditional tools of economic progress be changed to help rather than harm the most vulnerable and marginalized people?
Soros meeting, when the talk turned to farm supply chains in a remote region of India, the lingua franca was business language. It was said that there were too many intermediaries in the supply chain: too many traders and brokers and such between the Indian farmer and the Indian dinner plate. The corporate answer was to “disintermediate.” What did not appear to cross anyone’s mind on West 57th Street was the possibility of being wrong about rural India.
“I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”
A man beating a woman wasn’t just one man beating one woman; he was part of a system of male supremacy and laws and a culture of looking away that put the problem beyond solution by the woman in question.
The shame one felt in getting an abortion wasn’t a feeling cooked up by the feeler; it was engineered and constructed through public policy and the artful use of religious authority. The feminists helped us to see problems in this way.
The feminists wanted us to look at a vagina and zoom out to see Congress. The thought leaders want us to look at a laid-off employee and zoom in to see the beauty of his feeling his vulnerability because at least he is alive. They want us to focus on his vulnerability, not his wage.
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A major source of the author's arguments came from extensive interviews of many, more so from:
***Darren Walker’s letter, “Toward a New Gospel of Wealth,” can be found at the Ford Foundation website: www.fordfoundation.org/ideas/equals-change-blog/posts/toward-a-new-gospel-of-wealth
***The good and not so good "Clinton Global Initiative." I interviewed Bill Clinton twice for this book. The first instance was in September 2016, via email. The second was in May 2017, a ninety-minute conversation conducted in person at his foundation’s offices in New York.
***Quotes liberally from "Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values" Edited by Rob Reich, Lucy Bernholz, and Chiara Cordelli. The trio of thinkers have been discussing "Democracy and Philanthropy - How private giving can contribute to the needs of American democracy." for quite some time, e.g Feb. 19, 2013:
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