Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

An insider's groundbreaking investigation of how the global elite's efforts to "change the world" preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve.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-...

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Title:Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
Author:Anand Giridharadas
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Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World Reviews

  • Nils

    Philanthropy exists mainly to enable the super-rich and super-powerful to defer any serious discussion of a serious reordering of power and wealth, argues Giridharadas. Through a series of vignettes both of the super-rich and super-powerful themselves, who prove themselves unable to conceive that righting the world’s wrongs might require that they cede some of the their privileges, and their servants in the philanthropic world, who realize queasily their own compromised position (which Giridhara

    Philanthropy exists mainly to enable the super-rich and super-powerful to defer any serious discussion of a serious reordering of power and wealth, argues Giridharadas. Through a series of vignettes both of the super-rich and super-powerful themselves, who prove themselves unable to conceive that righting the world’s wrongs might require that they cede some of the their privileges, and their servants in the philanthropic world, who realize queasily their own compromised position (which Giridharadas admits, to his credit, includes him), the book suggests that reforms within the frame of what he calls MarketWorld simply are inadequate, and in fact mainly provide ideological and psychological cover for an intolerable state of affairs. Dani Rodrick emerges as the intellectual hero.

  • Paul Ark

    A phenomenally thought-provoking book examining the myths and fallacies of change and problem solving via market-driven solutions advocated by global elites seeking win-win solutions that fail to address the root causes of problems for which those elites may be the very causes or enablers of the problems they seek to redress.

  • John Spiller

    "Winners Take All" is an important and timely book. Giridharadas examines the fundamental limitations and contradictions of those who work for social change from a position of wealth and prestige. His central theme is "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house," that is, the solutions proffered by the global elite will never address the conditions that created the problems. He explains how this mindset, which he dubs "MarketWorld" not only entrenches the status quo but also spur

    "Winners Take All" is an important and timely book. Giridharadas examines the fundamental limitations and contradictions of those who work for social change from a position of wealth and prestige. His central theme is "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house," that is, the solutions proffered by the global elite will never address the conditions that created the problems. He explains how this mindset, which he dubs "MarketWorld" not only entrenches the status quo but also spurred the backlash that led to Brexit and the election of Trump.

    In a tone more rueful than accusatory, Giridharadas examines the blinkered world view of the philanthropic elite who seek "to do well by doing good". These folks tend to favor "win-win" solutions, that is, an approach that benefits the individual without requiring a fundamental change to the system that created the problem (and their wealth). Similarly, the philantrocapitalists tend to prefer empowerment solutions to redistribution. While they tend to arrogantly consider themselves more capable than government of addressing problems, they profess ignorance and weakness when taking on the system itself. Those who do not share their market-driven approach to problem solving are pitied as ignorant rubes.

    Giridharadas explains how we find ourselves in this predicament. The Republicans have long run on the theme that "government is the problem, not the solution." Instead of providing a competing vision of the role for strong government, the Democrats have co-opted some of the Republican government-bashing while offering market-friendly solutions. Thus, the limited range of policy prescriptions center on even further deregulation so that the market can work its "invisible hand."

    Giridharadas ultimately concludes that we cannot rely upon the rich to produce a just and equitable society, though they do have a role. Rather, it will take a group effort which includes democratic institutions.

  • Mehrsa

    This is an excellent book and a must-read! It's also totally readable and even quite funny at times. And it's the kind of book that you keep bringing up in conversation and then trailing off and saying---you just really have to read this book. The oversimplified thesis is that you can't use the master's tools to break down his house. I hope this book is widely read and circulated.

  • Cesar

    Winners Take All is the hardest book I have ever read. Not because it was inaccessible or esoteric, but because it forced a long overdue look in the mirror.

    Being in the tech industry I’ve been swept up in thought leadership, heroic philanthropy, and the promise of innovation to impact lives at scale. For a moment I was becoming more convinced that maybe the market place was in fact the best place to solve our social ills. Maybe the right combination of philanthropies and technology could fix mo

    Winners Take All is the hardest book I have ever read. Not because it was inaccessible or esoteric, but because it forced a long overdue look in the mirror.

    Being in the tech industry I’ve been swept up in thought leadership, heroic philanthropy, and the promise of innovation to impact lives at scale. For a moment I was becoming more convinced that maybe the market place was in fact the best place to solve our social ills. Maybe the right combination of philanthropies and technology could fix most of our biggest issues. With each page, I slowly realized the lie I was telling myself to justify my newfound privilege in society.

    I saw myself in the story of Hilary Cohen, a young idealistic college grad swept by corporate furor over a desire to change the world and make impact at scale through the marketplace. I rationalized momentarily selling out with the promise of building skills so one day I may be better suited to truly make the impact I desired in the public sector. I could have my cake and eat it too.

    I saw myself in the story of Darren Walker, the philanthropist who against all odds went from poverty to riches. We share the same central questions. How do you reconcile the incompatible identity transition from a poor upbringing to another of riches and opportunity? How do you navigate the new elite social circles life throws you in? Am I too comfortable in my newfound privilege?

    How do you respond to the uncomfortable cooing and admiration? “Look at Cesar… Why can’t they all be like him? He had a single mother. He put himself through school.” Even the most well-meaning, do not understand the selfish ways we contribute to a society where we increasingly make stories like mine and Darren’s impossible to continue to emerge. The largest or most frequent donors to charity won’t change the fact that for my story to emerge again, the stars would need to align yet again, but in a more unlikely way.

    When you join the club of winners in society and you champion causes that ignore the fundamental structures and systems in place that led to your victory, you become complicit in the oppression that makes your success possible. The slaveholder who would rather treat his property with love and care instead of working to live in a free world was every bit as complicit as the most brutal slaveowners. True progress demands a sacrifice of privilege and power.

    Those of us who ride the wave of prosperity have a responsibility to think of the people for whom this change systemically fails. We have a shared moral obligation and commitment to the public good. My promise to the world is to never lose sight of that.

  • Paula Lyle

    "Inspire the rich to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm; inspire them to give back, but never, ever tell them to take less; inspire them to join the solution, but never, ever accuse them of being part of the problem."

    I say, sometimes, "How do those people sleep at night?" Now I know. They do so much to help already, how can they possibly be asked to pay taxes, too.

    This is an important book and should be read by every citizen. Then, each of those citizens should take seriousl

    "Inspire the rich to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm; inspire them to give back, but never, ever tell them to take less; inspire them to join the solution, but never, ever accuse them of being part of the problem."

    I say, sometimes, "How do those people sleep at night?" Now I know. They do so much to help already, how can they possibly be asked to pay taxes, too.

    This is an important book and should be read by every citizen. Then, each of those citizens should take seriously the responsibility to engage in politics and vote. It's going to take a lot of us.

  • Trevor

    This is another book recommended to me by Richard. In many ways this is a similar and perhaps an even better book than ‘Small Change: Why business won’t save the world’ by Michael Edwards. Under my review of that book Jan-Maat mentions Andrew Carnegie – and he gets quite a run in this book, although, I wouldn’t be able to say he comes out of that looking particularly good. In fact, he is presented, as Jan-Maat says, as the classic case of what philanthropists are like. Their point is to not pay

    This is another book recommended to me by Richard. In many ways this is a similar and perhaps an even better book than ‘Small Change: Why business won’t save the world’ by Michael Edwards. Under my review of that book Jan-Maat mentions Andrew Carnegie – and he gets quite a run in this book, although, I wouldn’t be able to say he comes out of that looking particularly good. In fact, he is presented, as Jan-Maat says, as the classic case of what philanthropists are like. Their point is to not pay their workers too much, given workers will only likely spend it on wine, women and song – so it is much better to keep most of the money for yourself and then distribute it properly and rationally according to a rational plan involving various tributes named after yourself.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of the ‘third economy’ – or philanthropy more generally – and I would ban charities and replace them with government run welfare funded by higher rates of taxation. I’ve never had too much trouble understanding the preferences of my fellow Irishman, Oscar Wilde, around the nature of charity. He made it abundantly clear that charity is more an evil than a virtue – despite the King James Bible’s:

    “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

    As Wilde says: “Charity they (those in receipt of it) feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives.” As you see, nothing ever changes – charity still remains a ‘gift’ and is distributed according to the ‘morality’ of those giving. It is soul crushing and debasing of our common humanity, for both the giver and receiver.

    Edwards’ book is good since it focuses on the question of the extent to which the skills of business people match those necessary to address social problems such as urban poverty, the achievement gap in schools, drug addiction, and so on. Given that these are mostly social issues requiring community solutions, and the philanthropists are mostly skilled in providing market solutions to all problems, there is a clear disconnect.

    This book is better, because while Edwards does note that those able to act as philanthropists are also those who have made their fortunes benefiting from a system that has played no small part in the creation and existence of social problems in the first place, this book goes further in making the extent of this clear. So that the employment practices of the companies such philanthropists make their money in - that slash wages, eliminate benefits and increase the precarity of employment - are highlighted as causal to many of the problems these charities then seek to ‘fix’.

    The question is raised as to whether or not charities do more harm than good – it is too easy to think, ‘well, charities might not be perfect, but they are better than nothing at all – and anyway, isn’t it better that the rich do something for the poor?’ It isn’t at all clear that philanthropists do more good than harm. In fact, to the extent that charities are used to cover the built-in failings of the system – and are run by people who depend on how the system is currently set up for their wealth, that is, people least likely to want to change those aspects of the system – all that such charity is likely to achieve is to sate the consciences of those who will otherwise fight tooth and nail to perpetuate the injustices of the current world. All of this is extensively documented here.

    Since the end of the 1970s we have seen a shift away from a welfare state – where the poor had rights to assistance, rather than being forced to become mendicants for crumbs, and where social inequality was not at its astronomical levels we are witnessing today. The market has been presented as the sole solution to all problems and this has exacerbated the problems, rather than fixed them. The question raised here is where is this all likely to end? The movement towards greater inequality, with higher levels of precarity for ever larger sections of the population seem increasingly inevitable, given the free market policies pursued by both sides of politics in the US and across the West. A large part of the end of this book focuses on Bill Clinton’s efforts to open more and more of the US economy to market forces, both as president and through his institute after leaving power – this attitude is certainly not limited to the US. However, the election of Trump and the move towards more authoritarian leaders internationally seems to be a consequence of this ‘the market is the answer’ belief system.

    This book is an interesting read – it follows a number of people who want to do good, but are convinced (as is the universal prejudice of our age) that if you are to learn how to do good you must learn your skills in a global accounting firm, because being able to apply the logic and practices of such firms is presented as the only path to addressing all issues. This is also the logic of organisations such as the ‘Teach for’ movement. Again, too often market solutions leave no room for community solutions, that is, these market ‘solutions’ are imposed on communities, rather than with them. As such, they are all too rarely successful.

    I would recommend this book. I feel a storm is coming. To quote another Irishman:

    “And I say to my people’s masters: Beware

    Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people

    Who shall take what ye would not give.

    Did ye think to conquer the people, or that law is stronger than life,

    And than men’s desire to be free?

    We will try it out with you ye that have harried and held,

    Ye that have bullied and bribed.

    Tyrants… hypocrites… liars!”

    From The Rebel – Patrick Pearse

  • Michael Tackett

    I found this a very enjoying read that really helped me coalesce some recent thoughts I've had recently on the subject. I first heard about the book on the Ezra Klein podcast (I would recommend listening to it as well to get Ezra's questions) and decided it was worth a try. It was.

    The basic focus of the book is that cultural elites are claiming to want to change the world, but really are treating the symptoms and not the root causes, which are often their own actions. The author demonstrates thi

    I found this a very enjoying read that really helped me coalesce some recent thoughts I've had recently on the subject. I first heard about the book on the Ezra Klein podcast (I would recommend listening to it as well to get Ezra's questions) and decided it was worth a try. It was.

    The basic focus of the book is that cultural elites are claiming to want to change the world, but really are treating the symptoms and not the root causes, which are often their own actions. The author demonstrates this in several ways, including actions by the wealthy and corporations, tech companies acting as change agents, and politicians relying on private sector solutions.

    Despite my enjoyment of the book, I felt I had to knock it one star. While the book offers several case studies involving acquaintances that reflected the cases above, it seemed like it continued to hammer the same point. It would have made a better argument if the author provided a counter example, even a historical one, of better way to solve some of these issues. In some of the chapters, it was difficult to keep up with the narrative, it would switch from a first hand reference to a discussion of the problem then back to a first hand narrative. The writing too was less academic and more manifesto, which is fine but sometimes it felt more like talking snarkily about the deficiency of a friend (e.g. "oh so-and-so wasn't at church today").

    Despite that, I recommend the book. It didn't change me, but has definitely given me food for thought.

  • Linh

    As someone who has dithered on the edges of "elites changing the world", much of this rings true and I believe (and grapple) with the tension between the sometimes necessary power/influence/fortune needed, as we strive for justice and equity. An article that I always refer back to is Noam Chomsky's dissection of justice vs power. That and thoughts about how social movements and protest no matter how "ineffectual" will always be more powerful levers to create systemic change than social enterpris

    As someone who has dithered on the edges of "elites changing the world", much of this rings true and I believe (and grapple) with the tension between the sometimes necessary power/influence/fortune needed, as we strive for justice and equity. An article that I always refer back to is Noam Chomsky's dissection of justice vs power. That and thoughts about how social movements and protest no matter how "ineffectual" will always be more powerful levers to create systemic change than social enterprises. That's a whole other issue area though.

    I wanted this book to be more and found it was too long for what it had to say. I believe governments too should be larger actors than businesses, but the book drawing this conclusion seemed to be based on needing to propose something else rather than a genuine endorsement. I also would have hoped for greater analysis or critique of this "elite charade".

    I'd recommend all articles that are snippets of this book to everyone. The book itself, I'd primarily recommend to people who are part of these communities and have yet to realise everytime they use the word "movement" or "activist", it's an active form of co-option.

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