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Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of…

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

by Anand Giridharadas

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Powerful condemnation of TED-talk activism that promises salvation for the poor without requiring the rich to do anything other than open their pocketbooks. Neoliberal reformers comfort the afflicted but don’t afflict the comforted; they tell the rich to give back, not to take less; to do more good, but not to do less harm. These failed chiasmuses have real consequences, because it turns out you can’t actually do a lot of big things without government and laws as tools in the progressive arsenal. For products, for example, this ideology means certifying good instead of regulating bad, but if you don’t regulate bad, it may stay cheaper (because it is effectively subsidized by the regulatory system) and its proponents may be better at advertising. Thought leaders may have progressive ideals but present them softly, and the listeners don’t pick up on the subtle message of critique because they don’t have reason to do so. Depressing but convincing. ( )
  rivkat | Apr 19, 2019 |
“Winners Take All” could be the most important book I’ve read in the past year. Written by a self-defined “insider/outsider,” it is radical enough to provoke real discussion, but palatable enough to be readable by the quarries of Giridharadas. It is also superbly written, retelling a series of personal stories and decision points.

As Giridharadas concludes,“[the wealthy] are debtors who need society’s mercy and not saviors who need its fellowship” (page 261). This book is a scathing inquisition of the status quo, and turns the tables between the working and the ruling classes.

The book begins by contrasting public intellectuals and thought leaders; the former offer critiques of the system, while the latter applaud the efforts of leadership to change the world—one personal, market-based action at a time (“MarketWorld”). It then moves in to discussing wealth inequality, and the failures of traditional philanthropy.

Why is it that we believe business leaders would be good at everything else (placing them on the boards of NGOs and art institutes)? Why is it that we let the wealthy have decisions making (allowing them to decide where they give away the money they steward)? What if the value of money is derived from a public, from a society? What if wealth is collectively generated? What if the skills required to make money are different from those required to give it away productively? Maybe there’s a conflict of interest in letting the owning class solve the problems they’ve created. These are the questions Giridharadas leaves us with. ( )
  willszal | Apr 9, 2019 |
In this book, Giridharadas quotes Audre Lorde "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." Which pretty well sums up his point, which is that philanthropy and social change that is led by business elites has a natural bias towards continuing the systems that allow those elites to flourish. I had heard Giridharadas speak on the radio, and was intrigued by his thoughtfulness. I am glad to have read this book, as it gave me lots to think about. One interesting coincidence was that at work, and also my real life book group just listened to Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability. I liked the talk, but Giridharadas points out that Brown's analysis of shame and vulnerability doesn't include any of the external factors (crime, racism, poverty) that lead some people to have more feelings of shame and inadequacy than others.

However, I think that he was more persuasive as a speaker, than as a writer. Some parts of the book are stronger than others. I liked the discussions about the history of philanthropy. (Andrew Carnegie is a great example.) But other times I felt that he was repetitive. Overall I am glad to have read this book, which was thought provoking for me. I am not sure I totally agree with Giridharadas, but his analysis is interesting.

One thing that I think would have helped the book would have been if Giridharadas had included more of his personal story. In the afterward, he explains that he had originally been a part of the group that believes in market forces creating change, and gradually changed his mind. He has friendships and relationships with a lot of the people and institutions that he critiques. He left that out until the end, but I think that a book of narrative non-fiction that included his changing perspective could have been more powerful. ( )
  banjo123 | Mar 16, 2019 |
Utterly engrossing and enraging take-down of billionaire narcissism. ( )
  jalbacutler | Feb 19, 2019 |
This is a book that will make a lot of people unhappy. The author takes a critical and sometimes cynical look at the global elite of do-gooders. These are the very rich people attending global conferences talking about how to cure poverty. He asks questions like whether it would have been better to have paid their employees better in the companies they own rather than trying to cure the poverty that they caused. In particular, it take s critical look at the Clinton Global Initiative. ( )
  M_Clark | Feb 1, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anand Giridharadasprimary authorall editionscalculated
AlexRozCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lew, BettyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SpantomodaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stroh, MackenzieAuthor photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vorhees, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I sit on a man's back choking him and making him carry me, yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible . . . except by getting off his back.

Leo Tolstoy, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence
Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.

Letter to Bahá'í from the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel
and the more than 300,000 children born today,
with hope that you will see through our illusions
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All around us in America is the clank-clank-clank of the new – in our companies and economy, our neighborhoods and schools, our technologies and social fabric.  (Prologue)
Her college mind heavy with the teachings of Aristotle and Goldman Sachs, Hilary Clinton knew she wanted to change the world.
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Contents: But how is the world changed? -- Win-win -- Rebel-kings in worrisome berets -- The critic and the thought leader -- Arsonists make the best firefighters -- Generosity and justice -- All that works in the modern world.
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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.… (more)

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