Winners take all.
As indicated already yesterday, I don’t want to write about my book today. Instead I am writing about another one: “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” by Anand Giridharadas.
“Anyone following the debate about the role of philanthrocapitalists, corporate foundations or tech billionaires in solving the world's problems will want to watch for this new book.”
Jena McGregor, The Washington Post
On first reflex it appears to being a brilliant idea: let them people who have proven they can solve problems and build (… an enterprise, an empire, a fortune, …) and who have so much that their standard of living would be hardly affected by giving away – say – 90%, fix our worlds biggest problems (hunger, diseases, climate change). No politics, just good intents, efficiency and money. Such a convincing idea this is that nobody ever seems to challenge it. Anand Giridharadas, journalist, writer, Aspen Institute fellow, TED speaker …, does:
The idea as such might be flawed, he argues. It’s simply not these elites’s task to fix these problems. Pay your taxes (what you by the way try to minimize building your fortune) and let the public do their job. Even if they might be less efficient, the latter ones would have the (democratic) legitimation to do so. Or, he indicates, are we on a track where the “MarketWorld” paradigms win predominance over social and political institutions? (eg, as in making a real estate mogul the most powerful person on our planet)
There is a significant risk, he writes, these efforts might intentionally or unintentionally be mostly self-serving. Doing well by doing good might just be a means to prevent resistance against these elites and their fortunes. The projects they choose might be just good enough but still also uncontroversial enough. They might also be just the ones that do not imply better regulation or higher taxation. Sitting in the latest super-yacht’s conference room for the “Summit on Sea” and listening to inspirational talks might just be the means for making the elite feel more comfortable in their own personal filter bubble.
Too much business
The mechanisms, “MarketWorld’s” elite applies to solving problems might not be proper, too, he says. In this MarketWorld, everything has to be “business cased”. The case for reducing sugar levels in processed food is rationalized by the perspective that in twenty years’ time diabetic men and women in wheelchairs won’t be consuming any of this food any more. (By the way: what’s the business case for democracy after all?). Why not doing the right thing just because it is the right thing? Why is the notion of solving the world’s problems so often linked to the question how this very problem solving can make the problem solver rich at the same time? (we use to call this the win-win)
I don’t buy all of Giridharadas’ arguments but I love the book for disputing the very roots of “MarketWorld” and its doing-well-by-doing-good paradigms. Roots that we somehow have made parts of our DNA. Paradigms we have accepted seemingly without any doubt: If there is a business case, it is good, if not, the problem might not be worth solving (well, you might argue that there is always a way to forge a business case).
A provoking and at times disturbing book. An entertaining book, too. – And, at least I feel better now paying my income tax.
In case you are interested in another provoking book: