The New York Times bestselling, 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. An essential read for understanding some of the egregious abuses of power that dominate today’s news.
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. They rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in ways that preserve the status quo; and they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm.
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? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest and those they hover above, and it 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.
A New York Times bestseller | Named one of The New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2018" | Named one of NPR''s "Best Books of 2018" | Named one of the Financial Times "Books of the Year" | Named one of The Washington Post''s "50 Notable Works of Nonfiction" | One of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Best International Nonfiction” books of 2018 | One of the GreenBiz “10 Best Climate and Business Books of 2018” | 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year
“Entertaining and gripping . . . For those at the helm, the philanthropic plutocrats and aspiring ''change agents'' who believe they are helping but are actually making things worse, it’s time for a reckoning with their role in this spiraling dilemma. I suggest they might want to read a copy of this book while in the Hamptons this summer.”
—Joseph E. Stiglitz, The New York Times Book Review
“Anand Giridharadas takes a swipe at the global elite in a trenchant, provocative and well-researched book about the people who are notionally generating social change . . . Read it and beware.”
—Martha Lane Fox, Financial Times, “Books of the Year 2018”
“A splendid polemic . . . Giridharadas writes brilliantly on the parasitic philanthropy industry.”
“Impassioned . . . That Giridharadas questions an idea that has become part of the air we breathe is alone worth the price of the book, and his delicious skewering of the many who exalt their own goodness while making money from dubious business practices makes for entertaining reading.”
—Bethany McLean, The Washington Post
“One of the most insightful and provocative books about what’s going on in America that I’ve read in years.”
—Senator Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
“The past years have seen some outstanding books on how philanthropists and their dollars have shaped public policy . . . [Anand Giridharadas] zeros in on what he sees as a glaring hypocrisy among affluent elites: that while many well-meaning (and well-off) Americans claim to want to improve society''s inequalities, they don''t challenge the structures that preserve that inequality, not wanting to jeopardize their own privileged positions.”
—Jessica Smith, NPR, “Best Books of 2018”
“Important . . . [An] empathic tone gives the book its persuasive power to touch the hearts of even those readers, like myself, who are the targets of its criticism.”
—Mark Kramer, Stanford Social Innovation Review
“An extraordinarily important book.”
—Lydia Polgreen, editor-in-chief, Huffington Post
“Important . . .
Winners Take All] levels a devastating attack on philanthrocapitalism.”
—Benjamin Soskis, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
“Indispensable . . . A lacerating critique.”
—Chris Lehmann, In These Times
“Provocative and passionate . . . This damning portrait of contemporary American philanthropy is a must-read for anyone interested in ‘changing the world.’”
—Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)
“A challenging, provocative & bold book. I don’t agree with all of Anand’s critiques . . . but I encourage everyone to read the book & think hard about his take on the social sector.”
—Mark Tercek, CEO, The Nature Conservancy
“Giridharadas makes a compelling case . . . [He] ultimately succeeds with
Winners Take All by adopting a temperate approach that creates space for a conversation.”
—David Talbot, Los Angeles Review of Books
“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
“[A] landmark new book.”
—Darren Walker, president, The Ford Foundation
“[Giridharadas] has delivered a clarion call that will be a fixture on my syllabus and bookshelf.”
—Megan Tompkins-Stange, assistant professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan
“This is a very difficult subject to tackle, but Giridharadas executes it brilliantly . . . This must-have title will be of great interest to readers, from students to professionals and everyone in-between, interested in solutions to today’s complex problems . . .
Winners Take All will be the starting point of conversations private and in groups on alternatives to the status quo and calls to action. An excellent book for troubled times.”
“In Anand’s thought-provoking book his fresh perspective on solving complex societal problems is admirable. I appreciate his commitment and dedication to spreading social justice.” —
“An insightful and refreshing perspective on some of the most vexing issues this nation confronts. This is an important book from a gifted writer whose honest exploration of complex problems provides urgently needed clarity in an increasingly confusing era.” —
Bryan Stevenson, author of
“A trenchant, humane, and often revelatory investigation by one of the wisest nonfiction writers going.” —
Katherine Boo, author of
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Winners Take All is the book I have been waiting for—the most important intervention yet regarding elite-driven solutions, a vitally important problem to expose. The book courageously answers so many of the critical questions about how, despite much good will and many good people, we struggle to achieve progress in twenty-first-century America. If you want to be part of the solution, you should read this book.” —
Ai-jen Poo, director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
“A brilliant, rising voice of our era takes us on a journey among the global elite in his search for understanding of our tragic disconnect. Thought-provoking, expansive, and timely.” —
Isabel Wilkerson, author,
The Warmth of Other Suns
Winners Take All boldly exposes one of the great if little-reported scandals of the age of globalization: the domestication of the life of the mind by political and financial power and the substitution of ‘thought leaders’ for critical thinkers. It not only reorients us as we lurch out of a long ideological intoxication; it also embodies the values—intellectual autonomy and dissent—that we need to build a just society.” —
Pankaj Mishra, author of
Age of Anger
“In this trenchant and timely book, Anand Giridharadas shows how the winners of global capitalism seek to help the losers, but without disturbing the market-friendly arrangements that keep the winners on top. He gives us an incisive critique of corporate-sponsored charities that promote frictionless ‘win-win’ solutions to the world’s problems but disdain the hard, contentious work of democratic politics. An indispensable guide for those perplexed by the rising public anger toward ‘change-making’ elites.” —
Michael J. Sandel, author of
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS is the author of
Winners Take All,
The True American, and
India Calling. He is an editor-at-large for
TIME and was a foreign correspondent and columnist for
The New York Times from 2005 to 2016. He has also written for
The Atlantic, The New Republic, and
The New Yorker. He is an on-air political analyst for MSNBC, a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, and a former McKinsey analyst. He has spoken on the main stage of TED. Anand''s writing has been honored by the Society of Publishers in Asia, the Poynter Fellowship at Yale, the 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year award, Harvard University''s Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanism in Culture, and the New York Public Library''s Helen Bernstein Award. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Excerpted from WINNERS TAKE ALL:
A successful society is a progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and produces broad human advancement. America’s machine is broken. When the fruits of change have fallen on the United States in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them. For instance, the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold—even as the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same. These familiar figures amount to three and a half decades’ worth of wondrous, head-spinning change with zero impact on the average pay of 117 million Americans.
Thus many millions of Americans, on the left and right, feel one thing in common: that the game is rigged against people like them. It is no wonder that the American voting public— like other publics around the world—has turned more resentful and suspicious in recent years, embracing populist movements on the left and right, bringing socialism and nationalism into the center of political life in a way that once seemed unthinkable, and succumbing to all manner of conspiracy theory and fake news. There is a spreading recognition, on both sides of the ideological divide, that the system is broken and has to change.
Some elites faced with this kind of gathering anger have hidden behind walls and gates and on landed estates, emerging only to try to seize even greater political power to protect themselves against the mob. But in recent years a great many fortunate people have also tried something else, something both laudable and self-serving: They have tried to help by taking ownership of the problem.
All around us, the winners in our highly inequitable status quo declare themselves partisans of change. They know the problem, and they want to be part of the solution. Actually, they want to lead the search for solutions. They believe that their solutions deserve to be at the forefront of social change. They may join or support movements initiated by ordinary people looking to fix aspects of their society. More often, though, these elites start initiatives of their own, taking on social change as though it were just another stock in their portfolio or corporation to restructure. Because they are in charge of these attempts at social change, the attempts naturally reflect their biases.
The initiatives mostly aren’t democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo— and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them win—are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality.
Socially minded financiers at Goldman Sachs seek to change the world through “win-win” initiatives like “green bonds” and “impact investing.” Tech companies like Uber and Airbnb cast themselves as empowering the poor by allowing them to chauffeur people around or rent out spare rooms. Management consultants and Wall Street brains seek to convince the social sector that they should guide its pursuit of greater equality by assuming board seats and leadership positions. Conferences and idea festivals sponsored by plutocrats and big business host panels on injustice and promote “thought leaders” who are willing to confine their thinking to improving lives within the faulty system rather than tackling the faults. Profitable companies built in questionable ways and employing reckless means engage in corporate social responsibility, and some rich people make a splash by “giving back”—regardless of the fact that they may have caused serious societal problems as they built their fortunes. Elite networking forums like the Aspen Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative groom the rich to be self-appointed leaders of social change, taking on the problems people like them have been instrumental in creating or sustaining. A new breed of community-minded so-called B Corporations has been born, reflecting a faith that more enlightened corporate self-interest—rather than, say, public regulation—is the surest guarantor of the public welfare. A pair of Silicon Valley billionaires fund an initiative to rethink the Democratic Party, and one of them can claim, without a hint of irony, that their goals are to amplify the voices of the powerless and reduce the political influence of rich people like them.
The elites behind efforts like these often speak in a language of “changing the world” and “making the world a better place” more typically associated with barricades than ski resorts. Yet we are left with the inescapable fact that in the very era in which these elites have done so much to help, they have continued to hoard the overwhelming share of progress, the average American’s life has scarcely improved, and virtually all of the nation’s institutions, with the exception of the military, have lost the public’s trust.
Are we ready to hand over our future to the elite, one supposedly world-changing initiative at a time? Are we ready to call participatory democracy a failure, and to declare these other, private forms of change-making the new way forward? Is the decrepit state of American self-government an excuse to work around it and let it further atrophy? Or is meaningful democracy, in which we all potentially have a voice, worth fighting for?
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. This book is an attempt to understand the connection between these elites’ social concern and predation, between the extraordinary helping and the extraordinary hoarding, between the milking—and perhaps abetting—of an unjust status quo and the attempts by the milkers to repair a small part of it.
There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation. One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.
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. After all, it takes the edge off of some of the public’s anger at being excluded from progress. It improves the image of the winners. With its private and voluntary half-measures, it crowds out public solutions that would solve problems for everyone. For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is—above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners. In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations. The society should be changed in ways that do not change the underlying economic system that has allowed the winners to win and fostered many of the problems they seek to solve.
What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests. We must decide whether, in the name of ascendant values such as efficiency and scale, we are willing to allow democratic purpose to be usurped by private actors who often genuinely aspire to improve things but, first things first, seek to protect themselves. Yes, government is dysfunctional at present. But that is all the more reason to treat its repair as our foremost national priority. Pursuing workarounds of our troubled democracy makes democracy even more troubled. We must ask ourselves why we have so easily lost faith in the engines of progress that got us where we are today—in the democratic efforts to outlaw slavery, end child labor, limit the workday, keep drugs safe, protect collective bargaining, create public schools, battle the Great Depression, electrify rural America, weave a nation together by road, pursue a Great Society free of poverty, extend civil and political rights to women and African Americans and other minorities, and give our fellow citizens health, security, and dignity in old age.
This book offers a series of portraits of this elite-led, market- friendly, winner-safe social change. In these pages, you will meet people who ardently believe in this form of change and people who are beginning to question it.
What these various figures have in common is that they are grappling with certain powerful myths—the myths that have fostered an age of extraordinary power concentration; that have allowed the elite’s private, partial, and self-preservational deeds to pass for real change; that have let many decent winners convince themselves, and much of the world, that their plan to “do well by doing good” is an adequate answer to an age of exclusion; that put a gloss of selflessness on the protection of one’s privileges; and that cast more meaningful change as wide-eyed, radical, and vague.
It is my hope in writing what follows to reveal these myths to be exactly that. Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view.