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Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

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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--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.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published August 28, 2018

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About the author

Anand Giridharadas

11 books981 followers
Anand Giridharadas is the author of the THE PERSUADERS (2022), the international bestseller WINNERS TAKE ALL (2018), THE TRUE AMERICAN (2014), and INDIA CALLING (2011). A former foreign correspondent and columnist for The New York Times for more than a decade, he has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Time, and is the publisher of the newsletter The.Ink. He is an on-air political analyst for MSNBC. He has received the Radcliffe Fellowship, the Porchlight 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 Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Priya Parker, and their two children.

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Profile Image for Dolly.
101 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2019
Before you read this book, read the author’s bio. For someone who is so critical of elites hiding in their hobbit holes, he waits until the acknowledgments section at the end to let you know that he is one of them. I found this incredibly bizarre. He says the reason is because he didn’t want to make the book about him, but at the same time he states, “The best way to know about a problem is to be a part of it.” I think the premise of the work would have been infinitely more powerful had he started by being transparent with his “insider-out” perspective. He has no problems criticizing Bill Clinton later in the book for not understanding people’s lack of trust with elites, yet how does he expect to gain that trust himself from readers by not owning his own privilege from the onset?

He states the purpose of his book is: “among other things, a debate with my friends. It is a letter, written with love and concern, to people whom I see yielding to a new Faith, many of whom I know to be decent.”

This makes him sound like Darren Walker, one of the examples of the do-gooders-by-doing-well he gives in his analysis. Walker is an African American who managed to climb the social ladder and now collaborates with MarketWorld and its elites in an effort to create positive change. He does this by catering to their sensibilities, balancing his own ideals of social justice (which require acknowledgment of the elite’s complicity in the global problem of inequality) with the gentler language of opportunity and win-wins for all (which soothe the rich man’s conscience and his entrepreneurial interests).

Giridharadas spends his book criticizing Darren Walker, Amy Cuddy, and others for trying to catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but then thought he would be more effective by writing them a book? He does this, knowing that that one of the elites he writes about, Simon Sinek, doesn’t even read but rather has other people read for him. (To be fair, Sinek has a learning disability - but still. Know your audience, dude).

I really started to lose my patience when a quote from Audre Lorde got juxta-positioned next to a quote from Donald Trump at the beginning of chapter 5. That’s just blasphemy. The chapter is titled “Arsonists make the best firefighters” and focuses on Sean Hinton, a former adviser to Goldman Sachs and Rio Tinto who long ago studied love songs in Mongolia. Hinton seems to sense some of the cognitive dissonance between his participation in the system and his internal criticism of it. Ultimately though, he believes his values are personal and separate from the job he is hired to do. End chapter. So... arsonists don't make the best fire fighters? Therefore, you don't make the best fire fighter, Mr. Writer?

Then I got to chapter 7 and was met with Bill/Hillary conflation and Bernie proselytizing and criticism of “globalists” – a term that I only hear used in creepy, far/alt right Nazi circles on the Internet to explain their conspiracy theories about people on the left. It’s not that there isn’t legitimate criticism in this chapter of the political left’s failing to advocate for government’s role and instead pandering to capitalist philanthropists and corporate sponsors. That’s totally valid. But the author spends almost 50 pages taking folks like Bill Clinton to town for his complicity. Meanwhile, George Bush gets called out once, maybe twice the whole book for dick things his administration did (like enabling the Sackler's Oxycotin-induced opium epidemic) and Donald Trump actually gets credit for understanding the anger the masses feel toward elites.

What is the reasoning here? Try and get the rich people who aren't just flat-out malicious and evil to see how they are also problematic? Is this book like A Christmas Carol - meant to serve as the ghosts of Past, Present and Future for the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world to be persuaded by it?

In addition to "who is this book for, exactly?" one of my other major complaints is how the elite becomes interchangeable with MarketWorld, a term encapsulating a blurry entity of rich people who mean well, but are too afraid to confront the real problem of inequality and their involvement in it. There's really no distinguishing between them other than they're all rich and they are okay people who care, at least to some extent. The political divide between them, left or right, isn't ever really explored and eventually becomes irrelevant.

To me, THAT is a gross oversight. Because yes, George Soros and Bill Clinton may be misguided in their good intentions, but what about the Koch Bros? You compare the elite on the left vs the elite on the right: you have folks that at least feel a little bit guilty that there's inequality vs. folks who are beyond the comical caricature of Mr. Burns and totally okay with pouring their money into the new Nazi world order. Some winners are worse than others, okay? And some winners have more money than others. A lot of the big, BIG winners are old white dudes on the right sincerely invested in harming everyday people - not Oprah. That needs to be acknowledged. Giridharadas fails to do that.

Honestly, when I picked up this book, I thought I would sail through it like a ship on a breezy day over a sea of populist rage. Instead, it was grueling, slogging read – one in which I learned way more about just how oblivious and ignorant the upper class really is than I ever wanted or needed to know. I also learned just how obstinately committed this same elite group is in refusing to acknowledge their complicity and/or using the power they have co-opted to make the changes necessary to redistribute wealth for the betterment of society. The more I read, the more hopeless I felt for the future.

If this guy can’t convince his own buddies at McKinsey and the Aspen Institute to listen to him, then what is the point of his book? According to Giridharadas, “it is also a letter to the public, urging them to reclaim world-changing from those who have co-opted it.” Oh, so now it’s on everyone else again to fix things. Cool.

To his credit, in the last chapter Giridharadas brings in Chiara Cordelli, a scholar in political science who has a solution: that "[MarketWorlders] return, against their instincts and even perhaps against their interests, to politics as the place we go to shape the world." Going back to politics means restoring the power of political institutions, such as laws, courts, taxes, rights, etc.

The real question then is: How do we do that (restoring power to our political institutions, our democracy) when "the elite" have invested so much money into undermining those political institutions? Especially now that we are seriously on the brink of the collapse of western democracy? Is the damage too far done?

Giridharadas is right that the wealthy need to stop looking at themselves as the saviors of the world and acknowledge their hand in the problem. But counting on everyday people to read his book and "re-claim world changing" is so vague and unhelpful. People are already doing that. Consider: the Women's March. Black Lives Matter. March for Our Lives. Families Belong Together. These weren't protests led by paid George Soros' lackeys. These were real, angry people in the American public rallying and crying out against horrible injustices. They were exercising their right to free speech and to assembly. They were grasping onto the last vestiges of democratic power they had as non-billionaires.

It's Cordelli, the political scientist Giridharadas cites, who ultimately offers the most promising solution. She suggests that elites are going to have to be the ones to stop making "foundations" or "charities" to name after themselves and seriously re-invest their undeserved wealth into public institutions, climb down the social ladder, rejoin the ranks of the majority of people in society, so that the rest of us can start having a say for ourselves again.

Giridharadas seems to agree with that (otherwise he wouldn't have saved her for last and quoted her so thoroughly), but that means his expose is really just a depressing, detailed depiction about how greedy and willfully ignorant rich people are. I already knew that, dude. Sometimes the best way to know about a problem isn't to be a part of it, but rather, to be a victim of it. Then the problem persists because the perpetrators aren't listening to the victims. So, I say to Giridharadas - since you're in the "club," sounds like you need to have some tougher conversations with your friends to get them to start listening... otherwise, the world is going to be facing uglier alternatives to the one Cordelli is proposing.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
October 18, 2021
What Trump and Idealists Have in Common

‘Making a difference’ could be the idealistic theme of my generation’s collective ethos - at least among those of us who survived the drug-culture of the 60’s and 70’s with intact minds. It is my generation’s term for religious faith. The world had been opened to us by cheap access to good education, a long post-war economic boom, a range of radical new philosophies and more or less guaranteed employment. Belief - in oneself, in society, in the perfectability of life - was the route to success and fulfillment.

We had choices. And the right people appeared to be demonstrating how to exercise power around the world - environmental improvement (Jane Goodall), human rights (Martin Luther King), the status of women (Betty Friedan), the Church (Pope John XXIII). This was concretely personal not abstractly intellectual inspiration. Anything was possible for individuals with the courage to put themselves on the line; or at least for those with the determination to get others to put themselves on the line they had laid out.

So we had an obvious moral duty: to improve the world. Our parents worked at corporate jobs in order to earn a living. Not us. We had corporate careers in order to make the world a better place. Ours was an enlightened self-interest which took the old-fashioned idea of vocation seriously. Our lives had to mean something. By which we meant we had to dedicate ourselves to a cause, something beyond ourselves as the gurus of the time phrased it. And that we did with diverse passion - in business, politics, and academia.

For example, we simply presumed we would always have enough to eat. The question was how to make sure others did as well. Hence the popularity of things like the Hunger Project (which seriously aimed to eliminate global food deprivation entirely within 20 years) and Monsanto’s GM research. The world remained corporate, but it was no longer exploiting us; now we were exploiting it for the betterment of humanity. And, by the way, we made good money at it. But we were ‘adding value’ not just being avaricious, self-justifying social drones.

Such smug bastards have always existed but perhaps never before or after in such naive density which made our conceits part of the air we breathed. We could afford these conceits because we were buoyed up, sustained, and insured by a social and economic system that wanted us to act based precisely on the basis of this ideology of ‘making a difference.’ We were an elite - the beneficiaries of a system we neither understood nor created. But our conversations and associations were almost solely with other members of the elite who spoke the same language of ‘vision,’ and ‘commitment,’ and ‘human potential.’ ‘Making a difference’ became the late 20th century’s post-industrial version of the 19th century’s technological Progress, a sort of moral neo-liberalism of the soul.

Not until decades later did the real consequences of our visions, and commitments, and potentials, show themselves - a more economically divided, a less environmentally sustainable, a more intensely politically fragmented and militarily hostile world than we could have ever imagined. The point of Anand Giridharadas’s book is “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. It is also an attempt to offer a view of how the elite see the world, so that we might better assess the merits and limitations of their world-changing campaigns.”

‘Making a difference’ remains an abiding meme among today’s cultural elite. Giridharadas quotes a recent McKinsey & Co. recruiting brochure, soliciting candidates who desire to:
Change the world.
Improve lives.
Invent something new.
Solve a complex problem.
Extend your talents.
Build enduring relationships.

This is a more laconic but still an accurate replica of the pitch I received to join ‘The Firm’ in 1976. It is also a paraphrase of similar documents produced by companies like Goldman Sachs and hundreds of others from Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And it is in one form or another what every applicant to Harvard, or Stanford, or for that matter Oxford or Cambridge will be urged to consider. ‘If you are the best, you’ll want to be among the best’ is the bait that is hard to resist (See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...).

‘Making a difference’ is a subtle and destructive ideology, a spiritual rather than social or economic ideology and therefore far more convincing. Giridharada through his personal case studies shows how and why. ‘Making a difference’ is an insidious ideology because it taps into the best human impulses: empathy, charity, mercy. It then uses these to justify the acquisition of personal power - political, intellectual, organisational power. And since the first rule of power is the necessity to maintain power, it, not the virtues which motivated its acquisition, is the essential ideological thread. ‘Feed the world’ becomes indistinguishable from ‘Eliminate political resistance to the commercial bonanza of genetically modified crops.’

Giridharada‘s kind of journalistic and academic melange is intriguing and produces some eye-opening observations about the paradoxes of power-seeking, especially among those with a social conscience. He certainly establishes the credibility of his thesis that: “the powerful are fighting to ‘change the world’ in ways that essentially keep it the same.” Nonetheless, I find it lacking. It doesn’t get to the core of our arrogance about the world on our affect on it. Our presumption that good intentions, backed by appropriate intellectual and practical skills will result in improved flourishing for humanity (or the planet) isn’t just ill-advised, it is evil.

Sometimes the extent of this evil can only be captured in religious terms. ‘Making a difference’ is, at it turns out, a rather ancient Christian heresy not just a mistake in judgment. It’s called Pelagianism, the belief that it is possible to contribute to salvation - of oneself or of the world - unaided by something called grace. Whatever grace is and where it comes from - divine gift, genetic legacy, intellectual insight, or even cosmic luck - it can never be presumed upon.

Pelagius, the eponymous monk whom Augustine targeted as arch-heretic, suffered neither from inadequate intellectual vision, nor lack of passionate conviction. His fatal flaw was a lack of humility, a lack we don’t normally associate today with grave sin. And yet, as Giridharadas notes, we have such an obvious example in our midst that hubris is indeed evil: “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.” ‘Making a difference’ is code for an ambition to power no matter who it comes from.

To make the distinction between the good (my) and bad (his) use of power is nonsensical. Power is itself corrupt as as well as corrupting just as Lord Acton suggested. The human compulsion to power is the authentic Original Sin - can’t live with it, can’t do without it. But recognising it for what it is when it pops up among us is essential for healthy living. ‘Making a difference’ means ‘I want to make a grab for power’ when spoken by a young person. By the time he or she has said it, it’s probably too late to do anything about it. They’re doomed. Just as Augustine claimed, it appears that Original Sin gets passed along in mother’s milk.

Postscript: I consider myself a social liberal. But I have a sensitive nose when it comes to many apparently liberal causes because they not infrequently stink of power-grabbing. This suspicion I share with the French conservative thinker, Bertrand de Jouvenel, who mistrusted all idealists as a matter of course. See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

Postscript 30Jul20 on the personal cost of idealistic ambition: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/ar...
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
763 reviews3,497 followers
February 28, 2021
MarketWorlders make themselves feel great and look philanthropic by giving bread crumbs of their perverse wealth, accumulated by aggravating all problems thanks to lunatic neoliberal dogmas, to charity.

That´s how once decent, purely theoretical, humanities, which didn´t claim or wished to be omniscient and infallible bad fringe science incubators, became obedient mouthpieces of the corpocracy, with research so bad that the replication crisis itself looks reputable in contrast.

Conferences, from TED to all the other clones of it, often sponsored by megacorporations, want uncritical, entertaining, flow and productivity pushing, happy go lucky rainbow unicorn content at any cost and they just pay for what they wish. So if a politician, anyone from junior to emeritus professor, author, speaker, etc. wants that sweet, much extra cash, she/he should better just use fake pop science focused on weak humanities, avoid serious, controversial topics at any cost, and spend the rest of the career traveling the world and spreading the vicious, noxious word everywhere their corporate overlords command them to.

One can make many times the money than with real and important science, because in a dead democracy with controlled media, the manufacturing consent power is used to push the agendas of the chosen ones that give the best sockpuppet impressions.

Two of the weirdest examples of how mammon corrupts are Hans Rosling and Stephen Pinker. Rosling was first really helping people, did altruistic things like working as a doctor in Africa, until he started promoting his animations and software, by downplaying and relativizing the devastation the neoliberal exponential growth doctrine brings over planet and people, and wrote a book about it.
It´s very improbable that he didn´t know that his data and conclusions aren´t correct, although it might be that he was an optimist who didn´t want to see the truth or really believed in the good of what he did, no matter how many logical fallacies, bad statistics, etc. included.

But he is harmless in contrast to Pinker who once was a serious scientist, doing research, writing books, having a reputation in complex fields such as linguistics and evolutionary and cognitive psychology, but then he got severe Enlightenment now.
It´s not just that he is misusing humanities, data, ignoring any implication of the replication crisis, etc., but he is even going full frontal aggression against anyone who doesn´t share his wrong mentality, he is attacking other people for not having the same, unproven, artificially constructed opinion he has. Dissecting this concoction brings to light so many problems of politics, economics, media, etc. because they are all acting that way, proselyting instead of enabling a public discourse, doing whatever propaganda machines are made for, making satire news websites like The Onion a better, deeper, and truer source of information and education than any established media channel.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winners...
Check out Giridharadas`great argumentation in talks and live conversations, owning and destroying the ridiculous mainstream, pop psychology, fringe economy bigotry:

And again, replication crisis time:

Because of much talk and discussion about the replication crisis, I add these thoughts to nonfiction books dealing with humanities, so you might have already seen it.

One could call the replication crisis the viral fake news epidemic of many fields of science that was a hidden, chronic disease over decades and centuries and has become extremely widespread during the last years, since the first critics began vaccinating against it, provoking virulent counterarguments. I don´t know how else this could end than with nothing else than paradigm shifts, discovering many anachronisms, and a better, fact- and number based research with many control instances before something of an impact on the social policy gets accepted.

Some soft science books are nothing more than fairytales for adults who never had the chance to built a free opinion because most of the media they consume to stay informed and get educated avoids any criticism of the current economic system.

Without having read or heard ideas by Chomsky, Monbiot, Klein, Ken Robinson, Monbiot, Peter Singer, William McDonough, Ziegler, Colin Crouch, Jeremy Rifkin, David Graeber, John Perkins, and others, humans will always react to people like me, condemning the manipulation practiced everywhere with terrifying success, with anger and refusal.

These authors don´t hide aspects of the truth and describe the real state of the world, don´t predict the future and preach the one only, the true way, ignoring anything like black swans, coincidences, or the, for each small child logical, fact that nobody knows what will happen, and collect exactly the free available data people such indoctrinated people to ignore forever.
A few points that led to the replication crisis:

I had an intuitive feeling regarding this for years, but the replication crisis proofed that there are too many interconnections of not strictly scientific fields such as economics and politics with many humanities. Look, already some of the titles are biased towards a more positive or negative attitude, but thinking too optimistic is the same mistake as being too pessimistic, it isn´t objective anymore and one can be instrumentalized without even recognizing it.

In natural sciences, theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, physicians… that were friends of a certain idea will always say that there is the option of change, that a discovery may lead to a new revolution, and that their old work has to be reexamined. So in science regarding the real world the specialists are much more open to change than in some humanities, isn´t that strange?

It would be as if one would say that all humans are representative, similar, that there are no differences. But it´s not, each time a study is made there are different people, opinions, so many coincidences, and unique happenings that it´s impossible to reproduce it.
Scandinavia vs the normal world. The society people live in makes happiness, not theoretical, not definitive concepts.
One can manipulate so many parameters in those studies that the result can be extremely positive or negative, just depending on what who funds the study and does the study wants as results.

One could use the studies she/ he needs to create an optimistic or a pessimistic book and many studies about human nature are redundant, repetitive, or biased towards a certain result, often an optimistic outcome or spectacular, groundbreaking results. Do you know who does that too? Statistics, economics, politics, and faith.

I wish I could be a bit more optimistic than realistic, but not hard evidence based stuff is a bit of a no go if it involves practical applications, especially if there is the danger of not working against big problems by doing as if they weren´t there.

A few points that lead away from it:

1. Tech
2. Nordic model
3. Open data, open government,
4. Blockchains, cryptocurrencies, quantum computing, to make each financial transaction transparent and traceable.
5. Points mentioned in the Wiki article
6. It must be horrible for the poor scientists who work in those fields and are now suffering because the founding fathers used theories and concepts that have nothing to do with real science. They worked hard to build a career to just find out that the predecessors integrated methods that couldn´t work in other systems, let's say an evolving computer program or a machine or a human body or anywhere except in ones´ imagination. They are truly courageous to risk criticism because of the humanities bashing wave that won´t end soon. As in so many fields, it are a few black sheep who ruin everything for many others and the more progressive a young scientist is, the more he is in danger of getting smashed between a hyper sensible public awareness and the old anachronism shepherds, avoiding anything progressive with the danger of a paradigm shift or even a relativization of the field they dedicated their career to. There has to be strict segregation between theories and ideas and applications in real life, so that anything can be researched, but not used to do crazy things.

The worst bad science practice includes, from Wikipedia, taken from the article about the replication crisis
1. The replication crisis (or replicability crisis or reproducibility crisis) is, as of 2020, an ongoing methodological crisis in which it has been found that many scientific studies are difficult or impossible to replicate or reproduce. The replication crisis affects the social sciences and medicine most severely.[
2. The inability to replicate the studies of others has potentially grave consequences for many fields of science in which significant theories are grounded on unreproducible experimental work. The replication crisis has been particularly widely discussed in the field of psychology and in medicine, where a number of efforts have been made to re-investigate classic results
3. A 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists reported that 70% of them had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist's experiment (50% had failed to reproduce one of their own experiments).[8] In 2009, 2% of scientists admitted to falsifying studies at least once and 14% admitted to personally knowing someone who did.
4. „Psychological research is, on average, afflicted with low statistical power."
5. Firstly, questionable research practices (QRPs) have been identified as common in the field.[18] Such practices, while not intentionally fraudulent, involve capitalizing on the gray area of acceptable scientific practices or exploiting flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting, often in an effort to obtain a desired outcome. Examples of QRPs include selective reporting or partial publication of data (reporting only some of the study conditions or collected dependent measures in a publication), optional stopping (choosing when to stop data collection, often based on statistical significance of tests), p-value rounding (rounding p-values down to 0.05 to suggest statistical significance), file drawer effect (nonpublication of data), post-hoc storytelling (framing exploratory analyses as confirmatory analyses), and manipulation of outliers (either removing outliers or leaving outliers in a dataset to cause a statistical test to be significant).[18][19][20][21] A survey of over 2,000 psychologists indicated that a majority of respondents admitted to using at least one QRP.[18] False positive conclusions, often resulting from the pressure to publish or the author's own confirmation bias, are an inherent hazard in the field, requiring a certain degree of skepticism on the part of readers.[2
6. Secondly, psychology and social psychology in particular, has found itself at the center of several scandals involving outright fraudulent research,
7. Thirdly, several effects in psychological science have been found to be difficult to replicate even before the current replication crisis. Replications appear particularly difficult when research trials are pre-registered and conducted by research groups not highly invested in the theory under questioning.
8. Scrutiny of many effects have shown that several core beliefs are hard to replicate. A recent special edition of the journal Social Psychology focused on replication studies and a number of previously held beliefs were found to be difficult to replicate.[25] A 2012 special edition of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science also focused on issues ranging from publication bias to null-aversion that contribute to the replication crises in psychology.[26] In 2015, the first open empirical study of reproducibility in psychology was published, called the Reproducibility Project. Researchers from around the world collaborated to replicate 100 empirical studies from three top psychology journals. Fewer than half of the attempted replications were successful at producing statistically significant results in the expected directions, though most of the attempted replications did produce trends in the expected directions.
9. Many research trials and meta-analyses are compromised by poor quality and conflicts of interest that involve both authors and professional advocacy organizations, resulting in many false positives regarding the effectiveness of certain types of psychotherapy
10. The reproducibility of 100 studies in psychological science from three high-ranking psychology journals.[44] Overall, 36% of the replications yielded significant findings (p value below 0.05) compared to 97% of the original studies that had significant effects. The mean effect size in the replications was approximately half the magnitude of the effects reported in the original studies.
11. Highlighting the social structure that discourages replication in psychology, Brian D. Earp and Jim A. C. Everett enumerated five points as to why replication attempts are uncommon:[50][51]
1. "Independent, direct replications of others' findings can be time-consuming for the replicating researcher"
2. "[Replications] are likely to take energy and resources directly away from other projects that reflect one's own original thinking"
3. "[Replications] are generally harder to publish (in large part because they are viewed as being unoriginal)"
4. "Even if [replications] are published, they are likely to be seen as 'bricklaying' exercises, rather than as major contributions to the field
5. "[Replications] bring less recognition and reward, and even basic career security, to their authors"[52]
For these reasons the authors advocated that psychology is facing a disciplinary social dilemma, where the interests of the discipline are at odds with the interests of the individual researcher
12. Medicine. Out of 49 medical studies from 1990–2003 with more than 1000 citations, 45 claimed that the studied therapy was effective. Out of these studies, 16% were contradicted by subsequent studies, 16% had found stronger effects than did subsequent studies, 44% were replicated, and 24% remained largely unchallenged.[58] The US Food and Drug Administration in 1977–1990 found flaws in 10–20% of medical studies

Continued in comments
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.2k followers
March 19, 2020

Did you watch Zuckerberg testify before the Senate committees about Facebook and the 2018 election? Were you struck by how blithely unrepentant he seemed, how convinced that his titanic, poorly monitored data base—which he habitually describes as “a community”—is an unalloyed benefit to us all? “Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” Zuckerberg claims, “It was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.”

So how is it that a billionaire like Zuckerberg can presume to appear so smugly virtuous? Although a few reasons come immediately to my mind—a poorly chosen defense strategy, the habitual arrogance of wealth, some personality or character defect—I believe the truer explanation is more universal. It lies in the philosophical attitude toward wealth and social change of all the Silicon Valley billionaires, which is shared in large part by the Wall Street/Clinton Foundation crowd too. Such people inhabit a distinct intellectual universe, and an excellent way to learn about their world is to read Winners Take All: the Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridhardas.

Giridhardas calls this universe “MarketWorld”, and he encountered it up close and personal when, in 2011, he was chosen as a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute, an “’organization of leaders’ that seeks to deploy a “new breed of leaders’ against ‘the world’s most intractable problems.’” It involved an inspiring series of one-week seminars, held in luxurious places, where he “mingled with the ultra-rich in decorated mansions.” Still something made Anand uneasy about the whole thing:
Even as I savored these luxuries and connections, I found something amiss about the Aspen institute. Here were all these rich and powerful people coming together and speaking about giving back, and yet the people who seemed to reap most of the benefits of this coming together were the helpers, not the helped. I began to wonder what was actually going on when the most fortunate don’t merely seek to make a difference but also effectively claim ownership of “changing the world.” . . .

I began to feel like a casual participant in . . . a giant, sweet-lipped lie. . . . Why were we coming to Aspen? To change the system, or to be changed by it? To speak truth to power, . . . or to help make an unjust, unpalatable system go down a little more easily? Could the intractable problems we proposed to solve be solved in the way that we silently insisted—at minimal most to elites, with minimal distribution of power?
Giridharadas continued to think about these matters, and five years later, at his Aspen Institute summer reunion, he delivered a speech in which he summed up what he called the Aspen Consensus: “The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever tell them to do less harm.”

This, essentially, is the philosophy of “MarketWorld.” We can all—especially the rich--”do good by doing well.” Apply market solutions, empower a few, attempt to solve a few isolated social problems, and—guess what?—we can make ourselves even more money and feel better about ourselves while we do it. We’ll work with governments, sure, but only if necessary (for democracy is messy and difficult to control), but please don’t speak to us about increasing corporate regulations, or raising marginal tax rates, or increasing estate taxes, and—while you’re at it—leave that deduction for the purchase of private jets alone too.

Giridharadas attends and takes notes on many MarketWorld events, conducts interviews with a few of the ultra-rich and many of their minions (an interview near the end of the book with Bill Clinton is particularly illuminating), and in addition he speaks with a number of aspiring entrepreneurs who adopt the MarketWorld philosophy.

But he speaks with critics of MarketWorld too, one of the most incisive being Chiara Cordelli, professor of political philosophy at the university of Chicago. She argues that one of the most dangerous things about the MarketWorld method is that it not only routinely marginalizes government institutions but also insists on benefits (tax breaks, elimination of regulations) which damage and hamper its mechanisms, and that as a result these institutions are becoming more and more ineffective. And after all, Cordelli says, “The government is us.”
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews697 followers
February 14, 2020
I really enjoyed this but it might be just because fundamentally I'm ideologically opposed to people being that wealthy. I think it does a really good job of what the intended purpose is, to show that a lot of times philanthropy itself is just a way to ameliorate problems caused by the same people doing the philanthropy and that much of the philanthropy can not make up for the systemic issues we have created by letting people accumulate as much wealth at the expense of others as we do. I think its fair to express the desire to read other books that go through it much more numerically/or in a data oriented way to show a larger trend but I think that wasn't the purpose of the book so it didn't bother me as much as some of the people who didn't like the book. I do think it can be repetitious and just hits on one theme over and over again through a lot of interviews/anecdotes so avoid this if that's not what you're looking for. I do think it's important though for pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in a lot of the giving back rich people do. I also don't see why the author should have to provide solutions because I do think it's a hard complex problem. Like I think there is a place for books that just point out and describe a problem that exists, it doesn't have to be prescriptive. Anyways, personally I really enjoyed it but I have my own biases and ideology so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Profile Image for cesar.
36 reviews1 follower
October 9, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,425 reviews8,324 followers
May 21, 2019
An excellent exposé of the wealthy and powerful who aim to do "good" and just perpetuate systems of injustice. Anand Giridharadas creates a compelling argument about how elites who work at corporations and companies like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs say they "work for social change," yet never address the core of what causes inequality in the first place. He provides several detailed anecdotes of young adults who get swept up into these corporations based on the ideal that they will learn a skill set that will later help them do good, or that through these firms they will work on projects that benefit all of society, even when these firms often drive the marginalized further downward. The book carries valuable implications, ranging from how business will not solve society's pressing problems, to why some disenfranchised folk distrusted Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and more. A quote from the end of the book I liked a lot:

"But that is a choice, Cordelli tells us. To do a modest bit of good while doing nothing about the larger system is to keep the painting. You are chewing on the fruit of an injustice. You may be working on a prison education program, but you are choosing not to prioritize the pursuit of wage and labor laws that would make people's lives more stable and perhaps keep some of them out of jail. You may be sponsoring a loan forgiveness initiative for law school students, but you are choosing not to prioritize seeking a tax code that would take more from you and cut their debts. Your management consulting firm may be writing reports about unlocking trillions of dollars' worth of women's potential, but it is choosing not to advise its clients to stop lobbying against the social programs that have been shown in other societies to help women achieve the equality fantasized about in consultants' reports."

A limitation of the book includes that Giridharadas did not include the perspectives of the marginalized people he purports to care about. It would have been helpful to read more from the perspectives of those with less privilege, to read what they think we should all do. I wish Giridharadas focused more on tangible actions toward the end of the book. Instead of just pointing out the problem with rich people engaging in philanthropy that maintains economic inequality, perhaps providing steps to dismantle capitalism or work toward reparations would have made the book feel more aligned with its stated mission. I would still recommend it though, as it has made me examine my own class privilege and complicity in these systems of oppression.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,283 reviews21.5k followers
September 23, 2018
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
Profile Image for Linh.
258 reviews39 followers
September 23, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Darnell.
1,054 reviews
October 22, 2018
Very mixed feelings about this book. I liked some parts too much to give a low rating, disliked other parts too much to give a high rating, and don't feel those should average out.

While I was reading, I was considering a criticism that this book is ultimately not engaged in critical thought, but is just another "thought leader," simply for a different demographic. But it doesn't entirely fall into this trap, and it isn't shallow or vapid. There are definitely pieces that were solid.

Yet I still feel like this book's project is fundamentally flawed. I don't think someone who started out disbelieving in the book's premise would be convinced, nor does the book seem to even attempt to convince them - agreement with central tenets is presumed. As someone favorably inclined toward the premise, I was hoping for a rigorous analysis of the issue that would deepen my understanding of the subject. I didn't get that as much as I'd like.

For example, the criticism of the family that made their wealth via OxyContin was exactly along the lines I wanted. Direct empirical analysis of their impacts on both sides, which in my mind is a serious criticism of their philanthropic efforts that undermines all their rhetoric. I'd have preferred a whole chapter devoted to it, but I enjoyed that segment.

But many other segments don't engage on that level. For example, criticizing business executives who reduce Indian economics to a market chain seems promising, but there's no analysis, just throwing out hypotheticals that might undermine their position. Those are questions with real answers that would be a far stronger response, so why bring them up without getting into the facts of the situation?

Now, a book doesn't need to be empirical analysis, there's a place for simply expressing ideas. For example, I was fascinated by the section about early objections to Carnegie's philanthropy. But as much as some parts were interesting, I feel like a book with an aggressive thesis needs to present a high degree of either novelty or rigor, and this book didn't go all the way with either.

I'd be more favorable inclined toward its attempt if not for my last problem with the book: the tendency to smugly contradict interviewees in the text itself instead of raising those objections to their face and recording their response.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
August 31, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,976 followers
February 24, 2020
It’s rare that I find a book with such a strong thesis that I’m willing to overlook almost everything else minor I find wrong with it. This is one of the few. His diagnosis of what’s wrong with our system of social welfare and philanthropy is so glaringly obvious and just as glaringly obvious that it should have been obvious to me before this...and finally, of course, that it’s even more obvious that nothing will get done about it. Maybe not even under a Sanders or Warren presidency. This Faustian bargain is truly a bargain of the modern era- where everyone has generations of education about why this is wrong so no one can claim innocence so all that’s left to do is ignore it and make a pact about ostracizing anyone who says the quiet part loud. This is all the arguments we’re hearing now in the primaries about “I like her but she’s just unelectable” or “Of course I’d love that but it will never pass Congress” or the shrug of the shoulders with an “ok but let’s help some people who are hurting now instead of making unrealistic plans...” but in the economic sphere. Even more brilliant, I think, was his description of how super powerful people paint themselves with the language of liberation and rebellion and don’t like to talk about the actual power they could and do wield. Just at least read the chapter on Kings Wearing Rebel Berets- amazingly written critical essay. It’ll give you all the words you couldn’t find for why you hate Zuckerberg and everyone like him. The super rich pretending like they aren’t being political with every choice they make to maximize profits is mind blowing- especially when that money could be used to lobby to actually change the system so that it so many of these problems they run around “fixing” don’t exist in the first place. But since that will involve real sacrifice on their part...it never happens. He even showcases some interviews with guilty rich people who openly admit they should change the system but won’t commit to any action about it. They weasel out with a lot of “I don’t know I don’t know that seems like it isn’t fair... what about that guy over there?” These people voicing that they’ll be the only “sucker” doing it so why should they put down their weapons.... its mind blowing how they never take the next step in their heads to how nobody needs to be a “sucker” as if that’s what you would be you awful specimens of human garbage. And although that’s what they are, the author does really well with reasonably explaining why rather than simply bashing it most of the time. And if he does occasionally dip into diatribe, he’s earned it. This is my new book I want to demand that the entire ruling class of Planet Earth be required to read, and then be asked very specific questions about on camera, with the videos available for immediate release to the public. This should be canon in all colleges’ basic economics classes, in business schools, in ethics classes, modern history courses. Phenomenal.
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,294 followers
May 12, 2020
I really like Anand Giridharadas. I’ve seen him on a couple of media outlets, and it’s clear he’s a smart guy. I also have come to agree with a lot of the stuff he says about economic inequality and how those in power across the political spectrum work to keep the status quo. But this book was still difficult for me to get through, despite clocking in at under 300 pages.

I’ll admit I find it harder to read nonfiction that doesn’t have a narrative element running through it. Something like Catch and Kill or nearly any memoir is so much easier for me to get sucked into. The problem with Winners Take All for me was that the gist of his argument was made in the introductory chapter. The following chapters were just collections of examples of what he already said. Like, here’s a woman who wanted to save the world but then got sucked into the capitalism machine, here’s a man that believes he’s helping other people but it really helping himself, etc. It got repetitive pretty quickly.

But the topic Giridharadas chose to write about really resonates with me and a lot of people in my generation. He puts into words what many of us feel, even if we haven’t identified it yet. It’s a feeling of unfairness and that the deck’s already stacked against us. That most of the people who purport to be helping are just preforming altruism instead of doing something meaningful. We were told that the best way to change the system is to work from within it, but it’s becoming more and more clear that by working for those institutions we’re just continuing to prop up the powerful.

Really, I think I would have loved this as an essay. He could have used these personal examples more concisely to make his points. I know I’m part of the target audience for this work. I’m young(ish), my disillusionment with the state of the country is growing, I’m receptive to these ideas, even if I haven’t fully embraced them yet, and I’ve been fooled in the past by the very tactics that these ‘socially-conscious’ companies have deployed in the book. But still I struggled here. I’ll probably go watch some of his other interviews to build on these ideas more, but as for the book itself, I don't think it was my ideal medium. Maybe the audiobook would have been a better fit.
Profile Image for Monica.
582 reviews610 followers
September 30, 2019

My first thought is nothing new here. Take all of the thoughts on white privilege and apply them to wealth privilege and you have the concept of this book. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that tremendous income inequality and/or maintenance of that condition is the root of evil...

4+ Stars

Listened to audio book. Author was the narrator. He did a good job.
Profile Image for Divya.
89 reviews19 followers
October 4, 2021
I was looking for some critical soul searching as a member of the "elite" that the author rails against but Mr. Giridharadas very quickly lost me when he tries to make a point in page 2 about how poor American men *only* live as long as men in Pakistan or Sudan. Far from celebrating the great gains that Pakistan or Sudan have made in increasing the average lifetimes, this factoid is seen as a something worth lamenting as though Americans have a god given right to live longer than the rest of the world.

For a book that is supposedly all about how the rich should recognize their privilege, the author is phenomenally blind to the great privileges that Americans have when compared to the rest of the world. If the larger trends of globalization wrecked middle class jobs in the west but resulted in greater growth and longer lifespans for the Third World, can't the argument be made that this is the privileged ceding power to those less fortunate? Isn't that what Mr. Giridharadas claims to want?

Also why all the railing against philanthropy? The author seems to create a false dichotomy between philanthropy/corporate responsibility and democracy/increased taxation/regulation/insert any other solution that the author provides. Actually, come to think of it, the book seems very light on solutions, light on references and light on any critical questioning of its own premise. This is very much a hate-read and not some searing "ethics for the elites of the 21st century" book that I envisioned.
154 reviews15 followers
September 15, 2018
I ADORED this book. It was not without its flaws, including being super biased, one sided and judgmental, but I LOVED it. I’ve been a total MarketWorlder, assuming business was the best vehicle for making change and business school was the most effective way to learn now. And this book helped me see an alternate way. Which released over a decade of cognitive dissonance I didn’t fully realize I was wrestling with. I don’t have all the answers yet about what this means for how I want to live my life and create the biggest impact I can using participatory methods and wise discernment rather than judgment, but it gave me sooo much to think about and to start processing. This book opened my eyes to why Hillary lost and how much and why elites have lost the trust of the vast majority of people by monopolizing changing the system that made them/us so powerful, and not actually making that change as inequality grows and the system excludes more and more people. I also understand that one of the reasons I love it is that it feels super vindicating with where I am in my life having just left running sustainability at a social enterprise to start a much more participatory nonprofit approach to rural primary education reform. Lots to digest and think about.

The reason it loses a star is because it takes a ‘marketworld’ approach to calling out the ‘marketworlders.’ The author quotes and uses case studies from countless marketworld inner circles, but does not once interview or include the voices of the disenfranchised people he’s defending. Which I found very disappointing since actions speak so much louder than words. Don’t just tell us this way is wrong because it is exclusive; write an inclusive narrative that shows us the power of participation and giving microphones to people who marketworld has silenced, but remain deafeningly silent once again throughout this book.
Profile Image for Daniel Beck.
78 reviews6 followers
March 16, 2019
I basically agreed with the thesis of this book and yet I cannot recommend it at all.

I was looking forward to this one. I listened to an interview with Anand Giridharadas and was excited to read the book. I was hoping to learn how to talk critically about the favorite myth of technologists, financiers, and other wealthy, powerful people: that corporate greed can function as a substitute for public institutions in improving the world. I was fully predisposed to like this book. Instead, I got a dishonest, sexist, and petty hate read.

Dishonest is not a word I use lightly, but Giridharadas withholds a key piece of information until the very end of the book that recasts every page before it. Giridharadas is one of the elite he rails against. He was a McKinseyite, was an Aspen Institute fellow, and is associated with elite, private universities that crank out the targets of his critique. He says "this is a work of reportage" yet it seems he's friends with many of the subjects of the book. For example, Hilary Cohen is profiled in an early chapter, and, in the acknowledgements, we learn she read drafts of the book and provided feedback to the author. I'd have still been interested in what he had to share, but I would've liked to have an honest disclosure of his privileged heterodoxy. Instead, the delayed disclosure repositions everything before it as gossipy sniping at his peers.

Stylistically, the book is a failure. His critique of a worldview that favors privatization, austerity, deregulation, and unmoderated free trade routinely apes its rhetorical style. He gives the worldview a corporate-friendly brand name, MarketWorld; it's a cute irony in chapter 1, but the joke quickly gets old. Worse is every time he describes wealthy, powerful people as "winners" and ordinary people as "losers", which actively takes part in the construction of a worldview where wealthy, powerful people are intrinsically better. At the beginning of the book I thought it was irony, but by the end of the book I was starting to think that Giridharadas actually believes that the elite (presumably including himself) are in fact better than the rest of us, even if they're not our moral superiors.

The way Giridharadas writes about women is troubling to say the least. Throughout the book, he profiles women in an ways that dismisses the systemic disadvantages they have. He casts Hilary Cohen as a naïve, misled young woman who chooses the evils of McKinsey instead of becoming a rabbi, but doesn’t interrogate the presumption that it’s preferable for a woman to go into a caring profession instead of, say, guaranteeing her own economic independence. He profiles Amy Cuddy as an inadequate feminist because she doesn’t attack her clients in the talks those clients pay for, again without considering the economic punishment women can face for feminism. He casually projects Bill Clinton’s politics onto Hillary Clinton, as if she’s not a person with her own identity and words. Hell, he could not even be bothered to lower case danah boyd's name properly. Ironic misogynistic (and cisnormative) trash like “the feminists wanted us to look at a vagina and zoom out to see Congress” is still misogynistic trash. Giridharadas thinks he can put women into tidy categories of "serious" and unserious feminists; if it was a joke, I wasn’t laughing.

By the end of the book, I was beginning to wonder whether Giridharadas is some kind of crypto right-winger. His attacks are mostly aimed at people who want to believe that doing what feels morally good is the same as doing something effectual, but rarely targets people who feel no duty to create a better world at all. He spends a whole chapter bemoaning Bill Clinton's shift from political left-to-center, while only giving passing acknowledgment to the right's full-throated opposition to the public good. It’s not a joke to say that he spends a chapter critiquing "the Protocols" of management consulting and George Soros, as if I’m not supposed to hear an anti-semitic dog whistle. He has deferential things to say about the xenophobic rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump and Theresa May, but “globalist” international political integration is wholly flawed.

Having summed up the book, I’m frustrated with myself. I should’ve quit reading when I first rolled my eyes, but I didn’t. Don’t make my mistake.
87 reviews17 followers
February 18, 2019
Recommended if you’re angry at liberal elites and want to lean into that anger with some anecdotes and an uncomplicated narrative.

Winners Take All tells the story of how a new elite of market-oriented, globe-trotting philanthropists have convinced themselves and the rest of us that they’re acting in our best interests, while in fact they’ve created a broken civil society and hoarded all the wealth and power for themselves.

There's a lot of truth to the story, and I agree with many of the policy views expressed. Unfortunately, a lot of it is highly questionable as well. Winners Take All skips out on building a reasoned argument from evidence, instead choosing to rely on a series of anecdotes, assertions, and arguments against straw men to stir up leftist anti-business sentiment. It's full of Trumpian grievance, declinism, and finger pointing. Its simplistic view of the world falls short of reflecting reality, and ultimately I worry it is more likely to distract us from real solutions than it is to point us in the right direction.

Full review here: https://medium.com/@msiliski/winners-...
Profile Image for Jenn "JR".
444 reviews79 followers
February 18, 2019
Winners Take All (2018)
Anand Giridhardas

People who are making money at the expense of the common good are not ignorant about the effects they are having on the world around them.

Take as an example – the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, built by the widow who was the heir to the fortune of Winchester rifles. She earned something like $10,000/minute without having to do a thing because of the pivotal role that those weapons served in the genocide that took place across the US West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sarah Winchester lived in mortal fear of the horrors being caused by those weapons in mass killings of innocent people across the landscape of a country that promoted “freedom.”

To avoid the wrath of angry spirits of the slain, and perhaps because she lacked the power, being a woman in the 19th century, Sarah Winchester commissioned continual work on her house to confound the spirits. This is instead of halting production of the Winchester rifles and closing down the business. Given the power and authority of women at that time, I imagine if she had tried, she would have been committed to an asylum. She did not NEED the money – so why continue a business that was so contrary to her own values?

We live in a society where people at the top are encouraged to accumulate and hoard money – and then to use that money for power to manipulate laws and create conditions for them to continue to make even more money. This can only result in ever-increasing socio-economic polarization.

“The Winners Take All” is written by someone who was raised in a fairly affluent neighborhood in Cleveland, worked as a consultant and has circulated with social/economic elites most of his life. Our author has an epiphany – as many people do in their mid-30s – and realizes that the philanthropy of the wealthy was not addressing the root causes of the social issues they were trying to resolve. Our intrepid young author makes a speech that shocks all his colleagues. Surfing on this wave of credibility as a “whistle blower,” he rushes publish detailing how the wealthy protect their ability to continue increasing their wealth and how people are co-opted into this system – whether they are entrepreneurs, consultants or thought leaders.

Let’s be clear: the emperor is starkers. This is not news. The elites who are part of the power structure will work to co-opt and de-radicalize people, movements and culture. Most people, if not everyone, knows this – or maybe it’s just my good fortune for having pursued an undergrad degree in sociology.

Based on the wide array of reviews of this book – so much hyperbole such “scathing” and “important” – it seems to me that many people fail to see it as “a good start” on a better book. He’s got a lot of great anecdotal detail from his first-hand experience and his interviews – but it is definitely skewed toward the politically liberal elites. He presents his evidence as a body of case studies of individuals – and leaves out important details about what they might actually do to create real change.

“Economistic thinking dominates our age,” says our author -- this has been pointed out by plenty of other people. Business processes are being seen as the best solution for many other domains where they may not be exactly applicable. His first case study of an idealistic young graduate student being co-opted into such economistic thinking as a means for making positive changes in the world provides a small glimpse into the changing beliefs about such education in our society.

Are schools just a way to train and future workers at all levels of the capitalist machine and indoctrinate them into economistic thinking? As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt discuss in “The Coddling of the American Mind” – schools are becoming less of an environment where young people are exposed to a variety of ideas, taught how to think critically and independently and given space for intellectual experimentation.

Instead, according to Lukianoff & Haidt, schools are becoming more insular and resisting that which is “different” as just flat out harmful or wrong. Is this an outcome of the increasing need for co-optation into MarketWorld or a is MarketWorld a result? There’s much to explore here in the world of secondary and post-secondary education that is unexplored in this chapter.

As a society – we need to revisit what we believe about education and schools: schools aren’t just for training future workers. Increasing socioeconomic polarization and the fear of falling into poverty provides plenty of incentive to conform and make oneself as marketable to MarketWorld as possible.

One of the biggest problems highlighted in this book is the fundamental problem of putting reform of social problems in the hands of wealthy philanthropists. In addition to failing to address/masking the root causes of social problems, allowing the elites to operate in this way increases the power of these elites over the political structure and influence over changing laws to benefit themselves.

He provides a few questions here and there which seem to be straw men and which he doesn’t flesh out or address in depth. “In a world of true gender equality, might not the beauty industry shrink?” Isn’t the beauty industry just a part of the overall problem – what about professional sports, for example? Millionaires playing games (for a limited time until they are literally too physically damaged) for billionaires. I would argue that affects and drives perceptions of masculinity at least as much as the cosmetics and fashion industries affect femininity – are either of these areas so easily taken down buy “true gender equality”?

Giridhardas provides a profile of the Sackler family – founders of Purdue Pharma, the creator of Oxycontin. It’s common knowledge that our nation is in the midst of a national epidemic of, not just opioid abuse, but the incredibly addictive Oxycontin – which was aggressively marketed by Purdue Pharma.

As with my example of Sarah Winchester – the Sackler family doesn’t need more money. So, why not just halt the production of Oxycontin altogether? They must still have some rights to the formula – so why not just halt production? Focus some of their money and attention on resolving the addiction issues and helping promote non-addictive pain management therapies (how many acupuncture clinics do you suppose are in “ground zero” McDowell County?).

Throughout the book, Giridhardas touches on the calls from within and outside the elite to increase taxes on the uber wealthy – but doesn’t dive into any actual proposals and what it might look like for the elites to lead the way to reforming what capitalism means.

An increase taxes on any income over $10MM – say to 70% -- might encourage the reinvestment of the profits into the company in the form of increased wages across all levels of an organization, especially if paired with a value of reducing difference in salary between lowest and highest paid employee of a company to, say, 500:1 (instead of the 2,438:1 at Manpower, for example). An increased tax might also be used to fund other initiatives (such as the proposal by NY Representative Ocasio-Cortez to fund a “Green. New Deal”).

While I appreciate the spirit of the book – it presents a terribly skewed perception of the players as mostly US and liberal – leaving out, for example, the Koch brothers and others, giving the impression that maybe they are somehow golden geese (what about the philanthropy of the Gates foundation, for example)? Giridhardas leaves out analysis of the broader global issues (and makes a few snipes toward globalization) and ignores recommendations for solutions entirely.

Giridhardas doesn’t even come close to recommending any such ameliorative strategies for people whose incomes are derived from socially destructive activities. In fact, in his wrap-up, he seems to leave the door wide open for any other alternative, good or bad:

“For the inescapable answer to the overwhelming question – Where do we go from here? – is: somewhere other than where we have been going, led by people other than the people who have been leading us.”

Perhaps the elites are malicious and intentionally manipulating perception through philanthropy – or perhaps philanthropy is just a “Winchester Mystery House” being pursued by people who don’t know how to undo the damage being caused by their addiction to capitalism and the unending drive to hoard wealth. What we need – as much as the criticism and “emperor has no clothes” kinds of reportage in “Winners Take All” – is an escape from this system for the elites and a way to rethink our values around society and wealth.

For more reviews of this book – check out
Black Oxford’s review of this book from a broader intellectual and moral perspective.
Michael Siliski’s review dives into the proposals as well as other defects of the book
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews315 followers
December 9, 2019
I listened to the audiobook and I wouldn't recommend doing that 🙁
I also feel like this was the script of a documentary or something, maybe this is bc I haven't read many books like this and it's been a long time since I've done that but this felt exceptionally dry!
Still it offered some good points to consider.
I don't think I'll ever read this if I don't do it now amidst the biggest corruption trial in my country.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
429 reviews1,358 followers
September 12, 2020
Winners Take All is a challenging book. It forces an unpacking of assumptions about money and opportunity, and leads one to grapple with seemingly insoluble questions about how we create an equitable society when massive amounts of wealth are locked up by the super rich. The answers are not all here, but the questions are, and it's a powerful exercise in the evaluation of priorities.

The primary concept on trial is the win-win: the notion that philanthropists and entrepreneurs can achieve enough social good to justify their disproportionate retention of resources. That making money can be simultaneously making a better world. Anand Giridharadas suggests that bright, young, well-meaning McKinsey and Goldman Sachs consultants are lured in by the promise of skill-building and social good, while in reality they only effect the veneer of change, and serve primarily to strengthen existing power structures. The rich love to talk about meritorious giving and non-governmental initiatives for this-or-that cause, but what makes them the appropriate decision makers about where that money is best allocated? How much should we thank them for disbursing pennies-on-the-dollar of fortunes they shouldn't have had in the first place? The super rich have seen their fortunes rise seven-fold in recent decades, while the middle class has barely budged single percentage points in earning power. All of this has coincided with massive increases in productivity: the spoils of which all go to those at the top. Giridharadas points to forums such as Davos, or the much-vaunted TED talks, in which safe presentations must present positive, non-threatening, non-accusative opportunities to help, yet never point the finger at perpetrators or criticize the system itself. Giridharadas knows this first-hand, because he has lived in and navigated that world of influence and paid speaking gigs.

These are evergreen questions, but feel especially pressing now. Democratic candidates are sparring over these exact issues. Can we make improvements to our existing system, or do we need a revolution? Winners Take All has a definite viewpoint, if not a clear solution, and provides powerful food for thought.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 19 books69 followers
March 17, 2020
So this is what passes as insight and erudition. That so called thought leaders are really being co-opted by the folks in the corporate world who write their checks.


That all these rich folks are actually engaged in a grand Shakespearean play with themselves as the heroes.


My response is welcome to the human experience.

A book’s falseness is always on display when the work continues to make assertions and never backs them up with numbers.

‘The rich don’t pay enough in taxes’
Fact: those in the top 1/10 of one percent pay 24% of all federal taxes, those making over 130k pay 85% of all taxes. I guess it depends on what enough means.

‘Income inequality is bad, real bad’

This argument must stem from people’s innumeracy. If one person makes an extra ten percent his million dollar salary and another man makes the same ten percent more on his 50k salary, inequality has increased, but so what?

The 50k man is not poorer just bc someone else gained more actual money. The million dollar salary didn’t take money that rightfully should have gone to the other man.

‘Workers are far more productive than 50 years ago but they haven’t seen much wage gain’

That’s bc the worker isn’t responsible for his increase in productivity. The investments of others have increased his productivity.
Example: 50 years ago a guy working at Hertz had a tough job, tons of records kept, meticulous data entry, understanding of some legalities, and reasonable customer service. With all that let’s say he could service/intake10 vehicles an hour.
Today, a much less skilled fellow need only pass his iPad over the car’s barcode and all the relevant info is immediately downloaded and saved, No record keeping, no data entry, no skill set. And yet this guy can service 100 cars an hour. That’s a massive increase in productivity, but in no way is it bc the worker has gotten better, faster, or smarter.

The next subject in the author’s gunsight is Airbnb and Uber. First, he paints these companies as if they’re some harbinger of the great corporate Apocalypse. They’re not. They’re simply companies that allow people to use their car or house to make some extra money. In other words, it’s not war and peace here.
Additionally, what the author omits with all his caterwauling about the evils of these companies is that people choose to work for them. If they don’t like these jobs they can leave. The author can never get his head around simple economic liberty and always defaults to some late night college bull session over vast extrapolations across class, populations and time.

Finally, his criticism of the thought leaders is facile and sophomoric. Though on the surface he has an obvious point. The Davos crowd pays for Tedtalkers and other court jesters to tell them what they want to hear.

He uses Amy Cuddy as an example. First off, who the hell is Amy Cuddy and what makes her a thought leader? Oh, she writes about sexism and how posturing can convey dominance. The author does mention that her science linking dominance to hormones was debunked but he only goes far as to criticize her for molding her message to the elites. What’s he’s missing is something far deeper.
The whole edifice of social science scholarship is a canard. Over 70% of scholarly writings in this area have been shown to be false - or unable to be duplicated- and much of what can be duplicated shows effects far smaller than what was written. Sure Cuddy needs a pay check so she tells the elite they’re saviors, but deeper is her whole palaver on racism, sexism, and diversity is itself a con, ginned up by politicians and the academic industrial complex to guarantee THEIR salaries. No one in any appreciable numbers is being systemically barred from American society.
The author’s attempts to paint America thusly just point to the falseness of his argument. Look, here’s the guy talking on sexism who in order to endear himself to his tough corporate audience tells how he’s guilty of sexism too. How, you ask, well he once bought his wife a Princess mug! Oh my, draw and quarter the man!

Or raises a handful of anecdotes of blacks being denied Airbnb accommodations. This from a company that books up to one million rentals a night.

Or the women who works her way from waitress to corporate doyenne but feels the need to apologize bc her waitressing was at Hooters, oh the sexism, or that she now does corporate for Cinnabon, which in the author’s words, harms people. No, people aren’t harmed by eating a Cinnabon. People are harmed by eating 1,200 Cinnabon’s, but again, that’s liberty for you.

The author’s prescription is vague. Like with the Cinnabon’s, what does he propose that we stop people from eating tasty treats? Mostly, he wants rich people to give more to the govt in taxes, and yet he never mentions any concrete policies that those taxes would go to.

Fact: in 1965 LBJ ushered in the Great Society with the war on poverty and the creation of of the modern welfare state. 55 years later the poverty rate has cycled from around 12-14%. Are we supposed to believe after several trillions of those wealthy people’s dollars the solution the govt hasn’t found is just around the corner?

Spare me this drivel.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,213 reviews551 followers
December 5, 2019
I almost gave it 2 stars, but thought that some points, chapters deserved more. Not all of them.

This author is comparable to a professor lecturing about dozens and dozens of aspects to the economy without personally knowing any of the practical applications that comprise them. Kind of like (not an exact analogy) telling you about all aspects of automobile assembly without once being on a chassis drop or door "line".

He makes some points well but he himself is way too embedded in the exact "group think" that he evaluates, IMHO. He makes some aspects way too pivotal while discounting other cultural and societal patterns as nearly nil inputs. And all are groomed within the clothing of high philosophy or economics "expert" nomenclature quoting. Theory, generalizations reign. It certainly is a charade that has occurred. But this is way, way too erudite and precious for the majority of real business processes or outcomes in the real world to be core to the crux as it certainly is. He gives a optimal huge role to governments as all "learned" do. Surprise, surprise!

He nearly omits the emotional baggage that elites dump on the physical or process or transport or 1000 other kinds of workers. And proletariat reaction to that superiority arrogance too within the decades of this "know better" charade. He also picks and chooses past politico in a weird and to me, slanted to the real world results of each method. Beyond that, it's way, way too long- despite making an end observation that is probably close to a truth. The elites certainly have put themselves primarily, before all else, in a savior "role" which cements their own worth, power, influence FIRST.

It's not a book I would recommend.
Profile Image for Jason Furman.
1,167 reviews764 followers
October 17, 2019
I am very glad that “Winners Take All” was written and that it is being widely read in precisely the circles that need to read it. I could see it actually making the world a better place. A lot of the reportage is excellent, in many ways looking from multiple perspectives, being as sympathetic as possible, and by virtue of that sympathy its criticisms are that much more biting and compelling. The weakness of the book, however, is the superficiality of its underlying analysis of the economy and politics. But that is much less important than its strengths and those strengths and very strong.

The target of “Winners Take All” is the “doing good by doing well” crowd. The people that populate the Aspen Ideas Festival (full disclosure, I go pretty much annually), flying out in private planes, talking about their minor initiatives that may by themselves do a small amount of good but leave the system itself intact.

It is easy to satirize this set but Anand Giridharadas doesn’t just do that. He conveys sympathy for their desire to change the world. His targets are less the people that populate the book than the system that puts them there and that they themselves reinforce.

Giridharadas’ argument is that all of the “doing good by doing well” efforts aren’t just harmless and slightly annoying, but profoundly harmful. They undermine the notion of democracy and collective governance. Instead of the government collecting taxes and democratically deciding what to do with them, plutocrats decide how much of their money to give and what to give it to. Giridharadas argues that these efforts can reinforce the bad aspects of the current system by allowing corporations and individuals to effectively whitewash their rent seeking and bad actions and argue they don’t need regulation because they’re busily making the world a better place.

To the degree that Giridharadas is portraying people who—for example—oppose the taxes needed to fund the types of issues they agree need more funding, I’m sympathetic to his perspective.

But I’m also much more sympathetic to capitalism than Giridharadas is and in some ways I find his views confused. Many of the CEOs that show up at the Aspen Ideas Festival touting their minor initiatives to train the disadvantaged are actually not talking about the biggest good they do in the world which is innovating in the core businesses, increasing productivity and wages, making products consumers want, and the like.

If that innovation is in the form of, for example, making better cigarettes or marketing them better that will make the world a worse place. But most of it isn’t and when it is the answer is regulation and taxes so that when businesses are maximizing their profits they are doing it in a way that increases social welfare. Giridharadas powerfully advocates for the stronger regulations and taxes, but still somehow often finds himself drawn into the argument that the solution is corporations being more communally oriented, caring more about the public good, and the like—without recognizing that this is an unrealistic basis to build a better society on and lends itself to precisely the “elite charade” that he is criticizing. Better corporations that are honest, saying all they care about is profits, so that it will be clearer that we need to set the rules so that their profit maximization is socially beneficial.

Often the solution is more market not less. The denizens of what Giridharadas calls “Marketworld” are themselves often unsympathetic to the market. Business leaders don’t love competition and run large centrally planned organizations. They can see this lack of competition and central planning as a model for society more broadly. The solution is not more planning but less, with greater competition within well-defined rules leading to the types of innovation we should want. We should be calling the “Marketworlders” on their bluff.

The question is whether all the superficial world changing stuff that I also find annoying suppresses these types of public policies. Some efforts at self governance, self regulation, and self donation are substitutes for collective action and, as a result, share Giridharadas’ concern about these. But I don’t think he does enough to grant the many ways that private action can complement the types of public action he supports. For example the business community doesn’t say it is sufficient for them all to use green lightbulbs but also is reasonably decent at advocating carbon taxes and supporting the Paris Agreement.

This point is indicative of some of the limitations of Giridharadas’ political theories. He depicts a world of a monolithic all powerful elite that wants to stamp out all use of the word “inequality” because it views it as threatening its own power and prerogatives. But the elite is not monolithic, in fact many of them actively support different sides of the debate, including many that actively support higher taxes on themselves. Nor is the elite all powerful, just witness Donald Trump getting the Republican nomination against the entire elite of the Republican Party and then winning the election. The elite wants all sorts of things, like immigration reform, that seem to never happen. Finally, it is not like the “people” are completely innocent. In Giridharadas’ telling, the elite are offended by talk of inequality and instead want to hear euphemisms like expanded opportunity. But much of the public has exactly the same preferences around framing nd is less excited about the term and concept of inequality than I personally am or think they should be

All of these arguments and quibbles, however, pale in comparison to the fact that the book aims at broadly the right target, hits it squarely, and might actually accomplish something in the process. There really is a bit too much of an “elite charade of changing the world”. And not enough actual engaging with the public policies that are needed to change the world. Giridharadas has written a compelling book that just might help to change that.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews618 followers
December 28, 2018
I enjoyed reading about this topic in the New Yorker and am sympathetic to the author's view of things. But the beginning of this book was so relentlessly repetitious that I couldn't carry on reading it. I felt that it went beyond "not my taste" to "where is your editor?".
Profile Image for Ryan.
252 reviews49 followers
April 24, 2022
With the exception of the "The Critic and the Thought Leader", which was interesting, (and recommended by Andy) this book is an absolutely abysmal failure. In no uncertain terms.

This is not because the ultra-wealthy don't deserve critique. But because of how badly Anand Giridharadas misses his trio of targets: taking the 'globe-trotting plutocrats' to task, cogently arguing his points in an approachable way, and offering viable alternatives to his so-called 'MarketWorld'. One which is created by, ironically, those who believe in 'doing good by doing well'. He utterly bungles this entirely.

In fact, this is so blatantly the case, that it's not even necessary to get technical. And that only seems fair, because Giridharadas decides not to also. He offers essentially 0% of statistics, technical data, or credible studies of any kind back up his claims. Instead, he offers a totally anecdotal case by taking the reader on an endless slog of gossipy snipes at his peers—which, is amusingly bitchy in a 'I'm not laughing with you, I'm laughing at you kind of way'.

But strangely enough, this a key detail is conveniently omitted in his gossipy 'thinkpiece': he is a well-established member of the very same well-heeled class and prestigious social circle he positions himself to heroically stand apart from as an outsider.

His approximated net worth alone is—at least for a journalist—indicative of this. But how could the reader be blamed for this? When, after all that righteous prose, one finds not some damning news article of him, but Giridharadas himself openly admitting it. For him to be bold enough to completely omit arguing anything of substance, *and* to not be completely upfront about who he is and where he's from—as it is directly applicable to his entire book—is clearly not a mistake, but blatant intellectual dishonesty.

This omission is crucially important, since he is making these kinds of criticisms as if he is an outsider. When in reality, he is part of the same club . And any reader could be easily forgiven for not knowing he is in fact, an insider, even after reading the whole book, and that is because he only offers this in the 'Acknowledgments, at the very end. The Acknowledgements! Who does that? Never has a single book I've ever read chose to withhold such key information until even after the end.

But by all means, do not take my word for it. As he is a former employee of McKinsey & Company, Fellow at the Aspen Institute, multiple TED-talks-giver, and is very much a critic within the 'Blue Team' variety through his frequent appearances on MSNBC and other mainstream media outlets. (I.e., 'reliably' liberal on the 'right' things, which also happen to align well with the corporate bottom-line of these companies he gets paid to be a talking-head on.) There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this—indeed, I'm happy for his success—but to not disclose it at the outset is disingenuous, even if he supposedly didn't do so so the book 'wouldn't be about him', which is his own flimsy justification. And after reading it, instead of the 'hard-hitting' journalism he probably feels he was conducting, it just feels more like he's bitching about his peers. Had he disclosed this early on in a productive way, it could have made his argument stronger, rather than undercut it.

Nowhere, for instance, is there a clear search for the actual, concrete good or bad impacts from these myriad of initiatives by the affluent to help the world. That would have frankly been fascinating, especially if accompanied by actual analysis and relevant data. And the endlessly, tiresome sarcastic tone—I listened to the audiobook, unfortunately, and his poorly hidden contempt is obvious—and self-righteous energy makes it easy to dismiss him as just another potential MSNBC segment waiting to happen. And not only is there a lack of things to help his case, but he even says things that hurt it.

For instance, in John Devlin's review—which is phenomenal, by the way—he points out that Giridharadas gripes about how 'The Rich don't pay enough in taxes' and then Devlin responds with:

Fact: those in the top 1/10 of one percent pay 24% of all federal taxes, those making over 130k pay 85% of all taxes. I guess it depends on what enough means.

This is a compelling argument that the wealthy pay quite a lot of taxes, and it would be fine to argue that they don't, but that would require the author to ascend from the murky depths of ambiguity and passive-aggressive calls to rehaul everything everywhere, and actually make a specific, targeted argument somewhere. Devlin also highlights the flaw in his complaint about income inquality:
‘Income inequality is bad, real bad’

This argument must stem from people’s innumeracy. If one person makes an extra ten percent his million dollar salary and another man makes the same ten percent more on his 50k salary, inequality has increased, but so what?

The 50k man is not poorer just bc someone else gained more actual money. The million dollar salary didn’t take money that rightfully should have gone to the other man.

‘Workers are far more productive than 50 years ago but they haven’t seen much wage gain’

That’s bc the worker isn’t responsible for his increase in productivity. The investments of others have increased his productivity.

Example: 50 years ago a guy working at Hertz had a tough job, tons of records kept, meticulous data entry, understanding of some legalities, and reasonable customer service. With all that let’s say he could service/intake10 vehicles an hour.

Today, a much less skilled fellow need only pass his iPad over the car’s barcode and all the relevant info is immediately downloaded and saved, No record keeping, no data entry, no skill set. And yet this guy can service 100 cars an hour. That’s a massive increase in productivity, but in no way is it bc the worker has gotten better, faster, or smarter.

This isn't to say that the author couldn't have argued otherwise, he just needed to argue something, rather than just preaching to the Blue Team choir. He could have done this by arguing what I feel his underlying bias is, which is that essentially some sort of hardcore socialism or communism is the way to go, in which 'value' is said to be not relative to supply and demand, but objectively created by the worker and is taken away by the 'Capitalist Class', etcetera, etcetera. But what is frustrating is that he neither goes full Karl Marx, nor does he argue for a more moderate, or even liberal solution! He simply says at the end that—and they aren't even his words, but of the political science professor Chiara Cordelli—"[Cordelli] is offering what MarketWorlders so adore: a solution. The solution is to return, against their instincts and even perhaps against their interests, to politics as the place we go to shape the world”. That would seem to ostensibly mean they should be stripped of all power and assets and there should then be Bernie Sanders style redistribution. But the way he wrote it means it could mean anything, and it is that I feel deserves emphatic condemnation.

Also, for a book about supposed inequality, he does his argument a gargantuan disservice by not attempting to make the strongest case possible. Not only does he not do this, but he appears to be making no case at all in service of his arguments. Yes, he quotes people saying a lot of things about how apparently everyone who wants to make money is evil and apparently enslaving the whole world—all the while not even bothering to mention certain elites who frankly don't give a damn; he seems content to share his critiques to his fellow liberals, which I found totally bizarre—but if one takes all the anecdotes away, all the cute autobiographical info about do-gooder entrepreneurial cruise ship parties; all the quotes (or as he irksomely refers to it as, "reportage") and the woah-is-me-how-horribly-unjust-these-hypocrites-are—what is the book even left with?

I frankly can't see anything but some incredibly modest statements and lack of a full-bodied argument; the fact that he is a well-off 'winner'—oh, and he frequently refers to many as 'winners' and 'losers', even though he claims this view is wrong; maybe he believes in it, deep down, because he does it a lot; and that if there is going to be someone, anyone who writes a book the public can rely on, and whose job it will be to effectively take the ultra affluent to task; and propose a way for a more equitable system—one can safely conclude that it will not be Giridharadas.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books344 followers
April 24, 2020
on point synopsis by Masha Gessen from The New Yorker....

Anand Giridharadas takes on the ethos of “doing good by doing well”: the feel-good ideology that enables people who think of themselves as good, principled, politically aware, and even woke to contribute to—and benefit from—ever-increasing inequality. Giridharadas’s characters are McKinsey consultants who believe that they are changing the world for the better, academics who have traded thinking for reductive and lucrative “thought leadership,” and more than a few outright charlatans who speak the familiar language of “change agents.” In lucid and witty prose, Giridharadas exposes the magical-thinking nature of win-win solutions—one of his characters, he notes, was “hoping to "Sheryl Sandberg" her way to a Simone de Beauvoir–acceptable world.”

He identifies the method that allows the very wealthy to think of themselves as part of the solution, but never the problem: focus on the victim, not the perpetrator. He hones in on the style of this talk as well: the powerful speak as though they were powerless, as when “disruptive” companies such as Uber or AirBnB appeal to the public to help them fight the bureaucracy, effectively enlisting ordinary people in helping them avoid paying taxes or a living wage.

The result is a world view devoid of causality, as though poverty had nothing to do with wealth, powerlessness had no relationship to power, and the rich and powerful could alleviate the suffering of others through strategic intervention, while continuing to accumulate riches and power. Giridharadas calls this “MarketWorld.” We are all living in this world, but a few of us are living a lot better than most.


As my educator son observes: it's easier for these people and entities to make a tax-deductible donation to "education" than to accept tax increases that would have more effective and widespread benefits.


Let's take a look at how Bill Gates does it, shall we?

Profile Image for Andy.
1,350 reviews462 followers
November 7, 2019
The first page packed a punch but the rest failed to deliver.
At one point the author writes in reference to the people he is questioning that he does not "doubt their intentions or results." This is the problem with the book for me. All the way after the end in the acknowledgment section (who puts important content there!?) he tells us that he is one of these insiders he is supposedly "skewering."
What matters in these or other "change the world" schemes is what works, but we never really get to that. Hence, the challenge to the assorted characters remains at a hypothetical, philosophical level.
The author seems like the Parisian mothers who stormed Versailles before the French Revolution thinking that if they just told the king that his people were starving that he would give them bread. Guess what. The king knows the people are starving. Helping tobacco heiresses, corporate hacks, bankers and politicians to get over their extreme cognitive dissonance is not the issue.
If the solution is to make system changes like reinstating Glass-Steagall, as the author suggests, then it would have been good to read more about who are the authentic "thought leaders" trying to do that and how do we help them make that happen.
More narrowly it would have been good to compare/contrast effective vs. ineffective NGOs, ideas, and policies. By not critically examining results, this becomes impossible and leaves a sort of nihilistic vibe that there is just a lot of hogwash out there. Are Brené Brown and her ilk big phonies? Sure, but they are easy targets—the court jesters, not the “elite” ruling the world. Bill Clinton on the other hand gets a pass for the success of his whole ‘third way’ politics, which becomes the rationalization for all the subsequent market-driven "world changing" even though it’s all a myth. Clinton would never have become President if Ross Perot hadn’t run as a 3rd party candidate sucking off votes on the right. So the whole neoliberal thing was not what won.
If you interview people and don’t reality-check what they say, you just spin around in nonsense. The author’s main solution for fixing the world seems to be that these secret conclaves of neoliberal jackasses should include more European philosophy professors who might disagree with them. I don’t think so. Again, using the author’s example of common sense banking regulations from the New Deal; did those come from Citibank-sponsored conferences? I don’t think so.
3* vs. 1* because it is sordidly interesting to see close up and personal how twisted some of our so-called leaders are.
Profile Image for Graeme Newell.
173 reviews44 followers
September 21, 2019
It’s always exciting for me to find a book that really overturns my worldview and makes me uncomfortable. While I didn’t agree with everything in this book, Giridharadas did a fantastic job of challenging my beliefs about altruistic giving by corporations and foundations. This book was disconcerting, but it made me step back and think in new ways. Using well-researched, fascinating case studies he uncovers the darker side of the world of corporate altruism and philanthropy.

I’ve spent most of my career working amongst the monied class. I’ve had a front-row seat at the corporate table and have been a participant in the creation of many marketing campaigns similar to the ones Giridharadas profiles in the book. These efforts are done by good people with the best of motives. They are genuinely excited to have an opportunity to do something that uplifts the world. But there has often been a nagging doubt in my mind: are these campaigns just a self-congratulatory gesture to assuage the guilt that people feel for the darker tactics of running a global business?

Giridharadas skillfully dissects some of the most admired corporate altruism stories of our time. For example:
-Uber uplifting independent drivers to overthrow the taxi monopoly.
-The huge multinationals participating in the Clinton Global Initiative to bring prosperity to the poor of the world.
-The celebrated philanthropists giving away their billions to solve devastating intractable global problems.

The author did a deep dive into these types of stories and found that many of the participants had followed the playbook of robber barons of the 19th century: J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller. Do dishonorable things to make your fortune, but then purge your conscience with over-the-top giving back.

The bottom line for these companies is the feeling that global competition simply does not permit altruistic thinking. If you’re compassionate with your employees, suppliers and customers, someone more ruthless will gain an advantage and run you out of business. The thinking: it’s unfortunate, but anyone doing great good must do shady things to assure success.

Giridharadas lays bare the denial and compartmentalization that allows all of us to justify our own less-than-honorable behavior. He reveals the mechanics of the complicated rationality that has an honored thought leader for minority rights serving on the board of Pepsico, and one of the facilitators of the Oxycontin drug epidemic being one of the most admired philanthropists of our generation.

There are no easy answers here. The global economy has uplifted millions of people all over the world. 30 years of relentless global growth has freed 750 million Chinese from poverty and starvation. Giridharadas shows us the darker side of this phenomenon and illuminates a new generation of very intractable problems we’ll need to solve.

This book is unsettling, but it will really gets you thinking. I felt that Giridharadas’s arguments sometimes lacked pragmatism. He’s quick to blame and scathing in his criticism at times. However, I applaud him for penning such a smart analysis of how a one-world economy will require a hard evaluation of our moral priorities.
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