Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

by Anand Giridharadas

Paperback, 2019


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.… (more)



Call number



Vintage (2019), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages


User reviews

LibraryThing member froxgirl
The truth cascades from each page: the "WorldMarket" global elites - Clintons, TED people, social media CEOS, etc - all believe that they can be great philanthropists while denying the need for the rigged system to be overthrown. You can coax big bucks out of them by exhorting them to donate to a
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hospital in Uganda, but be sure to avoid reminding them that exploitation by Big Pharma is why medicine is unaffordable throughout the world. The author takes us back to Reagan's pronouncements about government being the problem, and reminds us that every administration since has allowed corporations to drive (or stall) any attempts at improving lives, including the destruction of unions, if there is going to be even the smallest impact on their bottom lines. Brilliantly told, with examples of well-meaning "thought leaders" who sold out and are laughing all the way to the banks and to Davos.
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LibraryThing member banjo123
In this book, Giridharadas quotes Audre Lorde "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." Which pretty well sums up his point, which is that philanthropy and social change that is led by business elites has a natural bias towards continuing the systems that allow those elites to
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flourish. I had heard Giridharadas speak on the radio, and was intrigued by his thoughtfulness. I am glad to have read this book, as it gave me lots to think about. One interesting coincidence was that at work, and also my real life book group just listened to Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability. I liked the talk, but Giridharadas points out that Brown's analysis of shame and vulnerability doesn't include any of the external factors (crime, racism, poverty) that lead some people to have more feelings of shame and inadequacy than others.

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

One thing that I think would have helped the book would have been if Giridharadas had included more of his personal story. In the afterward, he explains that he had originally been a part of the group that believes in market forces creating change, and gradually changed his mind. He has friendships and relationships with a lot of the people and institutions that he critiques. He left that out until the end, but I think that a book of narrative non-fiction that included his changing perspective could have been more powerful.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
About once a year I read a book that makes me uncomfortable, but also crystallizes the cloudy misgivings I’ve had,
yet couldn’t figure out how to explain. Last year that book was An American Sickness. This time it is Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. He takes on the unscrupulous business
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practices of tech firms but also the problem of using mckinsey consultants for NGO-type work. As expected he skewers the Sacklers, yet also devotes a chapter to criticism of Clinton’s Third Way and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Im going to steal from the synopsis on the front flap:
“Giridharadas asks hard questions: Should the world’s gravest problems be solved by unelected elites rather than the public institutions they erode by lobbying and dodging taxes? How do those who commit injustice — like the family who helped seed the opioid crisis — use generosity to cover it up?
Giridharadas portrays these elite revolutionaries with sympathy and critique. They cling to a sincere if dubious belief that what’s best for humanity happens to be what’s best for them. But beneath their self-assurance, many confess festering doubts about their complicity in an unjust order. The reporting leads Giridharadas to the the conclusion that we need a change in how we seek change...Rather than rely on scraps from winners we must create more robust egalitarian institutions. Rather than trust solutions from the top down, we must take on the grueling democratic work of truly changing the world from the bottom up.”
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
No idea what point the book is trying to make. It's a criticism of rich people acting in their self-interest (what a shocker). I don't really disagree with anything written I just don't think I learned anything or read any novel ideas that made me think.
LibraryThing member GShuk
Thought provoking look at how businesses win win works in relations to profit and helping others.
LibraryThing member willszal
“Winners Take All” could be the most important book I’ve read in the past year. Written by a self-defined “insider/outsider,” it is radical enough to provoke real discussion, but palatable enough to be readable by the quarries of Giridharadas. It is also superbly written, retelling a
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series of personal stories and decision points.

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

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

Why is it that we believe business leaders would be good at everything else (placing them on the boards of NGOs and art institutes)? Why is it that we let the wealthy have decisions making (allowing them to decide where they give away the money they steward)? What if the value of money is derived from a public, from a society? What if wealth is collectively generated? What if the skills required to make money are different from those required to give it away productively? Maybe there’s a conflict of interest in letting the owning class solve the problems they’ve created. These are the questions Giridharadas leaves us with.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Powerful condemnation of TED-talk activism that promises salvation for the poor without requiring the rich to do anything other than open their pocketbooks. Neoliberal reformers comfort the afflicted but don’t afflict the comforted; they tell the rich to give back, not to take less; to do more
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good, but not to do less harm. These failed chiasmuses have real consequences, because it turns out you can’t actually do a lot of big things without government and laws as tools in the progressive arsenal. For products, for example, this ideology means certifying good instead of regulating bad, but if you don’t regulate bad, it may stay cheaper (because it is effectively subsidized by the regulatory system) and its proponents may be better at advertising. Thought leaders may have progressive ideals but present them softly, and the listeners don’t pick up on the subtle message of critique because they don’t have reason to do so. Depressing but convincing.
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LibraryThing member hskey
A scathing indictment of the insane financial system our world seems to be at the mercy of. Giridharadas is a compelling author, this is meticulously researched and professionally argued. It's hard not to get angrier with each page and I know if a non-fiction book/movie/show gets me really angry,
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it's almost always because the product is good and the cause is just. It's surprising to me how thin skinned the elite are - they can't possibly swallow the fact that the way they made their money is immoral, the amount of money they have is immoral and that simply taxing them more and doing less harm would reduce much of the world's problems, instead of "side-hustle" B Corporation projects about "helping" people. Great book.
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LibraryThing member jonerthon
I read most of this title on a substitute flight from San Francisco after my original one was cancelled, so I was in an uncomfortable seat and trying to zone out. I say this because it was an apt setting, as the very frequent flyer next to me flirted with the flight attendant and they each tried to
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one-up the other in their respective knowledge of the American Airlines fleet. The premise is that we have no good reason to assume that the most wealthy in our society should have taken charge of all that they do, too often try to use philanthropy as a substitute for real problem solving, and aren't even very skilled at what they rule over. And the fact that this small group has largely segregated themselves from the rest of us is a corollary, enforcing further his main point. If you want the public sector to be strengthened and reclaim its work that has been contracted out, Giridharadas has the ideas for you.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
Successful business people often like to use the phrase “doing well by doing good”. Whether they are designing new apps and software that create a new market and so increasing the size of the pie (think Uber and Airbnb), or supporting philanthropic work, the author argues that the financial
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elites are able to look good without truly doing well by society.

He gives the example of those paying very low wages to their workers and denying them health benefits, but donating very large amounts to medical projects such as a new hospital wing or clean water in Africa.

He differentiates between critics whose demands for change tend to make business leaders shut down and ‘thought leaders’ who advocate small changes withing the system that make no fundamental changes – ie teaching women to use more assertive body language while speaking to men.

He also tackles globalization, which creates businesses without local taxes to support education, infrastructure and hospitals within a community.

This was a selection for my Real Life Book Club, and it gave lots of food for thought and great discussion. Not an easy read in such a politically divided time, but it definitely expanded the way I view many current topics.

” Talking about the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and using philanthropic solutions rather than political solutions: “One could forget, watching such a civilized group, that traditional politics is argumentative for a reason. It isn’t that politicians don’t know how to be nice, but rather that politics is rooted in the idea of a big, motley people taking their fate into their own hands. Politics is the inherently messy busines of negotiating and reconciling incompatible interests and coming up with a decent plan, designed to be liked but difficult to love. It solves problems in a context in which everyone is invited to the table and everyone is equal and everyone has the right to complain about being unserved and unseen. Politics, in bringing together people of divergent interests, necessarily puts sacrifice on the table. It is easier to conjure win-wins in forums like this one, where everyone is a winner. The consensus was a reminder of all the kinds of people and perspectives that had not been invited in. “ p220
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LibraryThing member AKBouterse
Loved this book. This has been a topic I've been very interested in. I feel like for the last few years, I have been reading and listening to things that help to give me tools to describe why Silicon Valley makes me very uncomfortable and why I don't think it should be a model for the rest of
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society. This book goes a lot broader than that and I loved everything it covered. I loved it as a sociology major but I would recommend it for anyone.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This book was a real eye-opener for me. It helped me to understand why I was always vaguely uncomfortable with elites helping the disadvantaged. It is because they are offering the equivalent of "band-aid" solutions without addressing the underlying causes of inequality, poverty or discrimination.
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They are, in effect, protecting the status quo and their privileged position within it.

The other insight I gained was that when powerful, market-based elites step in, they are crowding government out. They want to avoid regulations that could hurt their businesses, so they provide "solutions" such as apps to average out fluctuating wages hoping to avoid labour laws that would provide employees with more stable hours of work. Governments are accountable to citizens; corporations are not. As a society, we need to work through our democratic institutions, not undermine them.

As the author points out, not every philanthropist is evil; they may not think too hard about what they are doing. In their minds, they work hard. They donate millions. They are good people. Sadly, I fear, this will only make bringing about change more difficult. But not impossible.

A critically important book! Well written in an engaging style.
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Original publication date



110197267X / 9781101972670
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