2018, Books, Non-Fiction

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (2018) by Anand Giridharadas

This is a passionate, almost incendiary at times, argument that rich people who claim to want to improve the world cannot do it, based, interestingly, in part on interviews with a few of those rich people. I think it’s really worth reading, even if I think it could be better argued and though I do not agree with everything he says.

I think this is a necessary and mostly thoughtful critique of the idea that rich people can be trusted to change a system that made them rich (or made their parents or grandparents rich). I appreciate the interviews with some of these people, as you get the read the justifications from the horses’ mouths. You get a good idea of the bubbles they live in, if you don’t already know about how people can talk themselves into anything, especially when it makes them feel good.

I like how he does acknowledge, if only on occasion, that some of these initiatives have actually helped people. It would be a lot easier to critique them if they didn’t and the world would likely be a different place. It’s important to acknowledge why these things are appealing to people motivated to help others, to change things for the better.

I wish the book could have a little more data. I think some statistics about inequality, poverty, and the like, paired with statistics highlighting the richest initiatives might help make the point better. Instead, it’s mostly populism that he treats as the explanation that there is something wrong. I do think this is part of the reason for the rise of populism (if that can be said to be happening) and part of the reason why people like Trump have some political success, but I still think it would be good to quantify the critique.

I also think his shorthands can be a little too short and a little wanting in explanatory power. This is especially true in his chapter on the so-called “protocols” which he lazily uses to explain why this stuff won’t work well enough. I really could use more analysis here, explaining why and how these consultants fail to actually change things. More concrete examples of these ideas in action would be useful.

But I admire the passion behind the book and I admire that he has come to Jesus and really doesn’t seem to have backed off. I think it’s important to read the acknowledgements of this book – usually it’s not – to get more perspective on this. If only more people like him actually realized the truth of what he is saying here.


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