Review – Winners Take All

After initially reviewing Winners in my last reading wrap-up, I picked up the book again and finished it — a decision that I feel very much rewarded for making.

winnersWinners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas (Knopf 2018)

On its face, Winners is a familiar screed of late against shareholder-first capitalism, growing concentration and power of monopolistic corporations, and the increasing inequality that’s resulted from the aforementioned changes, as shareholder- or private equity-driven cost-cutting and concurrent globalization of labor have kept workingclass wages low, while simultaneously reducing the number of stable, well-paying middle class jobs and associated pension plans and other fringe benefits that have helped families build wealth and traverse socioeconomic classes.

If the book simply ended there, it would be mostly forgettable. However, Giridharadas chooses to take his critique much further by indicating an unfamiliar cast of villains traditionally cast as the “good guys:” the impact investors, socially-conscious capitalists, glad-handing philantropists, inspirational thought leaders, and well-meaning, if not sheltered and misguided “elite.”

Through a series of chapters, Giridharadas develops his concept “Marketworld,” another name for the capitalist-first worldview driven by the continued rise of the United States its collection of private industries and industrialists as superior and oftentimes sole drivers of solutions to “public” problems, traditionally tackled by the public sector.

Marketworld is driven by “win-win” solutions, or suboptimal outcomes designed to retain the supremacy (power/wealth) in the hands of the elite, who have anointed themselves the necessary saviors to seek out and implement these initiatives, given their relevant private sector experience in the elite proving grounds of consulting, banking, and private equity before oftentimes transitioning into Non-profit Consulting (e.g., Bridgespan, Redstone) and philanthropic foundations (e.g., Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Soros’ Open Society Foundations).

As I see it, the crux of Giridharadas’ solution is driven by higher taxation, a “win-lose” for the upper-earners and wealthy accustomed to apportioning their income as they see fit, as opposed to surrendering it to the government. Underpinning this solution is the need for a rapprochement between private individuals (especially the wealthy) and government, the reestablishment of a trust in the concept and execution of government as a voice and advocate for all of its citizens.

Giridharadas’ assessment as government as a “dirty word” is a correct one, I believe, though not a baseless one, supported by countless examples of graft, nepotism, and inefficiencies across all levels of government, as well as wasteful spending and poor execution of high profile projects like healthcare.gov. Any increase in overall government revenue through the form of increased taxation of the wealthy should come with a reappraisal and refresh of popular attitudes towards government-led programs, a herculean task, but a well-intentioned and extremely important one.

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