American journalist Anand Giridharadas pulls back the veil on the world's rich and powerful, exposing a class of anti-democratic, self-serving elites and the courtiers that serve them.
In 2011 writer and former business consultant Anand Giridharadas was made a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, a prominent think tank. Giridharadas was a bit mystified, as the Aspen Institute only takes on proven entrepreneurs successful in the business world and he was not an entrepreneur. Nonetheless, you don't knock back invitations to rub shoulders with the rich and powerful at Aspen, and so he went.
Giridharadas would participate in four one-week sessions over two years where prominent business leaders attempted to solve the world's most intractable problems. He found himself making friends with the rich and powerful, enjoying the jet setting lifestyle. But eventually cracks started to appear. Troubling inconsistencies presented themselves. The rich made money by exploiting the poor, harming the environment and many other greedy and selfish actions. The people who were responsible for so many of the world's problems believed only they could fix them.
The result of Giridharadas' conflicted conscience is Winners Take All, an intellectually rigorous critique of powerful elites and the prevailing orthodoxy that business is better at solving problems than grass roots activism and politics. It also presents stunning insights into the psychology of the rich and powerful. They feel themselves to be victims, unfairly under attack from critics, when all they are trying to do is save the world - and get rich in the process. This sensitivity to criticism means anyone lobbying for their support must temper their language: appeals must be framed positively, with no mention of the ill effects their industries produce. The result is a small, elite group living in an intellectual bubble, sealed off from the world. As Giridharadas explains, they are globalists, shifting their money and resources wherever it will make the best returns, while the rest of the population are locals, loyal to place and community. A convincing argument is made for the success of Trump and Brexit: people voted against globalism, sick of being told what to do by freewheeling elites, and in favour of local values.
Winners Takes All is all the more compelling for being an insider's account. The book's main argument is that democratic politics – problem solving by the people, for the people – has been insidiously eroded by the growing power of a rich, distant, technocratic elite. Their power has been so complete that it has also changed our thinking. We now look at the world's problems and how to solve them through the prism of big business. Giridharadas explains this phenomenon – social, economic and political – in a language that is refreshingly direct and devoid of theory and jargon. It's probably the most important book you'll read this year.
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas.
Allen Lane $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books