Review: Winners Take All, the Elite Charade of Changing the WorldApril 11, 2019
“All around us in America is the clank-clank-clank of the new—in our companies and economy, our neighborhoods and schools, our technologies and social fabric. But these novelties have failed to translate into broadly shared progress for the betterment of our overall civilization.”
With these words, Anand Giridharadas introduces his book, Winners Take All, the Elite Charade of Changing the World. He points out that we live in a society constructed to benefit the elite, and though our winners wish to be viewed as benevolent and well-intentioned, they are not inclined to consider fundamental structural change that would solve major social problems or reverse the flow of wealth – if it requires sacrifice from them.
How is this relevant to Towerside? Giridharadas, a former New York Times correspondent and Aspen Institute fellow describes how acceptance of the present social structure permeates society’s thinking. In example after example he describes how those who wish to succeed in our society, seek to help those less fortunate through “win-win” solutions – i.e. solutions that both benefit themselves, yet do some good for others. He describes, for example, a young app developer who seeks to help underemployed contract workers to smooth over their financial peaks and valleys, charging them to calculate their average income then suggesting how it should be spent. Never considered is the underlying problem that employers have gone to “dynamic scheduling” and contract hiring, reducing job security – or even the fact that paying for this app, leaves still less income to spread over low-pay periods.
An unspoken problem with “win-win” is that today, those who feel entitled to devise solutions to better our society, are already our winners. Their approach assumes the efficacy of the social strictures that have helped them win. Today’s successful business relies on optimization protocols. Stripping away personal considerations of actual people, its problem-solving methods avoid taking on human problems, or considering negative social consequences. Instead, protocols break down issues into bite-sized but often arbitrary statistical or formulaic decisions. “These tricks,” Giridharadas quotes a McKinsey executive as saying, are “not about looking at a problem holistically, comprehensively, from various human perspectives; they [are] about getting results without needing to do such things.”
The seductive attraction of winners’ protocols has created such respect for business success in our society that even our foundations and our government agencies turn to the financially successful to devise how we help the less fortunate. While these protocols offer rigor, logic, data and an ability to make decisions swiftly, Giridharadas writes, there is a price. “…the definition of a problem is recast in the light of a winner’s gaze” and “crowds out other ways of seeing it.” He offers a statement once issued by the Baha’i high council:
Justice demands universal participation. Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world. Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.
His (book jacket) summary? “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.”
As Towerside strives to define the scope of its purpose and role and select the protocols used to achieve its ends, Winners Take All is a resource that can challenge our thoughts.