They are the denizens of MarketWorld — defined by Global Business Network in 1989 as a “fast-paced, globally networked finance capitalism” — and they believe no public problem exists that cannot be solved by private actors employing free-market tools. They are the winners of the global economic game, from Wall Street, hedge funds, technology, the pharmaceutical industry, and philanthropic organizations. They refer to themselves as thought leaders, connectors, curators, change agents, incubators, and influencers. They talk of synergy and scale, win-win outcomes, opportunity, and entrepreneurship, impact investing, and doing-good-by-doing-well at elite, corporate-sponsored, and invitation-only gatherings such as TED, the Aspen Institute, Summit at Sea, and the Clinton Global Initiative. Their vernacular, the vernacular of business, has permeated almost every sphere of our lives, displacing hoary notions like social justice and equality.
The great conceit of MarketWorld and its adherents, according to Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, is their unshakable faith that the same tools and ideology that created a problem such as massive wealth inequality can also solve the problem of wealth inequality. Similarly, for poverty, education, access to medicines, and clean water. Name the problem, and MarketWorlders will provide a solution that emphasizes private means. Input from the people they purport to want to help is rarely sought, as democracy is not highly valued in MarketWorld.
Giridharadas knows this world, having traveled its rarefied circuit as a fellow at the Aspen Institute. Through observation, interviews, and research, Giridharadas discovered that while MarketWorlders are often brilliant and well-intentioned, they aren’t very introspective, and most do not want to talk about their wealth and privilege as being causes of many social problems. They are willing to give money as long as no one closely questions how the money was made in the first place; they are willing to discuss problems as long as the structural underpinnings of the status quo are not mentioned. But they are unwilling to entertain the idea of taking less, of paying higher taxes on their wealth or higher wages to their workers.
Winners Take All is a robust and overdue critique of the status quo that has produced so much bounty for the fortunate few and so much anxiety, frustration, and alienation for the unfortunate many.