“Davos is a family reunion for the plutocrats that broke the modern West.. who think that they are changing the world when they are exactly what needs changing. A gathering of people who use the idea of making a difference as a kind of lubricant in the engine of making a killing, of people who promote generosity as a cheap substitute for justice.
“Change the world” has become a way for them to shoot down and remove from serious consideration ideas that would threaten their power of privilege. And so then what Davos is becomes clearer, which is that it is a way of getting together, using the world’s problems as a convening mechanism, to form a cartel against real change…
The genius thing that these people understand, that maybe prior generations of plutocrats didn’t, is you don’t fight public pressure for people-friendly change by shooting mine workers and busting unions in the light of day. They do that secretly. But what you actually do is you fight back by claiming to be one of those people. You claim to be a revolutionary yourself. You claim to be fighting for the people yourself. And your relatively modest do-gooding provides your credibility that pays for itself many, many times over.”
‘We’re all passengers in a billionaire hijacking’ says the critic who has the world’s richest people buzzing
- Anand Giridharadas is an author and professor whose book “Winners Take All” is a scathing critique of the way elites treat philanthropy.
- He said Western elites have cloaked themselves in “changing the world” to protect their interests and reduce the efficacy of democratic change.
- He’s critical of Davos, corporate proclamations of solving societal problems, and Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg as presidential candidates.
- The only way destabilizing inequality can be meaningfully addressed in the United States needs to come from public policy, he said, with increased taxes on the wealthiest of prime importance.
- This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
By 2015, Anand Giridharadas felt that the world he was inhabiting was built on a charade.
As an Aspen Institute fellow for five years and a former McKinsey analyst, he lived and worked among a collection of elites who believed their exchange of ideas, philanthropy, and so-called conscious capitalism could “save the world.” But it began to feel like “MarketWorld,” a term he coined for the bubble where it’s accepted that the private sector can fix anything with enough money.
He decided he would be transparent with the rest of the Aspen crowd, and gave a speech where he declared that, “we may not always be the leaders we think we are,” which brought a mixture of praise and outrage.
Giridharadas has written for the New York Times and taught journalism at New York University, and late last year, he published his book “Winners Take All.” It’s a thorough, nuanced takedown of MarketWorld that declares companies should work to do less harm, but that systemic changes must come from policy changes. Giridharadas’s thesis is therefore not only a cultural critique but a political one, with a progressive lens.
The book is currently in a second wave of popularity in the wake of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, where it came up in conversation, and with the official start of the 2020 presidential race.
Giridharadas spoke with Business Insider about Davos, the idea of “better capitalism,” why he’s so avidly against Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg as presidential candidates, and why he wants Americans to take back their country from billionaires.
The following transcript was edited for length and clarity.
Richard Feloni: What does Davos stand for in your view? Do you have any particular thoughts on this year’s, specifically?
Anand Giridharadas: I think Davos is a family reunion for the plutocrats that broke the modern West. I’ve never been to it, so I’m a cultural critic looking from a distance, but it seems to me to be a gathering of people who think that they are changing the world when they are exactly what needs changing. A gathering of people who use the idea of making a difference as a kind of lubricant in the engine of making a killing, of people who promote generosity as a cheap substitute for justice.
And what was so great about Davos this year is that the mask slipped. Normally, they’re able to go there and pull off their Bono impact investing, ESG something, give-one-get-one something, social impact, social this, social that — anything but actual social justice. And it works. And this time, in great measure because there has been this rising chorus of critics — I’m one out of many. Way more prominently, you have AOC [Alexandria Ocasio Cortez] out there, Elizabeth Warren out there, staking really bold positions about how to actually change the world, how to actually fight structural inequality. And a lot of these guys, when actually pushed about those specific proposals —I don’t know if you saw the Gates and Blair clips about me…