Institutionalized economic inequality remains prevalent in society despite increased funding for social improvement, author Anand Giridharadas said at an event in Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday hosted by the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation.
Giridharadas spoke about his third and latest book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.” The event was co-sponsored by the Beeck Center, the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and Georgetown Net Impact.
Giridharadas was formerly a columnist for The New York Times and currently works as a political analyst for NBC. Sonal Shah, the executive director of the Beeck Center, introduced Giridharadas and led the conversation in view of the Beeck Center’s mission to support students in their pursuit of social change.
“Winners Take All” focuses on how the elite often do not affect as much change as they claim to. His talk focused on the institutionalization of economic inequality that remains high despite growing amounts of money directed at social improvement.
“All of the gains of our economy are going to the top 10 percent of Americans, and most of them to the top slice of that,” Giridharadas said. “That is predation. That didn’t happen the way weather happens. That is organized and designed and fought for and lobbied for.”
Giridharadas explored the relationships between “elite helpfulness and elite hoarding,” especially as both continue to increase. He concluded that the elite proclivity for helpfulness is part of the system that allows for the normalization of elite hoarding.
“The more sinister possibility that I began to consider is that this helpfulness in some ways is part of the system that allows the hoarding,” Giridharadas said.
According to Giridharadas, the presence of the rich and powerful in social movements necessarily reshapes the spaces that they enter.
“Because of who they are, because of their resources and power, they can’t help but have a big impact on the space just by showing up,” Giridharadas said. “They often end up redefining change … they’re changing it by joining it.”
In the process of redefining social movements, the elite change those movements to benefit themselves, Giridharadas said. He billed these types of changes as simple and surface-level solutions to complex social problems that require more holistic solutions.
“They defang change. They push for the kind of change that doesn’t change their normal,” Giridharadas said. “They push for the kind of change that protects their opportunity to stand at the top of the system.”
Giridharadas highlighted Goldman Sachs as a firm that engages superficially with a social movement, pointing to its efforts to impose a carbon tax while also profiting from investments in fuels. Giridharadas said in this way elites often end up “fighting on both sides of many wars.”
Giridharadas criticized the lecture circuit influence of organizations like TED for fueling this idealism and elevating those who uphold their way of life at the expense of others. Programs like TED suggest that a business model of solving problems is the most effective for social issues, according to Giridharadas.
The solutions to complex social issues will require challenging solutions that demand that the elite relinquish some of their power, Giridharadas claims.
“I’ve never encountered a poor person who’s said, ‘stay away from complex solutions,’” Giridharadas said. “It’s often a very privileged person who says ‘let’s just do something simple.’ Because I think they understand that the kinds of solutions that would bring justice to many communities are the kind of solutions that would take their power and that’s hard.”