Best-selling author Anand Giridharadas was inspired to write about the pitfalls of elite giving while giving a talk in—where else?—Aspen.
In Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World ($27, Alfred A. Knopf), Anand Giridharadas develops theories he began to articulate while a Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. The book, which he calls in the acknowledgments “a debate with my friends,” addresses the inadequacy of relying on private giving to solve difficult and enduring social problems. He argues that the .001 percent’s practice of giving back to society while fighting to preserve an economic system that has unfairly enriched them to the detriment of many is not a solution. It was published in August and ended the year on multiple top book lists for 2018.
In 2011, when Giridharadas’ fellowship began, he was a correspondent and columnist for The New York Times. His first book, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, had come out that spring.
Giridharadas says he enjoyed coming to Aspen with his wife, and, later, their son. He appreciated the bipartisan warmth among the fellows, the convened intelligence, the opportunity to be among “powerful serious people letting their guards down,” he says. But he became troubled by the cognitive dissonance he saw between the professed values and saving-the-world projects in contrast to the corporate history of some of the sponsors and guests.
When Giridharadas was invited to speak at the Aspen Action Forum in the summer of 2015, his subject initially was forgiveness. The audience could be forgiven for thinking his talk would be about his second book, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, a nonfiction narrative of a hate crime victim’s search to understand and forgive his assailant.
Instead, Giridharadas asked forgiveness from the audience and invited them “to reflect... on where we stand as a community on some of the injustices of our time.” He talked about America’s “grave inequality problem,” the “new gilded age of extreme winners and extreme losers,” the “massive re-concentration of wealth.” He challenged those in front of him to examine what he called the “Aspen Consensus... [which] tries to market the idea of generosity as a substitute for the idea of justice. ... It says make money in the usual ways but give some back. ... Do more good but not do
Though Giridharadas received a standing ovation at the end of the talk, he has since said his message alienated some he addressed. In Winners Take All, he deepens the conversation and amplifies the call.