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Book Review: Winners Take All


Have you noticed that the solution to every problem seems to be "buy this product/service"? Well, it turns out there's a reason for that, and you're not going to like it.


In Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas explains the problems behind the business and entrepreneurship orientation of so many solutions that are offered for world problems. The book can be summed up in a single sentence from the Prologue: "Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis."


In other words, the people who are offering business and capitalism-based solutions to socioeconomic and environmental issues are, either purposely or unwittingly, reinforcing the systems that caused those issues in the first place.


College students are taught to solve world problems by starting new businesses to address people's needs. They are directed away from questioning the wisdom of literal business as usual, even though many of them honestly want to do good in the world. So in the end, the causes of systemic inequity remain untouched.


The book is difficult to read, not in terms of the writing, but in terms of facing how well we as a society have organized the widespread denial of the real causes of our problems. Because it's grand to feel like you're helping others while not having to make any real changes in your own life or in the systems that have helped those of us with privilege get ahead.


My daughter joked this morning that instead of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, we should have the Four Corporations of the Apocalypse. In that case, they would be both the sign and the cause of the event, I think.


But I don't think we've reached Doomsday quite yet. Giridharadas offers some hope, some suggestions for redirecting our energies away from the marketplace and toward the structures that are causing the problems in the first place.


It won't be easy, since our whole culture is oriented around the capitalist point of view and, especially in the US, the individualist "lone cowboy" point of view as well. But I think it can be done.


What's most important, to begin with, is to learn to see clearly how we're being misdirected. And this book does an excellent job of that.