Americans are often awestruck over movie stars and the wealthy. Many seem to believe the acquisition of capital and or shallow notoriety can equate into people who can do or fix anything. The thing is the economic mess that America is in is mostly the responsibility of these people. So what then? The fix won’t come from them.
The rich cannot fix the economic mess they created
— Egberto Willies (@EgbertoWillies) August 31, 2018
We must be cautious and concerned before supporting the rich on both the Left and the Right whenever they join the fold to fix our economic mess. We must not delude ourselves that they can or will.
Anand Giridharadas wrote the following in a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “Beware Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World.”
“Change the world” has long been the cry of the oppressed. But in recent years world-changing has been co-opted by the rich and the powerful. “Change the world. Improve lives. Invent something new,” McKinsey & Company’s recruiting materials say. “Sit back, relax, and change the world,” tweets the World Economic Forum, host of the Davos conference. “Let’s raise the capital that builds the things that change the world,” a Morgan Stanley ad says. Walmart, recruiting a software engineer, seeks an “eagerness to change the world.” Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook says, “The best thing to do now, if you want to change the world, is to start a company.”
At first, you think: Rich people making a difference — so generous! Until you consider that America might not be in the fix it’s in had we not fallen for the kind of change these winners have been selling: fake change. Fake change isn’t evil; it’s milquetoast. It is change the powerful can tolerate. It’s the shoes or socks or tote bag you bought which promised to change the world. It’s that one awesome charter school — not equally funded public schools for all. It is Lean In Circles to empower women — not universal preschool. It is impact investing — not the closing of the carried-interest loophole.
Of course, world-changing initiatives funded by the winners of market capitalism do heal the sick, enrich the poor and save lives. But even as they give back, American elites generally seek to maintain the system that causes many of the problems they try to fix — and their helpfulness is part of how they pull it off. Thus their do-gooding is an accomplice to greater, if more invisible, harm. What their “change” leaves undisturbed is our winners-take-all economy, which siphons the gains from progress upward. The average pretax income of America’s top 1 percent has more than tripled since 1980, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold, even as the average income of the bottom half of Americans stagnated around $16,000, adjusted for inflation, according to a paper by the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.
Anand Giridharadas hits the nail on the head. I would take it a step further. Many do-good organizations seek funding from many philanthropists. Does that funding inherently inhibit solutions that these grassroots organization fear will impact their funding source? Is philanthropy mainly a passive form of controlling the masses? Are they trying to ensure that the pitchforks of the oppressed remain on hold?
Giridharads just released a new book titled “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” that is a great read. One hopes everyone reads it. It will take the gloss of the rich and wealthy off and help many assert their worth.