The big questions animating this book are the ones central to western politics today: why is the state of affairs made nonsense by the economic crisis still in place? What explains both the governing class’s lack of serious response to 2008’s banking crash, and the vast inequality that continues in its wake? Rather than economic or political analysis, Winners Take All is a study of the alibis and strategies used by Dell and his kind to justify inertia....His one-liners and storytelling zest make Giridharadas the guy who you want to hang out with on the sidelines of that earnest cocktail party. But his analysis could do with some deepening. The ugly vanity of MarketWorld may be eye-catching, but what makes it unfair is that it is bankrolled by the rest of us, through lower wages and low taxes on wealth.
If you happened to see the video of the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman confronting a Davos audience with the elephant in the room that is tax avoidance (“It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water,” he said) and are looking for something that captures the same spirit, Winners Take All is the book for you.... So much of what Giridharadas writes is almost self-evidently true and urgently in need of addressing, yet his argument is slightly undermined by repetition and a reluctance to acknowledge that big business and technical innovation are sometimes forces for universal good, even if profits are made. The problem comes when a combination of financial clout, global reach and government timidity leads to these businesses and their esteemed leaders gaining undue influence while avoiding taxation.
This book makes some important points, but suffers from the American nonfiction fashion for placing too high a value on relentless “in the room” reportage and not enough on explaining history or context. The cumulative effect, chapter after chapter, can be unsatisfying, like reading 12 overly long essays in a row in a magazine such as The Atlantic... Giridharadas puts far too much faith in government as a trustworthy dispenser of funds and the ultimate answer to humankind’s problems.
Giridharadas embedded himself in the world he writes about, much as the journalist David Callahan (who edits the Inside Philanthropy website) did for his recent book, “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” And like Callahan, Giridharadas is careful not to offend. He writes on two levels — seemingly tactful and subtle — but ultimately he presents a devastating portrait of a whole class, one easier to satirize than to reform...