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By many measures, we live in an era of extreme generosity. Prominent billionaires pledge to give away the bulk of their fortunes. Social enterprise executives dedicate business acumen to solving the world’s most challenging problems. Thought leaders spout innovative ideas for rethinking and reworking society. But is this all enough?
In his new book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas argues that many of these “changemakers” are actually key actors in upholding systems of inequality because they refuse to sacrifice the perks and privileges that keep them at the top. “A lot of philanthropists cause problems with their left hand and then try to fix those problems with their right hand,” he told TIME. “They underpay workers and then try to rebuild, through their foundation, the American opportunity structure.”
For this reason, Giridharadas doesn’t think that real solutions to our national problems, from wage stagnation to education inequality, will come from the country’s wealthy and powerful but rather a return to America’s foundational public institutions. “It is we the people who actually need to take change back from these pretenders of change,” he said. For those who have given up on government’s ability to effect change, he points to public life’s victories throughout history: “We had slavery in this country. We had segregation in this country. We had internment in this country. Women couldn’t vote in this country. People without property couldn’t vote in this country. We have fixed what’s broken time and time again.”
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Watch the video above to see highlights from TIME’s conversation with Giridharadas.