During a panel on the need for a more democratic approach to philanthropy, Giridharadas said our age of “extraordinary elite generosity,” has still one big problem: benevolent billionaires have been “building the most unequal America in 100 years.”
“Ordinary people, the bottom half of this country, on average has not gotten a raise since 1979, [and] 82 percent of wealth created last year went to the top one percent,” Giridharadas continued, emphasizing that this stark statistic is from 2017. “That’s not the historical legacy of slavery, this is the stuff when we were already woke,” he said. What’s more, the same folks fought for tax and labor policies that preserved the status quo.
This, he argued, is the legacy of our era of world-changing billionaires. “The richest and most powerful people in the world are unwittingly fighting on both sides of a war—causing, by daylight, problems that they simply will never be able to undo by philanthropic moonlight,” Giridharadas said.
In his new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the Word, Giridharadas says the path to equality is for rich people to give away their power, not just their money. Ultimately, he hopes rich people will have less money to give away. “I know this is not ideal forum for that view,” he said, teasing the crowd who had assembled to hear people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella expound on their good deeds.
The kind of change celebrated on stage, such as Bezos’ plan to save humanity by sending us to space, is “not the kind of change that got women the vote or got African-American civil rights or made the work day eight hours or got the antifreeze out medicine.” Those are the social changes “that allowed many of us to even be in this room,” he said.
The other speaker on the panel, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Code for America, took a gentler view to do-gooding techies.
People like LinkedIn founder and investor Reid Hoffman or eBay founder Pierre Omidyar don’t get enough credit, Pahlka said. They want to use their money to help rebuild government. “We very much believe that these skills that have helped people create a Starbucks or an Amazon actually do have a place in government,” as long as the skills are adapted to apply to government, she said.
Some techies may arrive at philanthropy thinking government is broken, but they don’t always just want to abandon it. Some recognize that “we better fix it while we still have a democracy that will let us fix,” she said.
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This article was syndicated from wired.com