The logic of market world: doing well by doing good

A transcript of Anand Giridharadas in conversation with Léa Steinacker at the House of Beautiful Business 2019.

I coined this term “market world” to try to describe a bunch of things that are disparate phenomena that I think are part of the same phenomenon. The phenomenon is a kind of community network of people, an ideology guiding those people, that essentially says, “win-win”: doing well by doing good—maybe even beautiful business—that we can basically live in a world in which we make the world better by the rich and powerful making as much money as possible and certainly never giving up power. That it is possible, in an age of inequality, an age of monopoly, an age of elite capture, that it is somehow magically possible to lift up those prostrated on the floor without somehow disturbing the people standing on their necks. Now, this is a remarkable feat of physics, let alone ideology.

Market world is billionaires who, to go with something you said earlier, make their money actively by committing harm…

(I believe Facebook, actually, is in that category. Connecting the world is a slogan. It’s not an activity.)

…and then do good works on the side to purpose-wash, as you eloquently put it. I believe it’s also young people who are not billionaires, who are 22 on college campuses, deciding what to do with their lives. And I start the book with Hilary Cohen’s story. She’s one of them—not famous, not a philanthropist, but determined to make a difference, as so many young people are now, and determined to change the world, and who end up at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey because that’s what they’re now told is the way you acquire the skills to change the world. You apprentice with the people most responsible for degrading the conditions of the issue you want to work on.

I believe also there’s a kind of circuit of thought leadership which I write about in the book the kind of Aspen, TED, Davos world where…

“The House of Beautiful Business”

Maybe. I just got here. But I suspect that may be true.

…where there’s a lot of good content and a lot of good ideas and there is a certain kind of intellectual boundary, oftentimes, that keeps out the kinds of ideas that people may not like to hear when they’ve paid two or eight or ten thousand dollars to get some ideas poured down their throat.

All these things are different. The billionaire is different than the 22 year old is different than the ideas circuit. But what they all have in common is, I believe, an explanation for why we’re living in the age we are. Why is Donald Trump president? Why is Brexit happening? Why are the inequality numbers, even in European countries that do have better tax regimes, so bad? the Piketty’s numbers on Europe are better than in America, but not great. Why? Why? Why? Right?

I think the defining question I feel from people, when I do events, is like, “Why is this happening?” which is the name of Chris Hayes’s podcast, Why is This Happening?

And my little answer to why this is happening is we have outsourced the reform—most people agree we need transformational reform of our societies right now—we have outsourced the leadership of such reform to the people with the most to lose from actually changing anything.

I believe in this book is a passionate plea for taking change back from people who deep down have no incentive or desire or willpower to fight for the kinds of structural change that are going to see them be actually less wealthy less powerful and have less impunity.