Billionaires Watching Over Us

Billionaires Watching Over Us

In Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas examines how philanthropic foundations, established by a tiny cadre of enormously wealthy individuals, shape government policies around the world. A former columnist for the New York Times, Giridharadas argues that these institutions, often praised in the media for “giv[ing] back” or “pay[ing] forward,” are primarily established to protect their founders' wealth-producing companies. The mostly Silicon Valley donors use their philanthropy to buy protection from our enormously powerful—and potentially vindictive—federal government. In many ways they are, through their political machinations, simply 21st-century robber barons.

Their foundations shape government priorities to reflect a consensus engineered by the foundations themselves. The objectives of the new philanthropic class—preventing global warming, advancing diversity and inclusion, solving poverty—happily resonate with academics, journalists, and policymakers. These shared objectives can best be realized, so the story goes, through the technologies produced by the various companies created by the new donor class. Despite wielding monopoly power, violating user privacy by harvesting intimate personal data, and, in some instances, serving tyrannical regimes, such companies are seen as too important to be subjected to public interest regulation. Much better for their founders to define the public interest themselves.

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