My friend Anand Giridharadas recently wrote a book, Winners Take All, about how the world of philanthropy has adopted a Win-Win mentality where praise is given to those who talk about how to make others stronger and more successful, but it is unacceptable to talk about taking less or changing the underlying system. Instead, the emphasis is on how to make people more successful in the marketplace. The mantra is “Doing Well by Doing Good,” positive thinking, getting along with each other, helpful TED Talks, and, ultimately, very little actual change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Anand’s book and its core idea—how market-friendly ideas have grown to dominate our culture so much that genuine sacrifice is off the table. Instead, the height of virtue is for winners to generously distribute some of their winnings to make others a bit more like themselves.
Last week I wrote about Walter Reuther, the union leader in the 1960s who was beaten; survived being shot in his own home and having his right arm shattered; grew the UAW to 1.5 million people; bailed Martin Luther King, Jr. out of jail; helped lead the March on Washington; and died in a suspicious plane crash. His brother had his right eye shot out, also in his own home.
In Walter’s day, actual change actually happened. Higher wages, workplace safety rules, child labor laws, health care, and pension benefits as well as all of the rights fought for in the Civil Rights movement. All of it involved grievous conflict and sacrifice.
Today, unions are a shadow of their former selves. Walter Reuther is dead. Civil Rights revolve around police brutality instead of actual economic injustices. Women march for the most basic reproductive rights. Teenagers march just to prevent shootings in their schools. And social media shares have taken the place of sacrifice. Market-based thinking is so complete that conflicts revolve around basic human rights rather than any fundamental systemic changes.
I founded an entrepreneurship organization and ran it for 6+ years in the hopes that it would spur change and help create thousands of jobs throughout the country. It was the best work of my career. But I came to realize that the good we were doing would not be nearly enough, particularly in the face of new technologies that will wipe out millions of jobs. I worked in Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, and other cities that had gone through the first automation wave. I started out believing in the Win-Win, but I now believe that advanced technology will result in a super-charged version of capitalism that will increasingly brutalize us all, winners and losers alike.
Some believe that there’s a small group of corrupt oligarchs that have taken over our political and economic system. But others believe that it is even deeper—that corporate leaders themselves have their hands tied so that they cannot do much more than maximize returns on capital. They are not really in control—the system is. Tim O’Reilly calls it the Master Market Intelligence: the corporate bosses are themselves subject to the logic of the marketplace. Yuval Harari writes that the power has disappeared—government gets weaker and weaker and no one knows who has the power.
I was at an event sponsored by The New York Times earlier this year, and a journalist said it like this: “We can sense that we’re going in the wrong direction. But no one knows what to do about it. So we are all just looking at each other, hanging on, and waiting to see how it will end.” We are on a path to ruin and no one knows what to do.
I believe we can help with that.
I’ve been running for President for a number of months now. It’s been a tremendous journey. I’ve made many new friends—this campaign tends to attract the best people. When someone supports me, it means a lot. Sometimes a person will say to me, “What you’re doing, it’s a real sacrifice.”
But I think to myself, “Is it? Sacrifice has become relative.” Running for president has been quite fun and invigorating. I’m fighting for a vision I believe in. The biggest sacrifices I’m making are time with my family, money and professional opportunities, and the chance to live a more ‘normal,’ stress-free life. Of these, the first one hurts the most.
I have the feeling that in order to change our future, a lot of people are going to have to sacrifice a great deal more.
I’m running for President because I see the big changes that need to be made. You do, too. Our political institutions aren’t designed for this. It’s going to take people like us coming together—fighting and making sacrifices—to change our future. We don’t have that much time.
Let’s show what we can do—and that this sacrifice is not beyond us.