Power And Inequity

Question: What do you get when you bring together a favorite college professor, a respected friend’s suggestion, a group of wise friends’ decision and two books?

Answer: This article.

Question: Do I have you intrigued?

Hopefully the answer is yes; in which case I invite you to come along and explore.  

Decades ago my favorite professor was Dr. Mitch Shapiro. I took three classes from him which is unusual at a large school. The third was a course, (MGB 425 Power & Influence), which he designed due to an obsessive infatuation of his with the dynamic. Its inaugural offering was effectively by invitation only and I was among those fortunate enough to be invited. (The fact that all these years later I remember the course number and title speaks volumes.)

A few weeks back I had a chance to chat with my very knowledgeable friend Dan Crawford and the discussion turned to books. He related that he had met Anand Giridharadas recently and part of their discussion centered on Anand’s book Winners Take All. Subsequently Dan read it and highly recommended I do the same.

A bit after that my book club members (who I love to listen to and respect immensely) selected Joseph Stiglitz’s People, Power, and Profits for July.

Over the past few weeks I read People, Power, and Profits immediately followed by Winners Take All. I scheduled them that way on purpose shortly after commencing reading Stiglitz’s work. One of the key things Stiglitz explored was inequity caused and/or reinforced by power. Being a Nobel Prize winning economist he did it primarily from an economist’s viewpoint. Giridharadas primarily explored the same aspect but largely through the lens of philanthropy. On the surface his approach may strike you as odd. All I can say is read the book and you will see where he is coming from. If you are interested in the topic his book will not bore you and it will certainly enlighten you.

I find myself going back to the same themes in my writing and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales taught me one of them. In it Chaucer outlines seven deadly sins one of which is greed. I see that as the primary dark motivation to many. The world’s uber-wealthy (certainly including America’s) are often led by greed and self-preservation before all else. As Stiglitz outlines their political activity is largely to preserve and at times increase the advantages they already enjoy. Talk about entitlement; in my experience there is no more entitled group than the members of the Lucky Sperm Cell Club. As Giridharadas explores even their philanthropy is little more than a limited atonement and attempt to somewhat “launder” their money. One of my “thumbnail definitions” of excessive greed is when you already have much more than you need and you still game the system to get more. In basketball it would be like being up by 20 with two minutes to go and still in a full court press. One substitution to get a senior out for a standing ovation doesn’t make you a good person.

There will always be inequity for a variety of reasons. Purposely exacerbating it motivated by greed is to be detested. Having power can be a good thing. Using it for selfish, unnecessary gain at the expense of others and/or society as a whole is pure greed which is bad.

If you think solving the excessive money in politics/greed problem is easy I’ll quote Upton Sinclair (as Giridharadas does). “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.”

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