The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Rich Liberals (and Why We Hate Them)

Posted on | February 7, 2019 | 2 Comments

 

You probably never heard of Anand Giridharadas — I hadn’t, until yesterday — but let’s begin our introduction with this: He attended Sidwell Friends School, the same ultra-elite private school in D.C. to which Bill and Hillary Clinton sent their daughter Chelsea. His father Mohan Giridharadas spent 18 years at the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before founding “the leading predictive analytics company in Silicon Valley.” Anand Giridharadas attended the University of Michigan and then went to India as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. before deciding to embark on a career as a journalist, publishing columns for the New York Times and authoring a book, India Calling (2011) that was widely praised for its insights on the economic and cultural transformation of his ancestral homeland. Giridharadas followed that with a second book, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas (2014) that examined the case of Mark Stroman, a petty criminal who was executed in Texas for murdering a convenience store clerk, Vasudev Patel, one of three people he shot in a week-long spree of violence in late 2001 which Stroman stupidly thought of as revenge for 9/11.

In 2011, Anand Giridharadas was chosen to be an Aspen Fellow, an honor bestowed by the prestigious Aspen Institute, but his experience there convinced him that the rich liberals who fund such organizations are misguided in their belief that they are “making a difference.” This disillusionment inspired Giridharadas’s most recent book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World:

An insider’s groundbreaking investigation of how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve.
Former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can — except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. We see how they rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; how they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in winner-friendly ways; and how they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. We hear the limousine confessions of a celebrated foundation boss; witness an American president hem and haw about his plutocratic benefactors; and attend a cruise-ship conference where entrepreneurs celebrate their own self-interested magnanimity.
Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? He also points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world. A call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.

In sum, Giridharadas is somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders. He is a radical socialist who wants to destroy the market-based economy. However, as a right-winger, I can at least admire him for seeing through the phony do-gooder make-a-difference nonsense embraced by the kind of rich liberals who hang around the Aspen Institute.

All of that is preamble to what happened Tuesday night, when he was invited as a dinner speaker at the famed Players Club in Manhattan. This was a gathering of New York’s socially-conscious liberal elite, and Giridharadas was apparently invited as a substitute for another author who had been caught in some kind of #MeToo scandal. What ensued was a scene somewhat reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic, with Giridharadas offending his bien-pensant liberal hosts by dissing David Koch, and refusing to let them off the hook for their hypocrisy. His Twitter thread about the event went viral, and here are a few excerpts:

This is splendid fun, even as much as I despise Giridharadas’s anti-capitalist politics, for the same reason that Radical Chic was fun, despite my abhorrence of the Black Panthers’ racial radicalism. As always, guilt-stricken rich white people who want to think of themselves as “progressives” are shown to be fools. My own Jacksonian populist sentiments are rooted in an old-fashioned contempt for the decadence of the elite. Wealth itself is not wrong; the problem is that affluence begets arrogance, including a we-know-what’s-best attitude where these overprivileged people act as if they’re missionaries and the rest of us are ignorant savages in need of their “enlightened” supervision.

This kind of preachy liberalism — folks who imagine themselves to be neo-Platonic archons because their Daddy could afford to send them to Harvard — offends me as an expression of snobbery. My Daddy was a farmboy who attended the University of Alabama on the GI Bill, and he instilled in his children a sufficient sense of their own self-worth that we don’t need a bunch of Harvard snobs to do our thinking for us.

And what of Giridharadas’s economic radicalism? Socialism has never worked anywhere, it produced mass slaughter in the 20th century, and it’s still producing disaster (e.g., Venezuela) today. Giridharadas’s basic problem is that he’s close enough to the top of the socioeconomic heap — the son of a successful businessman — that he can’t see how important a free economy is to those of us much nearer the bottom. Contrary to what Giridharadas seems to believe, our capitalist system still offers hope to smart young people who are willing to do three simple things:

  1. Work hard;
  2. Live cheap;
    and
  3. Save their money.

No matter how near the bottom of the economic pile a young person may begin in life, there are real opportunities in a free economy, and Giridharadas doesn’t seem to notice that his own lofty position — a published author and journalist, invited to speak to the Manhattan elite — is testimony to the miraculous power of capitalism. He is the beneficiary of his father’s success, which must in turn reflect the good values inculcated by his grandparents in India, and why should young Giridharadas wish to destroy the system that has made possible such an ascending trajectory? His existential despair — his belief that the system is somehow rigged, and that the poor are hopeless victims of oppression — is symptomatic of the kind of elite degeneracy that I should hope my own children and grandchildren will avoid. However rich you might become, so long as you’ve earned your money in an honest way, you should not be ashamed of what you’ve got, and you should never mistake the politics of liberalism for charity. Real charity requires that we voluntarily give what is ours to help others; liberalism is about using government to take other people’s money and hire a bunch of bureaucrats to do whatever some politician might consider helpful. Ronald Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He wasn’t wrong.

Are some rich people also bad people? Yes, but the politics of liberalism — or the more radical socialism advocated by Giridharadas — won’t eradicate human sinfulness. There is an excellent book by Joshua Muravchik, Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, that exposes the futility of this persistent utopian delusion. Anand Giridharadas is still a young man, not yet 40, and perhaps he will yet gain enough wisdom to realize the lesson that Heaven on Earth teaches.




 


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