By Alan Murray and David Meyer
September 5, 2018

Good morning.

I took time this weekend to read Anand Giridharadas’s new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, which is generating some attention thanks to this review in The New York Times. The book is a full-frontal attack on the ethos we celebrate in this newsletter: business leaders who believe they can, and should, do a better job addressing the needs of society.

The book highlights the well-known discontinuities in American life: American scientists make the top discoveries in medicine and genetics, and yet the average American’s health remains abysmally low by global standards. American inventors use technology to create exciting new ways to learn, but the average twelfth grader’s reading is worse today than in 1992. The country has had an explosion of farmers’ markets and Whole Foods outlets, yet obesity is on the rise. The tools for becoming an entrepreneur are more accessible than ever, yet the number of entrepreneurs appears to have plummeted.

All true. But why shouldn’t enlightened business leaders use their superpowers to try new solutions? Giridharadas draws a parallel to slavery, quoting Oscar Wilde, who said “the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it.” The people who do the most harm, in other words, are those who try to do good.

Really? The author ignores the fact that the last three decades have seen the greatest reduction in global poverty in human history, thanks to the very “MarketWorld” values that he attacks. Moreover, he doesn’t offer an alternative solution. Instead, he simply concludes that the “answer to the overwhelming question – Where do we go from here? – is: somewhere other than where we have been going, led by people other than the people who have been leading us.”

That doesn’t wash. Capitalism is still the best system known for addressing the needs of society. The challenge isn’t to scrap it, but to improve it. Giridharadas would like that job to be taken on by a democratic government, not a patronizing elite. But in a world where government has proven unable to meet even its most basic responsibilities (a budget, anyone?), is it wrong for business leaders to try and fill the void? I think not. Giridharadas’s complaint is duly noted. But here at Fortune, we’ll keep encouraging business to do better.

More news below, including the backlash against Nike’s controversial decision to use Colin Kaepernick in its ad campaign.

Alan Murray


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