Author discusses inequality, how companies promote ‘fake change’

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 10:53pm

Anand Giriharadas speaks about the role of business in society with the Erb Institute at Ross Tuesday evening.

Anand Giriharadas speaks about the role of business in society with the Erb Institute at Ross Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Julia Schachinger/Daily

Journalist and author Anand Giridharadas explained corporations can contribute to inequality while making misleading claims about philanthropy during a discussion Tuesday at the Ross School of Business. About 500 people attended the event, which was hosted by Joe Árvai, director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

Giridharadas, author of “Winner’s Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” is a Michigan alum. He previously worked as a journalist and covered India for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

Árvai asked Giridharadas about his newest book, as well as several other topics ranging from global management consulting for McKinsey & Company and working as a political commentator. 

Giridharadas spoke with The Daily prior to the event. He noted the recent controversy surrounding real estate developer Stephen M. Ross, the largest donor in the University’s history and for whom the Ross School of Business is named. After reports of Ross’s fundraising efforts for President Donald Trump surfaced over the summer, students demanded the University cut ties with Ross. Giridharadas echoed calls to remove Ross’s name from the building.


“It does not have a place in this University anymore, and after he has gone out of his way to support the reelection of a president who is committed to destroying the rights and dignity of many of the people who go to this University, including, to start with, every single woman that goes to this University, and then you add the people of ethnicities that are affected as well,” Giridharadas said. “Why is the University providing someone like him the cover that you get by having your name on these fancy blue banners?”

Giridharadas suggested renaming the building after Mary Frances Berry, a civil rights activist and the first woman to head a major research university. An alum herself, Berry got her Ph.D. in history from the University, as well as her law degree.


During the talk, Giridharadas explained how large businesses and their leaders are detrimental to the health of the world. Giridharadas also acknowledged that they do minimal philanthropic work, but the main structures of their companies and philanthropies continue to create a cycle that excludes people from accessing opportunities. 

Giridharadas said his writing focuses on topics including wealth inequality, democracy and American culture. He called on large corporations to do more to benefit people.

“I think a lot of their actions are for real; they really do put malaria nets over people's beds; they do really feed people in pantries,” Giridharadas said. “But I started to become curious about whether these small gestures they do are part of upholding this much bigger system we have, that we’re not supposed to question, that is fundamentally built on shutting most people out of the future.”

Giridharadas also discussed public education. In reference to the University, he said since the school considers its students to be leaders, it must lead the change in tuition models. He suggested different tuition prices should be attached to possible future incomes. Under this model, a programmer who will be offered a six-figure salary straight out of college should be given a higher tuition fee than a school teacher who will be paid by the state for their whole life. 

 “I think we have to start talking about more radical tuition models,” Giridharas said. “If you are using this University to go work at Amazon, I think you should pay a very different tuition than if you're using this University to go be a public school teacher.”

By continuing to allow Michigan residents to attend the University at a reasonable price, Giridharadas said this would help the state’s overall economy. 

Giridharadas also discussed many of the problems that continue to affect America today. He spoke of mass incarceration, the current president and the long-lasting effects of slavery. He later corroborated these facts with the idea we must hold businesses accountable for their profiting off of people’s horrible situations.

“America today is the most unequal this country has been in 100 years,” Giridharadas said.   

Giridharadas said plutocracy is a main issue for not only our country, but the world. He attributes a great deal of wrongdoings to this group of people. 

Business graduate student Avani Sharma said she related to Giridharadas’ emphasis on putting more trust into public policy and relying on that as a main vein of change.

“I worked with the Indian government, which kind of brought me to think similarly to him in how we need to work with the government in order to make these changes,” Sharma said.

LSA junior Carter Howe said he had previously heard Giridharadas speak on a podcast. 

“(He) didn’t say this exact phrase at the event, but in a podcast I heard him in, he said that as business owners, we always think about doing more good, but we never think about doing less harm,” Howe said. “It’s not like you have capitalism and then philanthropy, it’s just that maybe we could make capitalism work more equitably.”