Several billionaires have stepped up to change their corporations' business models to manufacture personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, like New Balance, or facilitate PPE distribution, like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. But Anand Giridharadas told Boston Public Radio on Tuesday that relying on the kindness of billionaires to respond to a global emergency is deeply problematic.
"They have the ability to bail us out because we've been bailing them out all these years," Giridharadas said. "Not just through explicit bailouts, but you could argue that our society over the past 40 years has functioned as a giant bailout machine for them. When people have that much money lying around to do all this nice stuff — which is admittedly nice stuff — it raises a question about why they had it in the first place."
Giridharadas said that he acknowledges the unprecedented nature of the current situation, but wants to have a broader conversation about how deeply flawed it is to rely on a class of billionaires to respond to a federal emergency.
As a class, Giridharadas said, billionaires have pushed for lower tax rates, which shifts the burden on the majority of Americans who don't have massive wealth. They've also lobbied for "bottle service" public policies that are good for their own private interests, he said, and taken every possible option that would improve their bottom line, like moving manufacturing overseas, where labor is cheaper.
This last point, said Giridharadas, reveals how the United States is woefully unable to handle a disaster of COVID-19 scale.
"Everything got made somewhere else, and we're now discovering how profoundly insecure we are as a country, when we can't manufacture masks ... [The] very people stepping up have been stepping in it for the past 40 years," he said.
Anand Giridharadas is a TIME editor-at-large. His latest book is "Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World."