From Adam Grant to Michael Lewis to Ta-Nehisi Coates – Thinking about the Pursuit of Profit in a Plenty-of-Takers Society

Atlantic, Reparations“The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now,” Clyde Ross told me. “It’s because of then.”
For the first time in the history of relations between people, a precedent has been created by which a great State, as a result of moral pressure alone, takes it upon itself to pay compensation to the victims of the government that preceded it. For the first time in the history of a people that has been persecuted, oppressed, plundered and despoiled for hundreds of years in the countries of Europe, a persecutor and despoiler has been obliged to return part of his spoils and has even undertaken to make collective reparation as partial compensation for material losses.
David Ben Gurion, Assessing the reparations agreement (between Germany and Israel)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations

“I’m getting screwed, but I can’t figure out who is screwing me.”
A Canadian trader, quoted in Flash Boys by Micahel Lewis

As Samuel Johnson purportedly wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” 
Quoted by Adam Grant, in Give and Take


Let’s start here. An economy that has more “Takers” is destined to take advantage of other people. That’s what takers do – they take from others, with no concern for what is for the good for the other. From Adam Grant’s book, here are the three categories:

Group 1 – Takers: self-promoters, interested in self, interested in 

Group 2 – Matchers: still pretty self-promoting; reciprocal in order to “be successful”

Group 3 – Givers: though somewhat concerned about personal success, genuinely “give” in order to …give; in order to “help the other person be successful” – with no expectation of return

I have presented synopses of both Give and Take by Adam Grant, and Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. I think we could state this: if it is possible adam-grant-give-and-taketo have a company dominated by takers, and a taker mentality, (and, it is possible!), then it is accurate to say that many (most; practically all) companies in the financial trading sector are dominated by takers. Flash Boys describes how the market is “rigged,” seeking the tiniest advantage that then adds up over the long haul to massive profits – with no concern to what it does to the “losers” in the mix.

As I read The Case for Reparations, Give and Take and Flash Boys both came to mind.

Here’s a simple question – were slave owners givers, or takers?

I think it is accurate to say that the entire history of the treatment of black people in the United States has been driven by the “takers mentality.”  From slavery itself, to the redlining practices that allowed non-blacks to profit so unfairly at the cost of the black citizens, to other examples, time and again, it has been “taker” winning over the “taken” for a very, very long time.

(A note – before you decide to agree, or disagree, with The Case for Reparations, at least take the step of reading The Case for Reparations by Mr. Coates. It is eye-opening and instructive and… well, it’s very much worth reading).

flashboysSo, the issue that reading these three pieces – Give and Take, Flash Boys, andThe Case for Reparations – raises, to me, is this: how do we build a country, and individual companies, that genuinely reject, and avoid the “taker” mentality; one that is concerned with the well-being of all?

This much is clear – so far, we haven’t succeeded.


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