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"A deeply though-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness."--Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidde "A deeply though-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness."--Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system. If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world's worth. If we don't want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common. This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn't often said who gets to make them. The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.


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"A deeply though-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness."--Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidde "A deeply though-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness."--Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system. If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world's worth. If we don't want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common. This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn't often said who gets to make them. The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.

30 review for The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    There is a strongly held belief that we live in a world where markets are free and that it is only because markets are free that people are free. If you want to see alternatives to this view then this is as good a place to start as any other. This book isn’t really like, say, a book by Chomsky. When I read a book on social theory by Chomsky I generally come away feeling quite depressed. There is so much that needs to be done and so few who seem ready to do any of it. This book realises that one o There is a strongly held belief that we live in a world where markets are free and that it is only because markets are free that people are free. If you want to see alternatives to this view then this is as good a place to start as any other. This book isn’t really like, say, a book by Chomsky. When I read a book on social theory by Chomsky I generally come away feeling quite depressed. There is so much that needs to be done and so few who seem ready to do any of it. This book realises that one of the greatest weapons used to ensure the continuation of the present is the sense of powerlessness we have when faced with the enormity of changes that need to be addressed. To counter this the book is divided into two parts, the first part deals with theory and the second with how people are actively doing something to make the world a more democratic place. In many ways this is an inspiring book. The first half is interesting for a great number of reasons, he points out that the current financial crisis ought to help us see that unrestricted capitalism is not good either for capitalism, nor for people, nor for the planet. He gives wonderful thumb-nails of economic theories from Adam Smith, Mill, Marx and Keynes – all of which are handy references and in themselves make the book worth reading. Here is the question – how do we provide our kids with a planet that is not only one on which they can live, but one on which they would want to live? Even if you don’t believe in climate change it would seem hard to look about at the world, a world dominated by greed and a rapaciousness that goes beyond selfishness, and not be concerned. Our ‘standard model’ of freedom and democracy is clearly flawed. Any model of democracy that only asks of its citizens that they vote once every four years does not deserve the name. We need to find ways to make citizens more involved in the world they live in. And we need to do this by becoming more truly democratic. That is, not only must we find ways to involve more people in the issues of today – we must do this by making what people are involved in truly meaningful. That is, by giving people a meaningful voice and decisions that are more than a choice between minimally different sides of politics. (Yes, I'm talking about you Australian Labor Party) This book makes it clear that leaving change to Obama is simply not enough. We don’t need a saviour, we need to save ourselves. Our only hope is in more people being involved in truly meaningful activity. The second half of this book is a series of case studies in democracy where people (often with seemingly impossible disadvantages) have made a difference and helped to make the world a better and more equal place. I recommend this book to you as well worth reading - particularly the first half. I went to see the author talk when he was in Melbourne recently. I’m going to quote a line from memory (as the copy I've read is already off being read by someone else) which has stayed with me since that talk and leapt from the page while I read this book. We need to stop living in a world where it is cheaper to buy clothes than to wash them. He estimates that if you take into account all of the ‘externalities’ (and if you don’t know about externalities, you need to find out about them now and this book is a great place to start) a hamburger ought to cost $200. We need to do something about food – again, before it kills us. If you need to be shocked before you feel you can do something then go see Food Inc. A deeply disturbing, but remarkably positive film. Now, you have things to be getting on with.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I have to admit that this is the first book I've read in a long, long time that's giving me problems in summarizing. It's a good book, but I'm hard-pressed to find the common thread among its myriad chapters and examples. I suppose I could start with the title, The Value of Nothing, which is drawn from an Oscar Wilde quote, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." Using this quote as a base, Patel goes on to perform a wide-ranging criticism of free-market capitali I have to admit that this is the first book I've read in a long, long time that's giving me problems in summarizing. It's a good book, but I'm hard-pressed to find the common thread among its myriad chapters and examples. I suppose I could start with the title, The Value of Nothing, which is drawn from an Oscar Wilde quote, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." Using this quote as a base, Patel goes on to perform a wide-ranging criticism of free-market capitalism. From what I can gather, Patel's criticism stems from two sources. First, free-market capitalism attempts to put a price on everything, even things we might shy away from pricing: land, labor, and even human life. The problem with pricing these things, Patel argues, is that they become commodified and can be put to uses other than the ones originally intended. (e.g. When you assign a price value to land, poor farmers sell their acreage and are forced to become city workers.) Second, free-market capitalism allows the prices of products to ignore "externalities," everything from environmental damage to social upheaval. This allows some products to be priced artificially low (he makes the case that if all externalities were factored into a McDonald's hamburger, it would cost $200), and some products with positive externalities to seem artificially high (sustainable, organically-grown food, for example). These two factors together have caused havoc throughout the world, especially in the poorest nations and communities. I liked Patel's individual examples, and there's a lot of food for thought in this book. I just couldn't follow the overall thread from chapter to chapter. Still, it was thought-provoking and I'm glad I read it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bill O'driscoll

    Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, offers a broader and deeper critique of the origins, limits and depredations of the market economy. He seeks the roots (they're not all that deep, culturally) of society's implicit belief that unregulated "free" markets are the best way to do and to value everything. And he offers alternatives, along the way debunking the theory known as the Tragedy of the Commons.Turns out this theory was created in 1968, but Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, offers a broader and deeper critique of the origins, limits and depredations of the market economy. He seeks the roots (they're not all that deep, culturally) of society's implicit belief that unregulated "free" markets are the best way to do and to value everything. And he offers alternatives, along the way debunking the theory known as the Tragedy of the Commons.Turns out this theory was created in 1968, but it wasn't based on actual human experience with the commons: Rather, it was to illustrate its creator's belief that humans are unalterably selfish and can't be trusted to shared natural resources. As Patel notes, the commons in, say British history, worked pretty well for the poor until the system of "enclosures" came around starting in the late Middle Ages, privatizing property and leaving the poor with nothing to live off except the labor they could sell (and HAD to sell, cheaply). Patel's solution is much the same as in Stuffed and Starved: More real democracy, that is, people taking control of their own lands and livelihoods, rather than corporations (and the governments that serve them) running everything. He offers concrete examples of this living democracy from his travels to the developing world, including South Africa to India.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lars Lofgren

    Having obtained degrees from Oxford, the London School of Economics, and Cornell University, Raj Patel explores the fundamental dilemma of market-based economies. Because prices do not accurately reflect the value of commodities due to their extensive externalities (Patel explains that a more appropriate price for an average hamburger would be $200 if these externalities were properly factored into the production process), an overemphasis on price and capitalism severely alters the balance of so Having obtained degrees from Oxford, the London School of Economics, and Cornell University, Raj Patel explores the fundamental dilemma of market-based economies. Because prices do not accurately reflect the value of commodities due to their extensive externalities (Patel explains that a more appropriate price for an average hamburger would be $200 if these externalities were properly factored into the production process), an overemphasis on price and capitalism severely alters the balance of society. To overcome this dilemma, modern societies should integrate principles of stewardship and commoning. Socially, markets must abandon the pursuit of relentless expansion and profit. Response: Even though Patel presents several claims that could have a great deal of validity, his process for exploring those claims is incredibly lacking. Unfortunately, broad and sweeping claims are made throughout the book without evidence, leaving the validity of most of his claims in question. For example, Patel concludes that Western society's endless pursuit of profit necessitates the nationalization of the health care and banking system. The problem isn't that Patel advocates for policies such as nationalizing the banking industry, it's that this book is not about the intricacies of incredibly complex issues like nationalization. Nationalization policy can easily fill volumes, yet Patel only mentions it once when he presents it as a solution. His prior arguments are assumed to support the policy without any connection between the two. This is by no means an exception either. Whether it's nationalization, structural adjustment programs, the American military-industrial complex, or conditional cash transfers, Patel provides the briefest of descriptions, then uses them to support inordinate claims that desperately require a great deal more evidence and analysis. Possibly the most egregious assumption Patel makes throughout the book without providing sufficient analysis and evidence is his reliance on dependency theory. In short, dependency theory claims that modern industrialized states (called the "core") exploit developing and underdeveloped states (called the periphery"). This is a highly complex theory with many arguments supporting and debasing it. Patel frequently references the exploitative nature of modern states as fact, without exploring any of the complexities that the debate over dependency theory has discussed. Patel also attempts to offer examples of functional communal-oriented governing systems such as the Zapatistas but fails to illustrate how these social structures can be scaled and adapted to modern economies and political systems. Much of the book discusses the Zapatistas or similar communal-oriented political organizations, offering a great deal of potential, but falls far short of any pragmatic guidance for policy makers or scholars. Bottom Line: Not worth the time. Regardless of whether or not any of Patel's arguments are valid, he fails to present enough evidence to support his claims or respond to counterarguments. Considering Patel's education, there's little doubt that he could compose an incredibly insightful book. This is not that book. Sadly, Patel's book amounts to nothing more than a highly educated diatribe. For more reviews and a summary of Patel's main points, find us at Hand of Reason.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Very interesting analysis of today's profit driven "democratic" society in which costs are meant to reflect value. The reality is that cost does not in any reflect value of goods on the market today, Raj sites examples such as Walmart's ultra cheap goods at the cost of child labor, pollution, low wages, & increase of welfare. Not only does this apply to material goods such as those sold at Walmart or McDonald's, it also applies to the stock markets. Companies which have nothing to add or decreas Very interesting analysis of today's profit driven "democratic" society in which costs are meant to reflect value. The reality is that cost does not in any reflect value of goods on the market today, Raj sites examples such as Walmart's ultra cheap goods at the cost of child labor, pollution, low wages, & increase of welfare. Not only does this apply to material goods such as those sold at Walmart or McDonald's, it also applies to the stock markets. Companies which have nothing to add or decrease value of their stock still reflect fluctuating prices in the market due to various trading schemes implemented by brokers and traders. In addition they create securities of no value which are so complicated that noone fully understands them and believes they are of value. It's complete trickery, not a system based on open knowledge as is one of the basic assumptions under which the market runs. And don't forget that fact that corporations are legally human entities, which gives them all the rights and more of us regular people. Spinning the corporate beast even more out of control, creating more problems and decreasing the value of our democratic society. The corrections he recommends would greatly help our society to better value items. This way we don't have to make choices based on conscience like paying more money for organic goods because the government subsidized industrialized farmers which make those land and water leaching practices cheaper. I could keep going but I suggest you read the book. It's very interesting and thought provoking if you constantly question the state or our society, economy, and subsequent happiness like me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    AJ

    This was a good read, nothing I haven't already read from a lot of other books but I enjoy Patel's writing style. It wasn't alarmist, it wasn't defeatist, it was just a well stated account of market capitalism and the terrible effects it's had on our world. My favorite quote by far was: "There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthoo This was a good read, nothing I haven't already read from a lot of other books but I enjoy Patel's writing style. It wasn't alarmist, it wasn't defeatist, it was just a well stated account of market capitalism and the terrible effects it's had on our world. My favorite quote by far was: "There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luke Meehan

    Participatory democracy deserves a better champion than Patel. As much as I agreed with the implicit reasoning of many of his observations, this is not a worthwhile book. His meandering recounting of cliche quotes never threatens logical consistency, and his demonstration of policy value never moves beyond simplistic praise. The subject of countercultural reform requires clam analysis, not crowd-pleasing newspaper columns.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    Patel is in that school of recent left-ish social critics, and much more left than some, who are on a popularising mission to develop a critique of the contemporary capitalist order. The important thing that this group of writers share (think Naomi Klein, Hilary Wainwright, Arundhati Roy, George Monbiot and Eric Schlosser) is a broader critique of neo-liberal capitalism than we see from more economically specialist writers as well as a compelling writing style that brings the critique to life – Patel is in that school of recent left-ish social critics, and much more left than some, who are on a popularising mission to develop a critique of the contemporary capitalist order. The important thing that this group of writers share (think Naomi Klein, Hilary Wainwright, Arundhati Roy, George Monbiot and Eric Schlosser) is a broader critique of neo-liberal capitalism than we see from more economically specialist writers as well as a compelling writing style that brings the critique to life – the weakness is that of the list above, only Wainwright seems to have articulated a clear or programmatically focussed idea of what to do. Patel’s case here is a useful and powerful supplement to this set of writers in that he sets out to do two things: 1) explore the limitations of the market as a way to value stuff, and 2) in response advance a case for a democracy based in participation and the idea of the commons. The idea is compelling, to democratise markets includes a struggle to get business to bear the full costs of its activities rather than palm those costs off on others (the state or citizens of other countries for instance) along with a willingness to get it wrong and start again. But this willingness to get it wrong, this need to slow down, this need to slough off the dominance of the powerful in favour of the many is scary, takes a long time, and requires that we work to overcome two principle errors of contemporary social life – the first is its destruction by neo-liberal ideologies that hold that there is no such thing as society (even while its advocates get all het up about social exclusion – surely that’s a paradox), and the second is that the market is a meaningful and accurate way to value things. The first, the end of society, is hard one to overcome – and means that we need to begin to work together, not through intermediaries but through direct democratic and face-to-face means. The second is perhaps even harder, and requires that we throw off not financialisation but a blindness that constructs the capitalist market where some enter to enhance their profits and bolster their self interest as not just a meaningful way to assess and determine value, but the only way to do so. It’s all kinda of intimidating. The book has some great case studies and stories of people organising for themselves to not only speak the truth to power (with apologies of Orwell) but force power to concede. Sometimes it seems tiny – like the Florida tomato pickers whose campaign focussed not on their family owned employing companies but on McDonalds and the like who purchase the tomatoes, with the outcome of a wage increase of a penny a pound. It may seem miniscule (and it is) but more important than the size of the increase was that there was an increase after years of nothing. Sometimes it is not the material gain that matters but learning the skills of organising and the possibility of resistance. Even better than the case studies is Patel’s impressive ability to explain economics in clear and obvious language, and in a way that means that we don’t quite realise that he is talking economics, mainly because he does not get hung up on the obscure worlds of so much economics-linked obscurantism, but he focuses on the people at the centre of the stories. Amid all this however, the book is quite frustrating because it seems quite disconnected from a sense of what-do-we-do. This is not so much a problem of Patel’s but of current politics – he emphasises the commons, he calls for fundamental changes in the ways we think, and then says that it won’t be easy. I’m pretty sure that as with Patel many of us can imagine a new future, what we need to know and work on is how to get to it. Sadly, this doesn’t take us far down that road. Throughout the book, however, I was reminded of a comment by the great Uruguayan writer Edurado Galeano – ‘democracy is often confused with an electoral ritual’.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shea Mastison

    Where do I begin with this? Raj Patel runs roughshod over essentially every notion of individualism and self-ownership known in Western society; his conception of rights is ever-expanding. Patel mentions that people have a "right" to a job, a "right" to a fair wage, a "right" to medical care (and quite likely prescriptions). The most insulting claim Patel makes in relation to rights, is that people have a "right to property, even if it's not theirs." Essentially, Patel is arguing that an individ Where do I begin with this? Raj Patel runs roughshod over essentially every notion of individualism and self-ownership known in Western society; his conception of rights is ever-expanding. Patel mentions that people have a "right" to a job, a "right" to a fair wage, a "right" to medical care (and quite likely prescriptions). The most insulting claim Patel makes in relation to rights, is that people have a "right to property, even if it's not theirs." Essentially, Patel is arguing that an individual has a "right" to loot from their neighbors so long as they can manufacture a need. Worse than his offensive conception of rights, is his pseudo-criticism of capitalism. He sees horrible injustices being committed by corporations; for example, he doesn't like that corporations can patent mineral resources on nationalized land. Patel seems totally oblivious to the fact that a truly capitalist society does not allow the government to be a landholder, or for it to engage in business. He continues, criticizing the Federal Reserve, and its "fanatic capitalism." Of course, anyone with the remotest understanding of capitalism realizes that there is no room for a central bank in a free market. He makes all these criticisms of "capitalism" while never really seeming to understand,that he's criticizing a mixed-economy; and he's arguing that giving people less economic freedom will actually fix these things. Every single one of his real world criticisms of capitalism is not centered around the free market itself; rather, he criticizes the very governmental actions that ensure our market is *not* capitalist. Don't waste your time with this book, for any reason.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Everyone should read this book. I would be elated to find that this kind of material ended up in the public school system. Raj Patel offers insight into why the current market system and economy are not working and gives examples of cases where changes have been made for the better. It doesn't read as a manual for a perfect world that has all the answers, as any such book to claim that it can solve the problem is usually lacking in one way or another. I am not well educated in the workings of ec Everyone should read this book. I would be elated to find that this kind of material ended up in the public school system. Raj Patel offers insight into why the current market system and economy are not working and gives examples of cases where changes have been made for the better. It doesn't read as a manual for a perfect world that has all the answers, as any such book to claim that it can solve the problem is usually lacking in one way or another. I am not well educated in the workings of economic systems and my experience and interest with them probably ended back in grade 8 when our class had played a game of creating our own stock market. I realized back then that the stock market was easily manipulated and could bring about the worst in people. I had guesses of what was really happening with our type of economy but didn't have the knowledge or information to back those ideas. Raj Patel touches on a lot of these gut feelings and explains them in a way that is easy to understand. Some of the cases that he speaks of are sad and sometimes unbelievable *spoiler* such as slavery still existing in parts of the United States only ten years ago, but others are hopeful and positive stories of change. I was fearful that reading this book would just bring me down and be depressing, however I found it to be fairly even in its emotional impact.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A great dissection of how and why we are where we are today in disastrous global economics. Patel breaks down complex financial issues into understandable nuggets interspersed with apropos literary references, historical anecdotes, and social-economic research results that are sometimes amusing but more often extremely troubling. A short read, though, gets you to some optimism at the end with suggestions for ways we can change the path we are hurtling down by rethinking market society, referenci A great dissection of how and why we are where we are today in disastrous global economics. Patel breaks down complex financial issues into understandable nuggets interspersed with apropos literary references, historical anecdotes, and social-economic research results that are sometimes amusing but more often extremely troubling. A short read, though, gets you to some optimism at the end with suggestions for ways we can change the path we are hurtling down by rethinking market society, referencing places and people who are doing just that. The major thing I took from it that I can do, *right now* is food sovereignty - buy local food! Also, this intro to the last chapter cracked me up: "There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs." Heheh. Dude hates Ayn Rand.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book opens by quoting six lines from Blake's "fourfold vision" poem. I.e., one of the stupidest poems ever written, bashing science because Blake couldn't understand it, and it wouldn't support his existing opinions. (Yes, if you're wrong, science will eventually point that out. Many people are uncomfortable with that. But they are, you know, wrong.) Patel's basic thesis seemed interesting and quite supportable, but just on the basis of that one quote, I can conclude that either 1) he unders This book opens by quoting six lines from Blake's "fourfold vision" poem. I.e., one of the stupidest poems ever written, bashing science because Blake couldn't understand it, and it wouldn't support his existing opinions. (Yes, if you're wrong, science will eventually point that out. Many people are uncomfortable with that. But they are, you know, wrong.) Patel's basic thesis seemed interesting and quite supportable, but just on the basis of that one quote, I can conclude that either 1) he understands that quote, in context, and in the context of other works about it - e.g., Roszak - in which case he's an anti-science airhead; or, 2) he hasn't the faintest idea what that Blake quote means in context, and quoted it without comprehension, in which case he's a poor excuse for an author. I have never seen a book go so wrong so fast.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zia Okocha

    I liked it mostly for the books he cited as I will have a lot to read moving forward. Moreover, I took away an alternate way of approaching thinking about the economy and economics as a whole. It seems like we talk about freeing markets as much as possible and as a result, the benefits will eventually get to the rest of us (trickle-down, if you will) and he makes the argument (and cites many other thinkers on the subject) of making the markets work for us, which can only be done via regulation. I liked it mostly for the books he cited as I will have a lot to read moving forward. Moreover, I took away an alternate way of approaching thinking about the economy and economics as a whole. It seems like we talk about freeing markets as much as possible and as a result, the benefits will eventually get to the rest of us (trickle-down, if you will) and he makes the argument (and cites many other thinkers on the subject) of making the markets work for us, which can only be done via regulation. I especially liked the discussion on viewing corporations as a person and that if it did it would be a textbook sociopath - it is uncaring about consequences, will skirt rules and boundaries for its own end, etc. that was an intriguing idea I had never considered to regard the corporations in that regard but given our current situation and also the Supreme Court allowing corporations personhood, it’s an interesting idea.

  14. 5 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    This book looks at why things cost what they do. The author, mostly, does a decent job with examples to explain what he’s trying to explain, but much of the actual economics/finance discussion went over my head. He really tried to “dumb it down”, and it’s probably enough for some, but unfortunately, it wasn’t always enough for me. Again, though, his examples were good and made it easier for me to follow. But, economics is just not my interest, so I’m leaving it with an “ok” rating.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    An excellent look at the limitations of the free-market concept (and the unfreedoms central to it), the true costs of what we consume (which for the most part are not included in what we pay, at least in terms of direct payment for goods), and the value of the commons concept. The book is clear, succinct, and relatively easy to skim. Its principal weakness is going off subject a bit too much.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I read Raj Patel's first book Stuffed and Starved: the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and walked away both better informed and troubled. The Value of Nothing has been the same sort of experience: I now know more, and what I've learned is scary. Patel sets his sights on what former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls "supercapitalism." There are other, more colorful names, like vampire capitalism, or wendigo capitalism, but essentially, the author goes after large transnational corpora I read Raj Patel's first book Stuffed and Starved: the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and walked away both better informed and troubled. The Value of Nothing has been the same sort of experience: I now know more, and what I've learned is scary. Patel sets his sights on what former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls "supercapitalism." There are other, more colorful names, like vampire capitalism, or wendigo capitalism, but essentially, the author goes after large transnational corporations (which puts me squarely in his "Amen!" corner). It's not capitalism, as a principal, that bothers Patel (or me). It's what we've allowed certain parts of capitalism to evolve into that's the trouble. A large part of the book is dedicated to explaining--clearly, and in terms an non-economist can readily understand--how markets undervalue things like the environment, or freedom, or food diversity, or culture. Large corporations exist for the sole purpose of creating profit, and have every rational reason to 'externalize' costs (like, for example, not having sufficient safety checks in place on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico...). Patel's excellent analysis of how 'market thinking' has infected our world in areas where is is utterly inappropriate is both enlightening and chilling. The author also provides some examples of resistance movements across the globe (like Via Campesia, "the Peasant Way," a global organization of poor people with more than 150 million members), groups that practice participatory budgeting, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, and breakaway groups like the Zapatas in Mexico. Patel's ideas about economics are deeply connected to his belief in actual democracy, and he believes that--unless steps are taken to reduce the scope and power of transnational corporations--our world is in for a very rough ride. It's difficult to argue with his criticisms of what ails global capitalism. The one area where he lost me was when it came to a discussion of human rights. That author believes that food, shelter, and medical care are rights, and that's something I find deeply problematic. Don't get me wrong: if we, in our (formerly) wealthy society decide that we wish to provide those things for our citizens through programs like food stamps or Medicare, that's great...but no one has an inherent right to those things. We can create a civil right that allows our citizens to have access to those entitlement plans, but no one is born with a right to have things provided to them. Patel means well, but I think my greatest disagreement with him comes in the same area where I end up disagreeing with most liberal/progressive people: the idea of natural rights. One other thing. Patel believes that human beings can act selflessly, altruistically, and egalitarian(ly) (I think I just made that word up) in order to achieve a broad-based common good. In this, I think he is naive. People certainly can, and do, act with great compassion and solidarity...but it is hardly normative. I think, again, my view of human nature differs a great deal from that of the author. With that said, I would very much enjoy speaking with him and having a civil conversation. I'd loved to have my mind changed on this particular issue! he Value of Nothing is a good book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Faraone

    Unsubstantiated mark-up is the least of a consumer's problems. According to Raj Patel, author of the new The Value ofNothing: How To Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Picador), if McDonald's accounted for the health and environmental costs attached to a Big Mac, then that tasty treat would retail for about $200. I asked the progressive UC-Berkeley scholar about his radical-yet-sensible criticism of free-market capitalism. Why is it so much easier to sell the idea of free-market capit Unsubstantiated mark-up is the least of a consumer's problems. According to Raj Patel, author of the new The Value ofNothing: How To Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Picador), if McDonald's accounted for the health and environmental costs attached to a Big Mac, then that tasty treat would retail for about $200. I asked the progressive UC-Berkeley scholar about his radical-yet-sensible criticism of free-market capitalism. Why is it so much easier to sell the idea of free-market capitalism than it is to convince us of its flaws? The "free" in "free market" sounds spectacular. Who doesn't like free? It's associated not only with some sort of bounty but also with liberty. And given the historical trajectory of communism versus capitalism, the free market was always the number one weapon in that arsenal, while alternatives to the free market have been roundly crushed, under-reported, or sidelined in some way by the culture of corporate capitalism. But people are starting to wonder why — if this is all fine and dandy — they are without a job. And if people are so free, then why can't they pay their debts? Does everything you're talking about come down to a need for revolutionary campaign finance reform? The one thing that we have to do is realize that there's no one thing that we have to do. Campaign finance reform is absolutely vital, but in my book I talk about democracy, and what real democracy might actually look like. Some of that involves us taking way more responsibility for our government and our politics than we have until now. When we think about personal responsibility we think about putting in green light bulbs and buying fair trade, shade-grown, pro-locust whatever. But as far as the Greeks were concerned, being a citizen involved being ready to be governor of your city for a whole year if you were selected at random to be one. That kind of personal responsibility requires education, so I also think education reform is very high on the agenda, as are the right to health care and the right to food. With the popularity of big box stores and online shopping growing — and with those avenues relying so much on distant resources — is society past the point of being able to move toward local economies? I don't think so. It's true that online retailing is taking off, but at the same time you are seeing a resurgence of an interest in living within our means and living within our food shed. There is research that shows an increasing number of food policy councils that are moving to a locally oriented approach to consumption. And this is a new thing — it's happened of late and it's been driven by a new generation of activists and citizens who are much more engaged than people were in the past. From my Boston Phoenix review: http://thephoenix.com/boston/arts/950...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    Raj Patel is an economist who has worked for the WTO and the World Bank, and is now a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. He thinks that the problems with today's capitalism came about because the assumption of the economics discipline about human nature, the so-called Homo economicus whose only goal in life is maximizing his own utility function, is wrong: human beings aren't like this. The problem with this argument is that Patel is not the only economist to argue so; plenty of economists, includ Raj Patel is an economist who has worked for the WTO and the World Bank, and is now a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. He thinks that the problems with today's capitalism came about because the assumption of the economics discipline about human nature, the so-called Homo economicus whose only goal in life is maximizing his own utility function, is wrong: human beings aren't like this. The problem with this argument is that Patel is not the only economist to argue so; plenty of economists, including Nobel Prize winners and the authors of introductory textbooks, concur, so this criticism does not apply to the entire economics discipline. Patel decries the idea of putting a monetary value on a human life, and argues that the economists who do so tread ground that is perilously close to Nazism. Well, people themselves often choose better paid but more dangerous work such as mining, or cheaper but more dangerous goods such as small cars, effectively valuing their own life; why shouldn't economists be allowed to do the same? Patel also discusses at length the ecological and health externalities of producing goods, and mentions a study that says that the true price of a hamburger made from a cow raised in a clear-cut forest should be $200. Well, Arthur Pigou invented the idea of a tax to pay for the social costs of such externalities as early as 1920, and many such taxes are implemented throughout the world: gasoline is taxed, though less heavily in the United States than in Europe, and public transit is subsidized; the producers of nuclear power are charged a fee to cover the future disposal of nuclear waste, and the producers of wind power are subsidized. It is reasonable to argue that the same policy should apply to food: unhealthy food and the food the production of which is ecologically disruptive should be taxed, like alcohol and tobacco are today, and healthy food grown sustainably should be subsidized. However, this argument is hardly earth-shattering. As examples of what society free from the blindness of traditional economics looks like, Patel cites the Zapatistas in Mexico and a community organization in the slums of South Africa. The question of how to scale it up to a bigger and more sophisticated society than South African slums remains unanswered.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This book is a scatterbrained stream of laments about the state of wealth inequality, the excessive power of corporations, and the undervaluing of our natural resources. The observations are accurate, but they are nothing new. He spends a large amount of time in the first part of the book cherry picking examples of people behaving in ways that contradict the tenets of economics. After disparaging this field, he oddly uses economic models to support his points. The subtitle of "How to Reshape Mark This book is a scatterbrained stream of laments about the state of wealth inequality, the excessive power of corporations, and the undervaluing of our natural resources. The observations are accurate, but they are nothing new. He spends a large amount of time in the first part of the book cherry picking examples of people behaving in ways that contradict the tenets of economics. After disparaging this field, he oddly uses economic models to support his points. The subtitle of "How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy" seems inappropriate given the lack of suggestions for moving forward. The author's only real policy proposals involve generalities such as being nicer to each other, increased regulation, and placing greater value on the environment. Those are laudable goals, but without specifying how to attain them, the author relegates this book into the piles of similar publications that say the same thing. For this book to be relevant and worthwhile, it needs to address specific issues and the policy that should be implemented. Instead, it is the same tired rhetoric that leads nowhere. The only topics on which the author defines real solutions involve the field that he seems to have an estranged relationship: economics. His zeal for discrediting economics and yet embracing it seems to indicate a person living with intense cognitive dissonance.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tamlynem

    Essentially, the author argues that we don't have to continue looking at our country's framework through a corporate culture-shaped capitalist lens. The author talks about a lot of philosophers and writers I read in undergrad, like Marx, Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill. I also unexpectedly learned about the Zapatistas. He's not just making theoretical or economics arguments; he gives many positive and negative examples to prove his point that modern corporations act to the detriment of the societ Essentially, the author argues that we don't have to continue looking at our country's framework through a corporate culture-shaped capitalist lens. The author talks about a lot of philosophers and writers I read in undergrad, like Marx, Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill. I also unexpectedly learned about the Zapatistas. He's not just making theoretical or economics arguments; he gives many positive and negative examples to prove his point that modern corporations act to the detriment of the societies they operate in. The recent Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. FEC) that corporations have the same rights to speak as individuals makes this book all the more relevant. Corporations aren't the same and they need strict economic and environmental regulation. Also, you wouldn't know to look at it, but this is a very pro-feminist themed book. The author points out how our society undervalues women's work and how important it is for women to be able to control their food source for the betterment of community.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    This book is sort of a post-recession follow up to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and No Logo. Patel gives some familiar critiques of the corporatization and commodification of everything on earth: Cost-benefit analysis distorts our sense of responsibility. It's not possible to put a monetary value on health or happiness, or a human life. We aren't good at pricing externalities. The market is poorly equipped to deal with common-pool problems. Privatization encourages people to put externalities of This book is sort of a post-recession follow up to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and No Logo. Patel gives some familiar critiques of the corporatization and commodification of everything on earth: Cost-benefit analysis distorts our sense of responsibility. It's not possible to put a monetary value on health or happiness, or a human life. We aren't good at pricing externalities. The market is poorly equipped to deal with common-pool problems. Privatization encourages people to put externalities off onto other parties whenever they can. Etc. I bought The Value of Nothing because the inside flap promises some constructive ideas, alternatives to the constant march toward markets that are incapable of solving common resource problems. But that's really not the focus of this book. Other than mentioning Creative Commons and a few small success stories, there's not much in the form of positive suggestions.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    This book made me think more about what I purchase and the hidden costs attached to the things I buy. Prime example: the Big Mac, which Patel says has environmental costs which put the real cost of a burger at around $200. This book is about all the things in the world that don't have a monetary value attached, and how we can start addressing these "externalities" of the economy. Things like the environment, health, and psychological well-being. Patel proposes that we reassess the "democracies" This book made me think more about what I purchase and the hidden costs attached to the things I buy. Prime example: the Big Mac, which Patel says has environmental costs which put the real cost of a burger at around $200. This book is about all the things in the world that don't have a monetary value attached, and how we can start addressing these "externalities" of the economy. Things like the environment, health, and psychological well-being. Patel proposes that we reassess the "democracies" we live in, and begin pushing for political systems that take into account the externalities. It's good to take a step back and think about your lifestyle and the way if affects people around the world. It's eye opening. I'm definitely making a concerted effort to change some habits now.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    A powerful book that everybody should read. Patel successfully walks the fine line between thorough academia and agitated activism, cautioning always at the right moment, when I was just about to disregard him as another leftist utopian. With an easy to read introduction to economic theory, he battles free market ideology with Adam Smith and proposes an alternative regime based on commons and participatory democracy. The second part of the book, with its case studies and anecdotes about social m A powerful book that everybody should read. Patel successfully walks the fine line between thorough academia and agitated activism, cautioning always at the right moment, when I was just about to disregard him as another leftist utopian. With an easy to read introduction to economic theory, he battles free market ideology with Adam Smith and proposes an alternative regime based on commons and participatory democracy. The second part of the book, with its case studies and anecdotes about social movements from Indian farmers to North American free software developers, is a rousing call for action. If you don't at least want to start a urban farming collective after reading this book, something is wrong with you.

  24. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    A generally entertaining and informative call to action on the current way the richest countries are running their affairs and the affairs of the rest of the world. I appreciated the excursions into the theories of economists of the past and the glimpses of ways in which some communities are testing out new forms of democracy. It gives me hope for a non-consumerist future when I read books like this, even though doubt nags back at me when I consider how much people will need to change in order t A generally entertaining and informative call to action on the current way the richest countries are running their affairs and the affairs of the rest of the world. I appreciated the excursions into the theories of economists of the past and the glimpses of ways in which some communities are testing out new forms of democracy. It gives me hope for a non-consumerist future when I read books like this, even though doubt nags back at me when I consider how much people will need to change in order to build a more co-operative, caring society in the future.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Nelson

    It hit a raw nerve for me about where I am in life and society, and I'm still trying to figure out how to describe that experience. I'd like to read it again and maybe make some notes as I go. Left with a vague sense of wanting to do something, but not enough of a strong direction of what exactly that ought to be. (That may just be about me.) Recommended with that reservation. It hit a raw nerve for me about where I am in life and society, and I'm still trying to figure out how to describe that experience. I'd like to read it again and maybe make some notes as I go. Left with a vague sense of wanting to do something, but not enough of a strong direction of what exactly that ought to be. (That may just be about me.) Recommended with that reservation.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James Tracy

    With the recent deaths of Colin Ward and Howard Zinn, I found myself wondering who will make up the next generation of radical troublemakers. Raj Patel comes to mind. With this book, he makes economics interesting and sparks the imagination to wonder about alternatives.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sandeep

    Rarely does a book ground itself in firm economic theory, and then go on to identify the madness surrounding growth and human development through mindless consumption. Raj Patel manages to skillfully weave it together.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    Gave me a new perspective on how capitalism should operate. I love the way this guy thinks, since I've read the book, I've seen him speak twice and he is an excellent speaker as well! Gave me a new perspective on how capitalism should operate. I love the way this guy thinks, since I've read the book, I've seen him speak twice and he is an excellent speaker as well!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Murray

    This was pretty interesting, though I'd read a lot of the stuff before. This was pretty interesting, though I'd read a lot of the stuff before.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    My impressions of this book echo those of many other readers: Raj Patel often presents compelling cases to support his primary thesis -- that participatory democracy can redefine our system of global economic values by accounting for externalities ignored by the currently dominant free market system -- but he frequently struggles with molding his ideas into a cogent, and therefore compelling, narrative. In short, Patel is all over the map, and his tendency to dig down into the weeds hampers the My impressions of this book echo those of many other readers: Raj Patel often presents compelling cases to support his primary thesis -- that participatory democracy can redefine our system of global economic values by accounting for externalities ignored by the currently dominant free market system -- but he frequently struggles with molding his ideas into a cogent, and therefore compelling, narrative. In short, Patel is all over the map, and his tendency to dig down into the weeds hampers the ability of the reader to follow the thread of his argument. We're left with somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle to piece together on our own, and although the image it depicts is an extremely useful one, it takes a bit of effort and determination to fit all of the pieces together. It is interesting to note that, from the perspective of 2009, with traumas to various financial markets still freshly bleeding, the author is able to cite numerous examples of organizations which have reclaimed the rights of the citizenry (frequently those who are the most dispossessed) when it comes to the "commons," which is to say those resources which affect the populace as a whole and which, if commodified and privatized ("enclosed" is the term Patel employs) can result in the greatest harm to the largest number of innocent bystanders. He attempts to demonstrate this by tracing out so-called "externalities," which are simply those prices which the most marginalized populations, or which the environment at large, have to pick up the tab on, but which are never accounted for in standard models of value, which, from the perspective of free-market, corporate capitalism, is always perfectly synonymous with price. The author strongly implies that corporations are, ultimately, at the root of our current system's dysfunction, and, drawing a line from the power of such entities to the reins of government, advocates for an active reclamation of rights to both resources and human dignity. Patel goes on to demonstrate what this looks like, in practice, by citing numerous examples, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, Mexico's Zapatistas, and the global, grassroots organization La Via Campesina, among numerous others. These are organizations which, fed up with waiting for their rights to be granted, acknowledged, affirmed, or bestowed, have simply moved ahead to claim them, and then acted accordingly. What is most interesting about Patel's argument, ten years later, is not how little has changed, but how much worse everything has become. The author's optimism seems quaint from our current vantage point, but when we think back on how desperate things seemed in 2009, this contrast becomes downright frightening. In 2009, for example, Patel was throwing up huge red flags around the issue of climate change, but here we are a decade later, watching the U.S. rolling back decades of environmental protections in the name of... corporate, free-market capitalism. The giant has not been starved, let alone slain. On the contrary, it has continued to grow beyond all proportion. An analogy might be useful here: There is a reason why King Kong could never exist in real life. This is a function of scale. As a gorilla grows, its surface area is squared, but its volume is cubed. In theory, the animal will eventually reach a point at which its surface area is insufficient to dissipate its body heat, and it will die from fever. This exemplifies our current system of values, and it can have only one end. In the final analysis, it could be argued that Patel's book deserves four, not three, stars, and I struggled with rating it. However, between its lack of coherent readability and its misguided, if tentative, starry-eyed optimism, I felt compelled to dock it that extra star. Nonetheless, as a reader I find myself in profound sympathy with the author's intent.

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