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The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy Paperback – 6 Jan 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (6 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846272181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846272189
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 229,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Combines sociology and neuroeconomics to ask the most fundamental question of the season: why do things cost what they do?' --Prospect

`This is Raj Patel's great gift: he makes even the most radical ideas seem not only reasonable, but inevitable. A brilliant book' --Naomi Klein

`A penetrating and admirably concise guide to the follies of market fundamentalism' --John Gray, Observer

'A tightly argued and timely study that deserves to be read by anyone concerned with the state of the world today' --Tribune

`Patel offers us a whole new way to think about price and value. Bracingly written and full of surprises'
--Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

About the Author

RAJ PATEL was educated at Oxford, the LSE, and Cornell. A former fellow at Yale and Berkeley, he now holds a Visiting Fellowship at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has worked for the World Bank, interned at the WTO, consulted for the UN, and protested against his former employers. He is one of only a few activists trusted to work with the Via Campesina peasant movement. His first book was Stuffed & Starved. www.rajpatel.org

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By modern life is rubbish on 30 Jan 2011
Format: Paperback
How often have you started off a book full of enthusiasm, loved the first few chapters, and then found yourself wishing the author had stopped half way through? I get that all the time. I imagine it's because it's natural to deal with problems in two parts - `what's wrong with the current system; what we should do about it'. Unfortunately it's much easier to knock the existing system than to outline a new one. So lots of books follow a detailed and interesting critique of the current state of play with a woolly cry of `something must be done, and it should look a bit like this'. This is a case in point.

There's a growing consensus that conventional economics contains some very, very dubious assumptions at its core. One of the most dubious is that of `homo economicus' - the person who in any given situation will act so as to maximise their utility. Another is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis - roughly the claim that markets are `informationally efficient', that prices reflect all publically available information and instantly change to reflect new information. A lot of economic models require these assumptions to get going.

Now, I'm not exactly an economics insider, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that neither of these claims comes close to representing the world as it really exists (as opposed to as it exists in the heads of certain members of the Chicago school), and that the most interesting work within the discipline is being done by people who make contrary assumptions. Patel takes aim at both of them - especially effectively at homo economicus - and scores a number of hits. We do not, it seems, behave much like this in real life. We would be pretty horrible if we did.
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By Paul Hutcheon on 15 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A bit of fresh air. Profound and
entertaining and caused me rethink economics and why the system no longer works.
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5 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Chola Mukanga on 24 Dec 2010
Format: Paperback
Value of Nothing aims to challenge conventional approaches to the problem of resource allocation - his artillery is aimed at profit driven markets, and as an alternative he proposes a move a towards more common allocation that lifts all boats. The book is divided in two parts. The first is a rather an inept and misrepresented intellectual attack at conventional economic thought. The second, although largely ungrounded by the first, provides the most interesting material, specifically case studies where democracy is being "re-defined". A wonderful story in there about South African shack dwellers. However, in terms of substance and new credible ideas, the contribution of the Value of Nothing appears to be nothing. But if you are into Marxist thought or you are a tree hugging environmentalist (sorry!) or seeking seeking to unite economics with Buddhism, you will love the book! Some weird paragraphs in there! Naturally, I am very interested to hear from someone who has an opposite view of the book.

Memorable Quote : "In moving to a more just and sustainable world, direct action that tests the boundaries of private property in the name of global justice will undoubtedly be necessary". [page 177]
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2 of 14 people found the following review helpful By THE TRUTH on 13 July 2012
Format: Paperback
This 'book' is a list of incoherent, rambling scenarios that have little connection to each other, let alone the title.

Raj Patel is clearly neither a writer nor an economist. This individual has got away with having a'book' published as a result of pop publishers being willing to publish anything.

This 'book' would have a higher value through if the value of paper could be considered.

If I could give this 'book' -5 stars I would. It is utter nonsense.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 55 reviews
76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Readers will enjoy or detest based on their political ideology, but Patel makes great points! 13 Jan 2010
By Todd Bartholomew - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The Value of Nothing" follows on the heels of a number of books arguing the need for societies to re-evaluate themselves in a multitude of ways. A veritable cottage industry of such books have popped up in recent months including $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It,Free: The Future of a Radical Price, and many others which point at our need to fundamentally reassess our way of doing business. While those books looked as small aspects of needed change, such as more efficient use of oil, inefficiencies and problems in the food industry, and digitization and file sharing, in "The Value of Nothing" Raj Patel instead takes a shot at the drastic and rather dramatic changes societies need to make to ensure their future success and survival. While ostensibly about finance and economics, Patel's work touches on virtually every aspect of modern society and does so in a language that is easily comprehended by non-specialists and lay people alike. Patel's explanation of how and why the economy collapsed is perhaps the most cogent and concise I've yet read to date, something he did so well with his prior book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, which looked at the problems of the global food supply system. Picking up on that theme Patel argues that the prices consumers pay doesn't reflect the true cost of producing that item as there are hidden ecological and social costs not reflected in the item itself. Nations with lax environmental laws incur considerable damage to their ecosystem they will have to contend with at some future point, and which in the interim can cause immediate harm. Patel argues persuasively for greater economic equality and a more sustainable economy, but therein lies the problem: it requires greater engagement and lobbying by the public. Patel's argument will likely resonate with Progressives who are lobbying for just these sort of reforms, but it will be anathema to Conservatives who argue that the economy needs less regulation rather than more. Like many recent books "The Value of Nothing" is either preaching to the choir or falling on deaf ears. Hopefully people can set aside partisan doctrine, pick up a copy, read it, and form their own opinions. I read this at the same time as The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger and found them to be great compliments to each other. Both should provide some compelling arguments for fundamental reform.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A paradigm shift 18 Jan 2010
By Ammi Emergency - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a self-styled amateur, underground economist, I've been looking for a book like Raj Patel's that knowledgeably describes the processes that lead to our recent economic collapse and then offers us a chance to shift our way of thinking so as to create a different outcome in the future. I fear that without implementing some of these changes--which entail shifting the way we see the world and value its components--the world economy is headed for another, and worse, collapse. The Value of Nothing is unflinching but hopeful. It is detailed and informed but centered on the big picture--on changes that can actually free us from our current muck. And its vivid, fast moving and a pleasure to read. An excellent and important book on a very important subject.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Nice examples, poor theory 3 Aug 2010
By JJ vd Weele - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book contains much that is important, interesting and true, but falls short in the attempt to integrate these things in a coherent framework.

Patel deals with issues that are fundamental to our survival and well-being on this planet: how to organize our political and economic life. His thesis is that we have let greedy markets and unresponsive governments run the show for too long. It is time to look for alternatives: autonomous community regulation and direct democracy, preferably combined. Patel gives many interesting examples how communities have been able to both govern their economic resources in a responsible way (relating to the work by Nobelprize winner Elinor Ostrom) and have set up direct democracy institutions to settle political issues (like the Zapatistas in Mexico). The book points out the (in my eyes relatively uncontroversial) fact that an unregulated market system has flaws. The most important perhaps being the existence of externalities. An externality exists if the price of a transaction does not cover all the social costs that are involved in it. One can think of buying a cheap airline tickets, which does not (fully) incorporate the environmental cost of air pollution.

Although there are valuable and interesting insights along the way, the book is only partly convincing at its central thesis. One main problem is that the book offers just community level examples. By contrast, the problems that Patel talks about (his main themes are climate change and environmental degradation) are problems that cannot be solved exclusively at a community level, but require national or global institutions. Patel does not dedicate a single word to the question of how his examples could be scaled up to such levels.

In fact, Patel hardly offers any concrete proposals, and is sometimes almost pathetically vague. After extensively blasting (on grounds that I think are wrong) cap and trade systems to emission reductions because they use a market, his alternative consist of nothing more than a vague reference to human tendencies for cooperation and fairness. Similarly, although it is a central theme of the book that markets are not able to value resources accurately, there are no clear ideas to what extent they should be replaced. In my view, history has shown that doing away with such a mechanism altogether leads to catastrophic economic failure and inefficiency. I suspect that Patel knows this, and in several places he actually admits that markets are a natural feature of human life that should and will continue to exist.

This brings me to my last criticism which relates to the book's anti-market leftwing tone. Patel often lambasts capitalism, imperialism and the market system in grand and sweeping terms. This will appeal to a relatively small leftist choir, but this hardly seems to fit his actual arguments, some of which may even sit well with libertarians (e.g. less central government involvement in local decision making). As I see it, the ideological angle of the book is one of choice, and obscures some of the beautiful common sense behind the examples that Patel lays out for us.

In sum, the content of this book is activist rather than intellectual. Patel made a good case that autonomous community regulation and direct democracy can and do exist successfully, and should be expanded. This made the book worth reading for me. How it will help us to solve the global problems that the world faces will need to wait for another volume.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
A triumph of democratic thinking 15 Jan 2010
By A. Bing - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An eye-opening and surprisingly upbeat account of democratic responses to economic crisis, The Value of Nothing is a must-read for all of us white-knuckling our way through ongoing economic turmoil, beset by private economic woes and baffled by public policies bolstering the institutions that failed us.

While free-market die-hards blithely rationalize the latest economic absurdities - billion-dollar bailouts, disappearing pension funds, alarming poverty growth rates in first-world nations - with the spectacularly unreassuring mantra "it's all cyclical," Dr. Patel establishes the foundations for lasting economic reform in The Value of Nothing. From Minneapolis citizen-policy-makers to self-organized shack-dwellers' communities in Durban, South Africa, Patel finds citizens' groups taking the initiative to meet community needs, instead of waiting for markets to distribute Invisible Handouts.

A veteran of the World Bank and World Trade Organization, Patel has a deep understanding of our global economic system and keen awareness of its shortcomings. But The Value of Nothing is not a dire screed about inevitable economic failures: it's a constructive critique of obviously flawed systems, and an inspiring testament to the power of democracy to improve our shared economic fates.

With creative problem-solving and evident compassion, The Value of Nothing is a rare example of clear, constructive thinking in the midst of a devastating crisis. Far from a dismal scientist, Patel emerges as an economic reformer of the first order, and a global thought leader worth following.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Primer on Social-Economic Justice 9 April 2010
By J.W.K - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Beginning the book with Greenspan's long-winded and tepid admission of ideological error--an error which led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis--author Raj Patel (author of Stuffed and Starved) takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of economic and political thought from Adam Smith to the recently deceased Oxford political philosopher Jerry Cohen, elucidating along the way such as things as: Why diamonds are worth more than water, why you can't put a price on the biosphere, and why profit-driven markets cannot point to true value. No armchair philosopher, though, Patel also navigates through some of the murkier chapters of labor history, the enclosure of the commons, and provides a cross-section of contemporary social democratic movements: including an organization of shack settlements in Durban in South Africa; the restoration of fishing commons in Chile; the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico; Beijing's Autonomous Workers; the participatory budgeting of Kerala, India and Porto Alegre, Brazil; the Dalit caste (so-called `untouchables') organic farming movements of Andhra Pradesh; Pennsylvania's School of Democracy, the tomato-picking slaves of Flordia (Yes, I said slaves); and a group of Bodhi tree-ordaining monks in eviscerated forests of Thailand. Picking up where The Corporation and The Shock Doctrine left off, Patel fleshes out the meaning of true democracy in a world filled with governmental and corporate corruption, and seeks to reconnect the individual with the community. All in all, The Value of Nothing is a very important book for people who are interested in social and economic justice.
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