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

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,629 ratings  ·  193 reviews
"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
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 5th 2010 by Picador (first published 2009)
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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
Bill O'driscoll
Feb 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jun 29, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Lars Lofgren
Jul 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Feb 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Luke Meehan
Apr 27, 2015 rated it did not like it
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.
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 – ...more
Shea Mastison
Feb 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Apr 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: left-unfinished
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
Zia Okocha
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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.
Robert Wechsler
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Jun 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Chris Faraone
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
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 ...more
Jan 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 26, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Mar 10, 2010 rated it liked it
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"
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jun 30, 2014 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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. ...more
James Tracy
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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! ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
This was pretty interesting, though I'd read a lot of the stuff before. ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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Raj Patel has worked for the World Bank and WTO and been tear-gassed on four continents protesting against them. Writer, activist, and academic, he is currently a Research Professor at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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