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The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy Paperback – Deckle Edge, January 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Expanding on his analysis and recommendations in Stuffed and Starved, which located the horrifying imbalance in the world's food system in its profit-driven framework, activist and academic Patel critiques free market culture at a moment of universal crisis, both economic and environmental. Beginning with a historically grounded account of market society's operative assumptions, the way capitalism sets the terms of value, Patel takes aim at the notion of Homo economicus: a vision of human beings as self-interested utility-maximizers integral to market society's dollar-valuation of everything. Through a shrewd and absorbing discussion, Patel exposes the flaws in the model of the world in which people are... prepared to override their own better judgment in service of their selfish natures and the nominal separation of the economy and the state, describing the relationship as compromised but also more plastic then we are often led to believe. With due attention to the developing world as well as Europe and North America, the author offers examples of the countermovement underway and urges us to build on a vision of ourselves far more extensive, generous and hopeful than that confined to market society's Homo economicus. (Jan.)
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“With great lucidity and confidence in a dazzling array of fields, Patel reveals how we inflate the cost of things we can (and often should) live without, while assigning absolutely no value to the resources we all need to survive. This is a deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness -- argued with so much humor and humanity that the enormous tasks ahead feel both doable and desirable. 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, author The Shock Doctrine

“As we confront the crisis in the worldview of orthodox economics, Raj Patel offers us a whole new way to think about price and value. Bracingly written and full of surprises, The Value of Nothing is itself invaluable, showing us a path out of the darkness of the economic woods.” ―Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma

“With THE VALUE OF NOTHING, Raj Patel has done something of great value: in language utterly clear, concise, literate, and engaging, he takes readers through the murk and mess of the economy's collapse. He shows the hows and whys, how we seem bent on a repeat (no real substantive changes to the practices that got us where we are, at the policy level), but also how we, in our communities, if not larger concerted efforts, have some power to right the course. What Raj Patel did so brilliantly with food in STUFFED AND STARVED, he now does so with money and the economy.” ―Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

“In this riveting eye-opener of a book, Patel dismantles with great fluidity and precision the reigning theory of the free market and its applications: how it creates in our global society deep inequalities of power, based solely on the diktat that our fundamental needs (water, decent food, housing, health care) are worthless because not profitable, and thus leading to economic chaos and a loss of community empowerment. But there is also hope in the emergence of social groups around the world who are insisting and reclaiming ‘the right to have rights' through their democratic engagement. Patel brilliantly shows us how both a fairer society and a sustainable economy are possible as long as we are willing to seize back our freedom to choose from colluding governments and corporations. ‘The Value of Nothing' should be required reading for any self-respecting citizen of the world.” ―Marie du Vaure, Vroman's Bookstore

“It's only January 2010, and we already have a candidate for the most important book of the year. Raj Patel's The Value of Nothing takes aim at the conservative orthodoxy that has dominated American politics and economics for the last several decades, and he scores a direct hit.” ―Bill Petrocelli, Book Passage


This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242924X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312429249
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

RAJ PATEL is a Fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy (also known as Food First), a leading food think tank, and a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for African Studies. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Observer, is a regular contributor to NPR and independent media outlets, and though he has worked for the World Bank, WTO and the UN, he's also been tear-gassed on four continents protesting them. Visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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 ...Read more ›
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By JJ vd Weele on August 3, 2010
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.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ammi Emergency on January 18, 2010
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.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A. Bing on January 15, 2010
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.
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