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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readers will enjoy or detest based on their political ideology, but Patel makes great points!
"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...
Published on January 13, 2010 by Todd Bartholomew

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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice examples, poor theory
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...
Published on August 3, 2010 by JJ vd Weele


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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readers will enjoy or detest based on their political ideology, but Patel makes great points!, January 13, 2010
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (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.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A paradigm shift, January 18, 2010
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This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (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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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice examples, poor theory, August 3, 2010
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (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.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of democratic thinking, January 15, 2010
By 
A. Bing (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer on Social-Economic Justice, April 9, 2010
By 
J.W.K (Nagano, Japan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Patel Peers Past the Tedious Trivia, January 13, 2010
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Paperback)
This is one of the few books that escorts the reader beyond the negativism and despair of the modern world. Raj Patel sees our global circumstances with depth, with breath, and with a vision for the future that the thinking readers among us crave.

And yet, this is no simplistic cookbook for improving things. Patel does offer flimsy lists of "sure-fire" ways to save (fill in the blank with the global cause of your choice.)Instead, he offers up the rules of the game for the coming century, and they are fair and logical.

Finally, a sense of humor is a good thing, especially in serious matters. The fact that Patel was invited to appear on "The Colbert Report" indicates that he has a solid enough grasp of his subject that he can joke with us even as his concerns are real.

This is the book that you will give to your thoughtful friends and relatives for the next year. Count on it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best explanation of the concept of externalities I've ever seen., February 19, 2010
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Paperback)
This is the economics you didn't learn in high school (or college, if you went there and your high school sucked). This is a well-documented, well-organized (but far from exhaustive) explanation of how and where markets fail. It isn't a blanket condemnation of markets, though many of us Americans have been trained from birth to see even the slightest hint of Marxist thought as such. This is a series of case studies of the human misery caused by unrestrained markets and "artificial people" (Corporations...as increasingly defined by our courts, and those governments that favor them over all else both) and ways that communities around the world have rectified some of that misery. Every chapter introduces an idea related to the last chapter, and goes into a story or stories about that idea, which then leads to the next idea. There's always a danger in this kind of book of it becoming a mere polemic or of the author repeating himself for 10 chapters, but that doesn't happen here.

Even a market conservative can probably get SOMETHING out of this book if they approach it with an open mind and find the parts of the message that map onto their world view. (At least, those who still care about their own local community might get something out of it.) Maybe even a Randroid could finally learn what an externality is.

Probably the biggest weakness the book has, as evidenced by some of the negative reviews, is that the central theme could be more clearly stated. It's strongly implied, I think, but you COULD miss it. Going in with a "GODDAMN COMMIE BULLCRAP" attitude probably helps to miss it, but I'm not 100 percent sure it's necessary. I see the central theme as the idea that community involvement and increased control by people over the environment they live in is good for humanity and the world, and that markets as practiced now have done little but diminish that involvement and control for the vast majority of mankind.

Also, the text is EXTREMELY heavily laden with citations, but they're all shoved to the end of the book, and removed from context (And they make up like 1/4 of the book at the end). They're nearly useless like that. Footnotes would have vastly improved things, I think.

A warning to librarians: This book is not very tough. It is printed roughly on recycled paper barely above newsprint, with the edges uncut. I'm sure this is not merely a cost cutting measure, though it probably did that. I mean I think it goes with the ...not anti-materialist, but anti-avarice, two steps towards asceticism message of the book. But it means the edges of the pages are going to collect crud, the pages are going to fall apart and tear easily. Also the gloss on the cover comes right off, you're gonna want to laminate it. Learned this the hard way.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but the commons may be more complex than presented., August 13, 2010
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This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Paperback)
Raj Patel's book, The Value of Nothing, is a fresh look at modern-day social and economic problems. Patel's worldview is expansive and insightful and The Value of Nothing clearly proves that corporations can only put prices on things and never value. The book builds from "enclosure", the establishment of private property, to show how the masses of people have been transformed from free agents into consumers, debt-holders, and employees with only the illusion of democracy in return. Patel asserts, and I'm sure he's correct, that real democracy is almost nonexistent in the world today because of the marriage of corporate interests with government control. Nowdays the interest of the common people (or possibly people in general) takes a back seat to what's good for the economy and for corporate profit.

Patel builds heavily on Garret Hardin's concept of the commons in the latter part of the book. Here I take exception with some of Patel's ideas. It appears Patel looks at the commons only in a macroscopic view and he seems to claim the only cheaters in a commons are corporations. Patel labels those who see the commons as something more than this as Mathusians and followers of Ayn Rand's extremism. It seems to me that each person (and possibly all individuals of all species) can act as cheaters in a commons and, at one time or another, each of us has encroached on others or been encroached upon. I deal with this idea in Chapter 6 of my book, Thinking Green: Ethics for a Small Planet ([...]), where I use Earth's oceans as a key modern example of an important human life support system that is being destroyed by "The Tragedy of the Commons". Patel is correct, however, that the monoculture (blanket the earth with my product) thinking of modern corporations around the globe is a key factor causing vital commons to collapse.

The Value of Nothing is an excellent book, a must read for any person who seeks to understand the world from outside of the American cultural bubble. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and recommend it highly!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy of Economics Leading to Suprising Clarity, July 5, 2010
By 
Carl Howlett (Logan, Utah, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Paperback)
Patel's book is not fluff. It reads much like a text on economic philosophy. It is filled from one end to the other with names, their viewpoints, history, intermixed with an infinite variety of facts. Out of this overwhelming blizzard comes moments of wonderful clarity. The pieces get tied together. An example: Homo Economicus - the individual that, true to the principles of economics, does everything possible (moral, ethical, legal or not) to maximize what he wants is introduced early and returns often. Devoid of other human traits like altruism, sympathy, love and empathy, Homo Economicus is a terror. The corporation and markets are shown to have the traits, often by fiduciary responsibility, of Homo Economicus. Ultimately there is hope but not by passivity.

There is a true wealth of information and concepts if you just dig them out.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short Read, An Urgent Message, November 9, 2010
This review is from: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (Paperback)
Raj Patel's book is a short but powerful ride through the inefficiencies of what Noam Chomsky calls "really existing free markets".

It's main argument is that the market fails to correctly value things because of it's obsessive focus on the financial over the social. He discusses why the real cost of anything doesn't take into consideration the "externalities" that resulted from bringing that item into production. For example, when Macdonalds makes a hamburger, it causes carbon emissions, it causes effects on the health of the eater, and more. These are costs which the company doesn't have to pay for, but somebody... someday... does. That somebody is us, the taxpayer.

By looking briefly at everything from public health, to education, to democracy, to food sovereignty, and more, Patel explains how the inherent flaws of the market are causing damage to the average citizen and digging us into a hole that may shortly become too deep to climb out of.

The first half of the book is a tour of the problem, and the second half is quick scamper through some of the organizations across the globe that are challenging the free market, profit first way of thinking and producing outstanding results.

Here he looks at the Zapatistas of Mexico and their experiments in real democracy, the women of India's Deccan Development Society reviving the notion of public commons, the "free software" movement, and the work of La Via Campesina and their millions of members to fight for the rights of peasants & farmers to shape their own destinies.

If you can make one complaint about the book it's that it's too short! I wished I could have read in more detail about each of the rebuttals to free market theory and each of the organizations the author mentioned. For that reason, it can seem, as other reviewers have mentioned, that some of the arguments aren't well enough fleshed out.

Other than that it's a fascinating book, quick to read, with an urgent message.
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