Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel

A month or so ago, I was contacted by Raz from Eco-Libris about a campaign.  200 bloggers were going to simultaneously publish reviews on sustainably published books (meaning, books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper).  The concept was simple: We select from a list of books, the publisher provides us with a copy, and on November 10 at 1 pm, we publish our review.

Free sustainably published book? I'm in.

I had trouble selecting a book, though. The ones I initially found interesting based on the title were taken. And the bloggers were selecting books fast and furious, so the books I was choosing as alternates were quickly being snapped up too. Finally I selected one that I wasn't familiar with but sounded intriguing: The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel. The concept seemed simple; a book talking about how we as a society have skewed our priorites around setting values, how things that really have no intrinsic value have a high value placed on them by our society, and how conversely the things that we depend on as a society have very little value placed on them. I signed up.

I got the book. I started reading.

When I'm reading a book, and something catches my attention, I fold down the corner of a page so that I can go back to it.

When I finished the book, I looked at the edges. Nearly every corner of every page has been turned down. Both top and bottom.

This book is going to stay with me. 

The Value of Nothing is a bold statement on the actions and mentalities that got us in to not only the Great Finanical Meltdown of 2008, but that truly have caused caused most if not all of the crises of the late 20th and early 21st century: the belief that the exchange of goods for money is the "right" way to run a society. Patel clearly articulates the economic theories that those who ran the show believed in - and just as clearly articulates why these theories failed in a clear, accessible way.

This book is filled, filled on every page with revelations that will change the way you look at the world you live in, and more crucially, why we live in this kind of world. Is the "free market" truly the way our world should work, or have we simply let the inmates run the asylum? Has the free market created a market of things we truly need to survive and thrive, or has it created a market simply to sustain the market? Is the free market good at truly assessing what people need, or does it only assess what *it* needs? And what has the Western Free Market done to the rest of the world on an economic, social and environmental scale? Once Patel has answered these questions with unvarnished truth, he then offers solutions to fix the problems we've created - and illustrates times and places where we've already started the solution. Not a moment too late.

The Value of Nothing explains the theories behind free markets - and their failings.  Filled with theories and examples, this book is incredibly informative, especially for the economic n00b such as myself. The theories are fully explained - and their failings detailed. For example,  Patel explains that while a free market claims to despise subsidies, the truth is that our entire economic ecosystem is subsidized. That hamburger deal that costs $6 out of your pocket? also took your tax dollars to subsidize the corn that fed the cows. It's also using your tax dollars to pay for food stamps and medicare for the underpaid workers at the counter. It's also using your tax dollars to clean up the environment after factory farms ravage it. Realize that that meal deal may well have cost you $200. Free?

Or know that that "free" cell phone you got with a three year contract was made with precious metals from the Congo, extracted by horribly abused and exploited workers who live under the threat of poverty, starvation, rape and torture, all supported by their military in order to maintain the supply lines to the west. Free. Free?

Patel points out how we in the West have shunted the societal and environmental costs of the way we live from the rich to the poor. And it's imploding on us.

The Value of Nothing will change the way you look at how you live, how markets operate, and how we engage with each other.

The Value Of Nothing
is available at Chapters and other retailers.

“The opposite of consumption isn't thrift. It's generosity.” - Raj Patel


Anonymous said...

i was just looking at this book. wondering if i should get it.

i am what you might call "native/aboriginal/first nation". (but i'm actually Onondaga.) The society that has come to dominate the world with it's values is the one who called us uncivilized. We're supposed to be like the slow kid in the class, we failed the inventing the wheel class. But I have never seen it that way. I've seen it as choices we made. We had certain beliefs and values and we truly committed to living by them. We knew that we depended on animals and plants for life. Instead of becoming vegetarians we lived our lives with thankfulness, appreciation and generosity. We treated all these lives that helped sustain us with respect. Burned tobacco, had ceremonies where we gave our thanks, we used all parts of the animal, we didn't kill unless we used the animal, we cleared the forest of the underbrush to help ourselves and the animals...etc. our 'religion' is based on an the cycles of life and thanking them. we have one just for strawberries, for medicines, for harvest etc...

I always wondered what it will take for this dominating, exploitative culture to change...does this book suggest any answers?

Tyler Deardon said...

I like the quote at the end. The opposit of consumption isn't thrift. I could of swearn I've heard of Paj before reading this though.

Meg said...

Or, you know, pick it up at your local library.