The Value of Nothing

“This is a deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness” — Naomi Klein. 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 hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system.

If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world’s worth. If we don’t want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common.

This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn’t often said who gets to make them. The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.

Available where good books are sold. Find The Value of Nothing online at: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, Borders, & IndieBound.

Praise for Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing

“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 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

“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 of The Shock Doctrine

“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

37 Replies to “The Value of Nothing”

  1. Dear Raj,

    Zillion of congrats on the book!!! Fantastic! Amazing!! Unfortunately I cannot wait until January. Is there a way to buy the book??? I am serious! Is there? Do you have time to visit Salt Lake City. I would love to bring you here. Financially, I do not know how but I will find a way if you have time. You must be getting ready to go on a tour.

    I have started to work for a small fabulous NGO called the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice in July. Currently, I am working to design dialogues in our communities exactly what you have written about. I would love to use your book as one of my primary sources. IT sounds like as reader friendly as Stuffed and Starved. Not like pompous ass economists and politicians. We design simple but thought provoking exercises in order to understand economic, social , political oppression. We facilitate dialogues in schools (from K-12 to Universities) with students and staff/faculty, employees and employers of public and private businesses.

    Again, millions of congrats!!! Your research and writing has been amazingly uplifting for me, I want to take it to all the communities we work with.

    Have a peaceful week!
    hande

  2. In 2000, Divine Inspiration came knocking and I pounded out a treatment for a book entitled, The Myth of Worth. Then I got busy with a personal life for the first time in 15 years, community service and a renovation project in Hawai’i and didn’t finish it. Thanks to Raj Patel who picked up that Golden Thread and slugged through the languaging in his soon-to-be-released book, The Value of Nothing. Check out his snappy pre-sale video and if the first chapter (which he provides for FREE) is any indication of the entire book, buy it! While I was dealing with ancient Spirits at a Heiau, cleansing Tahitian sacrificing stones and dislocating shoulders with moving boulders at an archeological site, Raj Patal was laboring on the keyboard – honing his craft and crafting a Message. Somehow I feel we were both doing exactly what we were Called to Do.

    A book of great worth, indeed.
    Tony B. Rich
    President-Founder
    Wellcorps International, LLC
    IdeasOne Incorporated

  3. I read the article in Information Clearing House, I was impress by the clarity and I’m looking forward to buy the book when it is available in Australia.
    In the meantime I would like permission to put yuor article on my website.
    regards, thank you.

  4. Dear Raj,

    I heard part of your interview with the BBC’s “News Hour” on APM(America’s Public Media) and I was very impressed. I can’t wait to next month to read your book. I get into arguements all the time with my brother-in-law about free market capitalism. He is a portfolio manager for Morgan & Stanley. He is a “laisez-faire” capitalist and believes in the “wisdom” of the unregulated, free markets.” I say, growth for the sake of growth is the idealogy of a cancer cell. What is the alternative to both a market based economy under capitalism and a centeralized planned econmy under communiam of socialism. Therere has to be a better way than what we have under capitalism and the despair of all of our jobes being shipped to the Pacific rim and else where in the world.

  5. Just wanted to say just ordered book and can not wait to read it. Being American born in NY and married to A Norwegian wife I/we often get into talks about social issues in Norway opposed to capital ways here in US. Not to say one greater than other. Because when you are raised only knowing one thing it is that way, you believe to be true or right. What I do know, is I did not taking a path of Money, Money in my life I became an artist. Now working as a photographer. I know I have so much to learn and to make this story short, I am looking forward to reading and talking to my family, Wife, kids of 4 and 9 about these issues and seeing what evokes and what I change and learn. THANKS!

    Joseph Pessar

    the inspired “non intellectual” family man who cares 🙂

  6. Raj

    An excellent video – now I have to read the book. I hope its launched in India soon.

    The financial industry is all about creating value of nothing – and so far they seem to be winning. Even with the overdue collapse in 2008 they have come out stronger.

  7. i just started reading value of nothing so i am chancing some prelim comments. on ayn rand, your take is selective. along with free markets as a means, her key motive was that governments fail in a more severe way than unregulated individuals or groups or firms do. it’s not an original concept but you should still deal with it. market failure vs government failure is not an either-or situation, so if you take a clear side you should address the other side. for example, governments are the only kind of organization that can wage war. religions are the only global organizations that abuse children with impunity. yes, corporations can also do harm, but that just proves that people do harm regardless of the group they form. so the issue becomes how much harm and whether it can be brought under control by another organization. marx chose the side of collective control but none of his advocates could devise a scheme by which that control could really be collective. so personal power is still the end and corruption is still the means (with vastly higher stakes). rand may be simplistic and one-sided but you still need to answer the point to avoid being just that.

  8. My exposure to your ideas are limited, I must confess, to excerpts caught this morning over WBAI Pacifica–however, I suspect I found a sense of the transcendent in your view of the world (through the filter of market society.

    I’m almost certain that your notion of “shared” is perceived as “socialistic.”

    My father once taught me the meaning of “law of the desert.” If we are wandering in the desert and come upon
    a bucket of water, do we share the limited resource and all end up dying of thirst? Or rather do I kill you and drink all of it so that at least one of us will survive?

    Is it not the idea of common resource (in a reality of shrinking resource)that makes of us truly human?

    I’ll be reading more of your work soon, hopefully.

  9. I am so broke, but I am going to buy this book..I hope that says something positive about my values…

  10. How could you have possibly set a price for your book? Did a you gather everybody in the world to decide what the environmental cost of the paper and your time cost?

  11. What’s the environmental cost of printing and distributing a paper book versus making it available for free on the internet as an eBook? Do you realize the kind of damage the chemicals used in the manufacture of paper do to local ecosystems? Your book interests me, but I’m not willing to cut down a tree and destroy an ecosystem to read it.

  12. I look forward to reading your book, Mr. Patel. Another take on Western materialism is _The Freedom of Simplicity_ by Richard Foster. I was most challenged by reading that book. It is sad that the American economy is so dependent upon consumption, at least so we’re told.

    The way wealthy nations have exploited the poor and have manipulated economies throughout history is perhaps best exemplified in Haiti. Ecologic and economic disaster, undeserved by the Haitians.

  13. [6:12am PST] I’ve been listening in the middle of the night to Raj speaking to the Commonwealth Club of California (over KQED-FM, San Francisco) & when he finished, jumped up to send a we must-read it e-mail about THE VALUE OF NOTHING to my best friend here in Silicon Valley, Karl Kadie, who like me, is a poet who has spent decades working in high-tech. Thank you for writing it & speaking about it here, Raj.

  14. Sunday night we watched “Food Inc.” which I really hoped would open my 17-year-old son’s eyes to the way the world works (or doesn’t work). On the way to the book store I was explaining to him how I got my eyes opened as a young mom, citing examples of how the formula companies market formula, and how you can find the same sorts of forces working in just about any type of business you care to name. So when I idly picked up “The Value of Nothing” and found a discussion of formula marketing that made the identical points I had just made to my son, I knew I had to buy it. I hope my son will read it and discuss it with me. I am expecting to find a lot of ideas that have been pondering for years laid out clearly. As a journalist, we are taught to “follow the money” and it’s a method that works … but it’s sad to realize that that just means you can count on most people being easy to “buy.” I am encouraging my son to be someone who cannot be bought.

  15. Thank you. I heard the Common Wealth Club talk from earlier this month yesterday on our local NPR affiliate. I hope your recent “tour” created active and engaging conversations. I see you were primarily in CA and the big cities of the northeast. Bring it to the south!

    I have always had deep passions in bioregionalism, food, and energy. I have taken a break from a career in advocacy of energy policy reform (and action!) Its given me time to farm, and study more about what my next chapter in life is… thank you thank you thank you for the courage you have to speak your truth. The talk I heard from the Common Wealth Club filled a void in my head. Much of it information I am aware of, but your delivery helped to tie many ideas together. The course of our infinite wants, desires (and economic polices) cannot last in a world of finite limits. We are seeing the breaking point now…

    Look forward to reading the book and working with you in the near future. I’ll be in touch. -n-

  16. You talk as though capitalism is the enemy,yet you have no problem taking part by peddling your books,and plugging them on talkshows and the like.Its kinda,whats the name im looking for,well you know.

  17. I bought the book a few days ago, and I have not been able to put it down. It really adds to the many thoughts that I have on our current economic situation. It really is a fantastic read.

  18. Watching you on Travis Smiley. I liked what you had to say but have one question. If you just became a US Citizen then you should know that America is a Republic. Maybe a Democratic Republic but a Republic. Just recite the Pledge of Allegiance “…and the Republic for which is stands.”

  19. I saw part of a Raj’s interview on CBC at lunchtime today and then I visited some websites to learn more. The book or rather the interesting ideas in it can be set free like caged birds, their songs to be shared without the exchange of money, as a gesture of goodwill. Raj if you are western Canada I will share my lunch with you

  20. Likewise heard your interview on CBC and will read the book. I was wondering in the meantime if you’re also current on peak oil and for want of a better term, “peak everything.” Just from reading your blog I have the feeling that the kinds of things you propose–pretty much all of which I agree with in principle–are past their due date. I.e. it’s probably too late to avoid what William Catton calls the bottleneck in his book of the same title.

  21. For the kibitzers who don’t want to purchase the book for fear of a tree being cut down. I have a suggestion. Borrow it from your library.I did. After I return it I’ll look for a used copy. Raj has got me wondering what to do with my stockbroker. I enjoyed his interview on FreeSpeechTV–my favorite channel. I finally found his site and signed up. He excites me as much as Vijay Prasad, and would not be surprised to learn that they are friends. I was depressed about the way things are going these days. But thanks to Raj I am hopeful once again.

  22. English ist not the only language your words would like to be understood – I beg for a german (but other languages too) translation (book and homepage), because my english is realy not heavenly …

    god blesses us

    your
    gerald

  23. I love your book. It’s “what the world needs NOW”. I’m interested, though, in what the real value of your book is. We have about a pound of paper mache rolled. It’s the idea’s that are written down on the paper that’s so incredibly valuable. So should we pay $25.00 for good ideas? I certainly understand that we all need to chip in and pay the costs of paper, printing, shipping, etc., but isn’t there a better way? Like making it also as a free download from your site? Or is unobtainium to the poor and locked out of the “Commons”?

  24. Just to note JE Chapman’s comment:
    “You talk as though capitalism is the enemy,yet you have no problem taking part by peddling your books,and plugging them on talkshows and the like.Its kinda,whats the name im looking for,well you know.”

    Not having read the book yet, I don’t know if Raj is against capitalism or favours a reformed capitalism. Either way, capitalism does not come down to buying and selling, it’s a social relationship (based on our relation to capital), moreover it’s one that we can’t escape. If Raj condemned capitalism while starting a company and exploiting waged labour you might have a point.

  25. Dear Raj;

    In all simplicity, what is the ultimate way that one ‘ordinary person’ like me can help the most in the evolution & transformation of our world systems & global human consciousness in work and business or in prayer and day to day living?

    Respect,

    Radha
    The Netherlands

  26. Daily, I see the injustice produced by this economy, our growing military budget, from discussions with former members of the last three Administrations, and mostly in mddle class families that have lost everything. Our leaders have literally produced the hangman’s rope to hang many of us, as Lenin so noted. Greenspan, and a host of others have led many to poverty and for many more a generational trip to a caste-like economic existence in a growing underclass. Good work, you show how the Chinese company unions have at least garnered some benefits from Wal-mart, while we just buy cheap goods that lower our standard of living.

  27. Love your work Raj…..finally got a copy of your book at Melbourne Airport..can’t wait to read it.

    My exclusive review will be up at wwww.socialwizz.com

    Cheers
    Praz

  28. Greetings-

    I just heard your interview w/ David Sirota, and while you may not be the messiah, your clarity of thought struck me deeply! I have a masters in educational Psychology, (with 2 children 5 and 8), and all your points about children’s ability to discern what’s marketing and what’s not are extremely important.
    I did a paper on the effect of Reagan administration’s revision of the laws governing TV marketing to children, (Called the Mutant Ninja Turtle effect), and I am concerned about the replacement of true creative play with a type of play which reinforces the child’s identification with the product at the expense of creativity.

    It is a huge topic-thanks for stirring the pot this morning!

    Doug Unfug
    Denver, Colorado

  29. A beautiful Day in Paradise

    I dream a lot, my favourite dream is a dream of a peaceful world in which men and women seem to be like angels. Isn’t it strange – today I dreamed about a concert.
    At first I have been in a church, in a beautiful church, like those in Italy – Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Assisi, where Francisus once lived. Suddenly there where some politicians, they talked with one another, some other people listened; the sacral area changed into a tv-studio. The dream had quite surreale characteristics, the studio-lights shifted into divine light, translucend shadows of holy beings where visible, the light asked with borrowed mouth for „faith “and the people began to pray. And then there was again the concerthall. The concert visitors listened to the music, – a wonderful light danced in the rhythm of the sounds, it warmed up the feelings of the present ones to quiet attention, which began to invite the Lord, a famous conductor listened to the music too, his thoughts changed itself into melodies, – those transformed into punk- cascades performed by the german band “Die Ärzte” , the tv-studio chanced into a big-concert hall full to burstig with people, the whole hall literally trembled in this miraculous light. At the end there was another tv-studio filled with nice people and a journey for years with two beautiful cabaretists, which lastes a few minute.Then we waked up.

    I dream a lot, as I sayed and often about politicians and usually I awake breathlessly because of amazement., and sometimes I awake like Anton into a deep sleep.

    I heard, in Chile (it is in the west in the west of Mekka) live Indians, they carry the sun in their heart – “of course” they are poor, poor as Franziskus, when he built Portiuncula, – those have hardly money (similar the Greeks), for small and even smallest projekts.

    “Hic locus sanctus es” is written on the floor of this little chapel.

    Waiting angels hear Mozart – may be “Queen of the Night”” , – humans, prefer probably “Papageno” or so… however, – the trus is: All Honour to God in the height and thank-debt brings me down on knies … and then there as a nice worm and trees begann to fly and grass was talking – I was a pig eating grass, I was dirty, then I tried to flee, I set down, dark fires burned me and a tremendous noise was around me, last even God was the devil, – my wife, she has no faith, – as all the others -, got angry, she did not understand me, we got in a hassle. All hated me an mother earth was shaking. This all was joke.

    lg
    shaq

  30. The value of nothing is a much needed breath of fresh air. Now I can’t wait to get stuffed and starved. Raj, I wish you continued success and happiness.

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