The Value of Nothing

The Value of Nothing

How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy

eBook - 2010
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Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced and reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics but rather the larger failure of a democratically bankrupt political system. The solution he offers: discover 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.
Publisher: Toronto, Ontario : HarperCollins Canada, 2010.
ISBN: 9781554688487
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


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Feb 02, 2018

"The Value of Nothing" reads like a survey course in economic history, with a twist. Patel manages to rehabilitate Hobbes and Rousseau before he throws shade at Locke. Patel is unsurprisingly critical of our modern economic system, and he reaches back to the practice of enclosure, which was the beginning of the end of The Commons. Though The Commons have been reviled as a construct that leads to a swift depletion of resources ("The Tragedy of The Commons"), in reality there were laws and customs to govern how the resources were shared. Patel argues that enclosure was not implemented to protect resources for residents at large but to enrich property owners.

If anything, it is our current economic system that encourages beggar-thy-neighbor behavior. This is particularly true for commodity farmers; although they understand all too well that increasing their production will ultimately decrease the price per unit that they can charge, many such farmers around the world are in such desperate straits that they are forced to make a short-term decision (get whatever funds you can now in order to survive) versus the long-term perspective that would theoretically allow them to build more wealth over time. Patel's implicit question is whether it's fair to use The Market as an excuse to deny people such as these protections that would allow them to thrive.

As with his other works, Patel's analysis is sound until it takes him somewhere that most people would be uncomfortable with. His enthusiasm for pure democracy (which ironically some would characterize as anarchy) is by his own description plodding and would seem to discourage swift change or innovation. However, it stands a greater chance of keeping all participants invested in eventual change, and each deliberation toward consensus has the potential to strengthen the fabric of the community. A citizen of a large country (e.g., the United States) might be horrified by the idea of a pure democracy until we take into account the seriousness of the decisions made about shared resources (water, land, et al) that most citizens are not invited to participate in. It is in these examples that Patel's choice of title (a cynic is "a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing") is clearest.

This is not a feel good book, but it does point to some solutions for existing inequities.

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