Raj Patel’s “Value of Nothing”

For various reasons I found myself with several hours on public transit and with Raj Patel’s fine book “The Value of Nothing” in hand. I really liked a few things about it. First, it’s a very readable summary of a lot of economic theories (and ideologies) that guide policies today. For a more mathematical treatment of these I really like Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics” which is recommended by Jonathan Nitzan, another very interesting political economist who argues that money is the commodification of power, and makes the argument utilizing some interesting analyses of data.


For various reasons I found myself with several hours on public transit and with Raj Patel’s fine book “The Value of Nothing” in hand. I really liked a few things about it. First, it’s a very readable summary of a lot of economic theories (and ideologies) that guide policies today. For a more mathematical treatment of these I really like Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics” which is recommended by Jonathan Nitzan, another very interesting political economist who argues that money is the commodification of power, and makes the argument utilizing some interesting analyses of data.

Another thing I really liked about “The Value of Nothing” is how he gets seamlessly into important details while going back to the big picture. For example, he doesn’t just critique advertising business models (which are, bizarrely if you think about it, the basis for the entire information and media economy, including Facebook, Youtube, Google, etc.), but gets into what’s advertised. I loved this passage on Page 56: “When it comes to the World Cup, the advertisements on the screens will be for products that externalize the environmental and social costs of production (Sony’s e-waste, Adidas’s sweatshops), encourage debt (Visa), depend on fossil fuel consumption that’s destroying the planet (Emirates, Kia) or are just a cocktail of chemicals (Coke).”

In the second part of the book on alternative ways of seeing the world other than through market ideological lenses, he refers to Athenian democracy (which makes me think of Norberto Bobbio again). Here, too, he has interesting nuggets I hadn’t heard about, like in the footnote 9 to chapter 10: “…as Ellen Meiksins Wood argues (Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘Demos Versus ‘We the People’: Freedom and Democracy Ancient and Modern’, in Demokratia: A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern, eds. Josiah Ober and Charles W. Hedrick, 121-38 [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996]; Ellen Meiksins Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy [London: Verso, 1988]), it was because of the democratic engagement of Athenian peasants that slavery was not more widespread.” He is pointing to scholarship that refutes the anti-democratic notion that the early and famous democracy required slavery to survive. Useful book. And worth reading for the novelty value, since some people apparently think Raj Patel is the reincarnation of the Buddha.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.