Review: The Value of Nothing

Picador 2009, $14
written by Raj Patel
reviewed by Lee Stabert
Raj Patel opens his new book, The Value of Nothing, with an anecdote about being a child playing in his parent’s convenience store. He recalls getting endless pleasure out of the pricing gun—especially when labeling his little brother with a paltry $.01 cent tag. Even then, the disconnect between cost and value was something that fascinated him. Here he argues that the assumption that markets will assign correct values is an inherently false idea that leads to dangerous discrepancies between what we pay for things and how much they’re actually worth. Using shocking examples of price points gone awry, the book is a scathing critique of free market ideologues and the tremendous influence they’ve had over economic policy in this country for years. But Patel also offers a way forward through reinvigorated democracy, social action and commitment to sustainability. ■