Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel

HarperCollins Canada, c2009

At first glance this looks like it should be an engaging narrative nonfiction book along the lines of something by Michael Lewis or Malcolm Gladwell.  But beyond its catchy title, the book was a rather dry economics treatise.  That being said, the basic issue of how much things should be worth is an interesting question.  

We place economic value on goods and services, which are usually out of sync with their true costs.  The author delves into costs incurred by companies (i.e. the generator of the good or service), and additional costs that are passed (intentionally or not) to others - usually to the Government (and taxpayers).  These costs include environmental damages and cleanup, corporate subsidies, and social costs.  

There is also a disparity between assigned economic prices for things artificially considered "valuable," and things that are critical to life (air, water, shelter, food etc.).  How valuable is water?  Can you assign it a price?  How do you balance the rights of people around the world to clean water, with the "right" of corporations to extract water to sell to others?

Discussion Questions

  1. How easy was this book to follow?
  2. What is a “market society,” and do you think we live in one?
  3. Does money buy happiness?
  4. Is there anything we can do to bring attention to the real cost (ecological cost etc.) of goods?  How should these be paid?
  5. Should society compensate people who contribute to society/the human species, but aren’t a part of the market or labour force as such?
  6. What in our world should remain in common hands?  Food, water, shelter etc?
  7. What are the problems of assigning a market price to things we value?
  8. If our society is unsustainable, how and when do you think things will crash?  Has this process already started? 
  9. The author kind of danced around this question, but, what is your opinion of private property?
  10. Is there anything that this book should have discussed, but didn’t?

No comments:

Post a Comment