The Value of Nothing

How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy

Raj Patel carefully demonstrates how traditional economics fails to properly account for many costs (whether environmental or social) and argues that the tragedy of the commons is one borne of privatization and corporatism, not an innate fact of the commoners themselves.

Reading notes

Apropos of Massachusetts

On political will:

If “savage” was the magic word for colonialists, “political will” is the fairy dust of today’s democracy. When change fails to happen, it is for want of “political will,” a sort of magic powder that stirs the powerful to action (even if that action ends up being merely “rinse and repeat”). What contemporary ideas of “political will” betray, more than anything, is our own ambivalence about government. The public at large have more than enough political will for health care, for education, for reduced spending on weapons, or for the environment. It’s just that, all too often, the abundant will of government representatives is shaped by a corporate agenda, rather than a popular one.

Patel, The Value of Nothing, page 118

Or, perhaps, the popular will has been perverted towards other ends:

Park Slope, Brooklyn, is just a microcosm of the slippery slope upon which so many of us are finding themselves these days. We live in a landscape tilted toward a set of behaviors and a way of making choices that go against our own better judgment, as well as our collective self-interest. Instead of collaborating with each other to ensure the best prospects for us all, we pursue short-term advantages over seemingly fixed resources through which we can compete more effectively against one another. In short, instead of acting like people, we act like corporations. When faced with a local mugging, the community of Park Slope first thought to protect its brand instead of its people.

Rushkoff, Life Inc., page xvi

Perhaps when we extended the rights of people to corporations we were really just internalizing the corporate ethos within ourselves; in other words, corporations didn’t become people—we became corporations.


On the masks worn by the Zapatistas in Mexico:

The room of balaclavas is a sign that indigenous people are engaging in democracy without its most infection symptom—elections. Rather than sitting in individual air-conditioned offices in front of large portraits of themselves, these democratic officials serve their communities anonymously, with their faces hidden by the masks of the office they have assumed. The ski masks also serve another purpose. They are a reminder that when you visit the Junta, you aren’t there to see a particular person—you came to see the people. The masks reveal that the most important face in the room is yours.

Patel, The Value of Nothing, page 182

Forced to assume the visage of the people, the politicians are unable to forge their own, separate brands. In the heat of Chiapas, the ski masks must also represent the burden that the people place on them.