& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Value of Nothing

I hadn’t heard of Raj Patel before the Toronto Star began to run ads of his interview by Ellem Roseman at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss his book The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think.

He turned out to be a brilliant young man who engaged a 500 plus audience with zeal of an activist and erudition of a scholar. Patel spoke with passion inherent to youth and conviction that seemed naive.

His alternative world view is radical. His belief that a handful of individuals can start a bush fire that can become a conflagration of change is endearing.  

During the one-hour interaction at Salon, Patel touched upon wide-ranging ideas – from Athenian democracy to farmer suicide in Maharashtra, India, to the disbanding of the Commons to serve capitalism.

The conversation and the Q&A session were simple, straight forward and therefore engrossing. Patel made a fine distinction that would be difficult for many to accept – he emphasised that he’s not anti-market; he’s just against capitalism. He explained for capitalism to succeed, it would have to scuttle the market forces. 

That is because for capitalism to succeed, it would have to exploit subsidies from various sources – chiefly from nature in the form of environmental degradation.

In response to another question he explained that decision-makers and policy formulators in the west often are unable to realise that there are a growing number of people in the less prosperour parts of the world who don’t want “development to be dropped into their lap.”

Increasingly, Patel emphasised, the individual choices that would need to be made on a global scale would be the need to live within our means and developing means to hold ourselves accountable for our economic decisions and living with the consequences of our decisions.

Quoting a startling statistic, Patel said in 2008, a whopping 49.2 million people in the United States were food insecure. He said the debate now is veering towards not merely addressing hunger, but addressing why hunger is being produced.

One hour was too short to get to know this energetic scholar and his works.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt that most writings are re-writings, but I have always seen originality of thoughts here on this blog, and in Patel's book described here.

    Like recycling thoughts, it seems we have taken so much from earth and nature, and we keep doing that to trade off our losses and our futile economic decisions.

    Thanks for the insights, Ramesh