Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Value of Nothing

by Raj Patel // A Picador Paperback Original

"A deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness." —Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine

Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system.

If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world's worth. If we don't want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common.

This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn't often said who gets to make them. The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.

Arun Gupta: You contend that the actual price of a $4 Big Mac should be $200. What are the real costs of that hamburger?
Raj Patel: The Center for Science and Environment in India tried a few years ago to figure out the true cost of a hamburger. Assuming that it was raised on pasture that was once rainforest, the ecological services provided by that rainforest, the loss of diversity, carbon sequestration, water cycling, fuel and tropical product sources, among many other things, the cost would come to $200. The U.S. food industry has huge hidden costs, from the agricultural run-off that causes a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to the cultural destruction wrought by the “Western” diet. There are also huge health costs associated with poor diet — in 2007, $174 billion was spent in the U.S. caring for people with diabetes — as well as the public funds that support the industrial food system.

Cheap food is “cheat food.” There are all kinds of costs that are externalized from the price we pay at the checkout. We pay those costs one way or another — but the food companies don’t. Merely having a system of free markets with accurate prices still doesn’t address the underlying issues of poverty and disenfranchisement.
—from The Ideology of Hope: An Interview with Raj Patel
By Arun Gupta | From the November 20, 2009 issue of The Indypendent

The hamburger analogy was my original approach. The concept was to show the hidden cost of a hamburger. When you bite into it, you're contributing to the cost of land, transportation, fuel, global warming, heart disease, health care cost, etc. I thought a burger made out of representative icons of all of these cost areas sandwiched between hamburger buns would put the idea across. I also used bright colors to suggest fast food.

Initial concept sketch:

To make a quick mock up of my concept for presentation, I used the icons from the poster of Gary Hustwit's documentary OBJECTIFIED.

{ My signed postcard by Gary when I saw him and his documentary at the IFC Center.}

I hired illustrator Daniel Pelavin to flesh out my idea. These were still in initial sketch stage:

My Publisher liked it but thought it was emphasizing too much on one specific part of the book. I was asked to broaden the idea to bring to the forefront the economic aspects of the book and somehow show the vague idea of "value". And it had a "call to action". More big poster and immediate in feel. Hmmm. I decided to illustrate the title. Making "Nothing" out of "Something." A BIG FAT ZERO made up of phrases and World currency symbols. To further the idea of "nothing", I planned on blind embossing the letters so that it was black on black. I imagined the texture looking like a garlic/ginger grater. I set the type at a very small 4 points to form a smoother zero. But it was difficult to read and the blind emboss would never read on Amazon. So I simplified it to just using the US "$", increased the point size and dropped the idea of blind embossed and printed the letters in silver ink. The final cover prints in super glossy lamination with 2 hits of dense, rich black; metal tone silver ink for the small type and uses one of my favorite bright printing colors:

Lime Green PMS 375.

Earlier comps when the tentative title was ANTON'S BLINDNESS

This idea was to put price tags/values on things that were considered priceless and not for sale. The sun, sky, trees. But I couldn't make the tags work in an elegant way. I also tried a barcode but got bored of that approach.

ANTON'S BLINDNESS is a neurological condition in which loss of sight is accompanies by an insistence and a belief that the patient can see. One of the key symptoms is the complicated confabulations needed to explain accidents that result of in fact being blind. We are like those patients in our blind belief in the free market and its accomplice prices. Why even now are we making complicated excuses for the failure of free market capitalism? As we witness the continuing financial and economic crisis, economist and activist Raj Patel asks us to consider why things cost what they do, and how we reclaim both the market and democracy.

Book trailer:


Jennifer Heuer said...

fantastic. fascinating concept for a book, and elegant execution. I'm glad to see the idea going broader than the burger. the dollar sign in repetition gives a feeling of question marks which nicely comes back around to questioning our current economic system. the green even has a feel of digital ticker tape.

Ian Shimkoviak said...


H3NR7 said...

Thanks Jen. You weren't feeling the burger huh?
In hindsight I can see that solution polarizing the meat eaters and the vegetarians. The book wasn't about fast food or meat but economics and what is value.
Plus, I always strive for the more elegant and simpler solution.

WannabeVirginia W. said...

Awesome work! How do I make a collage of book covers and put it on my webpage? Let me know, wannabevirginiawolf at gmail dot com.