If economics is about choices, who gets to make them? Activist and academic Raj Patel says that prices often mislead us, and he reveals the "hidden costs" of goods. To demonstrate his argument that the free market and corporations distort price and value, Patel suggests that the true price of a hamburger would be $200 if we factor in the hidden environment and health costs.
Patel offers a controversial critique of our present political system and argues that to understand our current economic crisis, we need to rethink our very meaning of democracy by re-balancing society and limiting markets.
Raj Patel holds a doctorate in Sociology from Cornell University and has worked at the World Bank, World Trade Organization, and the United Nations.
He is a writer and activist concerned with land reform politics, development studies, and food sovereignty. He authored Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. His most recent book, The Value of Nothing, was on The New York Times best-seller list during February 2010.
Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and host of its radio show New America Now on KALW 91.7 FM.
Reply to Krzysztof Stanislaw :
On what basis is Patel a "communist"?
Precisely how is he "saying things having no respect for simple facts and logic"?
What are these "simple facts" that you allude to? And, how good is your understanding of logic?
I will have to defend, if not mr Patel, so at least the word socialism, but first:
Phiscal, when Patel says that if you factor in environmental destruction in the balance between rich and poor nations I do not hink he ever mentions these payments acutally being made. On the other side he contrast these against the trillions of dollars in loans that the rich nations expect to get paid from the poor ones. I see his point as pointing out the unjust situation and rather than actually making the payments, maybe we should drop the loans. If this is a correct interpretations you and Patel are very close in your views as your examples point out the silliness in holding people accountable for what their forefathers did.
The word socialism is not synonymous with communism. My home country of Sweden is a democrazy (in theory a kingdom but that's another story) wich have been ruled for much of the last 80 years by a party rougly translated as "The Socialdemocrats", a socialistic, democratic party wich over time have openly embraced market economy and capitalism but not the ultraliberal freemarket capitalism.
I would say that most societies in the west, even the USA, employ some sort of "mixed" system. A mix between social structures that ensure some sort of economic security for citizens as well as laws wich encourage corporations to accumulate profits. The balance here is important, that's to a large degree what determines wich kind of a democrazy you get.
I fully understand that US citizens are worried now when the economy failed and China is loaning more and more money to your country and so on... But without the flexibilty of mind and an openness to ideas and solutions other than shouting socialist to your president (not implying that you do Phiscal) the battle for a better society and a richer and healthier USA is already lost I think.
Socialism doesn't mean coersion. A democratic socialism can be as free (or more depending on how you choose to see it: think Isiah Berlin "Two Concepts of Liberty" ) as free market capitalism. It's not always better with "more socialism", I think we need to worry about a good mix of the two, but I most oppose your rather black and white view presented here Phiscal.
Raj, you convey this fashionable leftist vision with youthful enthusiasm. Your view, however, contains a bit too much of a salesman's puffery to be entirely credible. Good luck with your book sales. Several counterpoints to the picture you paint:
First, slavery is hardly alive and well in developed economies. It exists as a province of organized crime and is vigorously suppressed by the state.
Second, if rich countries owe poor countries $5 trillion for vaguely defined exploitation, then perhaps poor countries owe rich countries for quantum physics, the green revolution and a working understanding of democracy. Oh, lets take the idea of reparations a bit further. If the north owes the south for historical events that are currently judged unfair, then does not the Sioux tribe owe the Blackfoot tribe reparations for taking what is now the Dakotas from them? Do the Mongols owe the Persians for sacking their cities? You see where this leads.
Third, the unkind words about the highly productive networks of human relationships christened "corporations" are a bit surprising. Without them, society (including middle class socialists) would not enjoy the comfortable life it leads. Business provides what the public wants far better than the ballot box.
Corporations are certainly capable of malfeasance. But then, historically socialists have much to apologize for, too. Perhaps you'd prefer we not go into that.
This brings us the hidden price, the fatal flaw in all socialist governments. They require far more coercion to operate than free societies. Most people simply do not want to do what socialists tell them to do, no matter how good socialists say it is for them.
And the economic damage of socialism is not slight either. Socialism made a significant contribution to the recent boom and bust through subsidized housing and implicit guarantees. Further, of the 40% of the US economy that is socialized, government spends most on publicly funded retirements first, and public education second. American schools are lethargic at best. Social Security and Medicare will certainly bankrupt America, if left on their current course.
In fact, Raj, because America's penchant for "socialism by stealth", your decision to become an American citizen looks like mistake for your family. You are now on the hook for $950,000 of unfunded government liabilities. Some is money government borrowed outright, a roughly equal amount is money government has promised its employees but not saved, and the vast majority is Social Security and Medicare benefits that government cannot pay.
Welcome to America! What a country! Oh, and make those checks out to the "US Treasury". Thanks.
Raj Patel is a breath of fresh air.
I agree that the only thing that will save us is if we use the fact that WE are the government and we need to use our power to keep the criminals intent on using the financial markets to steal from us.