Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy, tells Democracy Now! that the global belief in the market system is misplaced:
And, I mean, I think that we’ve been beguiled by markets. We understand prices, or we think that we understand what’s going on when we’re faced with a price. But, in fact, we miss a great deal about how the economy operates, if we believe in prices. And we’ve come to believe that the only way we can value things is by sticking them in a market. The trouble is, of course, as we’ve seen through this recession, that markets are a tremendously bad way of valuing things, tremendously fickle, and systematically unable to put—to actually incorporate a great deal of what we find valuable.
You know, just to put some flesh on those bones, think about the price of a hamburger. I mean, you know, if you go to your local burger joint, you will find, what, a $4 hamburger. But researchers in India did some calculations a few years ago looking at what would happen if we started to include the environmental costs that are part and parcel of the production of that hamburger. If, for example, that burger is produced on land that once used to be rainforest, well, then you’ve lost the rainforest, you’ve lost the ecosystemic services that that rainforest provides, you lose the carbon, you lose the biodiversity. And all of a sudden, when you start imputing those environmental costs, it turns out that the price of a hamburger should be nearer $200 rather than four. And that, of course, is just one element of the costs that are squeezed out of our food and pretty much everything else.
But sticking with that hamburger for a moment, I mean, if that hamburger is consumed in the United States, then the chances are that the tomatoes on that hamburger will come from southern Florida, where, since 1997, over a thousand people have been freed from conditions of modern-day slavery and where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, of tomato pickers in southern Florida, have been campaigning for a living wage for quite some time. And, of course, the cost of slavery doesn’t feature in that hamburger, either. And that’s, of course, just on the production side.