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Capitalism Overload And 'The Value Of Nothing'

The next time you buy a bag of potato chips, or a chocolate bar, think for a moment about the cost.

Not just the price you're paying at that moment — a price set by the market — but the environmental and social costs, too. In a conversation with NPR's Steve Inskeep, author Raj Patel says that cheap, market prices let us avoid paying the true costs of things.

In his new book, The Value of Nothing, Patel points out that problems like obesity and diabetes cost millions in health care dollars.

"Now a big component of that diabetes is to do with the way that we eat. And we don't pay those costs when we get our cheap food," he says.

Patel thinks that exposes a fundamental problem in the free market. But he contends his ideas aren't all that radical. Even Alan Greenspan and Adam Smith — who popularized the concept of the free market — didn't think that it was perfect.

"I think that what we're seeing is a chorus of people from left and right recognizing that there are problems with the free market," Patel says.

He has no silver bullet for this problem, but he thinks solving it starts with more political participation. He says our modern democracy has created a "transformation into consumers rather than citizens" and that "we need to reclaim responsibility, not just in what we buy but how we govern ourselves."

A former World Bank economist, Patel is a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.