Three top books
In today’s San Francisco Chronicle are reported the bestsellers from the previous week, both nationally and separately in San Francisco. This list sums up nicely the differences between the left coast and the remainder of the country.
Here they are nationally:
- Going Rogue by Sarah Palin
- Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
- Arguing with Idiots by Glenn Beck, et al
And San Francisconally:
- Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson
- What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Book of Genesis illustrated by Robert Crumb
Palin we all know and love. Albom’s book is about a rabbi and a pastor, struggles, forgiveness, God, and so forth. Beck’s book is an oddity, sort of a toilet book for conservatives. Gladwell (whose books appear on both lists) we all know but don’t all love. And reports are that Crumb’s drawings of Genesis are “interesting.”
You’ve probably never heard of Mortenson. From his publisher,
He shares for the first time his broader vision to promote peace through education and literacy, as well as touching on military matters, Islam, and women-all woven together with the many rich personal stories of the people who have been involved in this remarkable two-decade humanitarian effort.
I wish him well—we all do—but I don’t think lack of education is what is causing some Pakistanis and Afghanistanis to go postal. Dropping books on some people’s heads doesn’t sounds like a terrible idea, though.
One bottom one
Far more interesting than the lists, is the Chronicle’s review of Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy. His publisher says Patel “is an activist and academic who has been hailed as ‘a visionary.'”
I can believe it, because in Nothing, he makes the remarkable discovery that—I found this breathtaking—poor people have less money.
Members of the intelligentsia were just as impressed as I was. Here’s The Shock Doctrine authoress Naomi Klein:
Patel reveals how we inflate the cost of things we can (and often should) live without, while assigning absolutely no value to the resources we all need to survive. This is a deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness — argued with so much humor and humanity that the enormous tasks ahead feel both doable and desirable…[Patel makes] even the most radical ideas seem not only reasonable, but inevitable.
The remarkable fact that the poor have less money has startling consequences most of us haven’t considered before. For example, most hamburgers in the States cost about two to seven bucks, depending on where you eat them. But Patel has found they should cost about 200 dollars!
The extra—the difference between today’s and the utopianist fee—would, if burgers were appropriately priced, be funneled to countries that are not “Northern.” Non-Northern countries have people who have less money than do people in the Northern countries. If you can follow, this would mean that taking the burger money from the Northerners and giving it to the non-Northerners, who would ensure that they have more money.
The logic for this argument is unassailable, so don’t try assailing it, you will be wasting your time. SF Chronicle reviewer Mary D’Ambrosio wouldn’t try. She quotes Patel as saying “Agnostically and passively letting markets price things licenses the wealthy and the global North to accumulate all the goods and value they need for survival and comfort, while leaving the poor bereft of most of those…”
D’Ambrosio calls this a “fair, but idealistic argument.” Patel says, via his publisher, we need to “rebalance society and limit markets.”
In other words, people and markets should not be allowed to decide prices without guidance. And since guidance can only be had by someone or some group issuing a guide, someone or some group must be put in charge of deciding what goods should be offered and at what prices those goods should bring.
I’m not sure, but I’m willing to guess that Patel would nominate himself and his fellow neo-communist academics to be the group that makes the decisions for the rest of us. They are experts, after all—most of them have PhDs!—so it’s difficult to see how they can make a mistake or how they couldn’t know more than the common man about what is best for him.
“If economics is about choices,” Patel writes, “it isn’t often said who gets to make them.” Think about it.
His Nothing is for sale, but he hasn’t yet explicitly said whether we should choose to hand over our cash for it (we can presume it’s priced in the utopian and non-Northern fashion). I’ll wait and see what he recommends before buying. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake.