Top 3 Books, and 1 Bottom One

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:

  1. Going Rogue by Sarah Palin
  2. Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
  3. Arguing with Idiots by Glenn Beck, et al

And San Francisconally:

  1. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson
  2. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. 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.


  1. 49erDweet

    Are you positive “Patel” isn’t Mortensen’s pen name? They sound so different but the same, somehow. I also wonder if Afghanistan and Pakistan are “Northern” countries, too?

  2. a jones

    Reminds me of a couple of books I have somewhere up in the attic and I am not going to dig them out especially laid low as I am by a bug.

    But both were published in 1948 and both are minor tomes written for the common man.

    The first book is about socialist economics in which the author advocates that apart from small items such as one’s toothbrush all rights to property and all but the pettiest of transactions, that everything from wages to prices should be regulated by a committee of honest men. Note no women back then, but the committee would decide a fair price for everything to avoid the higgling of the market.

    A higgler by the way was a man who toured the farms buying produce to transport and sell in the markets. And was much despised as a middleman by the left wing intellectual culture of those days.

    The contrary view was put by a statistician in his book who lamented the loss of the exchanges most of which were closed by government fiat on the outbreak of world war 2. To the left they were gambling casinos. Not just despised middlemen but nasty speculators too. They were replaced by government boards who controlled the supply and price of many commodities from eggs to steel.

    He pointed out that when the Manchester cotton exchange operated British manufacturers could buy at the world price, but since the British Textile Board, as it then was, from whom they had to get supplies they were paying between sixpence and a shilling per pound over the world price.

    Not insignificant, that was probably about 10% over the world price and that to an industry which even back then wove a quarter of the world’s production of cottons and woolen fabric. So it couldn’t compete and production fell by a half in just a decade.

    It is nothing new you know.

    And note the similarity to today, the bankers were reckless in the subprime mortgage market it is said but not a word about US Govt’ requirements that to some extent compelled them to do so let alone that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were the Gov’t agencies which caused and indeed drove overpricing of what you call real estate in the first place.

    Kindest Regards.

  3. Bernie

    Methinks Patel’s definition of equality is likely different from mine. Seems like Chavez may be pursuing a program along Patel’s lines. It will be interesting to see how it will work out. My bet is that more equality will lead to less freedom on many different dimensions.

    Speaking of Mortenson and Afghanistan there was an interesting piece in Saturday’s WSJ on the Taliban and the elimination of Polio.

  4. Steal This Book is a book written by Abbie Hoffman. It costs $14.95 at Amazon.

    Raj Patel, that crazy guy, is not a street anarchist. He has a cushy government job, with benefits and a pension, not to mention moonlighting as a commercial author.

    Take note: Raj invested time and money and created a commercial product (his book) that he is anxious to sell to you and whomever has the coin. Raj is a capitalist!!!

    There’s some irony there. Or flim flam. Do as I say, not as I do. I have to hand it to him; Raj is a con artist, milking the fools born every minute. There’s something admirable about that. I wish I had as good a scam.

  5. Art in the classic sense still exists (damn it). San Franciscans have their heads up their derrieres, but *not* on all matters. Please do not pigeon-hole all variations on politically-charged variations-on-a-theme as being black-and-white examples of utter corruption versus enlightened realism. Sure, a revolution is needed. But have more faith that it will come, and has come, an that we are already living in it.

    You must give your enemy some ability to save face. Crumb is providing exactly that. He is a genius. Without geniuses, where would we be?

    Follow the name brands. Patel? NOT a name brand. What you have are Beck (possible young-earth-Creationist who does not in any way promote anti-science sentiments, however). Palin (simple girl who might, just might make good, if she can learn to stop claiming that FRUIT FLY studies are silly indulgences instead of actually being the very center of biomedical research). She’s a pure POLITICIAN, not a Philosopher Queen. But Raj is some anti-Christ version of Deepak Chopra who preaches hatred of hamburgers.

    Is that really who you want to turn into an enemy and spend your time on, someone who doesn’t even pass the laugh test?

    Stop looking for reasons to be angry and look at what your list of books really says: the BIBLE is suddenly cool, as it stands. This is the year of Climategate, and Crumb. Don’t dismiss Crumb just because some loser named Patel sold a few book to insecure vegans in San Francisco, who due to anemia and failure-to-thrive issues, lust for a Big Picture reason to keep starving themselves of GOOD FOOD.

  6. Candy

    “Stop looking for reasons to be angry.”

    My Darling,
    This is one great piece of advice for staying sexy throughout your life. I strongly recommend it.

  7. Briggs


    You’re right there. I’ll try counting to 10. In Chinese. Backwards.

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