The Value of Nothing Analysis

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In The Value of Nothing, Raj Patel makes the argument that we are encouraged by culture to think of ourselves as essentially greedy, selfish, pleasure seeking, and utility-maximizing individuals. Patel introduces the concept of homo-economicus, which states humans are covetous and self-centered beings who are solely interested in maximizing their resources and profit. During my first semester here at Babson, I had the pleasure of taking Honors Applied Calculus II, a course that focused on the business applications of calculus and how quantitative methods could potentially be used in the field of business. Throughout this course, we were challenged to maximize our materials with linear optimization and the use of calculus. We were taught to minimize costs, minimize labor, and thoroughly evaluate our company’s status mathematically. Therefore, Raj Patel’s argument that we are encouraged to think of ourselves as utility-maximizing individuals because of our culture is evident in mathematics because our relationship with nature is strictly quantitative, and does not measure the effects that we impart on it. During my Calculus class, we were taught how to optimize labor, inventory, and profit. This could be done through linear equations or through the use of derivatives and integrals. Linear equations were often unable to account for financial decisions, but often were used to find the minimum amount of labor needed to complete a task or manufacture a certain product line. On the other hand, the fundamental theorem of calculus was used to maximize profit, revenue, inventory turnover, and product consumption. It could also be used to minimize cost of goods sold, operating expenses, and inventory carrying costs. These ideas were the basis of my calculus class, and in turn encouraged me to think quantitatively when making executive decisions. According to the syllabus, “Babson students are encouraged to think logically, reason quantitatively, develop and modify models inductively, utilize, and communicate their conclusions accurately and effectively.” That being stated, I thoroughly believe that my calculus class molded me into a quantitative thinker. At the end of the semester, I was able to reason mathematically and utilize the information that I was given to demonstrate an effective and reasonable conclusion. This is significant because my calculus class is a great representation of Patel’s argument that we are encouraged to think of ourselves as greedy, utility-maximizing individuals. Within the homo-economicus model, we are able to conclude that mathematics and reasoning are the primary contributions to the decision making process. When making a business decision solely using calculus, we are unable to measure anything that comes without a number. This heeds economic growth because we are filling the markets that are available rather than opening a new market that would support a thoroughly, comprehensive decision. On the other hand, Patel makes the argument that human nature encompasses gratitude. Studies on primates were done to measure their cooperative ability, their appreciation, and their aptitude to reason with one another logically when a decision is made. Patel states that “the chimpanzees were well able to keep track of who had done what to whom, giving and taking fairly.” (Patel 32) This quote is noteworthy because Patel provides evidence that it is not human nature to act selfish, unfair, or greedy. This in turn allows one to see that the idea of homo-economicus is not engrained in each individual’s outcome, but that we are taught to become utility-maximizing individuals. Therefore, culture and our quantitative curriculum have played a huge role in creating the homo-economicus model by spreading its ideals and thought process. Patel states that we do not completely measure our decisions and their environmental impacts. When we disregard “ecological misbehavior,” we are “saving” money in the short-term,...
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