Karl Marx Does Charm City
The Chronicle’s Carlson depicts Harvey retrieving some of the most moth-eaten remnants from Marx’s sample kit while analyzing the problems besetting the city of Baltimore:
He sat on a university commission analyzing housing problems in the city, and in writing the report for city leaders, borrowed ideas from Das Kapital. He found resonance in Marx’s analysis of the conflict between use values (the value of, say, a home as shelter) and exchange values (its value as a property to buy and flip), and in the notion that capital moves problems around (as when blight and gentrification drift through neighborhoods) but never solves them. Harvey says the city leaders—no matter their politics—thought the report was perceptive. “I didn’t tell them I was getting it out of Marx,” he says. “The more it worked for me and worked for other people, the more confidence I got that this was not a crazy system, but was actually quite interesting.”
It would take a pretty devout effort of Marxian will to look at Baltimore’s manifold troubles and see in them an excess of an unbridled free-market thinking. Baltimore pioneered modern zoning codes in 1910, when the city’s progressive mayor J. Barry Mahool declared, “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidents of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.” It’s not surprising that local political leaders welcomed the news that something other than their leadership was responsible for the city’s decline. Whole swaths of Charm City are as blighted as a late-Communist polity, and many of its boarded-up buildings are decorated with green “Vacants to Value” signs — which are not pitches from private-market flippers but part of a campaign by the city’s housing commissioner.