Day 1 – Chapter 1 – Use Value and Exchange Value

David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the end of Capitalism

Chapter 1 – Use Value and Exchange Value

Why do we tend to think of our homes as investments that we might cash in on as well as places for our families to live?

Why are properties on our High St empty and boarded up like commodities in a warehouse awaiting shipping?

Are areas of Levenshulme run down on purpose because they have already been earmarked for more profitable forms of redevelopment?

David Harvey addresses these questions around housing through the terms “Use Value” and “Exchange Value”. These are two incompatible forms of value. Houses are useful because keep us safe and dry (use value), but they also have a price on the market (exchange value). Housing becomes a saving that we look after. We might even decorate our homes in a way that we think will be attractive to prospective buyers, rather than producing the living environment we desire.

These incompatible values also inform the redevelopment of communities. This is evident when developers allow property to fall into decline (use value), so that new properties can be produced with a higher market value (exchange value). Anna Minton, in Ground Control, considers a development in Oldham that was funded by the ‘Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder’, a multi-billion pound programme launched in 2002 with the aim of tackling ‘areas of  market failure’:

‘For residents like Kathleen, Terry and Maureen, Pathfinder strikes them as a case of the local council wanting to make money from the land by demolishing their existing homes and rebuilding new ones, which can be sold at higher prices to wealthier people. Maureen said: “It has been said, and it’s been said more than once, that you’ll get a better class of people. It’s disgusting. It’s social cleansing”.

David Harvey backs up this claim:

“Housing provision under capitalism has moved, we can conclude, from a situation in which the pursuit of use values dominated to one where exchange values moved to the fore. In a weird reversal, the use value of housing increasingly became, first, a means of saving and, second, an instrument of speculation for consumers as well as producers, financiers and all the others (real estate brokers, loan ocers, lawyers, insurance agents etc.)”

Does Harvey’s addition of “Use Value” and “Exchange Value” add to our understanding of housing, or is it adding more detail to a problem that we should look at more straight-forwardly?


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