I recently started reading Karl Marx’s Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, translated as either the Foundations or the Outline of the Critique of Political Economy. The common internet translation of Grundrisse is either “ground plans” or “floor plans”. On searching for Grundrisse, Google Images returns pages and pages of the plans of German buildings like this one:
It seems to me that neither “foundations” nor “outlines” is a wholey accurate translation of the original German and that something like “blue prints” might be preferable.
I have been unable to find the original floor plans of any buildings in which Karl Marx lived, although it may be possible to reconstruct them from photographs and descriptions. Marx wrote the Grundrisse over the winter of 1857/58 while living in London at 9 Grafton Terrace (now 46 Grafton Terrace NW5) near Hampstead Heath. The Marx family rented all four floors for £36 (about $56) per year (see Karl Marx – A Biography, David McLellan, page 244). A two bedroom flat of 641 square feet in Grafton Terrace is currently renting for £3,684 per month, or £44,208 per year (about $5,700 per month; or $68,400 per year). The floor plan is below. The listing is here, if still active.
We can use the Historical UK Inflation and Price Conversion page to estimate current cost of Karl Marx’s house rental. According to the table provided, prices in 1857 can be converted to 2009 prices by mulitplying by 85. Alternatively, using the calculating widget provided, £36 is equivalent to £3,100 in 2010 prices. This still seems to be incredibly inexpensive. But how do 1857 annual rents and the 2011 annual rents compare to the average annual salaries for these two years?
According to data from the University of Essex, in 1861 a teacher, for example, earned on average £93.76 per year. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (UK) gives the highest main scale Inner London annual salary in 2010 as £36,387. Therefore, a teacher renting Marx’s house around 1857 would be paying £36/£93.76 x 100 = 38% of their salary. Today, a teaching wanting to rent just one floor of Marx’s house would need to pay £44,208/£36,387 = 121% of their annual salary; i.e. the teacher could not affor to live there. Roughly speaking, to rent the whole four floors would cost a staggering 4 x 121% = 484% of annual salary.
A more thorough analysis would be required to draw any firm conclusions on, for example, the relative affordability of accommodation over time in London; but one thing is clear, somebody can afford to live in Marx’s house in 2011 and it’s not an impoverished philosopher like Marx, nor is it a teacher. Most likely it’s a stokebroker or other agent of capitalism.