Monday, November 15, 2021

San Francisco Sinks into the Bay

Journalist Michael Shellenberger has just written an analysis of the decline and fall of San Francisco. He aptly entitled it: San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.

Now, Joel Kotkin has offered a laudatory review for The American Compass. Being a demographer, being situated in California, and apparently being more of a Democrat than a Republican, Kotkin is certainly an unbiased and expert commentator.

Besides, his analysis of Shellenberger is of a piece with his previous analysis of the decline and fall of California. And we have reason to trust him when he agrees with Shellenberger, to the effect that leftist politics is killing San Francisco.

He begins with an obvious point:

California is one of just a handful of states to see dramatic increases in its homeless population. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco’s homeless population grew by 32%, despite the city tripling its funds to address homelessness. Public health and safety have been jeopardized. The entire state has witnessed a spike in shoplifting, particularly in San Francisco. Meanwhile, homeless encampments have become breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases, some of them distinctly medieval.

Politicians see no problem because they believe that the problem with minority crime is white oppression. They are less apt to prosecute crime when they think that the criminals are victims. In fact,  many of the homeless are addicts or mentally ill or both:

Shellenberger traces some of  California’s urban dystopia to the writings of Michel Foucault, who challenged the very idea of incarceration and ascribed crime not to personal failings, but to social oppression. Thus seeing in the homeless an advertisement for “social justice,” progressives are reluctant to admit that many homeless people are actually drug-addicted or mentally ill, people whose needs must be addressed by professionals. They sanction even the most demeaning behaviors, like shooting up, masturbating, or defecating in public—now considered “victimless crimes” by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, whose main priority is not fighting crime but “deincarceration.”

Of course, this has nothing to do with progressivism, It is radicalism disguised as progressivism. It places ideology ahead of public safety and imagines that white people need to be punished for their successes. The result has been urban calamity:

The pervasiveness of this postmodern ideology explains how social crisis is not just another Californian lunacy. Rioting, rising crime, and civic disorder can be found in cities under similar ideological sway. Some of the most progressive (and incidentally whitest and most educated) American cities, such as Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle, have all experienced rising crime and racial disorder—sometimes for months on end, although recent elections showed some definite pushback even in these cities. Once, these places were widely considered urban role models. Yet few people today would hold out downtown Portland—arguably our most dysfunctional big city, now suffering record homicides—as an urban exemplar today.

Then, Kotkin accuses leftist city leaders of having produced a form of ethnic cleansing:

 But in reality, progressives have presided over a kind of ethnic cleansing. In the core of San Francisco’s metropolitan area, the Black community has declined from one-in-seven to barely one-in-20 over the last 40 years, with most now ensconced in public housing. Black San Franciscans constitute 37% of the homeless and are now so marginal that one filmmaker even made a movie called “The Last Black Man In San Francisco.” Los Angeles and Portland have also experienced drops in their minority populations.

The middle class has been hollowed out, leaving the rich the rest. Since the rest cannot afford to live in the housing that is on offer, they must either move or steal:

Progressivism in its postmodern guise produces a dystopic demography. Once solid middle- and working-class communities either gentrify or become zones for homeless camps, open-air drug markets, and petty crime—this in cities where families with incomes of $117,000 are officially considered poor. The Bay Area, along with southern California, now ranks among the worst places for first-time home buyers, meaning that, if people move to buy a house, they must move further out.

The result is cities dominated by the rich, the poor, and a youthful, largely childless population. They have experienced the spread of high-poverty neighborhoods and a shrinking middle class. San Francisco has the nation’s lowest percentage of children of any major American city while Los Angeles has seen its youth population plummet and even managed to lose its foreign-born population in the last decade. No surprise then that middle-class families are going extinct.

Twas not always thus. Yet the exodus of major firms has cost the city jobs. And the great tech firms are mostly importing workers from China. It may be the case that it can pay Chinese workers less, but it is also likely to be true that the products of America’s school system are not really capable of doing the jobs:

Once, San Francisco had a widely diverse economy, with a specialty manufacturing sector, a thriving port, and until recently several large firms—like McKesson, Chevron, and Schwab—that employed many mid-level, white-collar workers. Now these firms, and many others, have departed, leaving California totally dependent on the highly volatile tech sector.

The increase in remote working arrangements has also helped hollow out the city:

With the rise of remote work, the tech industry has only accelerated the urban exodus. Workers at firms like  Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter now have the option of working either from the safety of the suburbs or even further out in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties in the San Joaquin Valley. San Francisco is now seeing rising office vacancies, three times its pre-pandemic levels—enough to fill 17 Salesforce Towers. Things should improve eventually, but most area companies expect employees to come to the office three days a week or less, with barely one-in-five ever anticipating a return to “normal.”

But, what are the tech tycoons doing about this. Aside from moving to Texas, that is. Yesterday, we offered some of Matt Taibbi’s reflections on their attitudes. Today, we have Kotkin’s.

He remarks that these hyperrich buffoons have no real civic spirit. They are not giving back to their communities. They do not care about the school systems or the crime rate. They are so thoroughly leftist that they are beholden to the radical politicians who run the places:

One might think the new hegemons would push back against the policies driving these trends. But unlike the corporate old guard, the tech moguls—like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey—often see themselves as rich, but woke, radicals, donating millions to left-wing organizations and committing their companies to progressive social causes. For all their supposed altruism, San Francisco’s elite is generally not doing what earlier generations might have done, like pushing to improve performance in schools or restoring basic public order. Such moves would discomfit their allies in the teacher’s unions and anti-police activist groups.

Why? Kotkin suggests that they do not really live in the cities. They live in their own private oases, surrounded by security, untouched by the urban rot that surrounds them. In the past this would have been called, whistling past the graveyard.

Perhaps it’s because these oligarchs have no fundamental stake in the city. Their wealth insulates them from the worst urban problems and allows them to maintain numerous residences. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley’s reliance on indentured “technocoolies” from overseas, now three-quarters of their “domestic” workforce, reduces any interest in the native population.

Can cities come back? Can they recover their past glory. Both Kotkin and Shellenberger hedge their bets:

Is there a way back from dystopia for once-great cities like San Francisco? “Heroism,” Shellenberger writes, “is not the absence of victimization but the overcoming of it.” Cities can come back, but they first must become civil. They can overcome the rise of telework, just as they have bounced back from past crises and outbreaks of disorder, by improving conditions on the ground. Only by making urbanity safer and cleaner and by addressing the economic concerns of the many rather than appeasing the discordant fewer, can cities restore their promise in the coming decade.

But as Schellenberger notes, that will require as much as change of mind as a change of policy.


markedup2 said...

Of course, this has nothing to do with progressivism, It is radicalism disguised as progressivism.
I vehemently disagree. Progressivism has always been thus. "We have some social theory that requires throwing out the old and forcing you to conform to the new," is at the very heart of the "progress" in Progressivism. The social theory has changed, but the "tear it down and do what we say" part has not.

Sam L. said...

As I keep saying, the word "Progressive" always reminds me of the word "CANCER".

"San Francisco’s homeless population grew by 32%, despite the city tripling its funds to address homelessness." It didn't "address" it, it ENCOURAGED it. (The STUPID is STRONG in Frisco...)

I have to wonder why intelligent people stay there.

"Such moves would discomfit their allies in the teacher’s unions and anti-police activist groups." The Teacher's unions should be defenestrated. Harsh, but necessary.