by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
San Francisco has a poop problem. Between 2011 and 2019, reports of human feces on public sidewalks quintupled, rising from roughly 5,500 to more than 30,000. Incidents have been on the decline since the COVID pandemic began, but residents still reported an average of 76 turds per day in the first half of 2021.
The Golden Gate city’s intestinal troubles are not news—conservative commentators have made a joke, and a talking point, out of them for ages. But they are metonymic for a dysfunction increasingly apparent in America’s big cities, from the West Coast to the East. Many major municipalities are marred by violent crime, homelessness, uncontrolled mental illness, and general disorder. This all in spite of an ever-advancing cadre of progressive leaders, who promise their latest tax hike will finally target the “root causes” of the breakdown.
Why are these big, blue cities breaking down? Climate scientist and Berkeley, Calif., resident Michael Shellenberger tackles the question in his latest book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.
At core, Shellenberger’s answer is political. Though he takes pains to assure the reader of his liberal bona fides, Shellenberger insists that big cities, particularly San Francisco, have been captured by a too-progressive ideology. City leaders have begrudgingly embraced the priorities of the activist class that staffs the various NGOs providing key services, including support for the homeless, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted.
The result is urban disaster. Shellenberger covers the vogue for “housing first” policy, which emphasizes placing homeless people in housing without sobriety or medication requirements, and which he argues does not consistently reduce the pathologies that lead to homelessness. He discusses the “harm reduction” approach to drug policy, which can mean providing users with the materials to use without “coercing” them into treatment.