National bestselling author of APOCALYPSE NEVER skewers progressives for the mishandling of America’s faltering cities.
Progressives claimed they knew how to solve homelessness, inequality, and crime. But in cities they control, progressives made those problems worse.
Michael Shellenberger has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for thirty years. During that time, he advocated for the decriminalization of drugs, affordable housing, and alternatives to jail and prison. But as homeless encampments spread, and overdose deaths skyrocketed, Shellenberger decided to take a closer look at the problem.
What he discovered shocked him. The problems had grown worse not despite but because of progressive policies. San Francisco and other West Coast cities — Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland — had gone beyond merely tolerating homelessness, drug dealing, and crime to actively enabling them.
San Fransicko reveals that the underlying problem isn’t a lack of housing or money for social programs. The real problem is an ideology that designates some people, by identity or experience, as victims entitled to destructive behaviors. The result is an undermining of the values that make cities, and civilization itself, possible.
Environmental Progress founder Shellenberger (Apocalypse Never) faults progressives for "the breakdown of civilization on America's West Coast" in this alarmist account. He claims that San Francisco's homeless problem resulted in the city spending $100 million more than Chicago (which has 3.5 times more people) on street cleaning in 2019, and blames liberal lawmakers and homeless activists for prioritizing "permanent supportive housing" over funding for shelters, and for insisting that "poverty and housing prices," rather than "mental illness and substance abuse," are the primary drivers of homelessness. He also notes that San Francisco's maximum cash welfare benefit is $400 greater than New York City's, and alleges that homeless services providers have a financial stake in encouraging people to stay on the street. Elsewhere, Shellenberger questions whether "racial bias" explains why Black people are disproportionately killed by the police, suggesting that it could be because African Americans are "more likely to end up in a situation that involves lethal force," and analyzes how cult leaders and dictators have used compassion "as cover for darker motivations." Though the author includes plenty of statistics and horror stories about drug addiction and crime, he exaggerates progressives' belief in the "secular religion" of "victimology" and underplays the historical abuses associated with a "law-and-order" approach. This one-sided screed overstates its case.