How Progressives Ruined San Francisco: Michael Shellenberger

The author of the new book "San Fransicko", says the homelessness crisis is an addiction and mental health crisis enabled by policies that permit open-air drug scenes on public property and prevent police from enforcing laws


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"It's time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city…come[s] to an end,"" said San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, at a December 14, 2021 press conference. "It comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement."

We need to be "less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city," continued Breed, who declared a state of emergency in the city's Tenderloin district a few days later, leading to an increased police presence in the epicenter of the city's growing homelessness and addiction crisis. 

It was a moment that outraged the city's progressive political establishment and was a major turnaround for Breed, who after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 called for "ending the use of police in responding to non-criminal activity." She was roundly criticized by groups like the Coalition on Homelessness, who called the move an "expansion of strategies that have been tried and failed" that would contribute to the "instability and poor public health outcomes" of people living on the streets. 

Michael Shellenberger, author of the new book San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, called Breed's new "tough love" approach a "big step in the right direction." The homelessness crisis, he says, is actually an addiction and mental health crisis enabled by progressive policies that permit open-air drug scenes on public property, prevent police from enforcing laws against crimes, and undermine the creation of a functional mental health care system. 

Reason spoke with Shellenberger, who's a Bay Area activist and writer best known for his work on environmental issues and support for nuclear power. We talked about his foray into social policy, his critiques of both progressive and libertarian politics, Breed's new approach, and how Shellenberger thinks America's big cities can clean up their streets without grossly violating civil liberties. 

"Why is it that cities that ostensibly care the most about poor people, minorities, people suffering mental illness and addiction…Why do they treat them so terribly?" asks Shellenberger. "Is it a lack of housing? Is it a lack of rehab? What's going on? So [answering those questions is] the reason for the book."

Watch the full interview above.

Music credits: "Stay Strong," by Iamdaylight, via Artlist

Photo Credits: Pax Ahimsa Gethen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Michael Shellenberger, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Drew G Stephens, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Foundations World Economic Forum, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Aerospace Technology Institute/Cover Images/Newscom; Gavin Hellier/robertharding/Newscom; Pat Mazzera / SOPA Images/Sipa U/Newscom; John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Newscom; Ron Adar / M10s / SplashNews/Newscom; Wu Xiaoling / Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Tim Wagner/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom;

Interview by Zach Weissmueller, edited by Adam Czarnecki, opening graphic by Regan Taylor.

NEXT: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences (Vol. 5)

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  1. Paging Sevo. Sevo, please pick up the red courtesy phone.

    1. "Liar turd hardest hit!
      turd lies; it's what he does. turd is a pathological liar, but entirely too stupid to understand that. Or that others are well familiar with it.
      If something turd posts is not a lie, it was a mistake. If turd posts numbers, they are lies or cherry-picked to be worthless.
      turd lies. It's what turd does."

      There, there now! Sevo the Pedo, AKA SmegmaLung, HAS SPOKEN! All Hail!!!

      (All Hail NOW, RIGHT NOW, if'n ye know what is GOOD for ye, after Der TrumpfenFuhrer and His VEEP, Gay Ol' San-Fran SmegmaLung, take OVER, Red Rover, take OVER, Red Rover!!!)

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    2. The below poetry is dedicated to Super-Perv-Predator-Sevo the Pedo, Hippo in a Speedo,
      AKA “SmegmaLung”!

      Sitting on a park bench
      Eyeing little boys with bad intent
      Snot's running down his nose
      Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes
      Hey, SmegmaLung!
      Drying in the cold sun
      Watching as the frilly panties run
      Hey, SmegmaLung!
      Feeling like a dead duck
      Spitting out pieces of his broken luck
      Oh, SmegmaLung!
      Sun streaking cold
      A hateful man wandering lonely
      Insulting others the only way he knows
      Brain hurts bad as he tries to think
      Goes down to the bog to spread his stink
      Feeling alone
      The army's up the road
      Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea
      SmegmaLung, my friend
      Don't you start away uneasy
      You poor old sod
      You see, it's only me
      By you insulting me,
      The rotting goes to thee!

      1. The San Fran streets are fit enough for you to eat off.

        1. He’s getting hard just thinking about his next meal.

          1. There might be a nut or an acorn buried inside that steaming pile of secondhand food. And squirrel’s gonna enjoy every sloppy mouthful searching.

  2. We need to be "less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city,"

    So you will resign immediately after firing all the socialist/progressive/center-left/democrat flunkies that have been openly implementing the exact policies the city voters approved?

    1. Making everything about slavery, Jim Crow, Hitler, Covid, arbitrary melanin levels, gender identity and Trump is an immaturity that I’ve rarely experienced from adults. It’s reached the point of nausea. There aren’t enough Uhauls to accommodate the practical people fleeing.

      1. UHaul is actually out of one way trucks in California. I did spot a couple in Stab Diego.

  3. Homelessness (IOW, economic inequality so severe there are people who cannot even afford a place to stay — while wealthy residents own one or more enormous houses)?
    Addicts using drugs in public?
    Police who aren't allowed to be tough on crime?

    Sounds like a Koch / Reason libertarian paradise.


    1. It’s more like Anarchy

    1. "How Progressives Ruined by getting to feature articles about how Government Almighty policies are ruining American cities, instead of endlessly sucking orange cock ALL day long!"

      Hold TIGHT, PLEASE, all of ye MOST utterly devout orange cock-suckers!!! Just a WEEE tad more orange cock-sucking, and we will FINALLY Break On Through to the Other Side!

      (Send lawyers, guns, and money... ESPECIALLY money... RIGHT NOW!!!)

      Speaking of stupid, deluded fools… Y’all are still sending your money to the Rip-Off Artist In Chief, right?
      ‘A complete rip-off’: Campaign-finance experts puzzled and stunned by Trump camp’s reported ‘money-bomb’ ploy

  4. It's as if some light bulb has turned on at the Reason offices. All the articles today are what I see basically in these comments (albeit the articles are still soft-balling it) aka what everyone already knew a long long time ago.

    1. Reason has not changed one iota.

      1. Correct, it has changed a fuckton
        of iota’s.

  5. Grifters. The billions of dollars granted to these progressive politicians and cities never (DECADES) seem to make it to the community. BLM and the NAACP are corrupt.

  6. San Francisco started going downhill around 1998, when dot-com boom companies started making tons of money, and we started to see people moving to the area who were marketers and fortune seekers rather than geeks and engineers.

    1. There’s an over abundance of economists, finance and wealth manager fee oriented grifters, and a shortage of engineers.

    2. That’s the answer! Successful companies cause cities to fail.

    3. who were marketers and fortune seekers rather than geeks

      Lol, the city was built on a gold rush you dumbass, i.e. by marketers and fortune seekers.

    4. Sillycon Valley hasn't produced anything useful for years. Only IPhone apps and spyware. Running on fumes.
      Now, if only an earthquake would gobble Bill Gates.......

  7. Charles Manson is a fitting founding father for San Francisco and the modern left

  8. The 9th circuit ruled they couldn't remove the homeless from public property if they didn't have alternative housing and viola.

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

    1. The 9th circuit ruled they couldn't remove the homeless from public property if they didn't have alternative housing and viola.

      How about jail?

      1. 20,000 homeless visiting the Capitol would be allowed to stay there?

  9. The first chapter of my book deals with this socialist insanity: “Why Socialism Sucks, An Engineer Analyzes Political Choice.”

  10. Without having read Shellenberger's book, I think he may have mischaracterized Thomas Szasz.

    Szasz never said that we should do nothing about the "mentally-ill." Szasz did say that if a person's behavior was intolerable to others around him, that shunning, dis-associating, divorce, firing, ostracism, and disowning were perfectly all right responses.

    Moreover, Szasz was a proponent of human volition and moral responsibility and also opposed "diminished capacity" and "insanity" defenses for criminal conduct in the law. He also held that if someone is violating the rights of others, that person should punished, regardless of "states of mind."

    Beyond that, Shellenberger has the right idea on including responsibility and freedom as a single unit. And as I've suggested before, if drug plants could be Genetically Modified, maybe they could be made cheaper as well as to have less harmful and addictive effects.

    This interview was a great primer for discussion!

  11. Bitch knows damned well what went wrong in San Francisco, but she still hasn't resigned.


  12. San Fran is a major liberal enclave. It means that the people there are mindless morons. Nothing will change until they decide to stop voting for and electing people like London Breed and that Alinskyite D.A. Unfortunately they're all too stupid to do otherwise. They will continue to do as they have, as they do in all major democrat run cities, vote for whomever promises them the most welfare or as in this case vote for whomever promises to defund the police and allow drug dealing and defecating in the streets.
    The people of that city have no one to blame but themselves for the disaster that has taken over the city. You bought it, you own it. Stop blaming just the politicians you voted for, look in the mirror, you'll see another reason why your city is a third world shite hole.

  13. Managing the chronically homeless will not work without the liberal use conservatorships. The vast majority of the homeless folks we see on the streets are so long gone they'll never be fully functional. And that's a cost Housing First advocates simply don't want to acknowledge or outright reject. We're talking about tens of thousands of dollars per year per homeless person just to manage their basic needs.

    That's in addition to the billions the Housing First non profits have pissed away on solving nothing while allowing their executive directors to pay their mortgages as their supposed clients shit themselves in perpetual psychosis in an irony too tragic and enraging to contemplate.

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