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San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities

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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.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published October 12, 2021

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About the author

Michael Shellenberger

15 books224 followers
Michael Shellenberger is an American author and former public relations professional. His writing has focused on the intersection of climate change, the environment, nuclear power, and politics.
He is a co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, co-founder of the California Peace Coalition, and the founder of Environmental Progress.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 383 reviews
Profile Image for Amora.
186 reviews137 followers
April 30, 2022
The reason why San Francisco is the focus of the author is because most homeless people in San Francisco are unsheltered and because San Francisco has been the sandbox for new progressive ideas. Proposals by harm reduction advocates and progressives haven’t been shown to be productive and, in many cases, cause more harm. Cutting police funding, permanent supportive housing, decriminalization, and getting rid of asylums aren’t the answer.
Profile Image for Jenna.
242 reviews1 follower
October 20, 2021
The author is an avowed liberal progressive, so I was utterly surprised by the history and current failings of west-coast progressives about homelessness, addiction, and mental illness that he meticulously researched. Tragic, but wholly correct about how progressives are ruining cities with the constant victimization of people while spending billions of dollars without solving anything to unaccountable NGOs. Eye-opening read!
Profile Image for Pete.
769 reviews54 followers
November 6, 2021
San Fransicko : Why Progressives Ruin Cities (2021) by Michael Shellenberger is a fascinating take on what is wrong with San Francisco and other West Coast American Cities. Shellenberger is an activist, mainly on environmental causes but who also campaigned for drug legalisation in the 1990s. It’s remarkable how The Bay Area, Seattle and Los Angeles, places that generate such incredible wealth have such a large problem with homeless people. Shellenberger tackles the issue head on. The book is full of figures and references.

Joe Rogan has an interview with Shellenberger about the book and The Economist magazine also has a good review of the book.

Along with Dignity by Chris Arnade and The Least of Us by Sam Quinones San Fransicko provides a dramatic view of things that have gone badly wrong in America.

San Fransicko starts by talking about a campaign against dog poo and the person who lead it – Harvey Milk. Then it cuts to how in current day San Fransisco (SF) a new kind of excrement on the street is causing problems, this time it’s human excrement. This leads into a description of the current serious problems with mental illness and drug abuse and how they mix with the current day homeless population in SF. Early on Shellenberger also contrasts the homeless problem in SF with that of New York City (NYC). NYC and Washington DC both have more homeless people per capita that SF but don’t have the same problem with an area like SF does with the Tenderloin.

Shellenberger describes how a mentality for dealing with homelessness has taken hold on the US West Coast that is different to that in other places. He confronts issues with homelessness and drug addiction. He looks at how Amsterdam changed the way they dealt with drug use from greater tolerance to getting addicts to undertake treatment and shutting down open air drug markets that made it easy to get opiods and meth. Note that tolerance was fine for pot, it was harder drugs that caused the issues. He talks with people in SF who got addicted and then cleaned themselves up after living on the streets.

In a chapter on untreated mental illness and how that is part of the homelessness problem Shellenberger makes an interesting point that the de-institutionalisation of mental illness that in the US is blamed on Reagan occurred gradually over a long time frame. He points out that there was chronic awful treatment of inmates. He misses the role of neuroleptics and other anti-psychotics that are essentially short term chemical lobotomies that enables substantial numbers of seriously mentally ill people to function outside of asylums. Shellenberger describes how a study done in the 1970s where graduate students got themselves admitted to mental hospitals and allegedly weren’t released is highly suspect and possibly outright fraudulent.

The housing first movement that believes that housing for homeless people where the housing is given without constraints such as staying sober has not worked. In high housing cost areas like the US West Coast it’s very hard. He also makes the point that the housing first movement is often opposed to short term accommodation with shared facilities. He describes that the use of this sort of short term accommodation can be a way to alleviate homelessness and help people get back on their feet.

The way in which many crimes have been allowed to happen in Seattle, SF and LA is remarkable. SFs decision to allow substantial low level property crime is something that Shellenberger sees as something that enables this sort of crime to be used for getting money to buy drugs.

Shellenberger’s thesis is that a theory of homeless people being victims who should be allowed to do as they please is a disaster. He points out that in the US places that don’t take this approach, including left leaning NYC and Washington DC have handled their homeless populations much better than SF and other West Coast cities. He calls for a California wide agency to be set up to deal with drug addiction and mental illness and to clean up the streets.

San Fransicko is really well worth a read. Shellenberger is a long time resident of the city and clearly someone who cares deeply about what he’s been witnessing and what has happened to San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if SF and some of the other cities turn the homeless issues around as NYC and Boston and many other US cities did with crime in the 1990s.
Profile Image for Susan Tunis.
763 reviews165 followers
November 3, 2021
Having lived in San Francisco longer than anywhere else, it's probably no surprise that I'm pretty progressive. But I actively seek out differing voices; it's good to get my head out of my liberal bubble on a regular basis.

Mr. Shellenberger lives in Berkeley, and the first thing I'll note is that he doesn't come across like an alt-right lunatic. In this book, he talks about major urban issues like homelessness, mental health, addiction, crime, policing, the social safety net, housing, wealth inequality, etc. And while there are asides and references to other major cities, the book largely uses San Francisco and the Bay Area as it's prime example, making it feel very much a part of my life. It got even weirder when people I know IRL started showing up or being quoted in the book. It's definitely not the first time time that's happened, but it's always weird.

So, the author throws a lot of statistics around and references a lot of studies about, say, the outcomes of incarceration vs. treatment for addicts--and a million other things. And some of it can definitely give you food for thought. But I'd also have to do a lot more research before I take his word on any of it.

You know the old saying about there being "lies, damned lies, and statistics"? It's kind of like that. Data can be manipulated and twisted. For instance, at one point he talks about how the social safety net is more robust than it's ever been, and he proceeds to list about a dozen different programs as if anyone who needs help can just ask for it and receive it. And probably a lot of the successful, well-educated readers of this book will think it's true. When the reality is that the available help can't even touch the levels of need, and actually gaining access to the help offered by any of those programs is nigh on impossible. Especially for those most in need of aid. So, everything isn't exactly as presented, which makes me suspicious of the things he says that I don't know about.

But, it's an interesting and provocative book. I may spur me and other readers to check his premise further. And it was definitely food for thought--just take it in with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Profile Image for Michelle.
356 reviews27 followers
June 22, 2021
I was fortunate to get an advance copy of this important story - Don't be turned off by the title, the argument is strong on what we're doing wrong in SF and other cities, and Michael and his team detail a great plan to help get our addicts off the streets, helping the addicts, their loved ones, and our communities. Looking forward to having this plan unfurl over the next months and seeing important, needed change be made.
Profile Image for Martin Silbiger.
1 review2 followers
January 6, 2022
Rather than crafting a compelling narrative, Shellenberger just overwhelms the reader with facts and figures. It seems to me like he's got a viewpoint and went out to collect facts to support his argument, rather than truly exploring the issues at hand.

As a Seattle resident, I found his characterization of my city to be ridiculous. His depiction of CHAZ/CHOP is right out of the pages of the Seattle Times (considered to be a conservative paper) and the national coverage we got for "ceding control to anarchists". He interviews Carmen Best (chief of police) and a detective to cover this topic - no discussions with activists - no wonder his depiction of this event is totally one-sided. We residents have mixed feelings about CHAZ and its failures, but Shellenberger just pulls this event to make the argument that progressives are "soft on crime" or to paint progressives as being in league with anarchists.

He also characterizes "The Blade" as an open-air drug market akin to Hamsterdam in The Wire, but it's less scary when you know you can grab a burrito at Chipotle on that same corner. He also keeps mentioning Capitol Hill as being a historically black neighborhood (to score debate points I guess?!), but there's actually a history of redlining keeping the black population out of Capitol Hill.

I admit, he makes a compelling argument that more policing for hard drug offenses (a carrot-and-stick approach) might "clean up" our cities - but it's hard to trust what I'm reading. I flipped from "maybe there are some good points" to "this is BS" when he starts talking about "participation trophies" as an example of soft parenting, that of course leads us to the downfall of urban civilization.
Profile Image for Jim Cullison.
446 reviews4 followers
November 12, 2021
Mixed bag. Started strong, then plunged off the rails. The most powerful and persuasive chapters of the book appear early on, contending that cities' homeless problems are actually utterly anarchic drug use crises that collide and commingle with mental illness to steadily erode civilization by the hour. Shellenberger will convince you that strong government action is necessary to curtail this ever multiplying chaos and squalor, and that attitudes of permissiveness and empathy have only served to translate Dante's Inferno from the page to a city street near you.

THAT SAID...his book lost me with a weird foray into free will and the thought of Viktor Frankl that was neither useful or clear as to where it was going or what thematic purpose it was serving. I'd wait to check this book out of the library.
Profile Image for Jon-Erik.
167 reviews34 followers
November 12, 2021
Anyone who is interested in empirically driven policy making should not be too offended to give this book a chance. For me, the book is not saying anything too radical. It's saying something evident, that a lot of people have an interest in not admitting. It's self-evident that whatever California has been doing about homelessness (and the evidence mounts that we are making mistakes in crime as well) isn't working. That a series of policies and programs adopted by political leaders have failed makes it likewise extremely likely that a lot of people will have an interest in defending it.

It's not just the non-profits and the activists. A lot of the political class made these choices and they never, ever like to admit mistakes. Tribalism goes not just for national party ID, but smaller very local political tribes exist as well.

The shortfall of the book is when he goes beyond diagnosing the problem and tries to shrink the heads of the far left, as if it has some sort of essential hivemind high on Foucault and Mao and Gramsci. He also seems to take as proven sociology some recent discoveries that may or may not stand the test of time and seems just as confident about his big government Cal-Psych proposal as the proponents of Prop 63 and numerous other silver bullets were.

That what we are doing now isn't working is clear; that there is a simple solution we just are refusing to do isn't. It's possible he's right. It's possible that looking to European solutions holds the key. It's also possible that European style solutions just aren't politically obtainable in the United States, even in California.

At least since George W. Bush was elected, the California left has overcome objections by more pragmatic Democrats by criticizing them for not "moving the Overton window" while allowing the right to do the same. In other words, if the other side is taking a maximalist position, you must too or you lose. The problem with this is that this contradicts with the proposition that solving problems is the best politics, racking up approval from your tribe is. There is a very strong sense of mistrust among the activists of those who express any kind of desire to poll test things. But the same thing goes on the right.

Shellenberger doesn't get that. He doesn't get that it's not just progressives or the far left that politically resists things it doesn't like. Most political groups do this now, many with no regard for its effect on their electoral prospects. In other words, democracy is an inconvenience. You win some, you lose some, but when you win you do what you want, and when you lose you fuel people with enough outrage to win again. Simply enacting big policies just because they might work is a naive view of politics. The constituency for that type of thing is small.

Did Shellenberger really think the activists he worked with in the 90s lost their way, or that he was duped? If so, how do we know he isn't duped now? A convert should be humble about his certainties. This points to the largest omission from this book: is any analysis of the effect that non-progressives have had on this issue. Like Shellenberger's work on nuclear power, it was he that was fooled by the activists in the first place, not the policy expert community. Activists duped him, not the people who studied energy policy, as I did. My super liberal professors thought nuclear and hydrogen was the most likely solution to carbon emissions, but because it allows the economy to continue with little disruption it doesn't matter if it works, if your real goal is something else.

But forgetting that it was the right, funded by fossil fuel companies, that denied and largely continues to deny that global warming is a problem. The fact that we can't persuade the far left because they haven't had an epiphany like Shellenberger has is not a change in the status quo. The far left refused to vote for Al Gore. The far left foisted Henry Wallace on FDR and let Nixon win twice. The far left found every pretext it could to turn against the Clinton presidency and the Obama presidency, and now the Biden presidency. It has always been such. The only reason they hold as much power right now is because there's no partner on the other side to hold the middle.

Republicans could have nuclear power in every town if they'd vote with Democrats to do it in a climate bill. They won't. So now we have to bargain with political people on the other side. Why does it surprise him that their demands are ideological too?

California's state and local governments are all almost impossible to govern due to the scattershot ballot initiatives, complex constitutional provisions, and expansive network of local government agencies doing overlapping work (I was elected to one such government agency in 2014).

Citizens have no idea who is supposed to solve what problem. Is it the water district? Oh, the cops are the County, but the schools aren't run by the county. But it's not the state?

This too makes hyperlocal issues trump cards against certainly higher-level needs, for example the NIMBYism Shellenberger cites. But the far left was full NIMBY and "No Growth" for decades, using the environment as a pretext; now it's their identity politics that dominates their thought, and so building lots of housing is OK.

In my town when our electeds tried to deal with a growing homeless population, the locals (median house price: $775,000) lectured us for being insensitive to the poor, but our only intersection with the issue was increased emergency services, so even if we wanted to pass a "right to camp" rule, we didn't have the authority.

In order to understand any policy failure in California, you have to understand how broken our constitution is, something that has more to direct impact that Shellenberger's attempt at comparing the left to a Jim Jones cult or using fancy new psychological concepts, something he doesn't appear to be an expert in.
Profile Image for Nolan.
2,196 reviews23 followers
October 24, 2021
The videos are everywhere. People nonchalantly walk into a California store, remove its contents, and casually walk out with no fear of punishment; and indeed, no punishment comes. In return, once fully emptied or nearly so, those same stores close down. Though California comprises some 12 percent of the nation's population, it includes massive numbers of homeless people. Despite the billions that legislators pour into the problem, it grows.

He rejects the idea that homelessness is a poverty problem, providing statistics that indicate that it is a mental illness and drug abuse problem first. In fact, there are so many fascinating statistics here as to be almost dizzying. The audio narration is excellent, but I would have gotten more out of this had I been able to digest the braille edition so I could mark pages and return to them as needed.

He questions the viability of the housing first believers. He points out systems in Holland and Portugal where abusers are first sent to shelters where they are later rewarded with better housing depending on their ability to work at getting clean and sober. He'll doubtless take a lot of heat from the group who insist that the house is the most important part. I'm no sociologist, but I see a lot of merit in the premise of providing shelter initially then helping someone move up as they take some personal responsibility.

I enjoyed the author's ability to build bridges between those progressives who see homeless people as victims who should never be blamed for any wrongdoing they commit because of their victimhood and those who would take far more draconian measures. He writes that demands to defund the police will result in greater police misconduct because those who are left will be forced to work longer hours under far worse conditions. Defunding the cops and holding everyone blameless because they are victims isn't the answer, he asserts.

Those ideologues who are molecularly bound to their specific position will find much about which to grumble here. But those who realize that current projects aren't working, those who wonder whether other solutions might work better will find much for thought here. Clearly, a status quo approach will bring about the end of civilization as we know it if that's allowed to expand to other cities throughout the country.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 19 books69 followers
February 19, 2022
Best to just grab some great facts and a few comments

“California banned the sale of flavored tobacco, because it appeals to children, and the use of smokeless tobacco in the state’s five professional baseball stadiums. It prohibited the use of e-cigarettes in government and private workplaces, restaurants,”

But shooting fentanyl on a city street is A-okay

“Research finds that many addicts need mandatory treatment, and that it works nearly as well as voluntary treatment. Noted a team of researchers,”

But progressives are for bodily autonomy - unless you aren’t sure about a vax.

“But if poverty, trauma, and structural racism cause addiction, why did addiction worsen over the same period that poverty, trauma, and racism declined?”

Good point

“Just 2 percent of Americans who graduate from high school, live in a family with at least one full-time worker, and wait to have children until after turning twenty-one and marrying, in what is known as the “success sequence,” are in poverty. According to research by the Brookings Institution, 70 percent of those who follow the success sequence enjoy middle-class”

“The dark side of victimology is how it moralizes power. Victimology takes the truth that it is wrong for people to be victimized and distorts it by going a step further. Victimology asserts that victims are inherently good because they have been victimized. It robs victims of their moral agency and creates double standards that frustrate any attempt to criticize their behavior, even if they’re behaving in self-destructive”

“A secular religion like victimology is powerful because it meets the contemporary psychological, social, and spiritual needs of its believers, but also because it appears obvious, not ideological, to them. Advocates of “centering” victims, giving them special rights, and allowing them to behave in ways that undermine city life, don’t believe, in my experience, that they are adherents to a new religion, but rather that they are more compassionate and more moral than those who hold more traditional views”

“the homeless could pitch tents to social distance. The city spent $ 61,000 per tent, which is 2.5 times the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city. The program served 262 homeless people.”

Govt efficiency.

Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
935 reviews808 followers
April 30, 2022
Modern cities (and making them a better place to live for people) is one of my favorite topics. Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but well, that's what I enjoy. "San Fransicko" is a VERY good book with a focus directed in a slightly different area than I expected. To be precise - I've expected a broader analysis of various policies and their implications, while the author has focused on a specific, narrow list of the topic he has found most crucial (impactful) when it comes to SF's demise (like: drug use and the policy of decriminalization, treatment of mental illnesses, approach to the problem of homelessness).

In fact, he may be completely RIGHT here. I mean - these may be the major factors that have influenced the current situation. But I haven't seen any effort to confirm that it's the case. In fact, there are so many other aspects of municipal policies that could have an impact but haven't been touched at all, that it (IMHO) seriously affects the book's credibility. E.g. the problem of housing control is barely mentioned, BUT even this short interlude shows that it's super-interesting and has certain effects.

Anyway, back to what the book actually covers: there are so, so many interesting examples of particular decisions and their effects. It feels almost like a log of laboratory experiments with documented outcomes. I strongly recommend it to everyone regardless of the political standpoint - it's a great food for thought.

4.5 stars, but unfortunately rounded down to 4 (just to show clearly that it's not that close to perfection).
Profile Image for Alex Gruenenfelder.
332 reviews3 followers
January 8, 2022
This book should be required reading for progressive Democrats such as myself. Written by a former progressive and extensively-sourced, this book puts forward a new comprehensive approach to homelessness and public safety that doesn't quite align with Democrats or Republicans. Even when I don't agree with Shellenberger, I appreciate his intellect, his devil's advocate tendencies, and his genuine drive to make his community better.

This book's goal is to put forward heterodox arguments to problems that groups in the "homeless industrial complex" have not been able to solve. A contrarian at heart, Shellenberger even defends the legacy of alcohol prohibition, but everything he writes is evidence-based. Shellenberger is no stranger to shock-and-awe bold statements like the book's very subtitle, but he emphasizes that he doesn't believe progressives always ruin cities. As he writes early on, "I am saying that when progressives do ruin cities, they do so in similar ways, and for similar reasons."

This book answers important questions many of us have about the homeless, such as why so many don't have a place to turn to when they become unhoused. The answer is, all too often, about addiction. He also asks "How did we go from the nightmare of mental institutions to the nightmare of homeless encampments?" These kinds of questions, and the questions of why progressive solutions have been failing, motivates this book.

The book is not perfect. As the New York Times has noted, Shellenberger is not at all times above dogma, at various points attacking "woke" social thinking. His quotes from anecdotal law enforcement stories are fairly easily criticized too, as are his attacks on participation trophies. It is in these moments that he appears to be writing for a more conservative audience, and gets fairly tangential. However, even in his tangents, Shellenberger always cites his sources.

I am still a progressive after reading Shellenberger's book, but I recognize more of the specifics of what we've been doing wrong. It's all well and good to be philosophically correct, but we need practical solutions to our problems. Shellenberger points to many solutions that are out there, which aren't progressive or conservative: Hawaii's "swift, certain, and fair," an end to NIMBYism, and the creation of a department called CalPsych, as examples. If you're stuck wondering what we can do, read this book now.
Profile Image for Mark Jr..
Author 6 books305 followers
January 11, 2022
Demonstrates how theology cashes out in real life. It seems—and this book is evidence—that a bipartisan consensus is building that the West Coast's approaches to homelessness are clearly not working, and throwing more money at investing in the same "solutions" is unwise. Agreement on the problems may be longer in coming. But I am grateful for what I can get, and I really do want to see people helped.
Profile Image for Bryce.
2 reviews
February 6, 2022
A compelling argument, crippled by incoherent centrism and dubious statistics.

I really wanted to like this book. It starts strong, and is at its best when discussing the sociology and data surrounding homelessness; I especially appreciated the perspectives of social workers and recovered homeless. I gave it 2 stars because there are tidbits that challenged my preconceptions and legitimately expanded my understanding of a nuanced issue, but there’s maybe a blog-post worth of that content and the rest is simply not worth reading.

There was the potential to be phenomenal had the book stayed within the scope of homelessness, but the latter half takes a bizarre and scatterbrained detour to justify the book’s inflammatory title by explaining how progressives “ruin cities.” Shellenberger reaches so hard to make causal connections that it becomes difficult to take seriously. The bombastic talk of anarchists, George Soros, cults, and the “radical left” makes the book read like a teleprompter for Fox News.

To make matters worse, Shellenberger structures his argument as a stream of statistics, one after the other, without any cohesive narrative or thesis to tie things together. You’re constantly left guessing what point he’s building towards, and when you think you’ve caught the scent he throws you off the trail with another statistic to contradict an earlier one… or a gross misinterpretation of the facts… or just straight nonsense.

Here’s a taste of how bad it gets:

“The annual revenue of Jennifer Friedenbach’s Coalition on Homelessness, the most influential homelessness advocacy organization in San Francisco, was just $656,892, according to its most recently available tax filing. To put that number in context, consider that the annual revenues of the Nature Conservancy and the National Rifle Association were $1.2 billion and $353 million, respectively, in 2018.”

Hang on… what the fuck? He’s comparing the revenue of a municipal social service against a national environmental fund and the gun lobby, as if these three wildly different organizations having wildly different budgets means something.

Eventually, finally, we learn how Shellenberger proposes solving the homelessness problem. Essentially: eliminate the nonprofits and redirect funding towards a monolithic governmental agency. After reading the book it’s not an entirely outlandish proposal, but he devotes only a few pages to the idea and we don’t learn how it would bring more accountability (a major theme throughout the book) other than the do-everything agency reporting to the governor. In the end, he gives us the same unsubstantiated, wishful thinking that he’s spent the book criticizing progressives for.

P.S.: Some of Shellenberger’s sources are so problematic they deserve to be called out explicitly.

Opioids: Shellenberger argues opioid overdoses were enabled or exasperated by progressive cities decriminalizing hard drugs. His claims are based on a paper by Sally Satel from the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI is funded by Purdue Pharma, the company behind the opioid epidemic. This is akin to arguing cigarettes aren’t bad because the Philip Morris said so.

Cults: Shellenberger claims the west coast is more secular, and its lack of religion explains why we’ve seen so many cults like Jonestown. Setting the factual issues with Jonestown aside, the primary source is a 1986 survey of sociology opinions which includes no data whatsoever to support Shellenberger’s claims.

Black Lives Matter: Shellenberger includes some rather remarkable claims that police don’t use disproportionately more lethal force against African Americans. I was unfamiliar with this study, and after a superficial skim I learned the author of the paper, Roland Fryer Jr., has been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals and that the study had a long list of critiques of its methodology. All of these caveats must have been known to Shellenberger at the time of writing, but were clearly omitted to make a weak argument appear more convincing.
Profile Image for Chris Boutté.
Author 8 books145 followers
December 6, 2021
I’m a progressive and a recovering drug addict who does a lot of work to advocate for policy change when it comes to mental health and addiction issues in our country. So, when I read the title of this book, I instantly went into it on the defense. But once I started reading it, I agreed with probably about 90% of everything Shellenberger argues in this book. Basically, Shellenberger discusses how San Francisco is enabling addicts rather than helping them, which just increases addiction rates, crime, and homelessness. If you listen to criticisms of this book without reading it, you’d think Shellenberger hates homeless people or drug addicts, but it’s the exact opposite. You can tell that he’s passionate about this subject and wants people to get the help and dignity that they deserve, but he points out how areas like San Francisco are doing it all wrong. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone can read this book and not see how San Francisco and our country as a whole is failing addict, the mentally ill, and the homeless. I do believe there’s a conversation to be had about the tough love approach and realistic punishment and accountability, but the research shows that Shellenberger is absolutely correct. I highly recommend this book and just hope people can go into it with an open mind, because I can tell you that as a recovering addict who has worked with thousands of addicts, Shellenberger has the right solutions for a problem that’s killing tens of thousands of people each year and destroying families.
November 9, 2021
Best read this year!

I am a staunch California conservative. Rare, I know. I saw Mr Shellenberger interviewed about hos book on an Spicy Times podcast and downloaded the book immediately. That was about a week ago and I just finished it. I couldn't believe so many of the things he said were things I've been saying for years! From MLKs commandment to how to solve the drug and mental illness issues.
So.....let's get started! You have my vote!
Profile Image for Avid.
223 reviews16 followers
November 23, 2021
I thought this was a little statistics-heavy, from a readability standpoint. I’d be reading along, then hit a wall of statistics that i’d have to slog through to get back to the narrative. It was disruptive to the reading experience, for sure. The arguments were well-supported and i was able to see the homeless and mental health issues from new perspectives, so i’m glad i read it. But it’s sort of hard to recommend as a book. Probably an essay format would be more effective
Profile Image for Carolyn Kost.
Author 3 books102 followers
December 20, 2021
Perfect encapsulation: "San Francisco is a city where tolerance deteriorates into license. A town without a norm" (224). Exhibit A: "There are about 25,000 injection drug users in San Francisco, a number 50% larger than the number of students in the city's 15 public high schools" (43). That is one bracing data point among the many in this book.

Journalist, moderate Democrat, and erstwhile candidate for Governor Shellenberger takes pains to state, "I am not suggesting that progressives only ruin cities, nor that they never save them" (nor that conservatives don't), but that when progressives do, "they do so in similar ways and for similar reasons." The focus here is on the ways progressives deal with mental illness, addiction and housing. There are so plenty of statistics, but also compelling interviews, [grim and horrifying] personal anecdotes, and forays into rich asides from philosophy and social science and the city's history. There's something for everyone in this engaging book.

Shelly (after 300 pages, I claim the right to have a nickname for him) focuses on San Francisco, the city where he resides, one that he knows well, to warn others "what not to do" and present "a positive proposal for how to restore human dignity, not just law and order," to what is beyond any doubt "the breakdown of civilization on America's West Coast..." Unfortunately, Shelly, what works in one city doesn't always work in another; the history, culture and demographics matter, but it's a start and your insight may give you a step up in the next election.

So what do progressives do to ruin cities? It's laid out on p. 247: "They divert funding from homeless shelters to permanent supportive housing, resulting in insufficient shelter space. They defend the rights of people they characterize as Victims to camp on sidewalks, in parks, and along highways, as well as to break other laws, including against public drug use and defecation. They intimidate experts, policymakers, and journalists by attacking them as being motivated by a hatred of the poor, people of color, and the sick, and as causing violence against them. They reduce penalties for shoplifting, drug dealing, and public drug use. They prefer homelessness and incarceration to involuntary hospitalization for the mentally ill and addicted. And their ideology blinds for them to the harms of harm reduction, Housing First, and camp-anywhere policies, leading them to misattribute the addiction, untreated mental illness, and homeless crisis to poverty to policies and politicians dating back to the 1980s." And they give anarchism too much traction.

SF has looked the other way regarding illicit drug use since the Chinese opium dens and had "twice as many alcohol outlets as the national average" since the Gold Rush era, then cannabis with the Beat generation, then LSD and cocaine with the 1960's and Summer of Love. That might lead to a temptation to think the current situation is nothing new, but overdose deaths rose 536% from 2000 to 2020. Compare the 93,330 overdoses with the number who die of homicide (13,927) or car accidents (36,096) for perspective (43). In SF, the increase was 263% from just 2015 to 2020. There is no question; this is different from times past.

I used to live not far from the San Francisco Bay area, and the last time I visited, I could not understand why responsible parents would send their kids to study at a university there. Mentally ill and addicted people were injecting drugs in broad daylight. Human feces, garbage, needles and homeless encampments lined the main street, which reeked of urine and funk. The homeless population in San Francisco increased 95% from 2005 to 2020. And yet two people whose decisions are directly responsible for this nightmare, Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom, have risen to VPOTUS and Governor. In the name of all that is rational, they should be roundly rejected and booted out of office, not promoted. Shellenberger is tough on Newsom, but barely mentions Harris, even though as SF's DA from 2003, and CA's Attorney General in 2010, re-elected in 2014, and junior United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021, she sure had plenty of responsibility for this mess. Partisan solidarity counts for something, after all.

It is evident that throwing money at the problem as we do, in this case billions of dollars, has not helped; the problems of untreated mental illness, addiction, and homelessness have nearly doubled in the past fifteen years or so. Before this book, the author and I shared many of the same ideas about what went wrong, why, and how to fix them. His research revealed the errors in our assumptions.

Lets start with the fact that it's not the poor who live on the street; it's the mentally ill and addicts, often co-morbid categories.

In the same way that addicts living with their families cannot regain their footing, it does not solve or even effectively treat the problem to provide addicts with housing and drugs; it enables them to persist in their addiction. Naturally, housing addicts in California has become a very big business. Gavin Newsom and others before him and after him made the decision to divert funding to permanent housing instead of emergency shelters, so other cities have considerably more shelter beds per homeless person than SF. The heroin/meth/crack addiction problem transcends the "disaffiliation and spiritual alienation" targeted by AA. A psychotherapist friend had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and was put on opioids. She said she immediately understood how people could be hooked and made sure to get off them in less than a week. It's also a mistake to imagine addiction results primarily from trauma. "I was at a party and I had a beer and it changed how I felt and who I am, and then it became an addiction" (134). Or, consider the case of Jabari Jackson, solidly upper middle class and Catholic school educated, who idolized the gangbangers and pimps who sold drugs and had girls, cars, and gold chains; he ran with a crowd that sold and used and became an addict (Ch 10) and a criminal.

With the real life stories and commentary of Tom Wolf and Vicki Westbrook throughout the book, it is abundantly clear that even the wealthy are just one accident or surgery, followed by tragic choices, from being on the street. "The number of adults who had ever used heroin rose fivefold from 2001/2- 2012/3" (50).

Were overly harsh penalties for dealing cannabis responsible for mass incarceration? No an increase in violence was (41). By 1971, African Americans were 2/3 of all people arrested for homicide and robbery, despite being less than 10% of the population. Welp, that rate has held steady; see FBI Table 41. Is decriminalization the answer? Nope. "The fact that the US has 4x as many alcohol abusers as abusers of all illicit drugs put together is further evidence that liberalization increases use" (48).

"Approximately 121,000 mentally ill people are conservatively estimated to be living on the streets. In 2012, an estimated 35,000 were in state hospitals, while an estimated 356,000 people with serious mental illnesses were in jail and state prisons at any given time" (89). Thus, Reagan's deinstitutionalization was merely "trans-institutionalization" (91) and essentially resulted in the criminalization rather than the hospitalization of the mentally ill (113), yet the State of CA spends around $11 billion a year on mental health and $13 billion on homelessness.
There are so many layers of organizations and people who profit from homelessness and addiction that there seems to be no clear way out from this profligate waste of misdirected money. Poverty is an industry.
What does work? Contingency management, rewards for good behavior; (you remember operant conditioning from Psych 101) and holding people accountable. And while there is a long history of the self-help genre in CA, progressives "condemn similar self-help thinking in political life as 'blaming the victim'. Why is that?" (140). Ay, there's the rub.

The "intellectual architect of their policies" and the Father of Postmodernism (and avowed pedophile and rapist, which may well be redundant) Michel Foucault, wrote unreasonably influential works, one arguing that the treatment of the mentally ill was merely a form of social control (which he vehemently opposed, of course), and that the insane were merely different and should be allowed to roam freely and spread their sunshine. It resonated with civil libertarians and stoked the fires of the war on psychiatry, and the widespread argument in favor of the right of the homeless right to be on the street and do everything they do "no matter how harmful to themselves or the rest of the citizenry" (114). Throughout the book, Shelly adds some jaw dropping conversations with social workers, who state unabashedly that the laws (public defecation, drug use, etc.) should not apply to mentally ill or addicts, that you have to be in your right mind to commit a crime. Whaaaat? "But there's a truth in the need to remove from some people the right to do whatever the hell they want when they have absolutely no control of themselves" (121). It's pretty clear we can't talk to each other from completely different universes.

Which brings us to the skewing of stats in Ch. 12, where he lost me. It reminds me of when I worked with native Californians (like Alicia H, now a teacher in Santa Barbara) who insisted that Black criminals are never to be held responsible for their actions because they were victimized by society. That's infantilizing with a paternalistic and patronizing worldview that purports to be compassionate. For example, Shellenberger cites statistics about Black men being killed by police, but does not tell the reader that Black men, while just 6% of the U.S. population commit over 53% of the homicides (See FBI Table 43) and over 40% of the violent crime, nor does he state that, out of 37,000,000 Black Americans, just 15 were shot dead by police while unarmed in 2020, according to The Washington Post. Everything else he wants to say about this issue is disingenuous at best and utter bullshit, frankly, like his assertion that "higher rates of police killing cannot be explained by higher rates of violent crime by African-Americans" (165). Of course they can; come on, Shelly. And that there are fewer solved homicides of Blacks. Well, Shelly, now you and I both know that's because Black witnesses don't want to come forward to cooperate, so just stop it.

And Chapter 13 isn't much better. Far more plausible is Thomas Sowell's rationale for Black crime rate:
"black criminal violence was the product of the southern-male honor culture that, among black men of lower socioeconomic status, manifested as a violent response to petty insults, sexual rivalries, etc. Since African Americans interacted socially with other persons of color much more than with whites, the victims of such honor-culture assaults were overwhelmingly black. This violence continued when African Americans migrated to the North. Indeed, it escalated in the northern cities, where there was greater freedom and less oppression."

And we are back to all roads leading to the influence of Foucault, this time regarding incarceration. Apart from "encouraging his readers to deliberately limit their political engagement to negative, critical, and destructive actions, namely, attacking social norms and civic institutions" (236), he believed, among other things, that there is no right or wrong, no moral absolutes, so there is no guilt or innocence; the state is illegitimate as a source of authority and seeks to create "docile bodies," while enabling the powerful; ergo 'the existence of crime happily manifests an irrepressibility of human nature...a striking protestation of human individuality' and an entirely "rational response to the high levels of inequality created by capitalism" (183). Egads. Remember, this is the Father of Postmodernism, which gave rise to Critical Race/Gender/Postcolonial Theory and progressive political ideology supported in part by George Soros in Prop 36.

Shellenberger doesn't say it, but the whole Californian way of governing through plebiscites enables ignorant, completely ill-informed people to decide complex issues is insane with horrible far-reaching consequences. It is all too often the most articulate demagogues who convincingly persuades others to adopt their perspectives based on little more than charisma, opinion, and anecdotes, nary a solid research study in sight (see also culturally responsive teaching and other fatally flawed education studies with crappy methodology, sample sizes and conclusions that nevertheless are applied to millions of students). Democracy has its limits; mathematicians do not vote on the validity of a theorem. The adoption of that which is the best course based on empirical evidence should not be a decision subject to a majority vote, especially by the ill-informed, those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, or éminences grises like Soros.

Not so fun fact: the nation's largest cities experienced a 17% increase in homicide between 2014 and 2015 (196), which scholars attribute to the Ferguson Effect: when people lose faith in the "system" and its institutions like the police, "'they are less likely to obey the law.'" More police and their visible presence make for safer communities and serve as deterrents. Study after study shows that Blacks want more police in their neighborhoods; Whites paternalistically and patronizingly want to defund and decrease police on Blacks' behalf (206).

Shelly gets me back on board with Chapter 15, where he ventures into the different values systems between progressives and conservatives. We can't speak effectively with each other because of six universal values: caring fairness liberty sanctity authority loyalty, progressives embrace the first three, but only for those they regard as victims not the privileged, and reject the latter three. "Compassion, altruism, and love have created a blind spot" (218).

Chapter 18 is a prescription for what needs to be done, namely, return to the social norms of civilization, restore order and enforce laws that allow the majority of citizens to flourish and enjoy freedom, mandate long-term residential psychiatric care and outpatient treatment, reduce the number of rent-controlled housing to 1/3 and increase the housing stock. And finally, we need to "balance the American notion of freedom as self-reliance and rugged individualism… with solidarity and reciprocity" (284). We need to grow up.
Profile Image for Ama.
26 reviews
December 21, 2021
This Saturday, I was discussing with a friend about the potential of moving to Texas. Her reply to me was "Yeah, Texas is interesting but it's turning blue so it won't be that bad soon."

Although the title and font of this book is very brash and comes off as some 100% conservative title, it is far from it. When my friend made that statement, I internally laughed. I have lived in some of the most liberal cities in the country my entire laugh, and on very few occasions been in a non-liberal area for more than a few hours. As we walked through countless tents and people with no clue where they were, in what is commonly held to be the wealthiest as well as picture-perfect city in the United States, I don't know what her statement could have meant. California and Oregon are fully controlled by progressives, not even a moderate Democrat has a chance at this point.

My family is from Nigeria and although I see more widespread poverty during my visits, not a single visit has led me to encounter some of the things I see daily in Los Angeles. The underpasses are filled with people openly shooting up, trash surrounding them, often arguing/talking to themselves or doing who knows what. Progressives often view themselves as more compassionate, which I agree with, but how in the world can you allow someone to live in these kind of conditions is beyond me.

The main argument on how progressives ruin cities are the following:
-They defend the right of people they characterize as Victims to camp on sidewalks, in parks, and along highways, as well as to break other laws including public drug use and defecation.
-They intimidate experts, journalists, and others by attacking them as being motivated by a hatred of the poor, people of color, and the sick, and causing violence against them
-They reduce penalties for shoplifting, drug dealing, and public drug use
-They prefer homelessness and incarceration to involuntary hospitalizations
-Their ideology blinds them to the harms of harm reduction

I will address these points in order. To the first, I agree with heavily. In an city, the city is sacred because it is a place for possibility, freedom, and flourish. It's bound together by laws and social norms, which when violated should be shamed and at times punished. There is a reason no one is arrested for not picking up dog poop, but people do: societal pressure. When city trust is eroded so that the few can overtake parks, free spaces, and live or do drugs and cause others to live in fear at all times, that is not beneficial for any society. I am tired of Progressives saying "They are a victim!!" Yes this is true, but we are based on equal laws here. If a frat boy was to take a shit in your yard, he should face the same judgement even if he were a Black homeless person. Although the homeless person has a higher likelihood of suffering from addiction and should have his punishment be moreso treatment, he can not go UNpunished.

To the second point, I am tired of being pinned to a wall in any West Coast city if you disagree with the status quo. No one in LA enjoys seeing the homeless anywhere, but the minute you speak up you'll be called racist, homophobic, or whatever awful term they want. Discourse isn't healthy if you go around calling people racist (one of the worst things you can call someone). There is a reason California has 12% of the US population but over 50% of the homeless. It's not like Florida and other Southern states have terrible weather...

On the third point, I couldn't agree more. Here in California, I don't think GTA is very different from real life. As a result of this victomhood mentality, nothing is punished. People openly walk into CVS or Walgreens and steal everything knowing they won't be stopped. In no other place in America will that happen. When you stop punishing "Victims" they manipulate you and take what they want because there are no barriers.

Lastly, I truly believe like the author says, there needs to be a switch from this "Do nothing" mindset, to forced treatment. Only 4% of people in prisons are due to any drug-related reason, most are there for violent crime. There needs to be societally pressure and a switch to the Portugal model. Yes you can decriminalize drugs, but when you are caught committing crimes, or are addicted, you either clean up or you go to jail. Doing nothing does not help the addict or the greater society. I will be purchasing this book as I learned a lot from it.
Profile Image for Artur.
187 reviews
November 24, 2021
A data driven and convincing indictment of the most vocal progressive policies put forward to fight crime, poverty and addiction, help mentally ill and support the norms of civilised living in the cities.

It goes over a lot of topics from enablement of drug abuse and antisocial behaviour by supposedly merciful and liberal policies put forward by the progressives that end up disrupting life in the cities and hurting the very people they're supposed to help to the issues of policing, involuntary psychiatric commitment and wardship. It compares the troubling situation of San Francisco and Seattle to more proactive and conservative stances in other states including New York and showcases a lot of data with actual direct speech of a variety of people involved, homeless themselves, government officials, police chiefs and concerned citizens trying to make sure their neighbourhood is safe. Every chapter works on a contrast between the declared goals and shining advertisement of the political decisions and policies enacted and their actual results brining in data points, comparative experience of different practices and past situation.

Great, just great. Even though it paints the present in a grim colour, not everything is lost and there are ways to stitch up the fabric of the cities before it is too late and this book is a call for action to do so.
304 reviews6 followers
November 15, 2021
Have always wanted to read an in-depth take at the history and statistics of homelessness in California, and this was that book. Well researched and balanced. It goes through the decades preceding and the historical moments that led to today and does a fairly comprehensive survey of the problem now.
1 review
October 14, 2021
An excellent take on what has gone wrong in our beloved SF. Great writing and actionable steps to solve these problems.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
95 reviews5 followers
October 31, 2021
Very thought provoking read, however could have been about 100 pages shorter.
Profile Image for Mark O'mara.
206 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2021
Highly recommended. Great follow up to the author’s Apocalypse Never.
81 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2022
Another great book by Michael Shellenberger. This one explains and clarifies popular modern misunderstandings about homelessness and drug addiction.
Profile Image for Cav.
638 reviews82 followers
November 3, 2021
"Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin..."
—instruction to Saint Francis

San Fransicko was a well written look into the topic. The author opens the book with the above quote. Apropos, as the city of San Fransisco got its namesake from Saint Francis of Assisi.

Author Michael Shellenberger is a journalist and writer. He has co-edited and written a number of books, including Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, An Ecomodernist Manifesto, and Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Michael Shellenberger:

Ground Zero for the modern American culture war; much of the recent accelerating leftist political orthodoxy had its genesis in The Golden City. San Fransisco has played a central role in the modern story of American politics. Establishing itself as a beacon for leftist progressives since at least the mid-60s, the story of partisan America cannot be properly told without it.

San Fransicko is my second book from the author, after his 2020 book: Apocalypse Never, which I enjoyed. Shellenberger starts the book off on a good foot, with a well-written intro.

Shellenberger writes with an easy, engaging style, and the book is very readable. Although the title may put some potential readers off, it is a mainly data-driven look into the topic. Shellenberger himself identifies as a liberal/progressive. He says this about the current state of cities like San Francisco:
"I am not unfamiliar with radical politics. As a socialist youth in the late 1980s I had read books by America’s most famous anarchist, Noam Chomsky, excoriating US imperialism in Latin America. From 1996 to 1999, I worked with eco-anarchists seeking to save old-growth forests in California and the Pacific Northwest. And in 1999, I protested alongside so-called black bloc anarchists against economic globalization in the streets of Seattle. While I knew anarchists wanted to abolish government, it never dawned on me that a major city government would actually participate in its own abolition. What was going on?"

If you've ever been to San Francisco, or parts of many other large West Coast cities, you may ask yourself the same question. It's hard not to notice that something is wrong. Deeply wrong. Homeless encampments, public defecation, open drug use, graffiti, trash strewn everywhere. You can't seemingly can't avoid many of the symptoms of this societal sickness and blight. But when did this start? And what is to blame for this SNAFU?
Shellenberger tries to address these questions here. He focuses on San Francisco, but other cities like Seattle and Portland are briefly touched on.

I visited San Francisco when I was very young. I remember it having the worst homelessness that I had ever seen, and even still have seen to this day. I remember having to literally step over people on the sidewalks to go out for dinner. It was super-depressing to my younger, naive self. I remember being deeply saddened by the extent of human misery on display there.

That "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" is as true now, as when it was first coined.
In part of a broad-based cultural and societal trend, there has been a wide expansion of social support programs, ostensibly aimed at reducing poverty, crime, and social blight. However, in a pattern that's often more common than not, the results of these noble intentions often vary greatly from their initial aims. This is the bigger story told here.

To increase, eliminate, or reduce social programs is a discussion that lies on a political fault line, and has been going on for decades now. Those on the left will say that these programs are needed to help the most vulnerable in society. Those on the right will point to the often ineffectual (and often paradoxical) end results of these policies.

So, how do progressives ruin cities? Well, by carrying out policies that are just about the opposite of what actually should be done. Shellenberger summarizes with this quote:
"How and why do progressives ruin cities? So far we have explored six reasons. They divert funding from homeless shelters to permanent supportive housing, resulting in insufficient shelter space. They defend the right of people they characterize as Victims to camp on sidewalks, in parks, and along highways, as well as to break other laws, including against public drug use and defecation. They intimidate experts, policy makers, and journalists by attacking them as being motivated by a hatred of the poor, people of color, and the sick, and as causing violence against them. They reduce penalties for shoplifting, drug dealing, and public drug use. They prefer homelessness and incarceration to involuntary hospitalization for the mentally ill and addicted. And their ideology blinds them to the harms of harm reduction, Housing First, and camp anywhere policies, leading them to misattribute the addiction, untreated mental illness, and homeless crisis to poverty and to policies and politicians dating back to the 1980s..."

Shellenberger notes that many progressives blame the massive dysfunctionality of San Fransicso on former Governer (and later, American President) Ronald Regan. He writes:
"...Others point to the fact that Governor Reagan in 1972 signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which aimed to significantly reduce involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill.3 California’s mental hospitals closed and by 2019 there were 93 percent fewer patients in California’s mental institutions than their peak, sixty years earlier, when adjusted for population growth.4 The rest of the United States saw a similar decline.5 If the United States still hospitalized its mentally ill at the same rate it did in 1955, its mental health institutions would house almost 1.1 million people any given day. Instead, they house fewer than 50,000 patients.6
Many of the mentally ill discharged from state hospitals went to live in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, where they mixed with people with serious alcohol and drug problems.7 On a single day in late June 1972, Agnews State Hospital released over 3,800 patients into the San Jose area, creating a “mental health ghetto.” Local mental health service providers were forced to quickly convert vacant buildings into supportive housing.8 About one-fifth of the homeless on Skid Row in Chicago were mentally ill. The “new,” post-1980 homeless had 50 percent more chronic mental illness than the old homeless.
Based on a review of multiple homelessness studies from major US cities, one researcher estimates that one-quarter of the homeless had been patients in mental hospitals and one-third showed signs of psychosis or affective disorders.9"
However, Reagan was not to blame, he says:
"While it is true that, as California’s governor, Reagan oversaw the closure of mental hospitals, he didn’t start deinstitutionalization. It began nationally in the 1930s, mostly to save money.10 The closure of California’s mental hospitals began in earnest in the 1950s, more than a decade before Reagan became governor.11 The mptying of state mental hospitals continued at the same rate between 1959 and 1967 under a Democratic governor as it did under Reagan. By the time Reagan took office in 1967, nearly half of the patients in California’s state mental hospitals had already been released.12
As for the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, it was a creation of civil libertarians, mental health professionals, and antipsychiatry activists, sponsored by two Democrats, and passed in a 77–1 vote. It would have passed even had Reagan vetoed it.13 And while Reagan, as president, cut over 300,000 workers from Social Security Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance, he reversed his cuts just a year and a half later, and by the end of his presidency, nearly 200,000 had won back their benefits.14
In reality, it was a Democrat who got the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals rolling..."

Accurately described here as "pathological altruism," Shellenberger both uses the term, as well as details many objectively idiotic stances taken by those in power who identify as "progressive." Correctly labeling this sickness a "religion of the victim," he cites a few anecdotes from history to make his case. He talks about Jim Jones's "Jamestown" Doomsday Cult; which received widespread praise from many in the progressive intelligentsia. Also mentioned is progressive support for the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. Michael Foucault supported this revolution, and hailed it as a progressive success against the "oppressive" system of Capitalist America.

This is a theme that is not only still going strong, but has picked up momentum and hit a tipping point recently. The book is replete with examples of this object lunacy; from people turning a blind eye to drug addicts shooting up and shitting on the sidewalks because it's "not their faults," to police refusing to arrest violent criminals out of political concerns, to widespread calls to actually defund or abolish the police, to the mayors of large cities allowing parallel anarchist/communist pseudostates to be set up within the confines of their cities because speaking out against this would be frowned upon somehow. Predictable results ensue.
Stop this ride, please. I'd like to get off...

Some more of what is covered in these pages includes:
• Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy.
• Collective punishment; victimology as an identity.
• San Fransisco politician Harvey Milk; his "clean up your poop" campaign.
• The mayhem, violence, and homicides inside 2020 Seattle's anarchist CHAZ/CHOP zones. Seattle's progressive mayor Jenny Durkan called it a "summer of love."
• Open-air drug markets in many major American cities; the associated violence and crime that accompany these markets.
• The "moral foundations" theory.
• The "Dark Triad" personality traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism.
• The erosion of merit-based admission in institutions of higher learning.


I enjoyed San Fransicko. And although the picture it paints was depressing as hell, this is a book that should be read by those interested in the culture war.
The book is also a good case study in leftist social policy run amok, and a detailed look into what happens when those in charge of social policy place ideology over evidence.
4 stars.
Profile Image for John Boyne.
96 reviews7 followers
July 18, 2022
I have been so impressed with Shellenberger's reformation from staunch leftist to burgeoning conservative. I truly hope he continues to pursue a political role in California as I believe he could do some real good. It began with his phenomenal work on the climate alarmism movement and how none of it is actually helping the environment in his book "Apocalypse Never". Now, his reformation is steering him towards how Progressives are ruining cities through their ideology towards crime, homelessness, drug addiction and mental health. "San Fransicko" is an excellent read on how the city of San Francisco and many other cities has been devastated by Progressive politicians and the allowances given towards the homeless and drug gangs. These allowances have created the massive increases in crime and disease in these once great cities. This has greatly contributed to the flight out of these cities. Shellenberger has done his homework on this one. He interviewed dozens of people and includes many different research projects to support the points he is making. I truly wish these cities will take his advice and begin again to focus on protecting the lives of there citizens and make these cities safe to work and play in. Great read for those interested in politics, history, sociology and public policy surrounding homelessness and crime.
Profile Image for Jack.
780 reviews9 followers
November 25, 2021
sad story

It really saddens me to hear how progressive , by focusing on caring and ignoring accountability , are destroying the country. They define victims and only care about them . They never consider the suffering and destruction committed by these self defined victims on the people who are trying to live a clean, safe, drug free, crime free life. They manipulate language to make their victim class seem more respectable . It’s insane. The same people who throw a fit if someone’s yard abuts a wetland, or if someone’s pond isn’t pristine will make excuses for people pissing and shitting on the street. You have to pick up after your dog, but street people can shit on tor sidewalk. They think it can be fixed with money. We’ve tried that. The want to give people free houses. We’ve tried that. Their solutions, like most progressive ideas have been proven ineffective over and over again. More money, less accountability . It never works. The care industrial complex keeps begging, taxing and failing.
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