San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, by Michael Shellenberger (Harper, 2021), 416 pages.

Michael’s Shellenberger’s San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities is both the most captivating and the most depressing book of 2021, a year ripe for depressing books. It’s the definitive account of the crisis of West Coast cities, a crisis that was decades in the making, with no end in sight.

The now normalized spectacle of syringes in the gutter, bodies across the sidewalk, and cat-size rats darting from one encampment to another fanning out through our cities is not, as progressive pundits and politicians assert, an expected manifestation of income inequality, but the civilization-destroying outcome of their own policies. It’s best exemplified by the dead end that is the normalization of recreational drug use, which left San Francisco with the 2021 record of two drug poisoning deaths every three days, and the highest rate of drug poisonings in the nation. Shellenberger, who once identified as an anarchist and supported the liberal agenda on drugs, has amassed all kinds of receipts to show why the San Francisco approach doesn’t work.

Contrary to the cherished progressive myth, Ronald Reagan did not create homelessness in America. He did not singlehandedly throw the mentally ill onto the streets, or defund the housing programs for the indigent. In reality, Shellenberger explains, the 40th president of the United States simply moved the funds from government-constructed properties into Section 8 vouchers that gave families the flexibility to choose their own dwellings. As for closing publicly operated mental health facilities, that was done in the context of the nationwide midcentury deinstitutionalization movement. Shellenberger spotlights the French postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault, whose 1961 work Madness and Civilization was one of the foundational texts of the movement, which saw psychiatric treatment as a form of social control and all…

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